Brand loyalty has been a part of the racing culture since it began and some take it to the next level with their obsession over certain makes and models of vehicle. Justin Kalwei and his family are part of the General Motors fan club, but the car they’ve always loved is the classic Chevy II Nova. Justin has channeled that admiration of the Nova into a sleek Laguna Blue 1967 model that is motivated by some serious twin-turbo LSX-based muscle.
Well before Justin was laying down four-second passes in his Nova he learned how to wrench on trucks. The very first vehicle he learned to drive and work on was a 1970 C10 pickup that his parents purchased for him when he was just 15 years old. That truck was far from a powerhouse when Justin took ownership of it. The truck sported just a straight six-cylinder engine under the hood with a manual transmission.
That docile six-banger just wasn’t going to cut it, though, so it was time to add some horsepower to his new ride.
“I had to have something with more power for the truck so we started to hot rod it. The engine it came with was replaced with a 355 cubic-inch small-block backed by a TH350 transmission. We added a nitrous kit to the engine and it ended up running in the 12s at the track … not bad for an old truck,” Justin explains.
My parents decided it would be best for me to have a track-only car with some power so I wouldn’t get any more tickets.
With great power comes great responsibility, and at 16 years old Justin just wasn’t responsible enough to have that much power on tap. He began racking up a fair amount of speeding tickets with the truck, so his parents decided he needed a better outlet for his addiction to speed. The search began for a car that would be dedicated for track use so Justin wouldn’t find any more trouble on the streets doing high-speed equipment tests.
“My parents decided it would be best for me to have a track-only car with some power so I wouldn’t get any more tickets. They found a 1955 Chevy that had a big 540 cubic-inch engine for me to drive. That car ended up running 5.00 in the 1/8-mile so it was a pretty quick car and a lot of fun to drive,” Justin says.
Justin and his family would take their shoebox Chevy to one of the biggest heads-up races in the country, the World Street Nationals at Orlando Speedworld to compete. At the event, they got to see Mark Dantoni win in his immaculate 1957 Chevy and they decided they had to have one. That led to Justin getting a new ride, fresh competition to race, and new personal bests at the track.
“After seeing Dantoni’s car in Orlando, we ended up going to New York and buying a Jerry Bickel Race Cars-built 1957 Chevy. That car had a 707 cubic-inch Pat Musi engine and a Lenco five-speed transmission. We ran that car in the NMCA Pro Street class along with some other events and ran a best of 6.70 at 210 mph. I was just 18 at the time driving that car and having a whole lot of fun,” Justin explains.
The ’57 served Justin well and he was able to move on to an even faster car, a 1963 split window Corvette that ran 4.0s in the 1/8-mile at over 186 mph. Eventually, he moved on from the Corvette and started a new build. His new project signaled a move back to his roots in the form of a 1994 Chevy Silverado truck called “The Red Dragon”.
The Silverado started life just like his C10, with a six-cylinder engine under the hood, but this time it was replaced with something a bit more modern: a 5.3-liter LS. That combination wasn’t fast enough for Justin even though the truck was his daily driver, so the engine was rebuilt with stronger internals with a pair of turbos added to the mix for good measure. The Red Dragon was now a certified eight-second daily driver and ran a best of 8.62 at 165 in the 1/4-mile.
Justin had the Red Dragon for a long time, but when the opportunity came up to move into a Chevy II he was more than ready to make the jump.
“We happened to find this Nova in Texas about three years ago. The price was just too good to walk away from so I purchased the car. It was perfect because we’ve always had a soft spot for the Chevy II body style. I ended up pulling the driveline out of the Red Dragon and sticking it in the Nova after I got it,” Justin says.
As soon as Justin finished up the Nova it showed the true potential of the engine he had built. The car set the hydraulic roller cam LSX record with a 4.57 1/8-mile pass at 160 mph. The joy of setting the record was short-lived though — at Tulsa Raceway Park he crashed the car. Justin turned that setback into a positive and used the downtime to make some updates, change the color, and add a whole lot more power to the car.
