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FROM NEBRASKA WITH LOVE: Restored 1965 Chevy II Nova is the fruit of Winnipegger's years-long labour

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Photos by DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The exterior of Marcel Himbeault�s 1962 Chevy II Nova was de-chromed and the grille blacked out to help solidify the 1960s race vibe.


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Chevrolet introduced the compact Nova in 1962 as its weapon to combat the popularity and runaway sales of the Ford Falcon. No-nonsense and conventional in design, the simple styling and unitized body with front sub-frame, made it lightweight and fuel-efficient.

By 1964, the Chevy II had received a few refinements, including the addition of a 283-cubic-inch V8 engine, and 1965 brought mild restyling with the addition of a new grille. The full Super Sport, (SS) optional package was available and the engine options grew to include two 327 cubic inch V8s, making the Chevy II a lively performer.

In 2006, while watching the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction on television, Marcel Himbeault of Winnipeg decided it was time to start looking for a hobby car of his own. "I looked for quite a while for a '64 Fairlane to build as a Thunderbolt clone, but could never find anything to use as a good starting point," Himbeault said.

Still wanting to take on something from the early 1960s drag race era, he widened his search to include other makes and models. In 2011, he spotted a 1965 Chevy II Nova two-door listed on Ebay. The car ended up being listed three times and never sold, but Himbeault kept the owner's information and emailed him.

"The economy was still bad at the time, but I took the truck and car trailer and made the trip to Holdredge, Nebraska to take a look at it," Himbeault said.

An original Nebraska car, powered by a 300-horsepower 327-cubic-inch V8 engine and backed by a four-speed manual transmission, it had plenty of the hard work done. There was a narrowed 12-bolt positraction rear axle, wheel tubs, and an eight-point roll cage, trunk-mounted battery, as well as recent body and silver paint work. Himbeault took it out for a test drive.

"It started and ran down the road, but it drove horrible, so I went for lunch then went back to the seller, where we finally hammered out a price," he said.

In April of 2011, he made the needed repairs and upgrades to get the Chevy II through the Manitoba vehicle safety inspection and drove the car for the summer. While the 327 V8 ran well, it just didn't have the horsepower to suit the look of the car. Himbeault located a built 400-cubic-inch V8 in Lubbock, Texas. The Chevrolet 400-cubic-inch V8 was the largest of the first generation small-block engines produced and has externally the same dimensions as the 327 V8, so an engine swap was simply a nut and bolt operation.

Bored 0.040" over and fitted with Eagle crankshaft and connecting rods swinging 11.7:1 compression Wiseco pistons, it's topped with AFR aluminium cylinder heads. A Comp Cams roller camshaft operates the valves while an Edelbrock tunnel ram intake manifold, fed with two 600 Holley four-barrel carburetors, meets the fuel needs. An MSD E-Curve electronic distributor takes care of the spark duties and Hooker Super Comp headers lead the spent gasses to a 2.5-inch diameter, custom dual exhaust system with Magnaflow mufflers.

The engine installation really brought the car to life. Himbeault enjoys driving the car through the summer months, but every winter he continues to do upgrades and make changes to further the car's performance. As a hands-on guy, even Himbeault admitted there are times when he needs a hand and he often swaps favours with his friends Kevin Morawecki and Sheldon to get things done.

To back up the engine's performance, Himbeault made some changes, including a Kevlar clutch and an Auto Gear Equipment M22 close ratio four-speed transmission with Hurst shifter and roll control. A full spool and Moser axels were added to the 4.10:1 geared, 12-bolt rear axle that rests on a set of parallel leaf springs and Cal-Trac traction bars. In the suspension department, Himbeault opted to install Classic Performance upper and lower tubular A-arms. It all rolls on Torque-Thrust 15-inch wheels with 12.50 by 29" Hoosier Drag Radials in back and 195 by 65-series Cooper radials up front.

The exterior of the car was de-chromed a bit and the grille blacked out to help solidify the 1960s race vibe, leaving only the chrome bumpers and hood pins. Behind the velocity stacks for the tunnel ram carburetors is a pod designed to hold the mechanical gauge package that monitors the under-hood functions. Inside gauges are an Autometer tachometer, air-fuel ratio and vacuum gauge.

Upholstery is simple with no rear seat. Black carpet and door panels and a three-spoke Grant steering wheel reside along with grey bucket seats from an '85 Ford Aerostar service van.

While Himbeault claims he's never been a big Chevy guy, one look at the Nova says he still knows how to pull off that classic drag strip look of "win on Sunday, sell on Monday." With a look and sound that screams vintage racer, this is one Chevy II that can really haul home the groceries, not to mention the trophies.