Car Corner
A Project Car Plan

March 1, 2005
By Scott Lewis

I recently had to replace the water pump on my 93 Camaro. After removing the old water pump, with the car half apart, I saw that distributor cap staring back at me. Should I also give the car a tune up? I have it apart this far already. I have 68,000 miles on the car since its last tune-up. It needs it. Hmm. It will take a lot of time and work. Well, I can drive my wife's car to work while my car is apart. Oh the horror... driving a 911 Cabriolet as a backup car.

It took me a week and a half to get my car back together. I spent four sessions under the car for a total of about 12-13 hours. Once the car was all together the fan started making a bad noise. After pulling the fan assembly out I realized that one of the fan motors was shot. I was able to get the car running before needing the car for work, because this time I was on vacation. In total the fan added about 3 hours to the job because I thoroughly flushed the overflow system and handled a few minor details while the cars was up on jacks... again.

All told I was pleased with the work I had done. I spent at least 15 hours spread out over six sessions working on my car. I felt good in a way I have not felt in a long time. That sense of accomplishment when the car starts on the first turn of the key. If you don't understand what I am talking about then "you don't get it," and you'll probably never will.

What this boils down to is that I can enjoy working on a car a lot more when I know I don't have to get it back together in time to drive it to work. In other words... I really want a project car.

Cooperative Articles

Back in January I wrote an article on clones while listing clones in my Classic Car Watch column. This month I am going to do another cross column series. I am going to look strictly for project cars in my Classic Car Watch column. Here I I will outline in detail what I would do with the car that gets the "Preferred" status in the Watch article. So, read my Classic Car Watch article this month to see the cars that were on the list. Now it is time to outline a serious plan to build a 1971 Chevrolet Nova.

What will follow is how I would attack this particular project. Since I would like very much to drive this car as I would on it I expect to handle the build in stages. A few weekends on the interior. A few weekends on the suspension, etc. The key here is that if I can't get the car back together by Monday morning I can always drive my 93 Camaro to work. I will also price as many components as possible. That's right, real prices for the parts to do the modifications. I am NOT going to price labor for this car, but I will try to guess what I think I should have to pay for items that I cannot do myself.

The Car

71_nova_6_original_1.jpg (62200 bytes)The car we will discuss is a 1971 Nova. This is not the best car out there, but I like Novas and this one is priced right for a project car. I normally assume a $15,000 budget when looking at cars. Let's see if we can stick to that here.

This Nova is a plain car with a 250 c.i. inline 6 cylinder engine and a two speed Powerglide automatic transmission. Fortunately it has power steering, so we are saved the trouble of a conversion. However, that happens to be the only option that matters to this project. My usual plan it to get the car setup with decent brakes, air conditioning, some performance and comfort enhancements.

The Plan

What do we want to do with this car? The biggest question is whether we want to replace the inline 6 cylinder engine with a V-8. I have a 350 Chevy engine that I built up back in the 1986-1988 timeframe. That engine would take a fair investment to get in reliable condition. I outlined what it would take to revive that engine back in February 2002. I estimated about $2,000 to make the engine an engine again. We'll see if that is in the cards below.

Without deciding on the engine let's see what else we want to accomplish. I must have air conditioning, and I will definitely want to upgrade to power disc brakes. I will probably stop at front discs and rebuild the rear drum brakes. I want better handling so I expect I would completely rebuild the front and rear suspension. For the interior I would like to install buckets seats and a console, as well as freshen the interior. I want to add sound deadening material to make the car more enjoyable on my long drives to work (I drive 85 miles round trip a day). The exterior of this car is boring. However, paint and body work are expensive and I can't do them. If I do budget in a paint job I will add a cowl induction hood to the car and probably add some SS trim pieces. Of course, no project would be complete without a nice set of wheels and tires.

Let's start looking at parts. I did some pricing of some components, including parts to get more performance out of the original inline 6. Depending on the total budget I am about to layout I will decide whether to go with the stock engine or swap in a V-8.

