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Rebuilt for Speed

Car enthusiast Mike Mulholland gives his '68 Chevy II/Nova new life
Author: Devan Mighton
Photographer: Trevor Booth
3 months ago
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Growing up, Mike Mulholland discovered his love of drag racing. From a young age, he immersed himself with the bible of speed—Hot Rod magazine. A child of the 1960s, Mulholland grew up in the heart of what is known as the Golden Age of Drag Racing, an era that lasted from 1959 until 1974—a time when there was no such thing as too fast or too powerful.

From the age of 10, Mulholland sat in the garage and learned about gears and engines from his uncle, an avid motorcycle builder. The seeds were planted and the young man’s passion for cars only grew.

Mulholland, now 66 years old, lives in Essex. A retired body man, he has time to spare. Having built many cars in his life, about a dozen years ago, an opportunity fell into his lap.

“When I was a kid, my first car was a ’68 Chevy II/Nova,” recalls Mulholland. “I thought, someday, I’m going to get myself another one. When I found this one, the time was right.”

The Chevy II/Nova is a classic car, indeed. Designed by Clare MacKichan, and starting production in 1961, the idea behind the car was keeping it basic in an era of what Car and Driver magazine refers to as, “lumbering, chrome-encrusted behemoths”.

“There was no time for experimentation or dawdling around with new ideas from either the engineers or from us in design; and it had to be a basic-type car,” once said MacKichan when reflecting on the early designs of the Nova.

At first, Mulholland was a little shocked at the state of the car, but saw it as a chance to rekindle an early love.

“The front end was off of it and the motor and tranny were gone,” he says. “With the front end, somebody had whacked into something and bent up the bumper real bad. If you had seen it, you would have thought, ‘What the hell, man?’ It looked like it had been sitting in a field for 20 years.”

Mulholland says that finds like these don’t usually happen on purpose. The Nova in question had been bought by a young man, and when it started to break down, life got in the way. Maybe he didn’t have the know-how, maybe he didn’t have the money to fix it, but it sat and rotted on his father’s property, before eventually going up for sale online.

“I think he wanted it out of there,” he explains. “So, it was either start building the car, fix the car, or sell it.”

The 1968 model of the Nova was the product’s third generation. It was also the final year that “Chevy II” would appear in the car’s name. That year, the Nova received a full redesign and was given a longer 111-inch wheelbase. Mulholland’s find was built with a six-cylinder engine—a motor long gone and something that he wanted to step up.

“I’ve had this car for 12 or 13 years now,” states Mulholland. “When I bought it, I had to drag it home. It was in pieces when I bought it because it was a barn find. I dragged it home, started building it, but it took me six years to build it.”

Mulholland jokes that these guys who have old cars, himself included, either have a passion for it or are insane—one of the two.

“Everything in the car is pretty much custom,” states Mulholland. “If I could order it, I ordered it—if I could build it, I would build it.”

Mulholland dropped a 427 Big Block Chevy motor with an aluminum head into the Nova and figures it is running somewhere between 500 and 600 horsepower at present time. “It’s got all sorts of goodies in the motor, ” he says.

He also poured a ton of effort into the interior.

“I brought the interior back, very close, to factory,” states Mulholland. “I know quite a bit about Chevys, so back in the day, the Camaro seats were the same. Well, this car had a bench seat in it and I wanted to get rid of the bench seat and get bucket seats, so I found a ’72 Camaro and pulled the seats out of that. I sent the front and back seats to be reupholstered and had them all done at once so they all matched.”

As a retired body man, Mulholland knows a thing or two about car paint. Going by fond memories of the look of the classic Chevy II/Novas of his youth, he worked hard to get the right shine, the right luster, the right feel, and the right effect when mixing colours for his refurbished Nova.

“I made that colour,” states Mulholland. “I’m a painter, I worked in a body shop, so I know how to mix paint. It has silver and gold metal flake with blue pearl over-top. When you see it in the sun, it actually looks like it changes colours. That pearl over-top gives it a little extra zest.”

These days, Mulholland spends his summers taking his Nova to car shows and to the odd drag race.

“Yep, it’s a fun car. I have a lot of fun with it,” he says, adding when asked, that it runs plenty smooth. “I take it drag racing once in a while. We load it on a trailer and take it up to Grand Bend for a weekend, probably two or three times a year. I have a set of slicks that I put on and away we go!”

Rebuilt for speed and given new life, Mike Mulholland’s 1968 Chevy II/Nova is a sight to behold.

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