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The Bill Thomas 1965 'Novel Nova'


In an era when American motorsport was brimming with larger-than-life characters, California racer Bill Thomas was a giant. Founder of Bill Thomas race Cars and creator of the Cheetah road racers famous for taking on Shelby’s Cobras, Thomas was a visionary innovator whose talents earned him a direct pipeline to Chevrolet’s racing skunkworks, a connection that in 1965 gave Thomas instant access to the factory’s new 396/427 CI “porcupine” engines. To promote the new powerplant, Thomas bought a used 1963 Chevy Nova into which he installed a lightweight tubular front subframe, a straight tube axle, leaf springs and a fiberglass flip front end. The project served as the prototype for a kit that became popular with the Nova racer who wanted to turn his little Chevy into a drag strip terror, and the finished car became known as the “Novel Nova” after the title of a Hot Rod magazine feature story by tech editor Jim McFarland.

Flash forward to 2008, when Nickey Chicago’s expert fabricator John Tinberg, having purchased the car from Nickey owner Stefano Bimbi, set about restoring it to its original configuration as it had appeared in the March 1966 issue of Hot Rod. Working with Bill Thomas, his son Bill Thomas III, and BTRC employee Don Edmunds, who worked on the original car, Tinberg spent the next ten months on his new project.

The car’s sheetmetal was refinished in the original Autumn Gold, and the original front clip was painted in grey primer. Tinberg found a correctly coded engine block, heads, oil pan, Vertex magneto and period-correct Hilborn mechanical fuel injection unit. He was also fortunate enough to locate the original narrow American Racing magnesium front wheels from a former owner of the Nova, as well as a perfectly preserved NOS set of period correct M&H Racemaster 9.50 X 15 slicks.

John Tinberg unveiled the completed car in front of forty friends and family at his home and again at the First Annual Nickey Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in November 2009. All the details are exactly right: the fiberglass front pieces Thomas installed to qualify the Nova as a ’65 model; ‘glass trunk lid and doors, plexiglass side and rear windows, Cheetah bucket seats, even the small chips out of the wrinkle-finish paint on the aluminum dash panel!

As John said himself in the September 2010 Hot Rod article, “Restoring this car was truly a labor of love. I enjoyed every moment from start to finish. My only regret is that I never got to meet the man, Bill Thomas, face to face.”

Yet thanks to John, Bill Thomas, Bill III and Don Edmunds, another important piece of Thomas’ genius has been restored to the world.

 

 

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