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Georgia's Lil' Delight

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John Blackwell doesn’t believe in taking no for an answer—a belief that has turned out to be a very good thing. When all his friends told him he’d never finish restoring his 1966 Chevy Nova, their doubt only fueled his fire to complete the project. Now, the shop foreman of 14 years at Classic Collisions in Marietta, Ga., has proved them all wrong. With a bevy of awards—including the prestigious title of “Best Build” for 1958–1972 models at the 2006 Atlanta World of Wheels show—as well as a cover on a national automotive magazine, Blackwell has no doubt earned the right to say, “I told you so.”

HEART AND SOUL

Blackwell purchased the Nova eight years ago, but he had to wait an additional four to restore it while he gathered the parts he needed and completed research. His desire to buy a Nova, however, began almost two decades earlier in Memphis after attending a street racing event with his brother. “One night, we were watching the races, and a white one caught my eye—it was extremely fast,” he says. “I told my brother that night, ‘I gotta have one of them!’”

Choosing to rebuild the Nova, however, was difficult for Blackwell. “The first car I built was a Firebird, in 1985. The paint was two weeks old, and the interior was not even 24 hours old, and a doctor’s wife hit me at a median,” he remembers. “It put me in traction for 45 days. It took me from 1985 to 2003 to have the nerve to build another one. You put your heart and soul in a car…”

UNWAVERING DETERMINATION

The restoration process was tough for Blackwell. He was “tired as hell,” he says. “I just felt exhausted. It took right around 18 months of four or five or six hours a day after work, 25–35 hours on the weekends. My wife never saw me.”

But, Blackwell remained steadfast. He replaced the hood, put in new hand-fabricated windshield posts, suspension, rear end, stainless steel upper and lower control arms, four-wheel disc brakes, a GM ZZ4 crate motor, door knobs, dashboard and locks. “Every nut and bolt was out of the car,” he says. “The receipt looks like a metropolitan phone book. I spent tens of thousands of dollars on [the car].”

His biggest challenge came during the last three months when he began the paintwork. “It becomes really meticulous, because you can’t make a mistake. The last few months of putting it together got pretty damn stressful.”

There was light at the end of the tunnel, though. “When you start shooting paint on it, you realize you’re getting somewhere. My wife was a big inspiration and would come up with our grand-puppy and hang out with me.”

And, the best part? “When you can say, ‘I’m done,’” Blackwell says. “You can look at the photos of the paint that was on it before—the day you bought it—thinking this car is never going to be worth a crap, and [now] you can sit back and think, ‘Man, it turned out just the way I wanted it to.’”

PRIDE AND JOY

Blackwell says he was most proud of his work when he learned Chevy Rumble wanted to feature the Nova on the cover of their December 2006 issue. He says he told his wife, “If I get the front page of a magazine, I won.”

Yet despite the slew of awards and a cover on Chevy Rumble, Blackwell confides the best finishing touch would have been if his father could have seen the car fully restored. After the entire car was complete, “My first emotion was, ‘I wish my dad was alive to see it,’” he says. “He saw the car when I first bought it, but he didn’t get to see me build it. Damn, I wish he would have seen it.”


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