By: Ro McGonegal
Is it still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die? According to Billy Utley’s brilliant ’72 Nova, the vein of that old tune runs deeper than that. All the best equipment in a finely crafted chassis surrounded by pin-neat sheetmetal is his signature, or more correctly the signature of B&B Classics in Ortonville, Michigan. B&B is collaboration, a cooperative between father Bill and son Billy that produces a prodigious amount of work all under one rather small roof.
But unlike the storied cobbler’s shabby shoes, Billy doesn’t drive a beater and dream of what could have been. No, he simply foreshadowed and built the best rolling billboard in the business. A car that began as a twinkle in his mind’s eye. All he wanted was clean piece to tool the streets. He began the project in 2007 with a simple mission: a nice stance, big wheels and tires, modified factory suspension, and a snappy carbureted small-block under the flap. My, how things quickly vectored to the moon. “It was to be built with the intent to cruise around,” he said sheepishly.
It seems that Billy was too conservative about his passion. How could he not celebrate the same level of sophistication that he was building for his customers on a daily basis? It didn’t make philosophical sense, but as you can see, he kicked that half-empty mentality out, laid his hands on, and didn’t quit until tire smoke was pluming out the back. Even as its progenitor, Billy claims his double-throw down enchilada is worth quite a bit of healthy stock.
The Nova’s mechanical realm is exemplary, from engine to chassis to rolling stock, B&B inserted aftermarket systems, not necessarily bolt-on equipment but stuff that has been proven a thousand times over. To Billy, such strategy would ensure completion in the least amount of time. He abandoned his uncomplicated blue-sky cruising dream for an active role in a driving experience that would push the limits of the equipment and the ability of the driver absolutely.
In his 28th year, Billy is not exactly a novice, having broken ground with an ’07 Subaru WRX STi and then his first ’72 Nova. Could it be that young Bill was headed in one direction and then saw the light as it infiltrated the B&B environs? Muscle cars and their variants are the lifeblood of the shop. His Subaru filled a need but it would never have the cache of a cool piece of Detroit. It would never run the quarter in 11.6 or approach a 175-mph top end.
Since Billy obviously wouldn’t be able to devote full time to the Nova, it became a two- year long after-hours celebration. And in the end, the mule would accelerate and stop and handle on the edge, a top-notch Pro Touring character free of excuses and brimming with potential. Somebody must have heard about it. In 2010, he got an invite to the Optima Ultimate Street Car invitational.
In 2011, he came back at the Midwest Muscle Car Challenge nailing the top speed award as well as first place in the speed/stop event. He cemented the deal with a second place overall in the Run to Music City event. In 2012, he was the overall winner in the Run to the Shore show and he copped second in the non-ABS road race and third in the non-ABS autocross trials at the Muscle Car Challenge hosted at Pittsburgh. He’s also affiliated with the American Street Car and Ultimate Street Car series as well as the festivities at Orange Cone Racing.
And Billy’s red devil keeps on rollin’.
Engine & Drivetrain
The beauty of hot rodding is that it’s completely elective. Though most would have begun with a “simpler” LS engine design, Billy happened upon an L99 out of an SS Camaro, the one governed by variable valve timing (VVT). He sent the core to Thomson Automotive in Wixom, Michigan, for the machine work, internal expansion, and the build process. The L99 grew from a cast-guts 376 to an all-forged 416 via a Callies stroker crank, Oliver connecting rods, and Mahle 11.2:1 pistons. Thomson selected a Mast Motorsports VVT camshaft (something on the order of 230/237 degrees duration; 0.588/0.607-inch lift) and combined it with OE roller lifters and Mast pushrods. Although the cylinder heads were not modified, they host Mast 1.7:1 rocker arms and valvesprings. The intake tract is stock LS3 but supported by a K&N filter. Exhaust is extracted by 1 7/8-inch diameter primary tubes that feed 3-inch pipes. All accessories (sans A/C compressor) are gathered by a ’10 Camaro drive system. In factory form, the L99 produces 400 hp at 5,900 rpm and 410 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm. On the Thomson dynamometer, the engine twists out 580 hp at 6,200 and 554 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm. The torque parade begins with a Ram Force 9.5-inch twin-disc clutch assembly and Tremec T-56 (2.66, 1.78, 1.30, 1.00, 0.79, 0.63:1). A Dynotech Engineering prop shaft delivers it to the 3.89:1 gearset in a 9-inch style axle equipped with a Detroit Truetrac differential.
Back in the arms of B&B, the Nova was destined to retain originality. It was made whole again and sanitized against time. The Bill and Billy team shaved the side marker lights, filled in the license tag cove in the front bumper, and narrowed both bumpers slightly. They built the engine compartment, smoothing it out with a custom firewall. Premium Truck and Auto Body in Clarkston, Michigan, completed the application with BASF basecoat/clearcoat Inferno Orange.
The Nova’s substantial underpinnings are founded on Detroit Speed hydroformed subframe (with rack steering, C6 spindles) and QUADRALink four-bar rear suspension. But for something a little different, Billy specified a full-floating 9-inch housing from Speedway Engineering in Sylmar, California. To adapt it to the Nova, B&B had it narrowed 3.5 inches (56.5 inches, flange-to-flange). While they were mucking around in the back room, they installed Detroit Speed mini-tubs to accept those big 19s. Eibach coils surround JRi double-adjustable shock absorbers that are mounted at each corner. To add stability to the chassis and to abet safety, B&B erected an eight-point rollcage.
Most of B&B’s effort was consumed by a hand-formed steel replacement dashboard fixed with a RacePak UDX view screen. It, and the Pioneer head unit (along with twin Polk Audio 6×9 speakers), is enabled by an American Autowire fuse block sprouting a custom in-house wiring harness. Paul’s Auto and Boat Interior in Pontiac, Michigan, covered the Recaro sport seats in Recaro Nardo and artista cloth. The door and side panels are retro. An unadorned Sparco 345 steering wheel on a factory tilt column sides by a Pro 5.0 shifter. Schroth Racing harnesses suck Billy to the seat.
Wheels & Brakes
The energy burning equipment is typical of the Detroit Speed conversion: Corvette C6 ZO6 brakes with 14-inch DBA (Disc Brake Australia) 5000 rotors squeezed by a Wilwood master cylinder and six-piston calipers. The frictional coefficient is Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires—265/35 and 305/30—cohabiting with three-piece Forgeline ZX3R rims, sizes 18×9.5 and 19×11.