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Cooper Zahabi's pro touring big-block 1970 Chevrolet Nova

By Craig Parker | Photos: Chris Thorogood, 24 Nov 2019 Features

Cooper Zahabi's pro touring big-block 1970 Chevrolet Nova

Cooper Zahabi is but a teenager, and he crafted this masterpiece with his bare hands

AT 16, most young blokes with their head screwed on are just starting to think about what sort of car they want. Not Cooper Zahabi. Having spent bulk hours working beside his dad, Rides By Kam owner Rob Zahabi, on Rob’s stunning black-on-black Kam Nova (SM, Nov ’14), at 16 Cooper had not only settled on his dream car, the build was already well underway. And this stunning Chevy Nova is it!

This article was first published in the November 2019 issue of Street Machine

Chevrolet Nova

Trick billet pieces such as these Fesler tail-lights abound in RBK70. Fesler also supplied the driving lights, interior door handles and boot and bonnet hinges, while the Ringbrothers logo can be found on the shifter, exterior door handles, pedals, bonnet pins and the bonnet- and boot-stoppers. A host of Billet Specialties parts were also used, including the wheels, steering wheel and shifter surround

A few short years later, the finished car was good enough to take pride of place next to his dad’s jaw-dropping Dodge Challenger, HAVOC, in this year’s Great Meguiar’s Uncover at Summernats 32. Debuting your first build at Summernats – and taking out 2nd Top Coupe to boot – at age 18 is damn impressive!

Watch next: Cooper talks about his 1970 Chevy Nova build

Chevrolet Nova side

And if you’re thinking Zahabi Sr did most of the hard yakka, you’d be wrong.

“We built the cars [HAVOC and RBK70] side-by-side,” says proud dad Rob. “Sure, I helped him some, but I was too busy on HAVOC – the Nova is all Cooper.”

Watch next: Inside Ride By Kam's 'HAVOC' 1970 Dodge Challenger build

Chev Nova front

Those who know their second-gen Novas will note how all the factory mouldings from around the front have been recreated in steel and welded on. This was a mountain of work, but it really cleans up the frontal area

For three gruelling years, every morning, every afternoon and every weekend Cooper toiled on his beast. As a youngster living on the Gold Coast (aka Party Central), that was a mighty ask.

Read next: Ride By Kam-built twin procharged 1970 Chev Nova

Chevrolet Nova

As radical as this ’70 Nova is, it’s been fully engineered and mod-plated, with the government-issued plate mounted in the boot. “To get to it, I have to pull off a panel held on with Velcro,” says Cooper

“It was a challenge juggling building my future while trying to maintain a social life,” says Cooper. “I was always first to leave the party, as I had to get up at five to work on the car. Luckily, I’ve got a good group of supportive and understanding mates. They even came ’round and gave me a hand and kept me company.”

Read next: Rob Beauchamp's pro touring 1967 Chev Nova

Chevrolet Nova wheel

So how did such a young bloke build such an epic car?

“I built and sold a few go-karts, plus saved up a good bit of money from helping around the shop since I was a kid,” Cooper says. “At 15, I bought a Skyline – just a roller to turn into a drift car. We got an RB25 front cut, fixed it all up, added coil-overs, made it look schmick, and sold it off for good dollars. Only being 15, I never even got to drive it! Dad and I worked well together on the project. He suggested we do it again – but this time on a muscle car.”

Chevrolet Nova

With the money Cooper had made on the Skyline, combined with his other savings, he and Rob reached out to a US friend to scout out a second-gen Nova. Craigslist answered the call with what looked like a good deal – a 1970 six-cylinder car out of Reno for US$3800.

Chevrolet Nova

“It was a complete, driving car,” says Cooper. “However, the photos hid a lot. I was gutted when I started grinding into the rear quarters, only to find five kilos of bog, as well as more bog and chicken wire hiding rust elsewhere. It was a basket case. We pretty much cut the bottom six inches off and started again. Stuff like sills, floors and half-quarters we could buy – the rest I had to make.”

Chevy Nova bonnet

That’s no fibreglass bonnet – it’s all steel. As with the door and boot jambs, every seam in this Nova has been welded, filled and smoothed-over. So slick – and so many hours!

Cooper is true to his word when he says he made these pieces himself. Day-to-day, he works at his dad’s shop Rides By Kam, famed for creating high-end, turn-key builds. Fabrication, bodywork, paint, engine building, motor trimming – they do it all! And while Cooper’s just finished his panel-beating apprenticeship, he’s proud to be following in his father’s footsteps by becoming mighty proficient at all aspects of car building. That said, custom fabrication is his main bread and butter.

Chevrolet Nova engine bay

Cooper is justifiably proud of the engine bay, which included a right-hand-drive conversion. With no inner guards, everything is on display, so it all had to be detailed and painted to perfection. Yep, this Nova’s pretty fancy when you pop the bonnet. The custom air intake started as two exhaust doughnuts and a box of mandrel bends, and was a bugger to keep symmetrical

The MIG wasn’t packed away once the Nova was cancer-free; a ton of hours were then invested in tidying up myriad awkward bits. The side markers went AWOL; so too all the factory badges and moulds. Camaro driving lights were grafted into the tucked-in bars, all seams were welded and smoothed, the drip rails were shaved, plus loads more. This 70s muscle car is now a whole lot smoother and more refined.

