Project Bad Influence Chevy Nova

Episode 319

June 7, 2020

Most car crazy folks have viewed the cars that come out of hot rod specialty shops which produce seemingly flawless cars. Many times absentee owners pour copious amounts of cash into those cars, which sometimes make a person wonder if the car is actually going to be used on the highway.

I believe that some would-be gearheads, after viewing the car magazine or looking at the perfect car online, give up before they start on a project or give up soon after starting. It may simply be the realization that “This project is costing more than I thought it would, eating up time that is not available, or requires skills or tools that are not available”.

Woodland resident, Brett Johnson admits that he has started projects or dreamed about rebuilds that either were abandoned or simply not attempted. He took the plunge with his current project, a 1972 Chevy Nova that he resurrected from what could be classified as a “basketcase”.

Johnson’s project car sitting at Caldwell Auto in Limestone, Maine the summer of 2016. When a friend, Joe Moutinho, bought a Chevelle from a person in Woodland, Johnson’s Nova was part of the deal. The reuniting of the car with Johnson and transfer of ownership began the current on-going restoration process. Note the car did not have a rear differential so securing one was necessary simply to make it moveable. (Brett Johnson photo)

What made the commercial truck driver have the confidence to begin the process despite having limited automotive training and a basic non-heated garage at his Uncle Randy’s house in Colby Siding?  A little background is necessary to potentially inspire other would-be hot rodders to try improving their ride. This is one reason Johnson was enthused to tell his story.

Born in April 1989 (31 years old), in New London, Connecticut, the son of Debra Grassi and Marc Johnson, he lived in nearby Waterford. You are correct, the town where Waterford Speedbowl is located.

“Growing up, I always watched my father work on things,” explained Johnson. “He said I would always just sit, and watch (taking mental notes is my guess). So I had an interest in cars, and mechanics from the very beginning.”

“I really taught myself how to start working on stuff by buying lawnmowers from the town dump where a friend of mine lived in Connecticut. I would take them home, get them running/working, and sell them. My mother used to get a kick out of it.”

“Once I was old enough to have a car, I started working on them.”

His first ‘car’ was a 1982 Datsun 720 he bought for $100 which was so rusted a friend pulled a side panel off with little effort. That car was destined for the scrap pile because no amount of money could cure its ills.

Before cars he bought a Sears LT 1032 riding mower at age 14 which he converted to a racing lawnmower. The mower was never raced, however, he did say most of his friends bought dirt bikes. Many times when his friends would ride their motorbikes on the street in front of his house, zooming along with them was Johnson on his racing lawnmower.

When he went to Waterford High School, he signed up for the auto mechanics program as a freshman. He spent two years in the program and enjoyed learning from the instructor whose name he did not recall. He did remember him as a race enthusiast.

On one occasion his high school principal, Mr Macrino, brought in his Legends race car to the shop for some pre-season preparation. Johnson thought the sight of a race car up close was interesting and the fact that his principal owned and drove it was doubly interesting.

Johnson brought his remote control (RC) car to school one day and was fooling around with it near the auto shop. Mr. Macrino saw him with the car. Johnson thought he was in trouble when Mr. Macrino approached him.

Quite the opposite. He asked Johnson to show him the RC and expressed genuine interest in the young man’s car. That proved to be a positive memory for Johnson, proving that educators and others as well can make a difference in the life of a teenager by showing regard for what the teen likes.

When he turned 17, he moved north to Woodland to live with his father. He briefly enrolled in the automotive program at Caribou Tech Center. In order to improve his grades, he moved to the Alternative Ed program and had to give up the auto course.

A 1992 Chevy Chevy 1500 pickup was the first vehicle he purchased in northern Maine. Just had to have a truck since he was living up north now. That was followed by a 1987 Thunderbird 4 cylinder turbo.

In the meantime, he had enrolled in the CDL course at Northern Maine Community College and earned his truck driving license as a result. After driving a cement mixer, fuel delivery truck, and a big rig in the woods, he went to work for his current employer, Robert Gough, Gough Trucking Service (GTS) in Mapleton. They haul wood to a variety of mills in Maine.

When talking about his current job he said,”My job doesn’t necessarily require us to be mechanically inclined, but I do what I can to ease the stress on my boss including finding solutions to problems when out on the road.”

Snowmobiles were the object of his need for speed in 2014. It turned out that he spend almost as much time working on his sleds as he spend riding. This gave way to his current project “Project Bad Influence” when he spotted the Nova at Caldwells in Limestone.

Johnson had wanted a Nova for several years. “A Hugger Orange model would be nice,” he thought.

Project Bad Influence

“This is the first project of this size I have done, which also ties into the name we gave it, ‘Project Bad Influence'” Finishing a car project has always been a problem for me. I would spend thousands of dollars on parts for a car, then get overwhelmed with what I had sitting in front of me, and sell it taking a major loss. So really cars have always been a bad influence for me.”