Clifford Performance

6 = 8! That's Clifford's motto. Getting V-8 performance out of old Detroit 6 cylinder engines. I priced the following components from Clifford Performance:

Chevy 250-292 Shorty Headers with polished ceramic coating = $439
Intake Manifold with four barrel adapter = $337 
Camshaft (214 degrees @ .050 lift, 2200-5000 Strong Mid Range) = $199
Blueprinted Cyl Head Street Flow (*adds 60 HP) = $1,095
Chevy 250-292 Rebuild Kit = $799
Clifford Multi-point Fuel Injection = $1,995

If I want to keep the 250 I6 I need to decide how much I want to put into it just to be different. I already wrote off the fuel injection. It is just too expensive to justify on the stock engine. The ported cylinder head is the tricky one. Do I want to spend over a grand for a little power? What if the cylinder head makes all the difference in the world? I assume that 60 hp is with their intake and a decent carburetor. Does that mean I will only get a total of 60 hp for all the mods? I should probably try to talk to people that have used the cylinder head and see what they say. Maybe someone has run a similar combination on a dyno, or taken it to the track to get some real numbers.

I mentioned the rebuilt kit just in case we need it. The rebuilt kit includes the camshaft so we don't have to buy the camshaft separately. I would have to guess about $500 for machine work if the engine needs to be rebuilt.


I definitely have a desire to do something different, so I will initially go with the basic bolt-ons for the original six. That means the header, intake and camshaft. That's a total of $975. I priced a 525 CFM Road Demon JR carb from Jegs for $290. Let's guess at $500 for a decent exhaust system to hook up to that header. That brings the grand total for performance modifications to $1,765. Let's round that up to an even $2,000. Why? Well, we will need miscellaneous tune-up parts and I will want to pull the engine to detail the engine compartment. That means renting (or buying) a hoist and lots of engine degreaser and spray paint.

If I need more performance that's when I will decide between swapping in a V-8 for at least $2,000 (beyond the two grand to get my 350 in shape I would need to get engine mounts, brackets, hoses, radiator and other parts to make the swap successful), or go for the rebuilt kit with the ported cylinder head.

The Interior

The interior of the car is already black, so no matter how bad it is at least we don't have to change the color. I priced the following parts at Year One:

1968-1973 A/T models 80/20 loop carpet = $114
Front door panels 1970-1972 models Custom interior = $135 ea.
Rear door panels 1970-1972 models Custom interior = $76 ea
Armrest base 1968-1972 models = $38.95 ea.
Armrest pad set 1968-1972 models = $51
Front bucket seat covers 1969-1971 models = $207
Rear bench seat cover 1969-1971 models = $97

I also priced some weather-strip from The Paddock along with some sound deadening:

Dynamat Xtreme Bulk Pak (9 Sheets 18"X32" ea.) = $249.95
68-72 Nova Weatherstrip Kit (Doors and Trunck) = $75.95
68-72 Nova Windowfelts Kit = $89.95
68-72 Nova Vent Window Weatherstrip Set = $79.95
68-74 Nova Hood to Cowl Seal = $9.95
68-74 Nova Hood Pad = $19.95

I am lumping the weather-stripping in with the interior because it will make the interior sound level much more acceptable adding to the overall comfort of the car. Now, the picture of the interior doesn't look like it needs door panels. I left them in here because I don't know how much I will have to spend for bucket seats, and if they would need seat covers. In reality these numbers would bounce around a bit, but at least we have a budget that makes sense to freshen the interior of this model car. I am disappointed that I could not find a single kit price that would include ALL the weather-stripping a car needs. I really would like something like that when doing this level of a project. So I did the best I could to guess at what pieces I might need. This car may need more, maybe less. Again, this is a reasonable figure to work into our budget. All this adds up to $1,494.60.

With the interior we also have to plan for air conditioning. I priced a Vintage Air Sure Fit system for the Nova at $1,095.


