My Favorite Ride: Merced couple craft a '71 Nova

dyawger@mercedsunstar.comJuly 14, 2013 

The car: 1971 Chevy Nova coupe

The owners: Francine and Louie Martinez, Merced

1. What are the key features of your vehicle? I get a lot of compliments on the color of the paint I chose. That's the first thing people seem to notice. Then the Hot Wheels rims; kids really pick up on that quick. My husband is a big Hot Wheels collector and it just made sense to put those rims on the car. The Native American theme that I worked into the car with Craig Judd's help is the biggest key feature. It's my heritage and culture so it's very personal.

2. What did you have to do to get it in its present state? My husband and I did a complete rebuild on the car, stripping it down to bare metal — everything came off and out that was bolted in. I told my husband, Louie, I wanted to learn and do as much as I could myself, so he put tools in my hands and we both just dug in. Most of the dismantling was done in our garage at home and we put in a few weekends at his shop, Campus Automotive (which he co-owns with partner Andrew Curiel), to put in the engine and transmission and redo the brakes. This was Louie's first real Chevy rebuild. It was an original straight-6 and has been converted to a V-8 engine. It has a new 350 GM crate high-output engine in it, ceramic headers and a rebuilt 200R4 transmission with overdrive so we could cruise it on longer road trips. It gets about 27 miles per gallon on the highway. It has disc brakes on the front and a sway bar on the back. For the most part, it's been done since early 2007, taking about nine months from start to driving stage. It sports 17-inch KMC limited edition Hot Wheels rims, and the sound system was done by Vic of Vic's Customs.

3. What else do you want to do to it? I would like to explore maybe putting a supercharger on the car, but most likely that will be a few years down the road. We have been thinking of an aftermarket air conditioning system, but then it wouldn't be "old school."

4. How did you acquire your vehicle? We heard about this Nova for sale by the original owner through a friend at Kragen (now O'Reilly's), so we checked it out. It was in pretty good shape since it had little to no rust and had never been wrecked. So it was a good pick to start with.

5. Why did you pick that particular vehicle and what do you find appealing about it? My first car was a 1969 Chevy Nova and it was the best car I ever had. It was very dependable, and I just wanted to someday get another one to drive. I really like the front end and the sloped back, which is similar to the Chevelle, but I like the smaller size of the Nova.

6. What started your love affair with cars? I've always been interested in cars, speed and racing. When I met my husband, it was amazing to find out that he was a car lover as well, so we just had that much more in common. I took auto shop in high school, which was kind of rare for a teenage girl, but I wanted to learn the basics. A few years ago, I raced with the local chapters of the Sports Car Club of America out at Castle and in Fresno, and have thought of getting back into racing when I come up with some more spare time.

7. What advice would you give others about starting such a project? Take your time and do things right. It takes a lot of patience and research and, of course, the investment, but it's well worth it if it's done right. Use as much of the original parts as possible as some of the reproduction stuff doesn't quite fit right sometimes. Keep all your old parts until you're done.

8. Do you have any other collector vehicles or project cars? My husband is rebuilding a '61 VW ragtop as an original "Herbie, the Love Bug" for our 11-year-old son, complete with the racing stripes. My husband also has a 1967 VW convertible bug, a 1974 Porsche 911, and his newest collector vehicle, a 1971 Datsun 510 two-door.

9. What's your favorite memory about this ride? I've already had quite a bit of history with this car since it's been done. It's been featured in the 2008 Jasper Engine car calendar as the December ride, it's been in the 2009 Snap-On toolbox-size calendar, in several parades in the valley as well as over on the Central Coast and won several awards. The best or favorite memory I have with this car is rebuilding it with my husband. It was a great project to work on. Knowing we built it together as we wanted it done, that was the best part and will make all future memories made with this car that much more special.

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