248bhp XE with a straight-cut box – it’s a bit of an animal.
Will Foy has been involved in the Nova scene for a long, long time. Back when Novas were still ten-a-penny, back when PNG consisted of a monthly newsletter and the odd meet up, and back when TV was still a few years away, Will was there, tweaking and building Novas, developing a wealth of knowledge that’d see him in good stead years later. His father, an auto electrician and compulsive car-tinkerer, also played a large part in Will’s early automotive forays, and though he sadly passed away last summer, he’d no doubt have been very proud of how this particular Nova has turned out.
Firstly though, let’s go back to 1999, and the year Will went off to Uni. Now most students spend their university years concocting potent snakebite mixes and experimenting with dubious narcotics – all good fun, but not exactly
“The prospect of engine conversions always loomed large for Will”
the route to epic Nova ownership. Not Will. The moment his loan came in, he was off to scour the classifieds for a new project, and of course it was always going to be based on Vauxhall’s first FWD hatch.
“I got the GSi for £600, back when you could still get clean-ish, sporty Novas for that kind of money,” recalls Will.
It wasn’t in bad condition at all, though the fact it needed some TLC less than a decade after being first released onto the UK’s roads proved just how readily Novas will rot. The C16SE was kept for a time, though Will’s involvement with the tuned Vauxhall scene meant that the prospect of engine conversions always loomed large. The Nova came off the road for a few years in 2001 and emerged with a 1.6 16v between its wings, and not just any X16XE either, a real screamer of an engine. It came from a fairly well known Nova and sported some aggressive
cams in an uprated and refined head, a BTB exhaust, and, something of a rarity on a Nova at the time, a set of Jenvey ITBs on standalone management. The 160bhp it churned out and the fantastic overall finish of the car made it an obvious candidate for a feature back in 2005. That might well have been the culmination of the project and probably would’ve been, but one 8000rpm launch away from the Severn Bridge tollbooth proved too much for the highly-strung 1.6, and it spectacularly detonated, taking the whole F13 gearbox with it!
“I kept the bodies and the MBE management, but pretty much everything else was wrecked. I thought about getting another 1.6 in there but I wanted more power and torque, so the 2.0 seemed a better overall bet,” explains Will.
The hunt was on for a decent Redtop, and culminated in one of the biggest Vauxhall bargains we’ve heard of. Ebay turned up a John Toovey built hot rod engine for £2500. Granted that’s hardly pocket money, but then again this was no regular Redtop.
“I heard it running in a hot rod truck before I bought it, and to be honest, that sold it! It revved beautifully and picked up just like a box-fresh XE should. It reminded me why the XE has such a fantastic reputation.”
The fact that the engine came with £9000 worth of receipts and a dyno proven 238bhp and 189lb/ft of torque also probably played a
“Will had everything stitch-welded, then treated the car to a fresh coat of OE Star Silver”
part in Will’s decision to stump up the readies for the bare engine. He got it back to Wales, installed it in the Nova, then fitted his 45mm tapered Jenveys and MBE management, and hey presto, one of the fastest NA Novas in the country. (Something it proved at our Bruntingthorpe thrash back in 2007, with Will topping out at over 149mph). Everything else performance-wise has been based around that Toovey engine, though it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
“I took it to Billing last year, but on the way back a cam tensioner bolt sheared. It didn’t destroy the engine and I probably could’ve got away with a head rebuild, but my engine builder is Pete Burgess, and he’s a perfectionist.”
What followed was a complete overhaul of the engine, with an overbore to 88mm and a revised CR, now at 11.75:1. This, coupled with the Toovey cams and extensive headwork, has resulted in a power figure of 248bhp, making it one of – if not the fastest NA Nova in the UK.
That screamer of an engine is matched by an equally extreme transmission setup, with the obligatory Quaife LSD and, best of all, a straight cut F20 gearbox. Despite sounding, in
Will’s words, ‘like it’s going in reverse all the time,’ the straight-cut has proved worthwhile.
“I was losing something massive like 28 percent of power with the standard F20, now that’s down to 8 percent, plus it’ll hit 65mph in first,” grins Will.
It might be mighty fast, but it isn’t a rough round the edges track-botherer, either. Despite various bouts of TLC and careful maintenance over the years, including the fitment of a GM roof skin to cover up the sunroof, by the time it came to the engine rebuild, the GSi needed some welding. Figuring ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’, Will had the sills replaced, had everything stitch-welded, then treated the car to a fresh coat of OE Star Silver. The overall effect is pleasingly subtle and very, very menacing. We’ve said it before, but Compomotive wheels really do make Novas look very aggro, and the MO6s on Will’s car are no exception. You’d struggle to pinpoint why the whole car looks so very moody, but it’s certainly there, even before that manic XE crackles into life!
Inside, you’ll find that cage, a mammoth Roll Centre eight-point beastie, with full triangulation to the front strut tops.
“It was fitted sometime after the Brunters top speed run, mainly as it’s a bit unnerving doing silly speeds in an early ’90s hatchback!” laughs Will.
There’s also a pair of tasty Corbeau seats with six-point harnesses, a flocked dash and a Stack 8120 dash system, plus a plumbed-in fire extinguisher. It’s certainly a long way away from the usual GSi interior, and though it’s hardly luxurious, it’s nothing if not neat and perfectly laid out – in short, what more do you want in a near 150mph Nova?
There was no point fitting such a revvy, eager gem of an engine and not giving it the chassis in which to shine, so Will’s overhauled both the suspension and brakes. It’s now sprung on Leda coilovers, with Protec solid top mounts and some stiff polybushes, while Wilwood 290mm and GTE 260mm (front/rear) brakes with 4-pot calipers provide superb stopping characteristics. It’s an age old formula for making the Nova handle like a go kart, but if it ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
What about the future? Well, despite the temptation of a 2.0 turbo, Will’s eschewed the C20LET, a decision that’s left him with one of the finest NA Novas in the country. Bigger brakes and stickier Toyo rubber will find their way onto the car very shortly, both of which should allow him to get the most out of it on track days.
“It’s a keeper for sure. Other Novas have come and gone, this one’s been mine for 14 years now and still puts a grin on my face!”
“In short, what more do you want in a near 150mph Nova?”
Flocked dash, dished wheel, Stack dash and bucket seats point to this Nova’s hardcore nature Note the GM roof skin replacing the sunroof
A bonnet scoop comes in handy when you’ve got a set of hungry throttle bodies directly underneath it!
The 20XE was designed with motorsport in mind, and for the last 25 years it’s been the mainstay of club racing, rallying and hot rodding. John Toovey’s take on the Redtop is accepted as one of the best around, and his hot rod and autograss engines have...
This must be one of the most powerful XEs on the UK’s roads – no mean feat!
Will was running ITBs a good 14 years ago, back when they were something of a rarity
It’s not all about sheer grunt, this Nova is perfectly finished from every single angle
Roll Centre 8 point cage is essential if you plan on hitting loopy Nova speeds!