350-cube 1964 Chevrolet Nova SS

James Gatt has had a 20-year love/hate relationship with his 1964 Chevy Nova SS

Photographers: Ben Hosking

WHEN was your first spark with your significant other? For James Gatt, it was in 1996, when across a crowded oval he caught a glimpse of a curvaceous panel, then the glisten of a chrome grille, and knew then and there that he just had to have a ’64 Chevy Nova in his life. “I didn’t even know that Novas existed until I saw that one at that Penrith car show,” he says. “I absolutely love the style and shape.

This article on James’s Chevy Nova was originally published in the March 2019 issue of Street Machine

“Maybe six months later I saw an unfinished 1964 SS Nova project advertised. Novas are as rare as rocking-horse poop, so when I found one and close to home, I thought: ‘How good is this?’”

And he scored fairly well, with the bodywork pretty much done and almost all of the bits accounted for, including a running 327ci Chev. “After several years of finishing it off, I then had it resprayed in blue metallic, which was very close to the original colour,” James says. “I got it on the road about six years later, but I didn’t drive it much as I was never happy with the performance. So after four years I decided to rebuild it.”

PBR discs and calipers peek out from behind the super-shiny Foose Monterey hoops – 16x9s up front and fat 17x10s out back. Airbags then drop the Nova to the weeds for a killer stance

CheWhat started out as a mere engine changeover for added pep soon become the proverbial snowball. “To match the stronger motor, I did up the trans and added stronger suspension with bigger brakes,” James explains. “Then I decided to change the colour of the car and to go the whole hog: a semi-show car. But it was always going to be driveable. It took another 10 years to finish.”

So, it was out with the 327 and in with a healthy James Grima Performance-built 350-cuber, topped with MoTeC-powered DC&O fuel injection and finished with the oh-so-divine billet trumpets. Below is a JEGS manifold and a pair of Edelbrock Victor Jr heads with roller rockers, actuated by a Crow cam. JE Pistons swing off of Eagle rods, bolted to a steel crank strapped in by four-bolt mains. John Muscat at Westside Auto Electrical set up the MoTeC, and later Bill Croft tuned the PULP-fed small-block to a respectable 650hp at the flywheel.

Moving the mumbo down the line is a TH350 with a Dominator 2500rpm stall and a stout nine-inch with 3.5:1 gears and an LSD.

For added swagger, James has ’bagged all four corners. Components from Air Lift Performance and Air Ride do the pump-up and let-down, stabilised by an Air Ride four-link rear. Now the menacing Nova drops neatly over gleaming Foose Monterey rims; 16x9s up front and 17×10 rears – and that’s untubbed!

Black and billet is a killer combo; Eddie Motorsports billet hinges sit beside machined strut-tower covers, while button-head stainless bolts finish off the fender-to-bay fastenings. The 350ci mill is adorned with billet pulleys, and finished off with tasty trumpets

Yet it’s the sinister black paint that makes the Nova such a stunner. Black is the ultimate shade for tough streeters, so it’s a wise choice for someone in the automotive paint business; James runs and owns Auto West Paint Supplies, which has branches in Sydney and Brisbane. It’s safe to say he knows a few trades peeps who are good at their craft too. Keith Linigen, who works as a paint rep for James, laid the Protec Paraglaze COB in Jet Black. “Keith did a good job off the gun,” James says. “He then worked at cutting and polishing the paintwork to show-car finish using all 3M products; it came up pretty good.”

Overall James has stuck with the Nova factory stylings, allowing the stark contrast of black and chrome to highlight its natural beauty. “I didn’t want to get too far from original,” he says. “I’ve only added a slatted ’65 grille as it’s much more attractive than the ’64 rectangular design.”

With the Nova finished in 2016, James headed to MotorEx to show off his beautiful new ride; then the black beast went all Christine on him.

Late-model Monaro seats – without headrests – have been swathed in grey and black leather, then embossed, all thanks to Emu Auto Trim. A Flaming River steering wheel and column tie in with the billet dash trimming and neat Shark gauges. Lokar pedals sort the go-and-stop, while shifting is courtesy of a B&M stick. The radio is in the glovebox, but the original-look aftermarket item remains in-dash for visual effect

“I’d just done MotorEx and I was getting it ready for the Rod & Custom Auto Expo at Rosehill,” he says. “As I drove the Nova into my workshop, I gave it a squirt of gas and the throttle stuck on, plunging the car into the showroom next door. It was a bit embarrassing! But it was probably better that it happened there than on the road!”

James took a hit to his pride, while the Nova suffered front guard and sub-frame damage. “I wanted to get it back to the way that it was, and two years later the car looks like it did before the accident.”

With the Nova now going through its final stages of engineering, James will soon hit the blacktop, unhindered. “This car has spent more time on a tilt-tray than on the road,” he says. “I just want to go and have fun in it. People make show cars and then not drive them, but this was always going to be driveable, something to enjoy and go on club runs.”


Paint: Protec Jet Black

Brand: 350ci Chev, blueprinted
Induction: DC&O fuel injection
Manifold: JEGS
Heads: Edelbrock Victor Jr, roller rockers
Cam: Crow
Conrods: Eagle
Pistons: JE
Crank: Steel crank, four-bolt mains
Oil pump: CVR oil pump and Aerospace Components vacuum pump
Fuel system: Aerospace Components pump, PULP, stainless braided line, 75L drop tank
Cooling: Aerospace Components electric water pump, thermo fan, billet radiator
Exhaust: 2in headers, JET-HOT-coated; custom stainless 2½in system
Ignition: GM Performance HEI dizzy, MSD coil, Magnecor leads

Trans: TH350, B&M shifter
Converter: Dominator 2500rpm
Diff: 9in, 3.5:1, LSD

Front suspension: Air Lift Performance and Air Ride airbags
Rear suspension: Air Lift Performance and Air Ride airbags; Air Ride four-link
Brakes: PBR calipers and 13in drilled discs (f & r)
Master cylinder: SSBC Performance billet

Rims: Foose Monterey; 16×9 (f) 17×10 (r)
Rubber: Yokohama (f & r)

My secretary for paying all of the bills; my bank manager for not asking why I needed to increase the loan; all of my friends and acquaintances that asked: “When will it be finished?”; Michael & John Stivala; James at James Grima Performance; John Muscat at Westside Auto Electrical; Paul Gimson at PGR Restoration & Repairs; Michael Cauchi at Deluxe Fabrications Engineering; Heasman Steering; Bill Croft; Kruisinwagon