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As we walked the pit area of World Wide Technology Raceway during the first day of the 2022 Builder’s Brawl, we passed Justin Willis at exactly the right time. His 1971 Nova was being unloaded from the trailer and the car looked and sounded amazing. Justin was kind enough to give us some time on test day, so we caught up with the Colorado native to learn more about his drag car and its twin-turbo 540 cid big block Chevy engine.
Justin’s big block Chevy is 540 cubic inches and is a short deck block featuring a 9.8 deck. It’s also a Big Chief motor featuring a pair of 18-degree Big Chief cylinder heads.
“It’s come a long way with those cylinder heads, but this setup is fresh,” Willis told us. “We just built this motor last year after we blew up the last one, so everything is pretty new.”
The big block Chevy sports a billet Brodix crankshaft, aluminum connecting rods, 4.500 bore pistons with a healthy 12:1 compression, a custom Steve Morris spec’d camshaft, Jesel shaft-mount rockers, titanium valves, an Edelbrock intake, fuel injection courtesy of a 16-injector set up, a FuelTech ECU, a mechanical belt drive pump, and twin Pro Mod 88mm Garrett turbos.
“They’re the old Gen I Garrett turbos I bought used from an old radial guy and they’ve been way faster than I’ll ever need to go with them on small tires, so they do the job really well,” Willis says. “On 20-lbs. of boost it’ll make almost 2,000 horsepower. We’re limited by tire most of the time when it comes to boost. We typically run between 17-25 lbs. of boost depending on the track surface.
“The Steve Morris spec’d cam is right around 800 lift, so nothing wild. I built the car with the intention to possibly be able to drive around on the street. If life gets too busy and whatnot, I can take it out and cruise around town a little bit. It does have a radiator in it. It’s also got an old-school Edelbrock intake on it that had eight injectors originally, and we converted it over to 16 injectors, which run alcohol on a FuelTech ECU. I have five tunes available on the fly.”
That FuelTech ECU comes in handy for Justin, especially being from Colorado where you can go from 10,000 DA and drop down to 3,000. Therefore, you’ve got to be able to change the tune., and Justin says Fuel Tech has been awesome.
Aside from the 540 big block Chevy engine, the ‘71 Nova also features a Powerglide transmission, a PTC bolt-together converter, a 9-inch rear end, and 360 gears.
“We changed those gears and went to the Small Tire class, and we actually just finished getting the car together,” he told us. “With a brand-new suspension set up, we were having a lot of problems with the 60 foot, but it would roll out the back pretty well, so I decided to make a shock change, which turned into building everything – new control arms, custom spindles and custom everything. We really want to get that dialed in. We obviously want to go some rounds and have fun. We would love to win, but if we don’t, we’re just here to enjoy it.”
The 2022 Builder’s Brawl took place July 29-30, 2022, and new dates have been announced for a May 2023 event.
Engine of the Week is sponsored by PennGrade Motor Oil, Elring – Das Original and Engine & Performance Warehouse Inc./NPW Companies. If you have an engine you’d like to highlight in this series, please email Engine Builder Editor Greg Jones at [email protected].