Home-Built Hero: JR Hughes And His ’67 Nova Are Inseparable

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It was way back in 1977 when JR Hughes bought this very 1967 Chevy II. At the time, he was just shy of his nineteenth birthday. JR tells us, “I was attracted to this particular car because it had a fresh Earl Scheib-type blue paint job. The car was only motivated by a 250 cubic-inch six-cylinder engine though. Within weeks, that got replaced.”

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He was able to acquire a 327 cubic-inch engine that was taken from a ’68 Impala for a paltry $100. He continued the teenage-style hot rod build by also adding a Hurst Auto Stick shifter, headers, GTO bucket seats, and black-painted wheels with baby moon hubcaps and whitewall tires. JR chuckled, “The car stayed pretty much the same for the next twenty years.”

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There is nothing visual that gives away this, the current V8 engine, as a 350 cubic-inch crate engine.

Acquiring History

During the ‘80s, he worked at several GM dealers, and spent a lot of time studying the parts books, while also collecting N.O.S. Chevy II parts. “Over time, I built up a collection of parts. My dream was to build the car the way I would have ordered it, had I bought the car new in 1967,”  he said. But, as it so often does, life got in the way and those plans were put on the back burner.

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It was in the late-’70s when JR acquired his little Deuce.

It wasn’t until 1997 that JR was able to start the restoration that had been taunting his mind for all those years. He pulled the engine and transmission, and then disassembled the car until only a rolling shell remained. After surviving the media blasting to remove the decades old paint, the shell went to the body shop. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. “After a while, I needed to pull the car out of the shop,” said JR. “I constructed a dolly to hold the shell, and then I put it in a storage unit.”

It was pretty cool the day I was able to drop the car onto all four tires after 15 years! – JR Hughes

Finally Underway

Fast forward ten years – through a few personal connections, an arrangement was made to complete the bodywork and finally paint the car. The arrangements involved convincing friend Sean Raneilla to help finish the bodywork so another friend, Matt Pirhalla, could cover it in a new coat of Marina Blue. Sean finished his part in a mere two months, and Matt painted the car in a rented spray booth during the Memorial Day weekend of 2012. After the car was back at JR’s house, he and the boys reinstalled the fenders, hood, and trunk, and then Matt worked for two days, color sanding and buffing the finish to deliver a mirrored reflection.

The attention paid to the details during the rebuild is spot-on.

JR recalls, “Over the next three years, I spent my spare time assembling the car at home in my garage.” He began by upgrading the front suspension with a disc brake kit from Right Stuff Detailing, but JR did make one deviation when installing the brake kit, “I wasn’t happy with the universal look of the master cylinder, so I used one that had a more original appearance.”

The rearend housing was powdercoated, then George Cox installed a set of 3.08 gears on a Posi unit that JR had purchased way back in 1985. Keeping the ride feeling original is a set of Delco gas shocks. Next came the new fuel tank and lines, brake lines, and emergency brake cables. Rolling capabilities are supplied by a set of reproduction Chevy Rally wheels from Coker Tire with Radial T/A tires. JR smiled as he told us, “It was pretty cool, the day I was able to drop the car onto all four tires after it had been sitting for 15 years!”

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It’s 1967 once again.

Cool Cockpit

For the interior, the time-consuming task of cleaning and restoring the inner door panels was completed in the basement of JR’s house, and he carefully disassembled the dash cluster and replaced the bezel and lens. The carpet and headliner are reproduction pieces. He then disassembled the steering column, and used parts from two other columns to build one good one. Since the car was being converted to a floor shift, he cut the shifter knob protrusion from the column. He then had a friend at work, Charles Smart, smoothe and paint the column parts.

The four-speed and air conditioning make for a very "cool" hot rod.

JR did overcome an issue while rebuilding the column. He told us, “I could not find the correct lower steering column bearing, but I read on a Camaro owner’s website that you could use a later-model bearing if you opened up the plastic bearing seat with a Dremel tool. It worked like a charm.” Reproduction Super Sport interior pieces were purchased from Chevy 2 Only, which were used to cover the ’67 Chevelle bucket seat frames. JR credits “Mr. Chong” of Chong’s Auto Upholstery for the great-looking job.

