Ever since he got his first 1969 Chevy II Nova at the age of 15 and drove the car to and from high school, Dean Tepen has been loyal to the iconic muscle car. From his early days spent bracket racing to his latest drag-and-drive obsession, Tepen used his knowledge and experience to build his current 1965 Nova.
A mechanic for an electric company by day, Tepen, 55, started putting together another 1965 Nova for his son, Drew Tepen. The more he tore that car apart, though, the more he realized how unexpectedly rough and rusty it was. “So, I found a bare shell online that someone had stripped down to make a race car out of. It was in really nice shape,” Tepen explains about how he located the rust-free replacement in Missouri in 2013.
Drew was 16 at the time and had just gotten his driver’s license, and the men worked feverishly at their home in Jerseyville, Illinois, to transfer parts from the original 1965 to its successor.
“I’ve got a tube bender, MIG and TIG welders, a lathe, and a mill,” Tepen shared of his sweet setup, which is also heated and air-conditioned. “It took me a lot of years to accumulate it all, but I’m lucky.” Using his skill and equipment, Tepen fabricated and installed a six-point roll cage in his Nova, complete with swing-out door bars to facilitate ingress and egress of the street car.
At first, Tepen installed a naturally-aspirated 6.0-liter LS engine and his Nova ran consistently in the 11.2-second zone. He added a small spray of nitrous not long after and the car picked up to go 10.46. With the combination, he completed three Rocky Mountain Race Week events, multiple Memphis Super Chevy Show outings, and several Drag Week drag-and-drive trips.
“My daughter, Ashleigh Frasier, won Super Chevy in St. Louis a few years ago, and Drew finished second in points at our local track when he was in high school in 2014,” added the proud father, who also earned accolades of his own. “I got down to eight cars in 2016 and four cars in 2017 at Drag Week in Street Machine Eliminator, and down to four cars at LS Fest in True Street in 2020.”
In 2021, though, Tepen stepped up to an LS-based 408 cubic-inch powerplant that used a 6.0-liter LS block, with Frankenstein Engine Dynamics cylinder heads. Thompson Motorsports completed the short block, which includes an Eagle crank and connecting rods, CP Pistons, and a Cam Motion cam, but Tepen did the assembly himself. “I’m old school, so it’s carbureted instead of fuel injected,” he laughs.
For a gearbox, it was Transmissions To Go in Missouri that Tepen trusted to build his 700R4 automatic. “It’s got overdrive to make it more streetable and Sonnax upgraded planetary parts, so it’ll hold up,” explains the owner, who also installed a Transmission Specialties torque converter. “They’ve taken great care of me over the years.”
Out back, Tepen installed a 12-bolt Chevy rearend with 3.73 gears. He then narrowed it to be able to fit the 255/60 Mickey Thompson ET Street S/S drag radial tires which are wrapped around a set of Weld RT-S wheels. Everything fit without having to minitub the chassis. Incredibly, Tepen does not swap out his strip set up for the street and runs the same 4-inch fronts and 8-inch rears no matter where he goes.
Utilizing the leaf spring configuration, Tepen augmented the stock suspension with a set of Calvert Racing CalTracs traction bars. Up front, a Church Boys Racing lower A-arm kit was installed while Competition Engineering shocks were included on the build sheet.
Also sticking to stock in the brake department, Tepen has an aluminum drum setup in the rear, although his fronts have been swapped in favor of a modern set of discs from Wilwood.
Inside, the factory radio and manual-crank windows create a period-perfect ‘60s-era environment. Tepen chose to keep the original bold red but enhanced the aesthetics with subtle touches. “Other than the roll cage, Autometer gauges, and the B&M shifter, it’s pretty much stock,” shared Tepen, who is pleased with how the street car Nova’s immaculate interior turned out.
The Chevy had originally rolled off the factory floor dressed in white, so Tepen also chose to honor its heritage when he had the classic car resprayed the same shade by his friends Eric Stemmler and Ty Johnson in May of 2018. This was done as repayment for some engine work he had done in trade. Except for the aftermarket Goodmark cowl hood, the Chevy II still retains all its factory steel, badging, and brightwork.
At Rocky Mountain Race Week in 2021, Tepen slowed his steed down to run in the 11.0 index class and finished second overall, narrowly missing first by just 0.006-seconds for the five-day average. For 2022, though, he was excited to be a part of Tom Bailey’s inaugural Sick Week and packed up to head off to Florida in February.
With his wife of more than 35 years, Melissa, sitting shotgun, Tepen arrived at Bradenton Motorsports Park ready to run in the Dial Your Own (DYO) category where he would submit one timeslip per day above or dead-on 10.000 and aim to be the driver with the smallest spread of times across all five days.
At Bradenton, Tepen collected his first timeslip showing he had run 10.740 at 125.42 mph. “It was a little slower than I wanted, but I figured it would be easier to slow the car down for consistency than to try and speed it up,” he elaborated.
Day two of the event at Orlando Speed World was canceled due to rain, but Tepen was back at it bright and early at Gainesville Raceway on day three and ran 10.605 at 125.22 mph there. “I had run 10.59 earlier but came back around to make a second pass. I knew at that point I wasn’t in contention for the win with such a big difference between the two numbers, so I chose to run it flat out the next two days,” stated the driver of his change in plans.
Crossing the border into Georgia, Tepen enjoyed the thrill of running a new personal best at South Georgia Motorsports Park. “I went 10.586 at 125.63 mph foot-braking it with a 1.43-second 60-foot time,” he said excitedly of the great pass.
The air wasn’t quite as good on day five back at Bradenton, but Tepen had fun going 10.658 at 124.80 mph nonetheless.
Despite the switch in strategy, his averages were 10.647-seconds and 125.27 mph and his times still were tight enough to place him 21st in the huge field of 100 cars. “I should have tried to run again on that first day and go quicker, which would have made a big difference in the overall finish, but it was a blast,” he concluded.
Tepen survived the grueling drag-and-drive battle of attrition after roughly 700 miles and multiple 1/4-mile passes down the dragstrip. The ultimate test of street car worthiness, Tepen’s home-built Nova proved to be bulletproof as he had no issues to report and his Nova performed flawlessly.
Looking ahead, Tepen is planning for even more drag-and-drive events, including Rocky Mountain Race Week, Drag Week, the Memphis Super Chevy Show, and LS Fest’s True Street class, where his schedule permits. His super clean LS-swapped 1965 Chevy II Nova has proven to be a reliable partner, and as a thank you for its service, Tepen will let it stretch its legs further in the future as he plans to add an NOS nitrous kit for an extra kick once again.
Car: 1965 Chevrolet II Nova
Chassis: Six-point roll cage
Engine: Thompson Motorsports 408 ci LS block
Heads: Frankenstein Engine Dynamics
Cam: Cam Motion
Transmission: Transmissions To Go 700R4
Converter: Transmission Specialties
Fuel Management: Carburetor
Rearend: Narrowed Chevy 2-bolt
Suspension: Calvert racing CalTracs, Church Boys lower A-arms, Competition Engineering shocks
Wheels: Weld RT-S
Tires: Mickey Thompson ET Street S/S drag radials
Quickest E.T.: 10.586
Fastest MPH: 125.63 mph
Best 60-Foot: 1.43