When you build a car that has sentimental value, its worth goes far beyond what you put into it. These kind of cars hold a special place in your heart and can serve as a nostalgic reminder of loved ones who have passed, road trips, family vacations, and life changing experiences.
AFR invited us out to the V8Builds track event hosted at Willow Springs International Raceway‘s Streets of Willow. While wandering the pits, we met Evan Dalley of Total Cost Involved Engineering (TCI). He owns this 1963 Chevy Nova SS, which falls quite comfortably into the sentimental category. This Chevy was not the initial choice for the sister car project Evan and his dad had been working on, and was bought as a rushed gift for Evan’s father after life took an unfortunate turn.
“My dad and I were building sister cars, I wanted to build a track car and he just wanted something that handled well,” Evan reminisced. After spending some time building a motor and transmission for his initial Nova, Evan’s father became very sick. “Next thing you know he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. His car was actually on our lift at TCI — we were in the middle of designing the four-link rear suspension on it.” His dad was given just a few months to live and still had tons of work left to do on his current project.
Evan knew he had to do something quick, so he found another Nova that was much closer to completion and swapped over what they could. “Some buddies of mine went out to the Pomona swap meet and found this Nova,” Evan elaborates. “It was white, had one owner, a grandma, and it was an SS! They bought it, brought it home, and when I first saw it I immediately said, ‘you know, I don’t know how long dad’s got.’ We threw a paint job on it, I mean a quicky in-the-parking-lot paint job, a Wilwood disc brake kit, and installed an all-stock interior with help from the guys at Elegance Auto Interiors. We gave it to him for his birthday in less than six weeks.”
Evan’s dad loved the car for its simplicity and comfort, and fought hard in his battle with cancer. “It turned out my dad was a fighter, his doctors removed one lung and he made it another two and a half years,” Evan proudly stated. “So, my dad would always drop off and pick up my kids from school in this Nova, and the kids decided to name it Little Sweetie, and it was! It had a 250ci, six-cylinder, 700R transmission, a 3.30 station wagon rearend, and factory air conditioning. It could go anywhere, but it was boring,” Evan said, ending in a more vapid tone.
When his dad passed away, Evan put Little Sweetie away in storage for a long hibernation. The Nova wasn’t even close to reaching its current cone-slaying warrior status at this point, and it was another eight years until Evan finally decided to dust her off and start driving around town again. That’s when he got the itch.
“At TCI we started developing the Pro-Touring front end and torque-arm for the Camaro and Mustang. That’s when I decided it was time to build this thing,” remembers Evan. “I had a 1967 SS car, sold it; a 377 motor with Fast Burn heads; sold that too. I pulled out a 406 short-block I had sitting in the garage … it had a big solid roller cam, a drag race motor basically, and then I bought a set of AFR 210 cc heads from ATEK.”
He took the car out to a few autocross events and track days and was immediately shocked by how well this classic musclecar handled. “It surprised us all! This is just a little Nova, not a Corvette or Camaro that you would expect to see at those events,” Evan said. “That build held up really well, until I had a NASCAR moment while running the roval at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana [California]. I was going 143 miles per hour on the front straight and cooked a piston. All of the oil puked out of the front main seal and caused a flash fire.”
It was at this point that the car began the transition into its current state. “Don from Caldwell’s Performance helped me pull the motor out and then got in touch with my two main bosses at TCI. He pitched them a build that he knew would be much stronger and catch people’s attention,” said Evan.
“We put together a small-block Dart 427 with a SCAT rotating assembly and reused the cam from the last motor,” Evan explained. “AFR told me they would be able to repair the 210 cc heads, so I sent those out to them. Once they realized that these were for the car that has been all over their Instagram and Facebook feed, they offered me a set of their 220 cc heads. We got the car back together just in time for the handling challenge that was held here [at Willow Springs] at Streets last September.”
After Mary Pozzi drove Little Sweetie in the handling challenge last year, it became abundantly clear that the factory bucket seats were not going to cut it. “I made the mistake of leaving the factory bucket seats in with just a set of harnesses for that event,” Evan said. “Mary could hardly even drive the car because she was being thrown around so much. She then told me that the car handled way too well for bucket seats! Although, she was still able to put down respectable lap times in the mid 1:30’s.”
Evan upgraded the front seats to maintain the classic look alive and well on the interior.
After replacing the factory buckets with seats that would actually hold him in place, Evan decided to try his luck at the Goodguys AutoCross event in Pleasanton, California last November and was one of the fastest cars competing. In fact, Little Sweetie did so well that Evan was invited to compete in the Pro Shootout in Scottsdale, Arizona. “When I went to Scottsdale, I ended up finishing mid-pack and was very impressed with how stable the car was,” stated Evan.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Little Sweetie though. “It had a Munice in it the whole time, with a Quicktime bellhousing, McLeod double disc clutch, and a Gear Vendors behind that and I still went through four Muncie’s in one year,” Evan explained in frustration. “It would physically twist the input shaft and then blow up the first gear cluster.”
“The last time it went out I was competing in the O’Reilly Street Machine Nationals, with a full crowd and live internet stream,” Evan said. “I was fastest in the brake stop challenge and fastest in the autocross event, until the transmission blew on my second attempt and prevented me from finishing.”
“After that event I got in touch with Jeff Kauffman from Silver Sport Transmissions, and he offered me a really great deal on their patented shifter and a T56 Magnum transmission,” Evan continues. “I then bought a replacement Quicktime bellhousing and sent the clutch out to McLeod for a rebuild.”
Since the car was down and the driveshaft needed to be replaced for the T56, Evan decided to beef up the rearend. “I had Currie’s standard 31-spline 9-inch rearend in it at the time, and since I was going to have to replace the driveshaft anyway — we decided to install a 35-spline, Currie F9 floater rearend with a 3.70,” he said. “I’m still running the same 13-inch Wilwood rotors as before, but since this floating hub doesn’t flex and whatnot, braking has improved dramatically.”
“We barely got it fired up again two days before this event, and the only driving I was able to do was this morning from the hotel to the track,” Evan said. “So that 500 miles they wanted me to put on the transmission for break-in isn’t happening. Jeff, if you read this article, I did get it in sixth gear a couple of times!”
“This transmission and the rearend were the biggest improvements we made, in my opinion. I feel like we just took this car to another level, I might actually be competitive now,” Evan said excitedly. “On a track like Streets, it’s just so smooth, shifts are so tight, the gear splits are awesome, it’s perfect! I was doing 80 mph on the freeway coming over here, and in sixth gear the motor is rotating at only two grand.
“The front suspension on this car is our Pro Touring front clip,” Evan continued. “It’s a double-rail round tube design, with multiple upper A-arm adjustments so I can adjust it with more camber gain per inch. We also installed triple adjustable RideTech shocks, Energy Suspension bushings, and our custom spindles with chrome-moly pins, which we machine in-house.”
Little Sweetie started out with humble beginnings. Before it was turned into a street machine for his terminally ill father, it was owned by an old woman who just drove it around town for close to 40 years. With this newly rebuilt Nova proving to be a tough contender on a road course, we look forward to seeing Evan throw Little Sweetie around more corners and through more cones in the future.