Fascinating visit with a local classic car collector
I can’t think of a better job than being able to do road tests on old cars. That’s guaranteed fun, not work. So a recent trip out to see an old friend and check out his old cars qualifies as the proverbial “busman’s holiday.” Send me in, Coach, I’m ready!
Greg Avellar has about 18 cars and trucks at his rural Merced home. Most of them are still operable. A couple eventually will need rebuilding.
Easily one of Greg’s favorite cars is his 1967 Chevy II Nova. He’s the third owner of the two-door pillared sedan that “grew up” in San Francisco with its 80-year-old original owner before coming to the Valley.
The Nova is all white, painted a color originally borrowed from a 1990 Corvette, with not a speck of dirt to be found anywhere, from the spiffed-up engine compartment to the tidy interior and blackwall tires with their highly chromed rally wheels. It wears its 73,000 miles gracefully. Greg has put 11,000 miles on his sedan in the 39 years that he has owned it.
To say the Nova is unassuming is a safe bet, but you can’t base your conjecture on just appearances. Under the skin Greg’s Nova is an all-out street machine with plenty of getup and go. Speeds of up to triple digits on the speedometer have been pegged a time or two but it mostly behaves itself thanks to Mr. Avellar’s tender loving care. The suspension is firm but the ride is docile and smooth over country roads and city streets.
When it’s fired up, the sedan instantly shows its peppy nature and throaty sound. It’s powered by a 350 cubic-inch V-8 engine with a 350-horse camshaft, and propelled along by a three-speed Turbo 350 automatic transmission, enhanced by an aftermarket shift kit. The Nova’s suspension is mostly stock with welded-on subframe connectors, QA1 shock absorbers and a 9-inch Currie differential. It has front and rear sway bars to help with its handling.
While the sound is pretty fearsome, it’s mostly controlled by two Flowmaster mufflers.
Future plans include a 5-speed Tremec manual transmission and a ZZ383 engine already rebuilt and awaiting a new engine bay to nestle in. Lamenting the sheer number of mechanical projects clamoring for his attention, Greg says the engine upgrade probably will take place next year. It also will get air conditioning for the first time during this rebuild.
The Nova’s understated but elegant manner is reinforced by its tweed fabric inserts, tan leather accents and vinyl side panels. The new instrument panel is mostly stock except for aftermarket gauges installed by the second owner. He says it’s air-tight and the doors shut solidly and convincingly.
Delving into the Nova’s no-frills ancestry, it originally came with an anemic 235 cubic-inch six-cylinder engine and two-speed Powerglide transmission. Over its lifetime the Nova has shed its plain Jane persona for a sleeper street machine vibe. There is a companion 1966 Nova two-door hardtop quietly awaiting its chance to make a bold motoring statement as well.
The Nova shares garage space with a black 1940 Ford pickup truck that sees regular duty. It has a twin waiting revival. Greg also has a 1940 Ford Deluxe coupe, a 1936 Ford roadster and a 1932 Ford restomod pickup truck. A 1959 Ford F100 Styleside pickup needs a new engine but has fresh paint to be presentable when it’s back on the road.
Greg also owns a 1994 Camaro, a 1990 Corvette, a 1969 Camaro Z-28, a 1966 Chevelle SS hardtop, a 1966 El Camino with custom trim and a 300-horsepower 327 cubic-inch motor. Slumbering in the garage is a 1957 Chevrolet four-door sedan with its original powertrain and only 37,000 miles.
The Nova and 1940 Ford pickup see regular outings but Greg has a modern Chevy pickup and a 1986 Toyota Cressida four-door sedan with only 94,000 miles on it for everyday driving.
However, when it’s time to go to a cruise night or car show, the white Nova sedan is likely to be pressed into service. You can bet it will get its share of admiring glances and jaw-dropping looks, especially when Greg turns the key and the Nova roars to life.
Doane Yawger of Merced is a semi-retired newspaper reporter and editor.