A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Robert Herricks had a love for building Hot Rods. He enjoyed the process of coming up with the project’s goals, selecting and buying the parts, and seeing it come to life. He had another long-term project that has spanned over the years. A 1965 Mustang nicknamed the Blue Buffalo that has become WASP Automotive’s signature car build featuring a mix of a race car, streetcar, and hot rod inspired custom parts. It was a dissertation of what WASP could do if money or limitations were not an object.

Some Hot Rods shout at you with bright colors and loud exhausts, but others take a different approach, aiming to be unnoticed and unseen—they want to be the wolf in sheep’s clothing. This 1970 Chevrolet Nova built by WASP Automotive is one such example, the plan from its inception was to refine the car with modern comforts while having its appearance be nonchalant.

The downside of such a build was that it was so complex that it progressed slowly, and the benefit of seeing its completion was far off. To assuage his desire to see a project evolve, he wanted to start another build that would progress faster. Despite being a die-hard Ford aficionado, he selected a 1970 Chevy Nova SS to be rebuilt as a Hot Rod. He referred to the new car as only “The Chevy.”

The 1970 Chevrolet Nova is an American classic, and the 396 powered SS model is coveted among collectors. With exclusivity comes a desire to preserve instead of change, so starting out Herricks wanted to protect as much of that history as possible. 

Originally Herricks bought the car online with the hopes of only doing a few upgrades such as wheels and tires along with some suspension upgrades, says Osvaldo “Oz” Asencio of WASP Automotive, but after the car arrived it was clear that the car would need more work for it to meet Herricks high standards.

We tried to enhance the car without cutting the car. We tried to respect what it was and tried to update it however we could not cut anything up.

Initially the plan was to leave the GM Berlin Black paint alone, but unfortunately, that was untenable. “The Paint started blistering,” says Asencio, it was clear that the paint that was on the car “was just good enough [for the previous owner to] sell the car.” It would have to be repainted. Not ones to leave the car 100% alone, they thought about tastefully modifying the SS, while trying to keep as much of the original body as possible. 

“The goal was to make a nice hot rod. Something that you can drive, has air conditioning, upgraded gauges,” and to make it a little bit closer to what you expect nowadays in a new modern car in terms of amenities says Asencio, “We tried to enhance the car without cutting the car. We tried to respect what it was and tried to update it however we could not cut anything up.”

The car was stripped and repainted, but once it started coming together, Herricks wanted to take it to the next level as Asencio explains, “Rob is one of those guys who’s curious about things. Once he got it to a good standard, he wanted more power”.

Asencio pulled out the 396 cubic inch motor and sent it to Thunder Works Engine Machining, in Victorville, CA, to be rebuilt. The original block was cleaned, bored and honed. The compression ratio was changed to 10.8:1 with a forged crankshaft, H-beam rods, and forged pistons. 265cc AFR cylinder heads were bolted onto the short block, and Edelbrock’s Air Gap intake manifold was installed on top, and Comp Cams hydraulic flat tapped camshaft was selected to dictate the timing of the valves. 

The exhaust system is comprised of Sanderson 1-¾” coated steel headers that are attached to 3-inch Flowmaster H-pipe and mufflers. The exhaust provides the perfect compromise between flow and ground clearance. The original carburetor was ditched in favor of Holley’s Sniper EFI system. The new powerplant made 500 horsepower, far more than the 375 horsepower that the SS came with when new.

Asencio designed and built a custom serpentine belt system to hold the alternator, power steering pump, AC compressor, tensioner, idlers, and a crankcase vacuum pump. The vacuum pump is meant to stop the common oil issues with the 396. “Old Big Blocks seep oil,” says Asencio, and “that was the whole reason for the crankcase vacuum system was to counter that.” The accessory drive belt system is mounted on two large laser cut brackets that were anodized black and refined to aid in appearance and lightness. 

Bolted behind the 396 is a 700R transmission with a modified planetary gearbox with close gear ratios. It translates the power through a 12-bolt rearend. The housing was cut 4” narrower to allow for wider rear wheels and tires. The ring and pinion gear set was upgraded to 3.73 gears with an Eaton Posi and harden axles. 

Global West Suspension was installed front and rear. The suspension consists of tubular front A-arms, Del-a-Lum bushings, Fox/Hotchkis shocks. The ride height was lowered an extra 3 inches at the front and 4 inches at the rear to achieve the perfect stance. 

Cragar SS 17-inch two-piece wheels were picked as the perfect wheel for the car, but Asencio wanted something special. He requested, but Cragar would not build a bespoke set for the Nova, so he had to get creative. “We like the style of the wheel, but [we] didn’t like the way the factory puts these together with steel outer barrels with aluminum centers. We wanted a full aluminum wheel,” says Asencio, “So we cut [the centers] out and re-welded them on rotary forged aluminum barrels with custom backspacing. While we had them apart we shocked peened the center section to add the texture of a raw wheel. Then we trimmed 5/8″ off the height of the center caps to give it a special look on an old favorite.” The wheels were then painted flat charcoal gray.

Wilwood Brakes provide the stopping power with fixed six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers. Cross-drilled and slotted 13” rotors dissipate the heat on all four corners. Wilwood emergency brake calipers are mounted on the rear axle.

Exterior body enhancements are modest. The only exterior addition is a front chin spoiler from a 1969 Camaro that was added underneath the front bumper to lower the front of the car. It aids in the car’s appearance while also hiding the front suspension which is usually visible from the front on Nova’s commented Asencio. The trim around the windows was given a darker accent via black anodizing to draw less attention to the B-pillar which helps focus the eye on the overall shape of the car rather than the chrome trim. New Delta LED headlights were installed to update the Nova with modern headlight technology. 

Improving on the 1970 factory interior meant magnifying some factory accents while adding contemporary touches that make life inside the car more livable in the 21st century. “The factory door panels came with walnut [trim], so we tied the rest of the interior with walnut,” says Asencio. The OEM seats were modified and lowered in height before being reupholstered. Modern three-point seat belts were retrofitted, replacing the factory lap belts, and stainless-steel cup holders were added around the center console. The car’s radio was also replaced with a seemingly traditional looking piece that has dials and buttons but offers Bluetooth connectivity for mobile devices. 

Although Herricks loved watching this Nova build come to life, he never got to experience the car on the road. He passed away near the end of the process. The Nova build was a testament to his love of hot rodding. “He bought this car knowing that he was never going to drive it,” says Asencio of Herricks, “He enjoyed a good project and the whole process. The blue mustang was so hardcore and everything took so long because it was going to such an extreme, but he bought this car so he could see something come together faster. Right up to the point to where he died, he never slowed down. He was interesting.”

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