To every car-crazy kid in America, Hot Rod magazine, which debuted in 1948, was the biggest thing to come out of the post-war era. Young drivers-to-be practically ran to the mailbox each month, eager for their subscription of to arrive. Page by page, they’d pour through the publication, reading about rock star builders and lusting after the latest high-powered creations featured on the magazine’s cover. In 1982, one such vehicle kicked the Pro Street movement into overdrive and was named Hot Rod magazine’s Street Machine of the Year: a 1965 Chevrolet Nova built by Rick Dobbertin. That very vehicle will be crossing the block at Barrett-Jackson’s Las Vegas auction in September.
When the 1973 OPEC oil crisis put an end to the mighty muscle car wars in the United States, American auto enthusiasts hungered for power to return to the street. By the late ’70s, Pro Stock drag racing was all the rage and a natural evolution was to emulate those hardcore cars on the street. Drag racer Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins was the first to completely tuck huge tires under a production-car body in 1972, literally inventing what later became known as Pro Street.
Custom car builders took the ball and ran with it. Inspired by Jenkins’ Pro Stock cars, Scott Sullivan created a souped-up ’67 Nova that took the streets by storm in 1979. Other builders – including Dobbertin, Jim Gebhardt and Mark Grimes – joined this new Pro Street frenzy, practicing the fine art of one-upmanship by creating increasingly over-the-top vehicles.
As an advertising gimmick in the late 1970s, Dobbertin had some T-shirts printed up to advertise that his Virginia-based automotive speed shop specialized in turbocharging, supercharging and nitrous oxide injection. “I looked at those shirts and thought, ‘Hey, it would be cool to put all that in one car,’” Dobbertin remembers. That’s right: he put two turbos, one supercharger and two nitrous systems into this one Nova. Minds were blown.
“Just because something hasn’t been done in the past doesn’t mean it can’t be done,” says Dobbertin about his philosophy. “To this day, a lot of people don’t think the Nova is functional, but it is. We wanted something you could drive. It’s very simple when you really sit down and look at it. The turbos don’t really know the supercharger is there, and vice-versa. They work independently, but together.”
Dobbertin put more than 3,000 hours into building this car between 1979 and 1982, starting with a ’65 Chevrolet II and transforming it beyond belief. There are twin Roto-Master turbochargers, a BDS 6-71 supercharger, an 8-port nitrous oxide system, a 454cid LS7 V8, Holley 750cfm carbs, twin radiators, B&M Comp Turbo 400, a DANA 60 rear end, a full roll cage and a Deist Flame Out fire suppression system. No less than 17 Auto Meter gauges and two Auto Meter Pro-lites keep the driver informed at all times. Polished Center Line “Auto Drag” wheels have the requisite big and little tires that are the hallmark of any Pro Street custom. Still Dobbertin wasn’t finished. Just in case the JFZ disc brakes failed to provide sufficient stopping power, he mounted twin parachutes out back. Drag racing-style wheelie bars complete the theme.
Dobbertin used Cadillac Crystal Blue Firemist paint to get the “bluest of blue” he wanted, and Chip Whittington flawlessly applied the graphic stripes in complementary shades of blue – a theme carried through to the parachute covers and even the velour-upholstered racing bucket seats inside. The interior is full of a great mix of top-notch racing equipment blended with the original radio, speedometer and clock.
Dobbertin’s Nova turned the custom car world on its ear. It debuted at Car Craft Magazine’s 1982 Street Machine Nationals, where it was named Grand Champion and also drove away with awards for Best Engine, Best Car, Best Pro-Street Car and Best Engineered. In 1983, the Nova again swept those same categories at both Car Craft Magazine’s Street Machine Nationals as well as the Street Machine Nationals – East. The groundbreaking machine has appeared on the cover of 14 magazines and has been featured in over 100 publications around the world. When Hot Rod celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2013, former feature cars were invited to California for a homecoming – among them, Dobbertin’s Nova. Its presence at the reunion prompted an inside cover and two-page spread in Hot Rod’s August issue.
This mean machine is considered one of the most significant and important custom cars ever built, and to this day remains a benchmark for innovation and excellence among hot rod enthusiasts. Still in excellent condition and – with the exception of the front tires – 100-percent original to the day it was built, the novel Nova starts right up and purrs like a pussycat.
Sure to be a showpiece in any collection, Dobbertin’s Nova – crossing the Barrett-Jackson block at No Reserve in September at the Las Vegas Auction – is an important piece of automotive history that will continue to inspire custom car builders for decades to come.
For up-to-date information on this vehicle, click HERE.