Texas Speed and Performance got the call to build Justin a healthy 427 cubic-inch LS-based engine using a GM LSX block. Standing up to serious high-boost abuse was going to be a challenge, so Texas Speed used a Callies Ultra Billet crankshaft as the base of the rotating assembly, then added a set of Callies Ultra Rods and Wiseco pistons. Keeping the engine lubricated from the bottom is a Melling oil pump inside a Moroso oil pan.
For cylinder heads, Texas Speed used a set of PRC 247 casting six-bolt units with cathedral ports. The heads were matched to one of Texas Speed’s custom camshafts and stock 1.7 rocker arms. Air is added to the engine via an Edelbrock Super Victor intake and 102mm Nick Williams throttle body. A set of 220-pound injectors receive fuel from a pair of MagnaFuel 750 fuel pumps, while an Aeromotive regulator keeps the fuel pressure at an optimal 58 psi. Justin tunes the car himself with a Holley Dominator ECU that provides the spark to a set of Holley Smart Coils.
The turbo kit was built by Vasko Speed using 4-inch cold size piping, 2.5-inch hot side piping, and a 4-inch downpipe. Boost comes from a pair of LJMS 85/96 turbos that are controlled by a 60mm JGS blow-off valve and a pair of JGS 50mm wastegates. The incoming charge of air is cooled by a Chiseled Performance 2000 intercooler. When everything was combined together it put down over 1,500 horsepower to the tires.
It has been a long journey to get the car back into racing shape but it has been worth it.
To support the power, Justin bolted an M&M Transmission TH400 up to it along with an M&M Transmission torque converter. Behind the stout transmission and converter is a 9-inch rearend that uses Mark Williams Enterprises 40-spline axles, a Mark Williams spool, and 3.70 ratio gears.
The front suspension features a full set of Smith Racecraft upper and lower control arms that work with a pair of Strange Engineering struts. All of these parts are bolted to a Smith Racecraft frontend that Justin added to the car. In the rear, a set of Santhuff shocks make sure all of the power is planted to the pavement as efficiently as possible.
Wheels are what gives a car its signature look, so Justin made sure to use a striking set on the Nova. In the front, he used a pair of WELD Racing Magnum wheels wrapped in Mickey Thompson rubber, and in the rear, a set of WELD Racing Alpha wheels and a pair of Mickey Thompson Pro 275 tires. Bringing the Nova to a stop after each four-second trip down the track are Strange Engineering disc brakes at each corner.
After the crash, the Nova was in need of some body work and Justin used this as an opportunity to change its appearance. He enlisted the help of Todd Timbrook to change the color from gray to a striking tone of Laguna Blue. An Unlimited Products bubble hood was added to the car along with a Tim McAmis Race Cars rear wing.
Justin stays very busy with his shop, Justune Performance & Tuning, so he’s had limited time to shake the Nova down after its makeover. When the car is ready he plans on chasing some records and doing as much racing as he can.
“I’m hoping the car will run in the 4.20 to 4.30 range when we’re done getting it fine-tuned. It has been a long journey to get the car back into racing shape but it has been worth it. The plan is to do some no-prep racing with the car and hit some Limited Drag Radial events, as well,” Justin says.
Every step of the way Justin has received support from many people. He acknowledges without their help he would never be able to build the car he dreamed of.
“I would like to thank my wife for always backing me and letting me do the things that
make me happy in life. My parents for always being there to help me with the ups and downs of this sport. My friends for always being there to get this car built and whenever I need a hand. Texas Speed & Performance for stepping up and sponsoring the bullet that we needed, and a special thanks to Todd Timbrook for making my dreams of a blue Chevy II a reality.”
Justin has been able to race some amazing cars on the way to owning his dream car. The 1967 Nova that found a way into his life has been transformed into the vision of what he thinks a racecar should be and he takes pride in making sure that his Nova runs just as good as it looks at the track.