It’s a Family Thing – Chris Klein’s 1963 Chevy II
When Chris Klein of Peosta, Iowa, was growing up, he was surrounded by the street rods that his Dad and uncles built. Not only was he privy to the hard work that went into building a street rod, he was also tasked with odd jobs in the garage and was even carted around to a number of regional street rod events through the late-’80s and early-’90s.
These were fun times for an aspiring gearhead, so when it came time to get serious and build his own car, the one thing Chris knew is that it was not going to be a street rod. His Dad’s rods were cool and all, but he wanted something more from the muscle car era and it had to be lean, mean and a road-shredding machine.
That isn’t to say that his father, Wayne, and uncles (Butch and Jim) were only into pre-’49 rides, as there seems to be an affliction for Chevy IIs in the family. Wayne bought a used L79 ’66 Nova, the rare 350-horsepower 327, back in 1969, only to sell it to his brother Jim a few years later (who still has it). Regretting that sale, Wayne now has two of his own while his other brother Butch has a ’63. Chris’s cousin Bill also owns a ‘66 and a ’71, so it only seemed right that Chris would keep the streak alive and build a 1963 Chevy II – heck, it’s pretty much in his genes.
Hence, the ’63 ReNOVAtor you see before you. The project was launched during a late-night eBay binge when Chris stumbled upon a listing with a solid ’63 body being sold with a ’99 Firebird for parts. It seemed like a good deal at the time, so Chris clicked the Buy it Now button, sight unseen with no questions asked. Come morning, he realized that he now owned two immobile vehicles that were sitting across the country. Not long after, he scored another rougher ’63 for parts locally.
Chris’s goal was to build a Nova that retained its classic styling and factory body lines, but underneath its skin would be serious, modern performance. Once the derelict 1963 Chevy II body showed up, Chris got busy with some subdued sheet metal modifications such as filling the cowl, smoothing the firewall, and cleansing the body of any and all trim or emblems. Chris did all of the metal work, including replacing the floor, installing mini tubs, and slight alterations. Before turning the 1963 Chevy II over to Deuhr Auto Body for paint, his Uncle Jim helped with the final block sanding to make sure the panels were perfect for the beaming PPG Night Orange metallic paint. To add a little accent, Deuhr finished the trim and taillamp panel with a flat gun-metal hue.
With the goal of modern muscle performance, fuel injection was mandatory, as was a third pedal. The LS1 was plucked from the supplied ’99 Pontiac and thoroughly detailed before being mated to a T56 six-speed from Texas Driveline. Chris modified an Australian Holden engine cover to conceal the coil packs, wiring and plumbing, which blends nicely into the modernized and sanitary engine compartment.
Notice the absence of the rickety factory strut suspension surrounding the engine? Chris opted for a front clip from Scotts Hot Rods ’n Customs along with a modern set of RideTech coil-over shocks. Out back, he modified a four-link system from Scott’s and added a Panhard bar to fit the stubby width of the new Moser 9-inch rearend. A few years of helping a friend race dirt late models helped Chris set up the rear suspension to his liking with the ability to alter the ride height and handle the girth of the 285/35R18 Nittos (with 235/40R18s up front).
Over the course of four years, Chris handled the sheet metal and mechanical modifications on the project, but he knew when to say when and that came when it was time for interior. He towed the nearly finished ’63 down to Knoxville, Tennessee, to Steve Holcomb of Pro Auto Custom Interiors. The two fellas agreed on an interior plan before Chris left; design a badass street machine interior that flows from the outside to the inside. A few months later, Chris picked up the 1963 Chevy II (again, sight unseen) to find an interior that fit exactly what he envisioned.
Steve started by cutting down the Firebird seats, and then formed a custom rear seat before covering them in leather with orange stitching. A Dakota Digital instrument cluster was used to fill the customized dash which was cleaned up considerably. A/C controls were moved underneath and there’s an Alpine sound system out of sight thanks to Bluetooth controls.
The ReNOVAtor project took Chris about four years to complete since that late night Buy It Now decision, but thanks to his vision and hard work, there’s yet another Nova in the Klein family rankings. Though we’ve never seen any of the family’s other Chevy IIs, we’re thinking Chris set the bar pretty high for the rest of the family. It will be really interesting to see what his own sons, Carson and Caleb, decide to drive in a couple more years!
Photos by John Jackson