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Special order: 10-second street-legal Nova

18 August 2016


With 10-second time slips and plenty of road driving under its belt, Graham Metcalf’s Nova is one special piece of machinery

During the cold, bleak winter of 1980, New Yorker Bill Pedus decided to buy himself a new car. But what? He wanted a tough, angry street car that he could race at local drag strips like Maple Grove, Englishtown, Long Island and Atco Dragway. After an exhaustive search, Bill came across a beautiful 1969 Chevy Nova SS in completely original condition. It was jet black, muscular, packing a factory 396ci motor and four-speed box. This was the car for Bill. 

Over the next 26 long years, Bill tirelessly campaigned the angry Nova, during which period it saw many different builds and an estimated 1500 runs down the various strips of New York State. 

Come the winter of 2008, Bill decided to rebuild the Nova one last time. This final incarnation would be its toughest by far, and was the guise in which it eventually left his hands. 

After 26 years and a 10.50 ET, the beautiful Nova was listed on, the virtual car yard of high-octane dreams. 

Special order

At this point in the story, we swing half way across the world to a little Pacific country named New Zealand. Graeme Metcalfe and his partner, Joanna Janssen, are sitting in their Hamilton home, trawling through American sites looking for the perfect car, just as they’d done every other day for the past eight months. 

It had been a good 12 years since the couple had last owned a modified V8, but finally they had saved enough to slip back into the driver’s seat. The problem was, after months of searching, they just couldn’t find the right fit. “We narrowed our choice down to either a Chevelle or a Nova, but nothing was really jumping out at us, Graeme explains.

“After eight months of searching, a new car was listed in the Nova category. We looked through the listing — it was perfect, and the detail sheet reading 600-plus horse and 10-second quarters had us nodding our heads. Shit yeah, we’d found our car.” 

But buying a car from the States is never an easy task, and Graeme and Joanna tried everything to work out a good way of getting the Nova back to our shores. In fact, Graeme had nearly given up when a chance conversation at a workshop had him introduced to long-time racer Barry Featherstone, who was about to head off to the US and was looking to share a container. “I couldn’t believe it. I grew up on petrol fumes, and when I was a young man going to speedway, my favourite driver was Barry Featherstone. Who knew he would be the man who would eventually get me my dream car?” 

After an 1100km drive across America for Barry, and a five-month wait as the car slowly made its way Down Under, Graeme and Joanna had their dream Nova. And what a sight it was. “I know a lot of time people are disappointed with imported cars because they never look as good as they do in photos,” Graeme says, “but this car was just as good in real life: perfect.”

Lucky for some

NZV8 can only agree — this car is immaculate. Shapely lines and curves are covered in a rich gloss black as the car sits purposefully low on classic Weld Racing Alumastar rims. Under the lightweight fibreglass hood, it’s all business. An angry, street/strip 600hp Dart 454ci big block Chev, built by JC Pro Race Engines, sits between the struts. The 454 is a monster, pushing out more than 600hp to the wheels, all the while remaining very much an indestructible package thanks to a long list of high-end parts.

A GM Performance crank works with rods from the same maker, while SRP pistons, TRW bearings and a harmonic balancer from ATI make up the rest of the four-bolt mains specced block. Up top, Canfield Virgin billet heads free up the flow of air and fuel, helped along by titanium locks and retainers, dual valve springs, stainless valves and much more. 

To feed the heads there’s a Holley Strip Dominator intake and 950cfm carb, which in turn gets its air through a K&N filter and its fuel from a Mallory system, complete with 57-litre fuel cell in the boot. 

After the mixture of pump petrol and air is lit by a full MSD ignition system, waste gases are removed via Hooker Super Comp headers that look a little low to the ground for street use. “Yeah, they are a little low,” Graeme admits. “I have probably scraped them flat on the bottom. It’s on my list of things to do.”

Getting acquainted

Although looking at a well-sorted engine bay is great, at NZV8 we like to get a better feel for our feature cars. Graeme takes no convincing. He cranks the ignition and the hulking black machine roars into life, noticeably twisting on the spot each time the violent Crane cam spins. Graeme slides the Hurst shifter on his highly modified GM Turbo 400 transmission into drive. A few thousand revs later and the high stall kicks in with a lurch forward. Sure, this Nova is street legal and gets driven on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy drive … 

As we head down the road, cocooned by a perfect original interior (bar the supportive Jegs bucket seats and expertly crafted eight-point roll cage), the throttle is squeezed and the Chev squirms into life. The car punches down the road, both rear Mickey T’s baking up in a cloud of smoke as we go. It’s fairly safe to say this Nova is not shy of torque, and neither is Graeme.
Thankfully, Bill also specced the Nova with the right equipment to slow the big girl to a halt.

