Naturally Aspirated 632 cid Big Block Chevy Engine - Engine Builder Magazine

Naturally Aspirated 632 cid Big Block Chevy Engine

Jerry Sweet's 1976 Nova has been owned by his family for a long time. Despite it changing hands briefly, it it is once again Jerry's, and he's using it to its full potential with plenty of miles on the street and countless hours at the track, all thanks to a badass, naturally aspirated 632 cid big block Chevy engine built by Robbins Racecraft Inc.

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It seems more and more these days, you’re hard pressed to find a car that isn’t running some sort of boost. We can’t blame folks for wanting more horsepower via turbos, superchargers and nitrous, but there’s something special about a naturally aspirated engine that can kick some serious ass on the track. For that reason, we were excited to learn more about Jerry Sweet’s 1976 Nova, not only because it is a cool car, but because it boasts a naturally aspirated 632 cubic inch big block Chevy engine.

Of course, the Chevy Nova didn’t come with a 632 big block in it. Jerry’s grandmother first owned the car and it looked quite different than it does today.

“The car has been in our family for a long, long time,” Sweet told us. “Actually my folks bought it for my grandma back in the day and then when I turned 16 it became my car. It had a straight six in it with a Landau top – it was about the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen.”

Jerry’s first course of action was to put a small block Chevy in the Nova and then he began racing it with his dad for many years. Eventually, the small block turned into a big block, the car got back-halfed and front end work was done as well.

“Then, unfortunately, my dad passed away too soon due to a medical condition,” Sweet says. “And, my wife and I had kids and were raising kids and doing family stuff, so we kind of got out of the whole racing scene for a while. I sold the car. Oddly enough, it made it through a couple different hands and it ended up being owned by a farmer who was about 20 miles down the road from where we lived.

“I stopped into his house one day and said, ‘Hey, if you ever decide to sell that car, give me a call.’ I gave him my business card knowing that I’d never hear from him. Four or five years go by and I get a phone call and the guy said, ‘Hey, this is the farmer. I’ve got your purple car. I hurt my back and I’m going to sell it.’ I said, ‘How much do you want for it?’ He gave me a number and I looked up to my dad, I said, ‘Sir, thank you for the offer, but if I give you that much money for this thing, my dad will come down and kill me.’

“That happened to be right near my wife’s and my 50th birthdays in December. We went out to dinner with family, which was weird because we usually always had birthday parties at the house, but we went out that day. We came back home, hit the garage door opener and my kids and my mother had bought the car back from the guy and it was in the garage. It has been the most expensive 50th birthday present ever.”

Despite the expense that comes with the Nova and the naturally aspirated 632 cid big block Chevy engine in it today, Jerry and his family put the car to great use, both on the street and at the track. We caught up with Jerry during day four of Sick Week when the event rolled through Gainesville Raceway. He was kind enough to tell us about the Nova and the details of the 632 big block.

“It’s a standard big block Chevy Dart block with standard bore spacing and a 10.200” tall deck,” he says. “It’s got a Callies crank with 4.750” stroke along with 6.700” Oliver rods with ARP2000 bolts and JE pistons. We’re running Brodix SR20 heads with T&D shaft-mounted rockers, bushed Isky EZ-Roll Helix lifters, Trend pushrods, and COMP valve springs.

“We’ve got a custom ground COMP Cams solid roller camshaft and it’s done real nice for us. Carburation-wise, APD stepped up because we had some issues with some smaller cfm carburetors and this big 632 loves a big carburetor, so this is a 1650 carburetor and it works great. Off of the Dart block we’re running a standard Jesel belt drive system and we’re using an MSD crank trigger to fire everything off. Brian Robbins of Robbins Racecraft Inc. built the engine.

“This car will have 4,000 miles on it at the end of the week. We’ve done very minimal standard maintenance to it. We regularly check things, but we haven’t had to replace any major components.”

The 632 Chevy also has a Brodix intake and valve covers, Clevite bearings, a Melling oil pump, a Moroso oil pan, an ATI damper, a Meziere flex plate and water pump, NGK spark plugs, Stainless Works custom headers, and ARP hardware throughout.

As for the rest of the car, the Nova features a Coan Engineering TH-400 transmission, a Coan converter, Strange Engineering struts, shocks, axels, driveshaft, steering rack and brakes, Racepak Smartwire and datalogger, Weld wheels, and Mickey Thompson tires. The chassis work was done by Attac Race Cars Inc.

Jerry and his family have done numerous drag-and-drive events, so they know how to play the game, so-to-speak. The Nova and its big block Chevy seemed to be pretty dialed in for Sick Week.

“This week has been great for us,” Sweet admits. “We’ve done some personal bests, so we’re running quicker than 8.50. That put us here in the quarantine section, which we’re really happy about. An 8.46 at 160 mph is our best pass so far. We’ve run 8.46, 8.47, 8.52 and 8.53, so we’re real happy. We found a nice sweet spot. It’s like a bracket car.”

While Jerry’s Nova has been consistently 8.40s-8.50s during Sick Week, the drives between tracks have been a little less predictable, but nonetheless, Jerry’s 632 big block has handled the street well too.

“We can run down the highway at 55-60 mph with the Gear Vendors Overdrive going,” he says. “It runs nice and sweet down the highway and stays pretty cool. We’re also on city streets and in stop-and-go traffic throughout Florida and the car runs 155-160 degrees F and stays nice and cool. Everybody told me I couldn’t do this with a big motor, but we’ve had great luck with this thing. It’s just a nice solid piece.

“We’re a little bit over 1,100 horsepower – that’s without the vacuum pump on it. We can hit the Star Machine vacuum pump and make a little bit more, but we’ve learned some things. That’s day five stuff. We start throwing more timing at this thing and take some vacuum out of it, but we’ve got to live to day five and then we’ll throw everything but the kitchen sink at this thing after our first pass.”

Regardless of how things were going out on the drives or at the track, Sick Week had good vibes all week long. That’s what Jerry finds most appealing at these kinds of events.

“This is just a great event,” he says. “For people who haven’t done it, get out here and do it. It’s a blast. I do it with my family and my son [Matt Sweet] does the driving. We’ve got another car we do this stuff with too, but it’s just a great time with great people.

“We used to do a lot of bracket racing and different things and I’ve been with boat teams, but [drag and drive] is the best. Everybody is here to help everybody and if they’re not, they’re not invited back. It’s a great event that everybody has a lot of fun at. If you need a nut, a bolt, a spark plug, a harmonic balancer, a water pump – you name it – somebody will find it and bring it to you so you can keep going. They’ll take it off their car to get you a pass so you can keep going. It’s so great in that way.”

When the dust settled in Orlando after day five, Sweet and his big block Chevy powered Nova finished in second place in the Naturally Aspirated class with an 8.508 average at 159 mph.

Engine of the Week is sponsored by PennGrade Motor OilElring – Das Original and 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].

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