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Total Vauxhall
August 2004
Total Vauxhall August 2004
Lucky Numbers
It's taken 13 years to refine and perfect this slick 16v Nova - and that's 13 years well spent we reckon
Words: Jason Simms, Photography: Max Earey
If patience is a virtue then Nick Caro is a saint. Most of us start loosing our cool and even our interest if a project hangs around for more than a couple of years without reaching completion. But Nick has been in there for the long haul and has held on to his Nova, which was originally a 1.4 SR, for 13 years.

Amazingly, Nick knew all about the car's very short history even before he got it. "Friends of the family had a Vauxhall dealership, so I knew the original owner ," he says. Bought way back in 1991, the Nova was only a year old. Unsurprisingly since then the car has seen one or two different phases of tune and modification, but Nick has followed one guiding principle since day one: if you're going to do it, do it right. That means paying attention to details , and as such a lot of Nick's upgrades aren't immediately obvious, the attention to detail is minute. In fact, you can't really see them at all. But that doesn't worry him as he's more into what the car can do rather than drawing crowds of onlookers.

That's not to say his car isn't a looker, and those in the know will appreciate the fine standard his car's exterior has achieved. For a start, the paintwork is nigh-on faultless after an exceptional respray by Adrian Culley at LC Charles in Crewe. "He resprayed it all bar the roof," Nick explains. "Instead of chasing little bubbles and imperfections, he put two new doors on and as the rear panel was looking a bit scabby he replaced that too. He also sorted out the passenger side inner wing, which is another classic spot for deterioration on the Nova." Nick's also played his part. "I hand-made the rear clusters," he reveals. "there are normally yellow lenses where the clear ones are but there was no other yellow on the car so I wanted to get rid of them - and make them a bit different to what everybody else has." That meant moving the lights around a bit, including the fogs and ditching the reverse light altogether, but the latter is not problem as it's not a requirement for the MoT.

Unconvinced by the qualities of glass-fibre components, Nick also ensured the fitment of a genuine ABS plastic Monteray scoop for the bonnet, which wasn't cheap but it doesn't sag over time. Far more substantial strength was needed in the body to fulfil Nick's performance ambitions, however.