I will need a stereo for this car. I hate CD Changers. Let me rephrase that, I hate truck mount CD Changers. My brother-in-law has a Saab with an in-dash CD Changer. I love it. I want one. If I ever get a new car it better come with an in-dash CD Changer as an option. When I casually looked for an in-dash CD changer I could not find one. I kept coming across new cars that have them as options. I finally found one. It is a Nakamichi MB-75 6 Disc In-Dash CD Changer/Receiver for $419. I don't care what hole-in-the-wall web site I found it at. I found it. This gives me hope... until I need to pay for it.

At this point I am not against cutting the dash for an in-dash stereo with a CD player or changer. So let's just go with the Nakamichi for the moment. I did a quickie search at Crutchfield and came up with some Rockford Fosgate FRC4269 6"x9" speakers ($89.99) for the rear and Rockford Fosgate FRC4205 5-1/4" speakers ($59.99) for the kick panels. I may need to provide some decent power to these speakers so let's throw in a Rockford Fosgate Punch P4004 Amplifier with 50W x 4 for another $299.

I have not built a custom sound system in a while, so I just threw this out there. I might consider a more stealth approach and use hidden speakers and such, but this gives me the basics... in spades. All for $867.98.

Suspension & Brakes

I took a quick check of PST's web site and found these pieces for the suspension and brakes:

PST Performance POLYGRAPHITE Super Front End Kit = $379
     Includes the following:
          2 Upper Ball Joints
          2 Lower Ball Joints 
          4 POLYGRAPHITE Upper Inner Control Arm Bushings
          2 or 4 POLYGRAPHITE Lower Inner Control Arm Bushings
          2 POLYGRAPHITE Strut Rod Bushings (if required)
          2 Outer Tie Rod Ends 2 POLYGRAPHITE Stabilizer Links
          2 POLYGRAPHITE Sway Bar Bushings with Brackets
          Control Arm Bumpers (for most models)
          2 Inner Tie Rod Ends Tie Rod Adjusting Sleeves
          1 Idler Arm 2 Upper Inner Shafts

2" Drop Spindle Front Brake Conversion Kit = $1399
Front Springs = $95
Multileaf Rear Spring Kit = $350
KYB Gas-A-Just Shocks = $129
Hotchkis GM Sway Bar Set 1-1/8" front, 7/8" rear = $509

Wow, that's a lot of stuff. Let's see that comes to $2,861. Year One offers a "fast-ratio rebuild service replaces the internals of your original 1965-1972 gearbox with late-model Camaro IROC components, resulting in a quick 2.5 turns lock-to-lock." This costs $308.

That brings the grand total up to $3169. Ouch. But remember, we will be doing these a little at a time. We can install the rear spring kit one weekend. We can take the car off the road for a month or so while we rebuilt the front suspension. Later we can go back and do the brake conversion. We can install the shocks and swap bars while the steering box is being rebuilt. So we will spread this investment out over time. Hopefully it won't seem like such a huge chuck of change. Also, I didn't price things out too much. I know Baer make a nice disc brake upgrade that costs about $1,000 and fits inside of 15" wheels. So we might be able to whittle this figure down, but at least it is here and in the budget.

Wheels and Tires

No car can be cool with hub caps. We need far better rubber if we want to get top notch handling. Wheels and tires can make or break the look of a car. With this car we have to decide if we want serious handling (which really would dictate a few more suspension pieces like tubular control arms and rack & pinion steering), or if decent handling is good enough.

I priced three sets of wheels and tires. I am definitely going with American Racing Torque Thrust IIs for this car. I love the look of them and they really go well on so many Muscle Cars from the era. For tires I decided to stay with BF Goodrich for simplicity in this exercise. Wheel prices came from Jegs, while tire prices came from The Tire Rack.