Years prior, JR was lucky to have been able to purchase a complete Chevrolet under dash air conditioning system from a ’67 Nova station wagon. During the rebuild, he sent the vintage condenser, compressor, and evaporator to Classic Auto Air for reconditioning.

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Deceitful Power

To handle the car’s “motor-vational” duties, JR purchased a 290-horsepower 350 cubic-inch small-block from Jegs, and with the help of his son Dan, they were able to place it in the car in April 2005. JR said, “I wanted to detail the engine to look like a 327 ci piece, so I bought a vintage intake on EBay so that the temperature switch would be in the correct location. I really like the look of the L79 chrome valve covers, but using them required moving the PCV system.”

This is a true Home-Built Hero.

JR continued, “I drilled and tapped the manifold in front of the distributor hole, and installed a threaded L79 PCV valve. I did have to make an oil baffle for the underside of the manifold to keep the carburetor from sucking oil through the PCV hose.” An original-type oil filler breather cap supplies the venting. The carburetor is the same Q-Jet that was used on the first V8 engine that got swapped into the car back in 1977. This time, though, he had Performance Carburetor give it a rebuild.

It was a time-consuming endeavor to get everything under the hood looking factory-correct, but the results were worth it. “Even though the car is not original or even a significant model, I wanted to maintain an original look as much as possible,” commented JR.

His other son David helped install the all-new Medatronics transmission, and JR snickered as he remembered, “It took some doing to get the clutch aligned with the cheesy alignment tool that came with the clutch kit.” On Father’s Day 2015, the car moved under its own power for the first time since 1997. According to JR, “A few days later, I dropped the car at Robert’s Custom Exhaust, where Robert Fenter fabricated the stainless-steel exhaust system with Magnaflow mufflers.”

The Past Is Not Forgotten

Everyone has memories of things they had done when they were younger, and JR is no different. “I added a few personal touches that take me back to the days when I first drove the car. In Virginia back then, vehicles were inspected by the state every six months. I had a little trouble getting the car to pass inspection since I had a problem with reverse – it didn’t work.”

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Better than when it was new.

JR went on to say, “I had a number 10 inspection sticker on my windshield, which meant that I could drive the car from the first day of April until the last day of October without getting a ticket if no one was looking too close. It worked great for a couple of years, so when I saw Bob Hoyt selling reproduction stickers at one of Carlisle’s shows, I ordered up a new number 10 sticker for the car.”

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There is no better feeling than rowing your own gears.

Another personal touch involves the bumper sticker. When JR was just a young lad, he went on a road trip with the family, and that was when he acquired that sticker. “I was about fourteen years old when I got it, and for some reason, I kept it all these years,” he said. “I decided to put it on the back of the car to remind me of the ’70s and long family car trips.”

With A Little Help From Friends

We don’t know of anyone that tackles a complete car restoration without some help, and JR was no exception. “The support of my family cannot be overstated,” he said. “I would like to thank my wife, Roseanne, and my two sons, Dan and David. I’m sure I’ll leave someone out, but I would also like to thank Craig King, Mark Shaw, Junior and Chris from Chevy 2 Only, Tom Dunphy, Charles Smart, George Cox, Robert Fenter, Mike Ryan, and everyone at Total Auto Parts.”

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The finished product is a car that anyone would be proud to own.

Having a car like this is reason for anyone to be proud, but JR isn’t finished yet. He’s currently working on his next car – which, by the way is another Nova. We can’t wait to see that one when it’s finished, as we’re sure it will be another fine testament to hot rodding.

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About the author

Randy Bolig

Randy Bolig has been working on cars and has been involved in the hobby ever since he bought his first car when he was only 14 years old. His passion for performance got him noticed by many locals, and he began helping them modify their vehicles.
Read My Articles

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