Think back to your first car. For many of us, we forged friendships and cut our automotive teeth working on the car. We dreamed of what the car could one day become. Scouring through catalogs (for some of us, this was before the Internet), we searched for those parts to either complete the car, replace aging components, or if you were lucky and had a few dollars to spare, make it faster. Either way, we built up a circle of like-minded friends as we built that car and created memories that last a lifetime.
For one of the stars of the Discovery Channel’s hit show, Street Outlaws, the shell of that first car he owned back in high school contained a lot of other firsts as well. Jeff “AZN” Bonnett, the wiry side-kick to the super-sneaky “Farmtruck,” fondly remembered how his 1964 Chevy II/Nova helped chisel out the person he would eventually become.
His dad loaned him the $2,800 to purchase the car, likely because it was the parent’s view of the perfect teenage boy’s first car. He remembered learning to shift that “three-on-the-tree,” managing all the pedals so as not to over-rev the six-cylinder under the hood.
In true red-blooded American-boy fashion, AZN did his first V8 swap in this car, extricating the inline-six for a 383 small-block Chevy with GM Vortec heads and a SCAT bottom end. Consequently, it’s also the first car he ever drag raced and got his first ticket. Reportedly, there was even enough room in the car’s interior to allow him to get punched in the face – for the first time. It’s also the car he was driving when he first met Farmtruck.
Their first meeting was during a race — which AZN subsequently lost. Afterward, the two struck up a conversation and created a mutual friendship that revolved around racing. Apparently, it didn’t revolve around that ’64 Chevy II, and AZN found another car guy who wanted it more than he did — at least at the time. “Selling the Chevy II always felt like a mistake,” he recalls. “I was at a time in my life where a lot was changing, and selling the car felt like the right thing to do. Well, I should have never sold it!”
In true, car-guy fashion, AZN started to wonder about the whereabouts of his old Chevy II, and actually started searching for it. Thanks to finding the VIN on an old insurance card, he was able to locate the car in the general area of North Carolina. Beyond that, the trail went cold.
They lied and lied to me, doing anything they could to lead me away from the trail. – AZN, Street Outlaws
That is, until his friend Farmtruck garnered the help of some local law enforcement. Unbeknownst to AZN, he located the car’s then-current owner. When he found it, he surprised AZN by giving it to him on the Street Outlaws TV show, and the car headed back to the 405.
It was at this point that AZN decided to have the team at Church Boys Racing do a few things to the car. He initially planned on installing a rollbar, tub the rear wheelhouses, and upgrade to a different rear differential. Everything was worked out for Chuck Church Jr. to pick up the car and haul it back to the Church Boys Racing shop, where the work commenced. The car was just a shell, with no engine or transmission, and the interior was gone.
Little did AZN know, he had the support of friends. They weren’t going to let a great opportunity to do something for their friend go to waste. “While the car was in their possession, plans were to rebuild the car from the ground up,” he states. “During the year and a half the car was with them, Farmtruck and Lou (405 Photo) worked closely with Chuck without my knowing.”
He goes on to explain the extent friends will go to do something good for their buddy. “They were gathering information on the car build, down to every detail. They lied and lied to me, doing anything they could to lead me away from the trail.”
Bringing Back The “Chebby II”
At some point during his first ownership period, AZN was T-boned and had to have repairs made to the quarter-panel. Once the car was at Church Boys Racing’s shop, they found the rear quarter and taillight panel needed to be replaced to eliminate the previous repairs. New panels were ordered from Golden Star Classic Auto Parts, while a set of Detroit Speed mini-tubs were installed at the same time to make way for the wider tires AZN planned to run.
While the welders were warm, Chuck Jr. and the team at CBR figured that a few other goodies might not hurt when AZN stomps the loud pedal. Up front, that meant a new Church Boys Racing fabricated/modular bolt-on front end. Turning left and right is more precise with an updated manual rack-and-pinion steering assembly getting its marching orders from the Ididit steering column.
Proper geometry is provided by the Phase II DOM upper and lower control arms, complements of Church Boys Racing. A set of RideTech drag-tuned, single-adjustable coilovers set the ride height, and Wilwood Dynalite brakes are more than capable of stopping the Nova.
Rounding out the overall stance is a set of Billet Specialties Win Lite wheels (17×6 and 15×10). All this to make room for those massive 275-series Mickey Thompson drag radials out back. Again, a set of Dynalite brakes bring safety to all the performance potential provided by the 440 cubic-inch small-block built by Sammy Maloof of Maloof Racing Engines.
To prevent twisting when those tires get a good bite of asphalt, Church Boys Racing tied both subframe sections together using engineered connectors. Further safety is ensured by the six-point rollcage which was fabricated and TIG welded specifically to keep it unobtrusive and out of sight.
When I picked up the car, AZN wanted a new rearend, DSE mini-tubs, new wheels and, if I had time, a four-point roll cage. We did all that and more! – Chuck Church Jr., Church Boys Racing
New front fenders were augmented with new front turn signals, headlight bezels, and a set of front and rear bumpers as the car’s second line of defense, should something sneak past the brakes. Once the car’s body was brought back to better-than-new, Church Boys’ own Coty Black squirted PPG’s Red paint over the surface.
In the end, the project not only brings AZN’s little “Chebby II” back into the stable, but he also has the opportunity to enjoy the car — built just the way he wanted to do it so many years ago. He recalls the first time he set eyes on the complete car for the first time, “She looked exactly how I wish I could have finished building her with my father, down to every detail.”
The project has cemented the friendships of everyone on the team. Now, AZN not only has fond memories of his immediate family whenever he looks at his little “Chebby,” but he can also recollect about the friends and family that brought the car back into his life. The car represents alot of memories, some to recall, and some yet to make within his circle of friends.