First up we will look at tires for looks. The BF Goodrich Radial T/A is a mainstay in the automotive world. This classic raised white letter tire definitely has the look. However, it will not be a great performer. This will be a cruiser tire. I decided to go with a big -n- little approach for a little rake in the appearance. 15 x 7 wheels ($189.99 ea.) with a 215/60SR15 tire ($61 ea.) for the front and 15 x 8 ($199.99 ea.) wrapped in 255/60SR15 ($75 ea.) for the rear. That comes to $1,051.96 for a great looking set of wheels and tires.

Next up is the serious handling package. Again I went with a smaller wheel up front, this time because I am worried about clearance issues. This time we are going with one of BF Goodrich's best handling tires, the g-Force T/A KDW 2. For the front we will go with a 17 x 7 wheel ($239.99 ea.) surrounded by a 235/40YR17 tire ($156 ea.). Out back we will try a set of 17 x 8 wheels ($269.99 ea.) with 255/40YR17 rubber ($146 ea.). That comes to a total of $1,623.96.

The g-Force T/A KDW 2 is a pretty serious tire. If we are not going to put the top of the line suspension pieces in here (tubular control arms and rack & pinion steering) then we might want to back down a little. For my third wheel and tire package I decided to go with a more moderate tire on the big wheels. For this set I priced the BF Goodrich Traction T/A H. In sizes 235/45HR17 ($114 ea.) for the front and 245/45HR17 ($119 ea.) for the rear. I did this combination because the tire is slightly taller with a 45 series sidewall instead of the 40 series of the g-Force tires, and will hopefully improve ride comfort a little. (BTW... this number is the height of the tire relative to its width. A 40 series tire's height is 40% of its width. Meaning the bigger the number the taller the tire, and in our case we are shooting for a little more comfort from a less serious tire.) The total for this package comes to $1,485.96. If I don't want to do different sized tires and wheels I can always put the 235/45HR17 BF Goodrich Traction T/A H on four 17 x 7 Torque Thrust II wheels for a cost of $1,301.96.

I will have to see how the budget pans out before deciding on a set of wheels and tires.


This is a touch one. As part of adding performance parts to the six under the hood I would love to see what would happen if I put in an overdrive transmission. I have a contact in Houston that is a transmission mechanic. He told me he could set me up with a fully rebuilt 4 speed overdrive tranny for about $1,000. I would have to research whether I can bolt one up to this engine. I would guess that I could. After all this engine had Powerglides and TH-350s behind them. Is it safe to assume they have the same bell housing bolt pattern as the small block Chevy V-8. For this article we will assume the answer is yes. I would try to get a 200-4R transmission because it is smaller and lighter. It "should" bolt in easier than the 700-R4. Since it was designed with mileage specifically in mind, it should be a better choice behind a lower horsepower engine like out mildly hopped up I6.

So, we have $1,000 for the transmission. I will need some stuff to go with that. I priced the following stuff from Rick's First Generation. I know this is a sight dedicated to first generation Camaros, not Novas. True enough. Have you ever seen the console and gauges that were available as an option on the Nova. The gauges were the same as those from the 68-69 Camaro. However, the console was really just a thing around the shifter... and optionally a place to hold the gauges. The console did not extend between the seats and didn't even have a compartment. What is the deal with that? Now, knowing that the 68-72 Nova uses the same basic chassis as the 67-69 Camaro we should be able to easily adapt a 68-69 Camaro console and gauges to this Nova. Let's see what we need from Rick's:

69 TH-200/700 Automatic Console Kit - $369.00
68-69 Assembled Console Gauge Pod (With Low Fuel) - $419.95
68-69 Auto Shifter Assembly Complete - $159.95
68-69 Auto Floor Shift Conversion Kit - $79.95
          allows use of stock shifter with TH-700/200

This should give us a "show quality" console that will work with the overdrive transmission and have all the gauges. The total with the tranny comes to $2,028.85.

