Dan Miller: Star Novas

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 02/2016
  • posted in: Great Garages

His Novas are still out of this world.

Six years ago, describing his superlative Scottsdale collection, we wrote: “Chevrolet Novas are Dan Miller’s universe.”

Today, the Chevy-performance aficionado has expanded his universe, with 22 Novas and other collectibles housed in his 20-acre Pinnacle Peak-area home, which features nine car garages centering on an 8,000-square-foot centerpiece building, transformed from the original tennis court. (See Highline Autos, January 2016, for details on this 27,000-square-foot estate home.)

His collection comprises numbers-matching Novas –– L79s, L78s, COPOs, Yenkos –– and also pro touring, modified customs, gassers and a few ’67 Corvettes and ’72 Chevy pickups added because of the fond memories they provide. He also has old bicycles, Cushman Scooters, a Nova go-kart, a Nova hubcap wall display and gas pumps.

In native Kansas City, Kansas, he was playing with toy cars before he would walk. “Of course, I had the Buffalo Bill

white-handled six-shooters. But cars were my love,” he says.

At 9, he started riding Cushman Scooters and later Triumph motorcycles. At 14, he bought a 1940 model Ford Coupe.

“Over the years, I was drawn to Chevrolet, mostly because of Bill ‘Grumpy’ Jenkins and his many successes as a dragster record holder,” he explains. The late Jenkins, nicknamed for his no-nonsense attitude at the strips, is a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and Don Garlits International Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

“Another factor for choosing Novas for my collection was the affordability. Corvettes, Camaros and Chevelles were all more expensive. I had a feeling that the little sleeper Nova would play catch up and be a winner.”

He bought his first Nova, a ’66 SS, when he was 18. “Once I saw what this lightweight Nova could do, I was hooked,” he says.

He married his high school sweetheart, Liz, and moved to Arizona with their two children in 1979. “When my wife and I got married, we had the ‘66, and when we purchased our first home, I was told I wouldn’t qualify for the home loan as long as I had a $60 car payment,” Dan recalls. “I decided to sell my Nova and put my family first. I told my wife I would have another Nova one day.”

In 1991, his masonry business thriving, he got back into Novas when he built a home in Scottsdale. His first rotisserie restoration was a 1967 Nova SS, “Satisfaction.” “The Valley was hitting on all cylinders. The good-ole days of the ‘60s were great, but the ‘90s, it was buckle up and hold on. We were on a good run.”

He did well in a booming economy and retired in 1996 at 48. But, with the help of two of his children, he went from bricks to lifts, starting AutoNow, better known as LiftedTrucks.com, specializing in lifted trucks and SUVs in Phoenix.

Open those doors, Dan:

•1964 Nova Gasser –– “Gangreen” was purchased at Barrett- Jackson 2011. The speedy Nova was built on Discovery Challenge’s Wrecks to Riches by Barry White and the SMC (Super Muscle Car) crew. The car features a GM crate 502 cid with 600 horses, a hotter cam and polished tunnel ram, dual four-barrel carbs and custom House of Kolor paint. Also incorporated are Baer four-wheel disc brakes, 9-inch Currie Custom rear and straight axle. This very healthy performer was once owned by baseball great and car lover, ‘Mr. October,’ Reggie Jackson.

•1966 Nova, ‘Grumpy’s Toy’ –– Dan purchased the little red Nova from a Nova collection in Enid, Oklahoma, owned by Gary Griffith. “Gary agreed to sell me the car after I convinced him on the idea that I always wanted to build a ’66 Grumpy’s Toy for my collection,” he says. “Gary had arranged for legendary Bill Jenkins to sign my car at the Las Vegas Raceway on Oct. 21, 2005, which was my 57th birthday. Bill signed the hood. What a true gift. I had been waiting for 40 years to meet The Grump.”

Back in 1966, the Funny Car phenomenon was huge, he says. “The Stockers were also gaining popularity as Detroit rushed headlong into the muscle car market. Bill Jenkins A/Stocker was a giant-killing 327 L79-powered Nova. I knew I had to have one or more.”

•1967 Corvette, 427/435 Coupe –– With only 37,129 miles, this classic has a 100-percent original numbers-matching drivetrain and is NCRS judged and documented with the original tank sticker.

Dan purchased it from Mark Young, owner of Northwest House of Hardtops, Portland, Oregon. Young had purchased the ’Vette at the estate sale of a Mr. Vram of Spokane, Washington, who bought it new at Appleway Chevrolet there.

“What is interesting about this car is the Mr. Vram entombed the Corvette inside the party room of his split-level home for nearly 29 years,” Dan says. “The back lower lever wall of his house had to be dismantled in order to remove the car from the inside. Attempts were made to get the Corvette up and running, but to no avail due to many factors. A full ground-up restoration was completed in 2008.”

•1967 Chevy No Camino –– Dan purchased the No Camino from Richard Crooker, a talented car builder from Prescott, Arizona. He wanted to find out what if Chevy had built the Chevy El Camino on the compact Nova instead of the Chevelle in ’66.

A 1966 Nova wagon was transformed into this beautifully scaled hauler over a three-year period. The performance comes from a GMPP crate 350 cid backed up with a GM 200 4R automatic transmission from Bowtie Overdrives and a 3:36 rear end. It runs at 2000 rpm at 75 mpg. With all the adds such as power steering, disc brakes, air-conditioning, this little Nova is great for cruising, Dan says.

•1967 Nova Convertible –– This is another example of what GM did not build in 1967. After 1965, Nova convertibles were not factory built. Dan purchased this custom at the 2015 Barrett-Jackson Auction, Scottsdale.

It features a late-model new GM LS1 V-8 5.7-liter engine with new 4L60 electronic four-speed automatic, a complete custom red interior, power disc brakes, power windows, air condition, tilt wheel and more. The droptop Nova has a new black Hartz material convertible top that complements the silver paint. “Numbers matching or modified, I like all Novas,” Dan says.

•1966 Two-door Nova Wagon –– One more “GM-not-built” in 1966. The wagon started out as a factory-built four door. Ray Mersch of St. Peters, Missouri, the builder, removed the doors and installed two new doors from a donor two-door sedan. The pillars were added along with extended quarter panels.

Dan purchase the wagon complete in 2011 after watching the car win five awards at the Nova Nationals. It features an Aztec Bronze exterior with Fawn Super Sport interior. The engine is a dressed 327 cid/350 horsepower, coupled to a four-speed transmission. Air-conditioning is included. The engine compartment and undercarriage are detailed to show quality.

•1967 Chevy Nova L-79 –– SS documented with Protect-o-Plate, title history and MSO. One of three he owns with the L-79 327 cid/325 horsepower engine, it’s the highest scoring restored Nova in the history of National Nostalgic Nova, Dan says.

He purchased it in August 2012 from Jack Duer of Girard, Ohio. “I believe it to be the only ’67 SS L-79 with the correct body, original engine, 12-bolt rear end and Protect-o-Plate in existence,” he says.

The Nova underwent a painstaking five-year restoration. “Literally every nut and bolt was disassembled, resorted or replace with many NOS parts.”

The Chevrolet by the Numbers book says that there were only six L-79s built in 1967, he says. “I am currently the lucky owner of the three verified ’67 L-79 Novas that exist to date.”

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