Chevrolet Nova engine bay

Cooper knows that stance is everything, so RBK70 was going to be airbagged from day one. To accommodate the four RideTech ShockWaves (complete with e-Level system), a four-link displaced the factory rear leaves, while at the opposite end, RideTech StrongArms get the job done. Aired out, the 20x8 and 22x10 billets tuck way up high, with the reworked inner guards providing plenty of room up front. However, even with mini-tubs out back, the 305 rear hides are mighty tight.

Chevrolet Nova interior

Spinning the rolling stock is 468 cubic inches of big-block Chevy. Considering the sizeable mill was pieced together by the horsepower heroes at Jake’s Performance and is filled with loads of go-fast gear, the claimed 500hp rating would appear a tad conservative.

“It’s ready to be ProCharged later on,” Cooper explains. “Besides, 500hp is plenty for the street – it stops me from going stupid.”

Chevrolet Nova interior rear interior

Rather than a slushbox, Cooper swaps cogs via a Magnum six-speed – a carry-over from his drift days. “I like changing gears with a clutch,” he says. “It makes the car so much more driveable.”

Laying down the blazing HOK Sunrise Pearl was one area of the build where Zahabi Sr took over. “I did all the bodywork and most of the prep, and when it was ready, Dad stepped in and did the gun work,” Cooper says. “He reckons it’s the hardest colour he’s ever had to spray.”

Chevrolet Nova console

Despite its muscle-bound persona, this Nova is packing some serious tunes. The Pioneer touchscreen head unit runs to two amps that push 2400W into a pair of 6x9s and two 12in sub-woofers

Despite putting in all those hard yards, Cooper is still coming to terms with what he’s created. “To be honest, I’m still blown away,” he admits. “Unveiling next to the old man’s Challenger was pretty amazing. It didn’t really sink in until the Thursday night when setting up the two cars side-by-side. Then Friday night with all the people – wow! Even afterwards, everyone – including a lot of people I respect as builders – coming up and congratulating me was very humbling.”

Chevrolet Nova dash

And just in case you’re wondering what Zahabi Jr’s daily is, it’s a shitty old HiLux – the ultimate parts-chaser. I’m betting the ’Lux will be called upon for some time, as I highly doubt RBK70 will be the last high-end street machine we’ll see from this talented youngster.

THE INSIDE SCOOP

ROB Zahabi is well known for his show-winning custom interiors, and this aptitude has certainly rubbed off on young Cooper – the Nova’s cabin is nothing short of radical.

Chevrolet Nova interior rear

“We designed it together,” says Cooper. “We get very creative when we start brainstorming. Both of us like to draw, so we sat down one night and sketched heaps of different ideas.”

Other than a handful of pieces like the VE ute seats, Flaming River column and Dakota Digital dash, virtually everything is custom-made. The dash started from nothing; the doors trims were just the factory steel top bits and the rest was made from scratch.

Chevrolet Nova interior

Then there’s the acres of Alcantara trim, complete with intricate diamond-stitching. “So much stitching in this interior – two solid weeks’ worth,” says Cooper. “It’s easily twice as hard and twice as much work as one of our normal full-custom interiors.”

Cooper Zahabi

“Working with my dad on the car was awesome,” says Cooper. “I laugh when my mates tell me what a punishment it is to work with their old man. Dad and I work well together – we get very creative. And if we don’t agree, we know how to compromise. I guess I’m pretty lucky”

COOPER ZAHABI
1970 CHEVY NOVA

Paint: HOK Sunrise Pearl

ENGINE
Brand: 468ci big-block Chev
Intake: Chevrolet Performance
Heads: Alloy; 2.23in (intake) and 1.94in (exhaust) valves
Camshaft: Comp Cams Mutha Thumpr
Pistons: Diamond forged
Crank: Scat 4340 forged, 4.500in stroke
Oil pump: Milodon high-volume
Fuel pump: Holley
Cooling: PWR, twin thermo fans
Exhaust: Custom headers, 3.5in system with X-pipe
Ignition: MSD Digital 6AL-2
Preferred fuel: 98-octane PULP

DRIVELINE
Gearbox: Tremec T56
Bellhousing: Mal Wood
Clutch: Exedy
Diff: 9in, Truetrac, 31-spline

CHASSIS & BRAKES
Front suspension: RideTech tubular arms
Rear suspension: RideTech four-bar
Springs/shocks: RideTech ShockWaves (f & r)
Brakes: CPP (f & r); Wilwood master cylinder

INTERIOR
Seats: VE Commodore ute
Trim: Alcantara
Wheel: Billet Specialties
Instruments: Dakota Digital
Shifter: Ringbrothers

WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Billet Specialties Velocity; 20x8 (f), 22x10 (r)
Rubber: 245/35R20 (f), 305/25R22(r)

THANKS
My old man, who was always there helping and encouraging me, as well as offering me loads of good advice on the car and my priorities; my older brother Mitch and my younger brother Tyler for pitching in; Mum for always supporting my passion for cars. My ultimate goal for my family is to become successful enough to give back and show my appreciation for everything they’ve done for me. We’re all really close

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