Total Vauxhall August 2004
"The original 2-litre 16v conversion was done back in 1997, but you could only drive it safely in a straight line," Nick reckons. "The chassis legs and turrets started to come away if it was driven hard. I'd heard rumours that the body strengthening kit was good so I took it down to ASW to get it done." The upgrade is based around the Harry Hinckley Group N 12-plate kit, pioneered for rallying. This is fixed in and around the engine bay and at strategic points along the body, including the chassis legs and is complemented by stitch welding of parts of the body. It may sound like overkill for a road car, but Nick reckons it's well worth it. "Now it drives like it did when it was a stock SR and you can push it round corners and it feels safe."
Total Vauxhall August 2004 With a rock solid base on which to build in even more power, Nick looked around for where he could take the car from here. "It was a toss up between throttle bodies and a turbo," he remembers. "What made my mind up was that turbos can be expensive if they go wrong and you just can't beat the sound of throttle bodies." There's no denying that but, as Nick discovered, there's still a lot of work to be done getting them to run right. "I found the kit in Cornwall and Dave France took the original injection off the 2-litre engine and did the job of putting the throttle bodies on as and when he could," remembers Nick. "But when he did get them on, they were miles out, nowhere near right." This was to be expected as the mechanical process of fitting throttle bodies is just the beginning of the work it takes to get them performing as they should. "I got the laptop connected up to the ECU and that made sure I'd got the right amount of air going into the bodies," reveals Nick. "Then I went down to SBD to get them to properly map the set-up as it was running too rich."
Nick isn't kidding either - it cost him £45 in fuel to get there and just £25 to get back once the work had been done. "What a difference it made," he says. "If you're spending money on throttle bodies, you've got to spend the extra to get them set up right." Now that it's all sorted, Nick is convinced he was right to go down this route. "You don't have to keep tuning, which is a distinct advantage over carbs, as the electronics control fuelling and you just set them up to suck in the right amount of air and it doesn't need tweaking. I also think it's better on fuel around town than it was as just a straight 2-litre 16v," he enthuses.
Being performance mad and a perfectionist, you'd expect Nick to ensure his Nova's durability and maximise its driveability, and he has. A Helix clutch and strengthened driveshafts make sure the drivetrain can take the power, while the suspension mods go way beyond the usual shocks and springs combination. Nick's Nova has modified track control arms and modified tie rod brackets for that extra reassurance. With such commitment to speed, you might expect comfort to be of no importance to Nick, but that isn't true, as a glance at his Nova's interior shows. The complete GSi interior has been retrimmed in leather and Alcantara, right down to the MkIV Astra sun visors that don't need modifying to fit perfectly. Continuing the GSi theme, its dash has replaced the original SR plastic. These are the most obvious changes, but a glance up at the roof reveals subtle touches such as the electric sunroof and Alcantara headlining - neither of which are jobs for the fainthearted. They were a nightmare and Nick remains indebted to Brian Thomas for agreeing to take on the onerous retrim and Martin Weaver and Andy Bishop from the Stoke region of the PVG, for their efforts on the electrics.
Total Vauxhall August 2004
Fearless Motorsport 2-litre 16v engine conversion, SBD throttle bodies, cool running thermostat, SBD Sytec Motorsport 120 psi fuel pump, SBD FSE fuel pressure regulator, ITG air filter and back plate, Bailey Motorsport polished alloy header and breather tanks, -6 s/s braided fuel hose and 2 part anodized alloy JIC -6 connectors, -10 anodized alloy pro-clamps, -10 to -6 alloy tee-piece, JP custom s/s exhaust with 2.5 inch front pipe, 4 inch back box and polished steel 1.5 inch manifold.
F20 gearbox and Helix clutch, strengthened driveshafts.
Bilstein shocks, ASW Tarmac-spec springs all round, modified track control arms, modified tie rod brackets, alloy top suspension mounts.
6x6 inch Astra Sport alloys with 195/45 Toyo T1-S Proxes
Vectra V6/Calibra Turbo callipers and discs (288mm front), Astra GSi rear disc conversion.
ASW Group N-spec including body strengthening plates and stitch welding, Courtenay wire mesh grille, PSG aircraft-style filler cap, MkIV Astra clear side repeaters, GSi sideskirts, colour-coded, Omega front fogs and custom pods, VW Golf bee-string aerial, rear arches rolled, Courtenay carbon bonnet vents, Vauxhall Monteray 3.1D bonnet scoop, modified front bumper, Renault Laguna lower spoiler, custom decals, custom rear clusters, Vectra 16v metallic badges.
Along with a good dusting of ICE all around the Nova, it's finished the project off to a tee. It's a real cracker, and one that gets attention for all the right reasons, but after 13 years, Nick is kinda left with nowhere to go with it, so at the right price he may even be persuaded to part with it. All good things comes to an end, but at least Nick has finally reached the end of this project.
Total Vauxhall August 2004
Complete Nova GSi interior retrimmed in leather and alcantara, headlining retinmmed in Alcantara, MkIV Astra sun visors retrimmed in leather, Vectra electric sunroof trim panel, Carlton electric sunroof motor and switch, Corsa rear view mirror, Autostyle mats, Momo Daytona 3 Sport steering wheel and boss, 1992 Nova GSi dash and fittings, Electric Life windows, custom s/s gear lever surround, Corsa indicator/wiper stalk, Honda S2000 starter button
Alpine AiNet CD head, six disc changer and four -channel amp, Rockford Fosgate component speakers, Pioneer two-channel amp, Pyle bass tube, Pheonix Gold circuit breakers custom door builds.
Loads, so don't try it....
Steve and Dick at SBD Motorsport (020 8391 0121), Adrian Culley at LC Charles at Crewe (01270 507050), JP Exhausts (01625 619916), Trick Manifolds and Big Ric (Exhausts), Trilogy Auto Security & Hi-Fi (07711 079779/0161 303 9818), Tim Doyle, Dave France at Fearless Motorsport (07714 757988), Brian Thomas (07734 461759), Simon at Jedi Motorsport (07734 461759), anyone else who has helped - you know who you are!
Nick Caro's SBD Web page
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