Don Bowen’s 1967 Chevy Nova SS is a classic example of an American V8 hot rod. The Nova has a small block Chevy, a Weiand 6-71 blower and twin Holley carbs sticking out of the hood, and a narrowed rear end tucking a pair of wide tires under the rear fenders. It’s a perfect representation of the breed.
And the best part is, Don drives it. I met him and his friend Craig Hensmen at the Pensacola, Florida stop on the Hot Rod Power Tour. They came from Michigan, and in over 2000 miles of summer driving, the only maintenance the Nova needed was to have the fan belt tightened one time. That’s impressive.
Don’s ’67 is a true SS car, with a 118 VIN. He’s owned the car since 1993. At that time it had a 327, a 10 bolt rear, a set of Cragar wheels, and was painted red. Don described it as “a plain Jane $4500 car.”
And then it sat. For about 10 years. “I got tired of it,” Don explained. “Lots of people asked about it, but I didn’t want to get rid of it. Eventually, I started going through it.”
In the next phase of the Nova’s life, Don upgraded the 327 to 383 he built with a B&M 144 blower (Don still has that motor) and he painted it Corvette blue in his garage. He ran it that way for 10 years, including trips on the 2011 and 2012 Power Tours.
Then, Don told me, “I got a smoking deal on a used 6-71 blower, so I had to cut a hole in it.” Don got the blower, cut the hole in his hood, and was back on the road. With the extra power, however, he was worried. “I decided I was going to hurt the bottom end. And I did. The block cracked. It was time to step it up to a Dart block and a bullet-proof bottom end.”
Don and Craig started the latest build on the Nova in January. And, Craig said, “We got done about… Saturday night.” As in the Saturday before the Power Tour started. “We were wrenching on it right until the night before we left.”
That wrenching was on the Nova’s Dart block – a 383 cubic inch stroker, equipped with Dart heads. The SBC is running the same MSD 6AL ignition that has been on the car for 14 years. But of course the most notable aspect of the engine is the classic 6-71 blower.
I asked Don and Craig what changes they needed to make to the engine for a blower. They immediately mentioned the two 730 cfm Holley carbs on top. As Craig said, “You’ve got to keep a lot of fuel going.”
Apparently so. With a 700R4 overdrive transmission and relatively mild 3.50 gears in the rear end, the Nova was turning a pretty calm 2600 rpm at 82 mph. But feeding those Holleys resulted in just 12 miles to the gallon on the Power Tour trip. Multiply that by the miles they drove and the price gasoline was selling for in June and you’ll see that fuel expenses were not trivial on this trip.
Another aspect of blown engines that I always took as gospel was that they needed to run low compression. But Don and Craig said that’s not a requirement. “You don’t have to,” Don said, “and a lot of guys don’t. A lot depends on the fuel you’re running. If you’re running alcohol, you’re running high compression. But even with pump gas motors there are some people running 9 or 10:1 compression.”
But in Don’s opinion that doesn’t make any sense. “The more compression you have, the less chamber volume you have and the less gas and air you can stick in there. So which one is going to make the bigger boom? With a 7.5:1 engine you have more chamber space, you can get more gas in there, you’re going to make a bigger boom.”
And Don adheres to this philosophy. He said the Nova’s compression “is in the toilet.” That’s low. In addition to getting the bigger boom Don talked about, another advantage is that the Nova runs just fine on 87 octane gas.
Craig suggested that anyone interested in building a blown motor go to an NHRA drag race and talk to some of the crew chiefs. “NHRA cars are generally running 7, 7.5:1 compression. But they spin the blower 40 to 44 percent over.”
Side note: Don and Craig are both drag racers, and if there’s one thing that will get me off subject when talking about hot rods it’s talking about drag racing. Which we did, more than once, and it was some good bench racing. Craig’s dad was a drag racer. Craig set the K/SA national record in his 360 equipped 1976 Volare Road Runner at Columbus. We talked about Carl Holbrook’s Instant Action Fords. We lamented the increasing number of strips that are closing.
But the best story was about Craig being in the staging lanes, strapped into his IHRA Super Gas open cockpit car, including having his arm restraints attached, when he realized his helmet was on the hood and he couldn’t reach it! Since the track had already called Super Gas, all the engines around him were running, and no one could hear him yelling for assistance. Eventually his friend’s wife saved the day.
OK, back to the Nova…
The narrowed rear end is a Fab 9” constructed with all Strange components. It’s mounted on split mono-leafs with CalTracs traction bars. The rear end, suspension, and mini-tubs required a fuel cell to be installed in the trunk. There’s a Classic Performance Products Mustang II front end with manual steering and four wheel manual disc brakes.
The Nova drives great. “I love it,” Don said. “Before, with the drum brakes and the original steering, you didn’t know which way it was going to go when you hit the brakes. It didn’t steer and it didn’t stop. It would go like hell, but it wouldn’t steer or stop. It was kinda scary.”
The interior is relatively stock except for the Subaru seats a friend found at a junkyard. Don had the factory SS seats, but he said, “I got rid of the seats when original SS seats were selling for $400 each. They’re uncomfortable anyway. I didn’t want ’em.”
They made a center console for cup holders (you can’t drive from Michigan to Florida and back without cup holders) and some additional gauges. The dash panel gauges are all original and the odometer shows 45,000 miles.
You probably wouldn’t want to drive from Michigan to Florida and back without air conditioning either, and the Nova has a Vintage Air unit. That required a bit of work because there wasn’t enough room for the compressor where the Vintage Air kit was designed to mount it. Craig took the bracket that came with Vintage Air, cut it in half, and modified it to move the compressor from the top of the motor to down on the side.
The compressor relocation also allows them to run one fan belt, which is good because there’s not a lot of room in front of the engine with that blower belt. It’s a lonnnnng fan belt – 65″ long to be precise. But it made the entire trip without any problems, only having to be tightened that one time.
Don and Craig have been friends for a long time, and the Nova’s been a part of their friendship for a long time too.
”It’s been a great car,” Don said. “It’s been extremely reliable. You’d never know the car is 50 years old.”
It would be hard to find a better example of an American V8 hot rod.
Photos by GHR
Click here to see more photos of Don’s Nova