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Cover Car Contest Winner: Zach's '72 Nova

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We all remember our first car. Whether it was a cool hot rod that we saved up our paper route earnings for or a hand-me-down clunker while we worked for something better, the first one is always a big deal. And as time passes, several versions of the “first car story” emerge. Some of us still have them. Some of us sold them and have regretted it ever since. And sometimes, the story is more complicated.

This is a story about the one that got away...and then came back.

Such is the case for Zach Ebeling, our Cover Car Contest winner, and his slick silver ’72 Nova. Zach grew up with a car-crazy dad, so it was only natural that he started the hunt for a cool first car at a pretty young age. Zach was 14 in 2001, and back then, car shopping wasn’t done on the internet. Instead, an Auto Trader snagged from the rack at the grocery store was the hot ticket for project car shopping and daydreaming. That’s where Zach spotted his Nova before he, his dad, and a family friend hitched a trailer to the back of a Chevy van and hit to road to Ankeny, Iowa, to check it out. Once there, Zach saw a future of teenaged hot rod shenanigans in a bright yellow Nova flash before his eyes, and he just had to have it. They loaded it up and hauled it back home to Nebraska.

Zach's Nova was bright yellow and more than a handful for a teenager.

What they ended up with was what Zach describes as a car that looked and acted “the way a 70’s hot rod should.” In addition to the bright yellow paint, it had the requisite 70’s air shocks on the rear and, most importantly, a hopped-up 350 under the hood. The combo was plenty stout, at least for a 14-year-old to handle, and was capable of 12-second quarters at the local drag strip. Looking back, Zach says, “I still can’t believe my dad let me drive it.”

The "quick respray" that turned into a complete restoration. Haven't we all been there?

Fast forward a few years, Zach had grown tired of the bright yellow paint and decided it was time for a quick respray. His cousin owned a body shop and agreed to help with the job. But, as Zach put it, “As soon as we hit it with the sander, we knew we were in trouble.” That yellow paint was hiding some poorly repaired battle scars, and the quick respray turned into a full restoration. They started the job in 2003, and it didn’t emerge from the body shop until 2005.

The big Americans make the car look more like a contemporary cruiser than it did with the old 15-inchers.

Life moves fast, especially when you’re a teenager. By the time his freshly painted Nova rolled back out into the world, Zach was in college and had other priorities. The Nova was basically a shiny silver roller, and Zach didn’t have the money to put it back together. His brother knew a guy who was interested in the car, and Zach reluctantly agreed to sell. He regretted it immediately and remembers, “I couldn’t even be there when they came to look at it.”

This is the same small block that came with the car, but Zach's ready for more power.

This is where most of these stories would end. But not this one. Zach always knew that he’d let something special get away, so after a few years had passed and he was no longer a starving college student, he gave the Nova’s new owner a call. It was made clear to him that the car was not for sale, and Zach worried that it was the end of the road for him and his old Nova.

The original-style interior is very well-preserved.

But Zach is not easily discouraged. He tried again a year or so later and got the same answer. But then, in 2019, he finally made some progress after a third call. The owner had changed his mind and agreed to let him come look at it. Zach tried to play it cool, but he says, “As soon as the overhead door opened, I knew I would buy it.”

Zach promises upgrades to the rear suspension soon.

And what do you do when your high school dream car rolls back into your garage? You get busy making it better! Though its appearance had improved since Zach’s teenage years, it was still the same clunky “70’s hot rod” underneath. To make it a little more refined, Zach hit the Speedway Motors catalog for some tubular front control arms, QA1 coilovers, and a power disc brake kit. With these performance upgrades handled, Zach added the 18” American Racing wheels to bring the Nova’s appearance into the 21st century as well. Up next are some upgrades to the rear suspension, where Zach vows to finally ditch the 70’s air shocks. The engine doesn’t seem quite as lumpy as it was in the old days, so Zach is eying a BluePrint crate engine at some point in the future.

And there’s plenty of future to be had. Zach swears that the Nova is never leaving his possession again. Don’t you just love a happy ending?

Speedway Motors tubular arms and QA1 coilovers modernize the front of the Nova.
A Speedway power disc kit makes it all stop.

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