Barn Find. When used together, these two words can make a real car guy break into a sweat. As soon as we hear those words, our minds ultimately go to the best-case scenario. If we hear about one, we have to go check it out, because – in our mind – it might be a COPO Chevelle or a real ZL1 Camaro. It’s happened, and better safe than sorry.
Walt Miller has an old car that is not only a real barn find, but is a little different than most – he’s known about it for the last 35 years or so. You see, this 396-powered, ’70 Nova has been sitting in his barn since the mid- ‘80s. In fact, according to the state inspection sticker, 1986 to be exact.
Walt tells us his story with the Nova begins around 1975. “One day, I was headed home and passed a used-car dealership,” he stated. “I was driving a ’67 RS Camaro at the time, and as I happened by the car lot, I saw a blue ‘1970 Nova. I pulled in with my Camaro and thought the Nova looked subtle enough that I might not get pulled over as often.”
The car was completely original, and even had the factory-installed 396 (402ci) engine, four-speed transmission, and 12-bolt rear. Walt was able to strike a deal with the lot owner, and the Nova began its long and storied history as Walt’s hot rod. “I can remember people saying they could follow my car through town just by looking for the two burn-out marks on the road,” quipped Walt.
Eventually, the original engine befell hard times as the number-eight cylinder developed a crack. “When the Nova’s engine went bad, I ended up getting another one,” stated Walt. “My brother had sold a big-block powered Chevelle to another guy, and I bought the engine from him. It had a little more power than my original big block.”
By this time, the ’80s had rolled around, and big tires and fender flares were sweeping the nation. It didn’t take long until Walt decided to build the car into a real ‘80s-looking hot rod, and subtlety would not be part of the equation. While the interior remained stock, the exterior was treated to a new paintjob, and a set of hand-fabricated flares were built into the car’s quarter-panels to accommodate the then-massive L60 tires. Like happens so often, he enjoyed the car for a short time, and then life insisted that he focus on family, and the car was put into storage.
“I had a lot of people want to buy the car from me while it was in the barn, but I didn’t want to sell it,” Walt relayed. While the car was in the barn, however, it wasn’t forgotten. From time-to-time, he would fire it up and take it for a short drive around his rurally located home, but it never ventured far.
Fast forward to 2018, and Walt had the itch to get his Nova back on the road. But this car has been part of his family for decades, and he wanted to be sure he found the right shop to handle all the work. Unfortunately, his hometown of Covington, Pennsylvania, is not really a hotbed of automotive restoration. “I tried to find a shop to handle all the work, and every place I found was too far away from home. One day, my wife heard about RMJ Auto Restoration through a friend,” he said. “I eventually met with Mattew Lantz at RMJ and was impressed.”
When Matt met with Walt and realized the car was definitely worth saving, it was loaded on a trailer and taken to the Williamsport, Pennsylvania, shop.
The plan is to make the car more street-friendly than it was in the ’80s, and the rebuild is currently underway. “Now that we’ve started disassembly, we’ve found out it’s not in terrible shape,” said Matt. “It needs front floorboards, inner and outer wheelhouses, and quarter-panels.”
The car will be painted Hugger Orange this time and have a more “refined” look. The orange will be complemented by chrome that is being blacked-out, the four-speed is being replaced with a TREMEC six-speed, and the carburetor will be replaced with fuel injection.
We’re fans of old-school hot rods that get a second lease on life, and this is one hot-rod we plan to follow along with this to see the final result. Check back for updates.