KNACK DADDY

The ace of the sil­ver lin­ing, Emory John­son sur­prised even him­self this time

Chevy High Performance - - Front Page - TEXT & PHO­TOS: Chris Shel­ton

The ace of the sil­ver lin­ing, Emory John­son sur­prised even him­self this time

You could call Emory John­son the mas­ter of find­ing the best in a tough sit­u­a­tion. We could go on with a list of rea­sons but one sums it up per­fectly: his Nova.

Emory’s not shy about his mod­est be­gin­nings. It’s pro­logue to the story about where he is to­day. Trans­lated: the guy busts his ass. Part of hard work is a kind of eter­nal op­ti­mism. You don’t bust your ass if you feel like you won’t get any­thing from it, do you?

And Emory busted his ass on this car—even on the deal. He found the 1966 Nova listed for $3,000 at the swaps but ended up get­ting it for $800. “It was an old drag car,” Emory be­gins.

“It hadn’t been on the road since the late ’70s.” Sure, some­one took a torch to the quar­ter­pan­els, but that’s an easy fix. Cer­tainly a lot eas­ier than fix­ing a car that saw con­stant duty for the 20 or so years that it was off the road.

But it still needed tons of work. He used the sav­ings from trad­ing and bar­ter­ing where it mat­tered, like in the form of a 372 built by the ap­pro­pri­ately named Larry Fast. “It just pulls and pulls like a big 327,” Emory de­scribes. It’s an en­gine that would’ve been pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive if he weren’t so re­source­ful. And don’t take re­source­ful­ness as suf­fer­ing. One of the deals he scored was on a Rich­mond 4+1 gear­box. And not just any old Rich­mond, Lib­erty’s Gears plated the gears to con­vert from syn­chros to dog-rings (if you’re not fa­mil­iar, think of that in­stan­ta­neous tick-tock gear en­gage­ment that mo­tor­cy­cles have). “It came from a sand-drag car so it has a re­ally low First gear,” Emory says. “So it leaves re­ally hard.”

But the big­gest fee im­posed was time. Do­ing al­most ev­ery­thing him­self, the project took about eight years to get back on the road. And this is usu­ally the point where we say ev­ery­one lived hap­pily ever after. The end.

It was the end, all right. The rear end up against the wall on a free­way on­ramp. “I was try­ing to get a friend pumped up about work­ing on his truck so I let him drive the car,” Emory la­ments. Eight years of work down the drain after only 400 miles.

That’s enough to ruin any­one on cars. And frankly, we couldn’t hold it against him for not want­ing to spend an­other X amount of years on his back curs­ing at a bent car. But re­mem­ber that clever part? “In the mean­time, I was able to put a lit­tle money away,” Emory says. Be­tween that and in­surance, he could for once af­ford to pay some­one else to lay on their back and curse at a bent car for him.

“We’d ac­tu­ally been friends for some time,” says Dar­rel Schroeder at Schroeder Speed & Cus­toms in Trout­dale, Ore­gon. “It sucked what hap­pened and it re­ally couldn’t have hap­pened to a nicer guy.” He and Emory worked out a plan that would not only fix the car but also fix some is­sues that bugged Emory about the first build.

They tore the car down to es­sen­tially noth­ing. Iron­i­cally, if not even para­dox­i­cally, the mod­i­fi­ca­tions made to this car are ba­si­cally in­vis­i­ble. Like you wouldn’t no­tice the con­sis­tent panel gaps. And you prob­a­bly didn’t no­tice that they nar­rowed the bumpers and tucked them closer to the body.

But even if in­vis­i­ble, those things make

the car look bet­ter. And some make the car work bet­ter. The air­box that the Schroeder crew fab­ri­cated draws from the scoop and the cowl, en­sur­ing the en­gine the coolest charge pos­si­ble.

Ja­son Morten­son ap­plied the Ford Gin­ger Ale Green. Paul Re­ich­lin at Cedard­ale Auto Up­hol­stery ap­plied a ju­di­cious hand of his hot-rod touch to the in­te­rior, re­shap­ing the seat foam and trim­ming it in black leather.

Sure, Emory was foot­ing the bill to have some­one else do his bid­ding, but it wasn’t a free-for-all. “I had to watch ev­ery bit of cost,” Emory ad­mits. It meant keep­ing things like the Mopar 8 3/4-inch rearend. “I like the story about it,” he says, plot­ting the car’s time line from race car to now by way of that rear axle. “It says a lot about where this car came from.” It even mounts to the stock monoleaf springs. It has slap­per-style trac­tion bars, of course.

Yeah, the guy who we praised for do­ing so well for him­self had some­one else do for him for once. But can you blame him? The car is in­cred­i­ble. Even Emory ad­mit­ted that the Schroeder Speed crew took it to a level that he might not have been able to do, “and cer­tainly not in the time they did it.”

But what made it that way was ac­tu­ally the con­se­quence of an ex­tremely un­for­tu­nate event. At the end of the day, Emory John­son wound up in a place far bet­ter than even he ex­pected. The dif­fer­ence here is per­spec­tive. Whereas many of us would’ve just soured on the whole deal, Emory found the best in a tough sit­u­a­tion. And look at what a dif­fer­ence that made. CHP

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