Body and Paint

This is the hardest part of an article like this. I am not going to head out to body shops and try to get a quote for a car I don't own. So we will completely guess here. We could get a cheap Earl Scheib paint job. Let's look at that. Here is what you get from Earl for $499:

Earl Scheib's Pro 3 Package This top of the line package includes a six year warranty. At $499.95 it includes:

     Chemically clean & dewax
     Dual-action sanding for adhesion
     Careful masking & taping
     Air-blown dust removal
     Tack cloth cleaning
     Paint coats #1 and #2
     Masking & tape removal
     Final cleaning
     Many additional colors
     Paint coat #3 (base coat) for a uniform finish
     Infrared Quartz Finish drying
     Bumper & Tire Conditioner
     Additional sanding & preparation for adhesion
     Integrated clear coat
     "Starfire Colors"
     Extra final cleaning
     Our BEST Warranty

Now that is a little confusing, and seems like they just build onto the list from lower levels. For instance, it says coats #1 & #2 then later a cost #3. The coat #3 is pat of the base coat. It also lists an "Integrated clear coat." So I assume we this means a true base coat clear coal. If I remove all the trim off the car... including the bumpers. Maybe this will be good enough for a driver car. If this is a true base coat/clear coat paint job I should be able to wet sand it and buff it out to look really good. Wow I am almost convincing myself this is the way to go.

Since we have a lot parts to put on this car we should be able to assume it will take time to build this project. I should be able to save for a good paint jobs. Let's say I save $100 a month and it takes me two years to get all the mechanical and interior stuff out of the way. Then I could have $2,400 for paint. Is that enough for a good paint job? I don't know. Doing the trim removal and wet sanding myself would probably be part of a more expensive paint job just as it would be with one from Earl.

I might want to put SS trim on as the car goes back together, or maybe add Yenko Deuce stripes. Either way I would head over to Goodmark for their 1968-72 Nova 2" Steel Cowl Induction Hood for $429.95.

Sub Total

We have a lot of money in this project. Let's see where it fits into a budget. We will assume (like I do for my Classic Car Watch column) that I have $15,000 on hand when I buy the car.

Let's add things up.

The car                        $3700
Engine Mods & Exhaust          $2000
Air conditioning               $1095
Interior & Weather-stripping   $1495
Stereo                         $ 868
Suspension & Brakes            $3169
Wheels & tires (17x7 F&R)      $1302
Transmission                   $1000
Console, Shifter & Gauges      $1029 ----------------------------   -----
Sub-Total                     $15658

Well, we are at $15,658 without paint. That's over budget. Remember, we are assuming that we have the entire $15,000 at purchase time. If we assume we can save some money as we build and drive this car then we will hopefully be able to save for the cowl induction hood ($430) and a nice paint job as we work on the mechanicals and interior. Even if we didn't do that, we can easily cut down on some things. For example, we can eliminate the amplifier and use the power from the stereo. That saves us $300. We could get a CD player instead of a changer and save at least $200. We could go with the 15" wheels and tires and save another $250. We could go with the non-power Baer brake kit for a savings of another $400. We could save a bundle by going with a TH-350 three speed automatic and a swap meet shifter/console. That would bring the cost down enough for the Earl Scheib paint job. There are a plethora of ways we can spend less or more money with this project.


There you have it. I planned a decent project car covering most everything I could think of to get this car to look and drive very nice. I didn't do the complete "g-machine" treatment, but the suspension I built should get far better than stock handling. I can always put in tubular control arms, rack & pinion steering and four wheel disc brakes later if I just have to have them.

Keep in mind that I went with the first parts I found. I didn't shop around for better prices. In fact, if the exterior looks decent with some cleaning up and the wheels installed maybe I can skip the cowl induction hood and just drive it looking the way it does.

The point is that I was able to find a car and plan a really nice project that can mostly be done one weekends while driving the car most of the time. I would be very interested in seeing what can become of the inline 6, particularly what kind of gas mileage I could get out of it with the overdrive tranny.

Until next time...