Resto He­roes: Nova Sean Kell’s Nova Sport is a work of art – im­pres­sive go­ing for just three weeks of graft.

Restor­ing an Eight­ies hatch in 21 days seems like a fool­ish en­deav­our. Un­til you meet Sean Kell and Lee Valen­tine…



Sean Kell runs a com­pany that makes an­i­mal feed. After a teenage fling with a Nova Sport, he’s re­turned to the model in a big way al­most 20 years on, which led to the build of this high-speed con­cours cham­pion.


Lee Valen­tine is as skilled un­der the bon­net as he was be­hind the wheel dur­ing a highly suc­cess­ful com­pe­ti­tion ca­reer in au­totest­ing. His garage busi­ness in Heaton, New­cas­tle-upon-tyne, distracts him from a grow­ing col­lec­tion of No­vas.

It starts as a fa­mil­iar story. Lad buys car, lad loves car but lad even­tu­ally sells car as he grows up and gets some­thing newer and more sen­si­ble. Then, when the lad has be­come a man with a bit of time and money to spare, he hunts out an­other car like the one he re­mem­bers fondly from all those years ago.

‘I had a Nova SR when I passed my test,’ says Sean Kell. ‘But what I re­ally wanted was the quicker one – the Sport. There were only 502 of them built to ho­molo­gate a twin-carb 1.3-litre ver­sion for ral­ly­ing. And I found one at a car show for £400.’

The Nova Sport was only rated at Group 5 in the old in­sur­ance sys­tem, so it was just about af­ford­able for Sean. None­the­less, he even­tu­ally traded it in for some­thing less lairy and life went on. At the age of 35 he de­cided to find an­other and duly bought one from East Sus­sex and brought it home to County Durham, only to sell that too. Sean had built a busi­ness sell­ing pet feed and de­cided to be sen­si­ble and put his time into that rather than cars, but of course he re­gret­ted the sec­ond sale al­most im­me­di­ately and be­gan brows­ing the small ads and auc­tion sites for an­other.

‘There was an un­fin­ished project on ebay. It was dis­man­tled and needed paint but it looked pretty solid. So I phoned Lee Valen­tine and said: ‘Will you do it?’’

Lee and Sean met a few years back. Lee is a for­mer Na­tional Au­totest Cham­pion, some­thing he achieved driv­ing No­vas, and he just hap­pens to run a garage busi­ness. But this wasn’t a case of book­ing the car in with a garage for a cheque­book restora­tion – Lee’s garage is not a resto busi­ness and he’d only re­stored cars for him­self.

‘I’ve never re­stored a car for some­one else be­fore,’ he says. ‘And I doubt I ever will again. It was quite stress­ful!’

That’s partly down to a de­ci­sion taken early in the process. Lee went right over the shell and found only very mi­nor re­pairs were nec­es­sary – some weld­ing around the battery tray was the most sig­nif­i­cant. So off it went for paint at a lo­cal Vaux­hall dealer, and when it came back Sean and Lee were im­pressed.

‘It was very good,’ says Sean, ‘so I de­cided with Lee that he should go ahead and do it to a re­ally high stan­dard. I’ve ru­ined plenty of cars my­self, so I was go­ing to be more use sourc­ing parts.’

Here’s where the story takes an un­usual turn. Lee de­cided to take three weeks’ hol­i­day and get the whole thing done in one go, work­ing every day. That put pres­sure on him­self and also on Sean, who had a list of ob­scure Eight­ies Vaux­hall bits to track down or get re­made.

Same, but dif­fer­ent

‘The Sport has quite a lot in com­mon with the SR, but not ev­ery­thing. I ended up get­ting a set of 5J wheels out of some­one’s loft in Pre­ston.’

While Sean was busy­ing him­self with this and other tasks, Lee cracked on with as­sem­bly. Or he

‘I found the right wheels in some­one’s loft in Pre­ston’

tried to, but the stan­dard of the job be­gan to im­pose it­self on the com­po­nents he wanted to re-at­tach. Take the en­gine and gear­box – they were sup­posed to be per­fectly ser­vice­able as they were, so the plan was sim­ply to clean ev­ery­thing and fit it.

‘I de­cided that wasn’t go­ing to be good enough,’ says Lee. ‘So I stripped it right down, checked and re­built both the en­gine and gear­box, with the right fin­ish on all the bits you can see.’

Sean and Lee won­dered whether to paint the gear­box cas­ing but de­cided the only fin­ish that would look right was the soft semi-matt sheen you get from vapour blast­ing. Pres­surised wa­ter con­tain­ing tiny glass beads both cleans and slightly pol­ishes the sur­face, and if you’re won­der­ing about the frame of mind Sean and Lee were in to ob­sess over the cos­metic ap­pear­ance of the Nova’s gear­box cas­ing, you’re not the only one.

An­gle of at­tack

‘We found our­selves dis­cussing the cor­rect an­gle for bits of the wiring loom to sit at, and what the clips should be like,’ says Sean. ‘It was get­ting a bit se­ri­ous!’ Lee cracked on with rest of the run­ning gear, paint­ing the ream beam axle and front sus­pen­sion com­po­nents glossy black, re-bush­ing ev­ery­thing, fit­ting new brakes all round and a fresh steer­ing rack. To fin­ish the in­te­rior, Sean had to

hunt for var­i­ous pieces such as the rear bench seat unique to the Nova Sport. The car came with a ra­dio as a spe­cial or­der and had a set of skirts fit­ted by the dealer when new, but that wasn’t the look Sean wanted this time. A net­work of Vaux­hall bud­dies, in­ter­net list­ings and parts spe­cial­ists in Ger­many helped him tick off the list and oc­ca­sion­ally he en­joyed a stroke of luck, as he re­calls.

‘Ash­ley made the ex­hausts for the Sport when it was new, and they can still sup­ply them to­day! I got the back box as a Christ­mas present from my wife.’

Be­fore Lee could fin­ish the ex­te­rior fit-out of badges, lamps and so on, he had to ap­ply the replica de­cals. Sean had found a com­pany that could pro­duce an ex­cel­lent replica set and they fin­ish the Sport’s look per­fectly. After pur­chase in De­cem­ber 2014 and paint in January 2015, only three fur­ther weeks were needed be­fore the lit­tle Vaux­hall gulped and snorted into life, fully fin­ished.

From there, Lee went for a bit of a lie-down and Sean plot­ted the car’s first ap­pear­ance at the VBOA Billing show in the sum­mer of 2015, which just hap­pened to be the Nova Sport’s 30th an­niver­sary. The re­sult? The car won the Chair­man’s Cup and has since ac­cu­mu­lated other tro­phies for Best Eight­ies Car at New­cas­tle Race­course and Ken­dal. It’s still barely run-in… Sean is frank about its ‘trailer queen’ sta­tus, but he has a de­cent ex­cuse. ‘I’ve now got an­other Sport that I use and en­joy driv­ing,’ he says. ‘For that mat­ter, so has Lee.’ Sounds like the fu­ture of this par­tic­u­lar model is in great hands.

Daz­zling de­cals and that red ex­haust tip are 100% cor­rect.

The Nova Sport com­po­nents were a dealer-in­stalled up­grade pack, com­plete with in­struc­tions.

It’s not just con­cours Fer­raris that come with orig­i­nal tool kits.

De­liv­ery… that ‘what have I done?’ mo­ment!

A rare out­ing for this pris­tine trailer queen.

Dash is shared with Nova SR, as are front seats.

There are per­haps only 30-40 Sports left and val­ues are shoot­ing up.

Irm­scher cam and twin carbs knocked two sec­onds off 0-60mph time.

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