Have you ever wanted a ride that was a little different and stood out from the sea of Tri-Five Chevys and Camaros that populate many car shows? Maybe your desire is to have a vehicle with more go than show. Rob Aquilina, of Mooresville, North Carolina, sought to fulfill both premises, as he desired something unique, with plenty of power to match the good looks.
Upon seeing a rendering of a two-door Malibu wagon, Rob set out to build something special. He thought the Nova body had better lines, therefore he started with a gutted 1966 Nova four-door wagon. He had a vision of a Nomad-inspired two-door Nova wagon, which would eventually be called the Novad.
As a teenager living in California in the early 1970s, Rob witnessed match racing between all the heavy hitters of the day including “Big Daddy”, Shirley Muldowney, “Snake”, and “Mongoose” at the now-defunct Fremont Drag Strip. By the late 1970s, Rob had started building his own cars and racing at the various tracks in California. Rob’s success at the track helped him land jobs as a crew member of several prominent Nitro Funny Car and Top-Fuel Dragster teams.
By the mid-1980s, Rob opened the doors at Aquilina Promotes, which is a t-shirt and screen-printing business currently located in the land of NASCAR. With his connections in the drag racing world and NASCAR community, Rob has provided t-shirts and products to many of the elite racing teams, but more importantly, over the last five decades, he has become personal friends with many members and owners of those teams.
An Agreeable Beginning
At the inception of the Novad project, Rob selected Chad Paxton, a welder/fabricator at Stewart-Haas Racing, to perform the task of transforming the four-door into a two-door. The two had an understanding that Rob would help Chad with the work, even if it was just cleaning parts or sweeping the shop.
Soon after the agreement was made, the hunt began to locate a pair of sedan doors for the Nova. An internet search located a pair of 1967 sedan doors for sale in South Dakota. Rob made the purchase, and both doors were loaded onto a Greyhound bus and shipped to North Carolina.
When the doors arrived, one door was salvageable, but the other was beyond repair. The search continued for an acceptable door, and after four additional door purchases, a solid door was finally found. Rob, Chad, and Chad’s dad (an old-school NASCAR fabricator), made the lower door frames using the doors as the template.
As the doors were being fitted, the side glass openings looked uneven because the forward opening (between the b- and C-pillars) was only 18 inches, while the rearward opening (between the C- and D-pillars) was 39 inches. To fix the problem, the B-pillar was angled with a forward lean, and the C-pillar was moved back almost 7 inches to provide a window spacing of 26 and 33 inches respectively. To help strengthen the chassis and the door jamb, Chad tied the rollbar into the new framerails and the newly constructed B-pillars. All custom glass was required for the doors and the side windows to fit the non-standard window openings.
You Guessed It, An LS
To motivate the Novad, Rob was able to locate an LS1 from a late-model GTO. Rob had the good fortune of not only getting the engine, but also a 4L60E automatic transmission, and all the electronics to make it run. Bob Benton of MBE handled the machining work and reassembly of the LS1. The bottom end was left stock, and a Lunati Voodoo camshaft was poked into the block. To match the increased airflow demands of the camshaft, the heads were ported and polished, and then treated to larger 2.02-inch intake valves with a five-angle valve cut on the seats. A cold air intake with a K&N filter was tastefully plumbed from the driver’s side fenderwell to the factory LS1 throttle body. A pair of Kook’s headers were installed to expel the spent hydrocarbons from the engine. A&M Transmission handled the transmission rebuild, and the 4L60E was upgraded by adding Kevlar bands to the otherwise stock transmission.
A Solid Foundation
The Novad rides on a Fatman Fabrication front suspension with coilovers and 2-inch drop spindles in the front, and Calvert Racing Suspension split mono-leaf springs and bars supporting a Strange 9-inch with 3.70 gears. Stopping is necessitated by a power-assisted booster and a dual master cylinder from Master Power Brakes that supplies brake fluid to four-piston, billet aluminum calipers grabbing the front rotors, and a pair of 1973 Caprice wagon drums on the rear. To handle the steering needs, an ididit column was installed and attached to a rack-and-pinion unit.
Rob worked with Forgeline Wheels, and selected a three-piece CH3P wheel. He decided to have the wheels finished with gunmetal-gray centers and a polished outer lip. The Continental tires are 235/40ZR18 on 8-inch rims in front, while the rears are 255/35ZR18 on 9.5-inch rims. When Rob installed the wheels and tires, he felt he had made a tremendous mistake. The dark center of the wheels did not work with the glassless primered Nova, but Steve Schardt (co-founder of Forgeline) told Rob to wait until the Novad was done before condemning the wheels. Rob relented his concern about the wheels and trusted Steve.
Dave Chamberlain Jr. and Manir Karim of Our Dream, along with Rob, finished all the bodywork while Kenny Youngblood, a premiere motorsports artist and personal friend of Rob, put together six paint concepts for the Novad. Once Rob selected a design he felt embraced the Novad image, Dave laid down several layers of Valspar Diamond Pearl White followed by five coats of PPG Candy Red to match Kenny’s concept. Kenny added his personal touches with the airbrush work to mimic the look of a ’50s Nomad. Kenny also did the lettering on the rear flanks in a compressed 1956 font selected by Rob called Hood Ornament. All the paintwork by Kenny was completed in a single day, and if you look closely, Kenny left a thumbprint in the fresh paintwork on each side of the Novad as his “personal signature” to his friend.
The interior of the Novad was decked out in an all-black carbon-fiber theme. Keith Eitelgeorge, of Joe Gibbs Racing, designed the interior patterns, and hand-made the aluminum panel bucks that Joe Hoffman, of Fibreworks Composites, used to make the carbon fiber panels. Joe installed the carbon fiber pieces and laid out the custom dash using Dakota Digital VRX-series gauges.
The headliner, seats, and additional interior panel work were completed by Finish Line Interiors. The front seats were designed to work with five-point seat belts to keep Rob and a lucky friend in place while taking the Novad out for a spin. The steering wheel is a Max Papis Innovations. creation that Rob keeps his left hand on while his right hand nudges the transmission to the next gear via a 2006 Chevy Trailblazer shifter.
To keep things cool while cruising, Rob had air conditioning from Vintage Air installed. For tunes, he had a Kenwood stereo and speakers discerningly wired throughout the interior. As the Novad was approaching completion, the side windows were tinted by Custom Dave’s. it was when the tint was added to the windows of the Novad, the Forgeline wheels that Rob felt did not match the look he had envisioned suddenly gained his admiration. The gunmetal centers of the wheels no longer stuck out, but rather, subtly worked with the tinted windows and the blacked-out C-pillars.
It took more than three years to conclude the build, but since its completion, the Novad has been a very popular car, touring several aftermarket automotive circuits. A great honor was bestowed upon Rob when he was asked to display the Novad in an exhibit at the 2017 Performance Racing Industry (PRI) event. The Novad also showed extremely well at the Spring 2017 Charlotte AutoFair, earning a Top 30 award. According to Rob, the best part of owning the Novad is driving it. People gawk and scratch their heads trying to remember when Chevy produced a two-door Nova wagon, only to realize the Novad is a one-of-none car. That fact immediately renders a smile on their faces and a thumbs up to Rob. It turns out Rob made the exact car he wanted, he has something different that packs some punch, and the Novad is a crowd pleaser wherever it goes.