September 2018 after removing the rust rotted panels from rear. Almost every panel was replaced except roof, windshield landing, dash, and inner fenders. (Project Bad Influence photo)

Stripping of the dash and firewall showing how much work would be required to bring the Nova back to life after 25 years of neglect. The firewall was preserved. (Project Bad Influence photo)

Most of the floorboards had rotted and needed to be replaced. The panel replacement occured at his friend Scott Michaud’s shop in Caribou during the winter of 2019. (Project Bad Influence photo)

This is Johnson’s favorite photo of the restoration showing only the frame rails hanging out of the back of the Nova, once again showing the extensive body work required. He did comment that his least favorite part of the rebuild was body work since he had never done that type of work before. (Project Bad Influence photo)

Once the sheet metal that needed to be replaced was cut off, new panels were installed. Johnson mentioned that he purchased all of the new sheet metal from one vendor so it would fit well. (Project Bad Influence photo)

The rear end is an 8.5″ Nova differential with an Auburn locker, and 3.42 gears. The transmission is a 4L80E from a 2001 Chevy 2500 van, Johnson took it all apart and installed a Transgo HD2 reprogramming kit, as well as a pressure relief valve in the pump of the transmission. Paired with the overdrive transmission, the Nova can cruise down the highway, and still get good gas mileage. Note the disc brake conversion and the Cal Trac traction bars on the front of the leaf springs. (Project Bad Influence photo)

The front subframe ready for engine. The LS conversion motor mounts were from Hooker Headers as part of their integrated system of stainless tubular headers, three inch pipes, Flowmaster 40 series mufflers, and motor mounts. Getting these parts from one source made the swap much less complicated according to Johnson. Note the new brakes and tubular upper and lower a-arms.(Project Bad Influence photo)

“I had Russ Woodman, Castle Hill, go through the cylinder heads to clean them up. The engine itself is a 6.0 LS engine from a 2001 Chevy Silverado 2500 that ran great. What I did to it was install a Texas Speed camshaft and a Corvette LS6 intake manifold. The cylinder heads I used had a lot of port work done to the intake, and exhaust runners. The combustion chambers on the heads are smaller than the original heads that were on the engine, so it bumped the compression ratio up which big camshafts love. ” Estimated horsepower is near 500 hp. The wiring will be loomed after he runs the car this summer.(Project Bad Influence photo)

The car originally was golden brown paint with white interior, and a white vinyl top. It is now a low gloss forest green, with black interior, and as you can see he has removed the vinyl top. The complete interior came from Speedway Motors and was the first time he had done that type of work.The wheels were custom ordered from Wheel Vintiques out of City of Industry, California. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Johnson started the engine for me to listen to the sound, which was nice. What impressed me was the smooth idle and lack of ‘lumpyness’. The fuel injection and transmission were controlled by Holley Terminator X Max system which allows him to do some tuning and adjustments without great difficulty.

Of course a ride was necessary to check out the suspension ride, acceleration, and deceleration. I was pleasantly surprised that the car delivered on all counts. The acceleration will set you back in your seat and it rides more like a new car than the old suspension that came with the vintage car.

Johnson had help with the project including Joe Moutinho, Scott Michaud, Marc Johnson, Rodney Pooler, and others. The build is estimated to have cost nearly $25,000. That may seem like a large sum of money, however, by doing much of the work himself and relying on the help of friends he was able to get more car for fewer dollars.

I think the project is a good example of what grassroots car enthusiasts may accomplish by using their intellect to plan out the details of such an adventure.


Kacie Jo Haney April 11, 2003 – June 5, 2020. (Haney family photo)

I could not sleep Saturday morning and got up at 4 AM. While checking Facebook I noticed that Spud Speedway owner, Troy Haney’s fiancee, Julie Chamberlain had posted several photos of her 17 year old daughter the night before. I contacted Troy via Messenger and he told me Kacie was in an automobile accident at the Van Buren Road Connector about one-half mile north of their home in Caribou. She died at the scene.

It is extremely tough to hear about a young person losing their life, tougher still when that person is more than a casual acquaintance. I work for Haney’s Home-Farm-Garden in Caribou since retiring in 2013. As the groundskeeper, I would see Kacie multiple times per week. She had a vivacious personality. You could not help but like her.

Beyond seeing her at the store or at the race track, Spud Speedway, she volunteered to act as the gatekeeper for the Northern Maine Karting Association (NMKA)  which raced at Spud Speedway an average of ten events per year.

Former NMKA Secretary Stephanie Ball, living in Presque Isle, said it well in her post on the organization’s Facebook page:

“With heavy hearts, we say goodbye to one of the most energetic, free spirited and happy people to have graced us at NMKA. Kacie Haney not only handled ticket sales, safety waivers, keeping track of trophies, helping in clean up, etc. but she brought with her a sweet and vibrant radiance that all will remember.”

“Without Kacie and the work she did, many races would not have occurred and many races would have been missed. Though she was taken from this Earth and her family far too soon, Kacie’s memory will continue to resonate with us.”

“Despite being unable to have a racing season this year, it will always be Kacie’s bright, young face we look for as we pull up to the pits. We pray for peace and comfort for the Haney family in this unimaginable time. We apologize to any who may first learn of her passing from our post. Rest easy, Kacie.”

“So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” John 16:22.

A video taken by her Mom at a cross country race in southern Maine where she had just won the unseeded race may give you some insight into her personality. She was being interviewed by a news reporter after her race. The interview is below:

Kacie with one of her many friends, Emily Collins. This is one of my favorite photos with which I am ending this week’s episode, heartbroken. Psalm 34:18 says it well and I believe is written to all of Kacie’s friends and relatives, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Amen (Photo courtesy Collins Family)

Kacie’s vehicle visitation will be Wednesday June 10, 2020 at Caribou High School from 12 -2 PM. Friends and family may show their support for the Haney family and show their respect for Kacie.

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Psalm 34:18)

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine