’65 Nova — gasser style

While many of life’s experiences are enjoyed and then filed away in the deep storage pockets of the mind, some events are etched indelibly on the mind: the first fish caught, the first kiss, and in the case of Jeff Vegas, the first car. For Vegas, the first car was a 1965 Chevy Nova two-door hardtop. Powered by a six-cylinder engine, it wasn’t fast, but it was a cool car for a young man to have for his first vehicle. But like most young men, Jeff sold his first car and life moved on.

 Fast forward: Jeff Vegas is now married with two children. One of the children was presumed to be a “car guy” like his dad. Vegas purchased another ‘65 Nova to serve as a father-and-son project. How cool is that? However, the old car bug doesn’t bite every young man — the son’s interests and talents took him down a different path. His passion is music, and he is pursuing his dream in California as a vocalist, ‘ukulele player and drummer.

 Jeff Vegas had a dilemma: what was he to do with the ‘65 Nova that had been destined to be a family project? He considered selling it, but when he looked at it he was reminded of his very first car. He made the decision to keep the car and fix it up.

 The Chevrolet Nova was introduced as the Chevy II in 1962, an economy car powered by a 153 cubic-inch 4-cylinder engine, or an optional 194 cubic-inch six. Chevy hadn’t had a 4-cylinder engine in its lineup since 1928. In 1963 the name “Nova” replaced “Chevy II,” a “Super Sport” option was offered, and the only Nova convertible model hit the showrooms. In 1964, Chevrolet’s venerable 283 cubic-inch V8 was an option, with either 195- or 220-horsepower versions. In 1965, the 327 cubic inch V8 was offered with an option of choosing between 250 or 300 horsepower. The powerful little Nova was thrust into realm of the muscle car.  

Jeff Vegas drives a Kaua’i Bus every day. When he’s pau hana, he sometimes drives something considerably smaller, his ‘65 Nova. At first glance, it’s easy to discern that Vegas’ Nova is not factory stock. The nose of the car is up in the air, gasser style. That’s because of the straight axle and parallel leaf springs under the front of the car. Other clues are the large, radiused rear wheel wells and the “fat meats”—more commonly referred to as wide tires on wide rims. On top of the hood, there appears to be an array of injector stacks, which leads one to think that this is a powerful racing machine. Vegas readily admits the hood treatment is just for show. To achieve the desired effect, he attached a modified snorkel scoop and added PVC pipe and steel exhaust tubing to complete the task. The Nova wears a coat of “bright white,” a 2010 Dodge color.

Under the hood, dressed up with a lot of chrome, is a 305 cubic-inch Chevy V8, an option which was not available on the first-generation Nova. Anemic it is not. An Edelbrock 650 carburetor feeds fuel to the engine. The threatening “rump-rump” of the engine is the result of a 30/30 cam with solid lifters; Vegas likes to be able to adjust the lifters the old-school way. The exhaust system features Hedman headers. The 4-speed transmission is GM’s durable Muncie T-10.

Now, what’s the deal with the rear wheel wells? Well, if you’re running “big meats,” you don’t want the tires to rub on the fender and tear up the sheetmetal. Vegas scientifically calculated the clearance the big tires would need, and made the big, arching cut in the rear fenders. He then utilized urethane foam from an aerosol can, which, when dry, was filed to the desired shape. The resulting contours were covered with fiberglass mat and resin, and further smoothed out with body filler.

The inner fender radius is a smooth arc of round metal rod and sheet metal salvaged from a pickup hood. The side trim was trimmed to make room for the larger wheel wells.

Vegas enjoys his Nova, and he plans to keep it for a long time. About the only other thing he would like to do is to replace a few pieces of chrome trim. In the mean time, he has another Nova for drag racing and an ‘84 Corvette project to keep him out of trouble.

• Wheels in Motion is a weekly feature showcasing interesting island vehicles and the people who own them. Email wheels@thegardenisland.com to suggest a vehicle that should be featured.

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