An Enthusiast from the Start
Like many of us, Ken Hooton has been into custom cars since he was a kid in high school. He has built many cars over the years, and now hopes to take them from a passion into a profession. Hooton is currently in negotiations with both a realtor and the city of Murrieta, Calif., to open a soda blasting operation, a dream he hopes to call The Blast House by early 2010.
Hooton recently completed this killer Chevrolet ’63 Chevy II Nova. He had once owned a ’64 Nova wagon, but had to sell it after he got married. So when he just happened to be looking through the local Recycler and found this ’63 Nova in Yucaipa, Calif., he went to look at it. In just a matter of three hours, he was the car’s proud owner. He laughingly says he brought it home and instantly kicked the wife’s new car out of the garage, parking it in the center where it would sit for the next 3 1/2 years in the rebuilding stage. Hooton proudly says he did the vast majority of the work himself, and the result is one fine Nova.
As with most builds, Hooton says he started with the suspension, and went from there. Anyone who has ever had an early Nova knows that they are a uni-body car, and equipped with what is loosely termed “suspension.” Hooton wanted this car to not only have good handling characteristics, but to also handle the huge horsepower he was planning. To that end, he installed a Total Cost Involved Mustang II-based front clip and a TCI rear four-link clip. Both ends feature high-quality, adjustable Koni coil-over shocks. The front end utilizes 2-inch dropped spindles, cool chrome A-arms and Wilwood 12-inch slotted discs with four-piston polished calipers. For strength, the front and rear suspension pieces are tied together using TCI subframe connectors.
All of the pieces were powdercoated orange by Precision Powder coating in Temecula, Calif., to go with the theme that Hooton was going for. Housed in the four-link is a Currie 9-Plus rear end that measures 49 inches, hub to hub. It features a Posi unit with 4:11 gears, while outboard one will again find Wilwood 12-inch slotted discs with four-piston, polished calipers. Increasing the handling prowess are the TCI 1-inch front sway bars and the TCI adjustable rear track bar.
The wheels and tires improve the Nova’s handling, and look good while doing so, too. Stuffing 17-inch Billet Specialties “Vintec” five-spoke wheels (17×7-F, 17×9 1/2-R) under the car is possible thanks to the 40-series BFGoodrich G-Force (215/402R17-F, 255/402R17-R) tires.
Hooton wanted to make a statement with his car. Thanks to the twin Demon carbs sticking up through the hood, it’s not easy to overlook the engine. Based on a 1979 Chevrolet small-block, it is now a 383 that’s been bored, stroked and balanced. Getting some help from the guys at Westech Performance of Ontario, Calif., Hooton based his engine with a Scat steel crank, Eagle “ESP” H-beam connecting rods, along with JE Sportsman forged, flat-top racing pistons equipped with SRP Molly file fit rings. A COMP Cams hydraulic camshaft (525 lift, 294 duration) and a CC double roller timing chain gets things in order while the Dart Pro 1 aluminum heads (215 cc), equipped with cool Biondo-fabricated aluminum valve covers, top things off, all of which brings the compression ratio up to a healthy, but not overboard 10.5:1.
As stated, a pair of 750-cfm Demon carburetors sit high on a polished Edelbrock tunnel ram Intake manifold that get even higher thanks to the K&N filter topped velocity stacks. Once all of that fuel enters the engine, an MSD ignition system (Digital E-curve distributor with AL 6 ignition box) lights the fire while a set of Total Cost Involved headers backed up with 40 series Flowmaster mufflers connects to 2 1/2-inch tubing to send it out to the world. Other engine modifications include a Billet Specialties V-Trac pulley system, a Sanderson a/c compressor, a Holley mechanical fuel pump with Aeromotive filters and fuel regulator. The result is that according to the dead-on accurate Westech dyno, the engine produced 534 hp and 525 lb-ft of torque.
Which is great, but that power has to get to the rear end. To do so, Hooton had Race Tran of Sun Valley, Calif., work over a GM 700 R4 overdrive trans. They equipped it with a 3,400-rpm-stall B&M Holeshot converter, while an aluminum pan holds two quarts of extra fluid, which works in conjunction with the trans cooler runs through the “Be Cool” radiator. Hooton built all of the stainless steel cooler lines, as well as the fuel lines, from scratch. Doing the actual connecting though is a 3 1/2-inch aluminum drive shaft from Ontario, Calif.-based Inland Empire Driveline Service.
When Hooton had finished with the frame and drivetrain, he turned his attention to the body. He began by filling all of the re-skinning both doors and repairing the crash damage to the driver-side rear quarter panel, using lead to do the job. After that, filling all of the molding holes was easy and even cutting and filling the edges of the hole he cut in the hood was no problem. To accommodate the wider rear wheels, a set of mini-tubs was installed.
Hooton knew that the key to an “expensive paint jobs” really comes from the cut and buff, so Hooton acquired high-quality PPG “Safety Orange” and 1978 Mazda Crème basecoat and related clearcoat and had the Temecula, Calif. based Maaco spray it on. One nod to a high-end painter, and Dennis Reckless of D&R Designs, Temecula, Calif., added the pinstriping and flames. Once the paint was set, Hooton color-sanded and buffed the paint to a high sheen. The result is that the car looks great, and he was able to keep the cost down. Other than the subtle mods, the body is relatively stock. One trick that Hooton added was upgrading the stock headlights with H.4 bulbs.
By the time Hooton tackled the interior, the car was really coming together. Using Glide Engineering bucket seats (the rear is a custom bench that was fabricated to fit between the mini tubs), Hooton had Franks Hot Rods in Temecula, Calif., and J&J Fabrics Rialto, Calif., team up to cover them and the custom door panels in light beige vinyl. The carpeting is marathon tweed while beneath it the cars was sprayed with Lizard Skin sound deadener material and then covered with Dynomat. With all that, you should be able to hear a pin drop.
A Billet Specialties “Vintec” steering wheel sits atop an ididit tilt column and the majority of the dash is stock save for the Covans Classics carbon fiber gauge insert panel. Into that panel went a host of Auto Meter Ultra-Lite mechanical gauges while the rest of the Auto Meters are found in the custom center console. Also housed in the console is the B&M Hammer shifter (with front line lock in handle), the controls for the Vintage Air Gen II A/C system, Phipps Billet oval vents and the Kenwood stereo system. The system is an AM/FM/CD/Sirus Satelite radio that is pumped up with a Kenwood amplifier and before is goes out to the 6 speakers. A DVD monitor is placed behind the front seats to entertain Hooton’s twin, 11-year old daughters.
Even the trunk is custom, as Hooton built a hinged wooden “pickup” bed-style floor with storage below. The floor is solid oak with stainless steel rails and hardware from Bruce Horkey Wood Parts in Windom, Minn., The rear of the trunk houses a Kenwood amplifier an on driver’s side quarter is a DVD player. Hooton used a Ron Francis wiring kit to connect the electrical dots.
Even though Hooton did the vast majority of this build, there are some folks that he wants to thank for helping. First is Rudy at Modern Performance in Orange, Calif., who Hooton says (and we can attest), “this guy’s knowledge of the Chevrolet Nova is unbelievable!” The next thanks goes to his very supportive and loving wife and children as the three of them walked by the car for nearly four years and never once complained that it was in the way.
Another person Hooton wants to thank is his father, whom Hooton says was instrumental in his love for hot rods, and also helped Hooton build his first car. His dad had just been diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s disease when Hooton began the build and his goal was to finish this car so that he could enjoy a ride in it. Unfortunately, his dad passed away in early 2008 and never got that ride. Hooton says that the Nova stands in memory of him.