Wilwood four-pot Super Lite callipers clamp down on vented 300mm PBR rotors up front, while SSBR two-pots chomp 290mm SSBR rotors out back. 

At places like Graeme’s local strip, Fram Autolite Dragway at Meremere, good brake power is a must, considering the short run-off space, but so is a good suspension setup. The Nova rolls on a fairly basic system: QA1 coil-overs in the front, and custom leaves in the back, along with the usual Nolathane bushes and slapper bars for traction. 

Since the black beast has lived in New Zealand, it has hit the strip twice. The first time was one Graeme would prefer to forget. “It was a mess,” he says. “I couldn’t get an ounce of traction and ended up running 12s all day. When I told Bill, he wasn’t too impressed, understandably.”

More recently, however, Graeme got back out there, this time sorting out traction issues and posting a 10.98-second quarter. From here, times look set to fall even lower as the Nova and its owner get a little more familiar with each other. With 1500-odd quarter miles under its belt, this Chev is already a seasoned veteran, but now that it has found a new home here in New Zealand, there looks to be no retirement in sight for this battle-hardened, 10-second warrior.

1969 Chevrolet Nova

  • Engine: JC Pro Race Engines Dart 454ci (7440cc) BB Chev, SRP pistons, 10.2 compression, four-bolt mains, ATI harmonic balancer, GM Performance forged steel crank, GM Performance parts steel rods, Childs & Alberts rings, TRW bearings, Crower roller lifters, Milidon street/strip 6.6-litre sump, ARP fasteners, Canfield Virgin billet heat treated cylinder heads, titanium locks and retainers, 24.5-degree 119cc heads, Canfield dual valve springs, Canfield stainless intake and exhaust valves, Crane roller rockers, Crane stud girdle, Scott Shafiroff custom push rods, Crane solid roller cam, Holley Strip Dominator intake, CSR combo spacer, 950cfm carburettor, 60-litre fuel cell, Mallory 4140 pump, Mallory fuel filter, Mallory fuel regulator, MSD blaster coil ignition, MSD 6AL, MSD distributor, 9.5mm MSD leads, 2-inch Hooker Super Comp ceramic coated headers, 4-inch collectors, 3-inch exhaust system, Be Cool alloy radiator, Trans cooler, Sinco Systems catch cans
  • Driveline: GM Turbo 400 transmission, custom billet piston servo, billet roller bearing output shaft supports, steel stators, Kevlar bands, 8-inch converter, 2500 stall, reverse manual valve body, deep sump with built in cooler, scatter shield, driveshaft loop, 12-bolt diff, C-clip eliminator, 30-spline, Auburn positraction unit, Richmond 4.1 ring and pinion
  • Suspension: QA1 adjustable coil-overs, Monroe shocks, rear leaf springs, slapper bars, Nolathane bushes
  • Brakes: 300mm PBR front vented rotors, Wilwood four-pot Super Lite front callipers and pads, SSBR 290mm rear rotors, SSBR two-pot rear callipers
  • Wheels/tyres: 15×10-inch Weld Alumastar rear rims, MT Street Radials 28x60x295 rear tyres, 15×4.5 Weld Alumastar front rims, MT Street Radials 26x60x150 front tyres
  • Exterior: Uno black paint, Harwood fibreglass bonnet with 4inch cowl, hand-beaten inner and outer guards 
  • Chassis: Custom chassis connectors, eight-point roll cage
  • Interior: Jegs high back seats, Impact Racing five-way harness belts, original steering wheel and shifter, Auto Meter oil pressure, oil temp, volts, fuel and clock gauges
  • Performance: 613hp (457kW) at the wheels, 0-400 in 10.60

Driver profile

  • Name: Graeme Metcalfe and Joanna Janssen
  • Age: Older than the car — just!
  • Occupation: House bitch (Graeme)
  • Previously owned cars: C Cab, three Ford Pops, 289 Cortina, ’71 XY Fairmont, ZJ Fairlane, 1971 Dodge Dart
  • Owned: One year
  • Graeme thanks: Barry Featherstone

This article originally featured in the October 2009 issue of NZV8 (Issue No. 53). Don’t miss out on having this mag in your collection. Grab one of the last print copies below: