Street sleeper. I’m sure it’s a term most have heard. A mysterious car flies past you on an A road, something you’d never expect. Maybe something old, with a badge denoting a minuscule engine size on the boot. It’s like an elusive club, having a car like this. A subtle exterior is key, with some owners going as far as using parts from lower “poverty spec” models, perhaps even a mismatched panel or 3. The Sleeper as we know it these days is usually a tag for an externally stock looking car that runs serious power, hidden well away. This brings about some real ingenuity at times, with some very clever ideas being utilised to keep everything a surprise. Intercoolers painted to match bumpers, false pea-shooter exhaust tips, steel wheels with semi-slick race tires; it’s an intriguing game.
The love for these type of cars seems to stem from our very British adulation for the underdog. Why buy a brand new Audi or BMW when you can build a faster car for quarter of the price? These machines have a real “wipe the smile of their face” quality when pitted against modern performance tin. Of course, not all of these sleeper cars look totally standard, as with any modifying scene you get variations on a theme. This brings me onto Jay’s Nova Saloon. Although fairly standard looking to the untrained eye, this little car packs a real punch. With only a few outward signs to set it apart from a factory fresh model, most could be forgiven for thinking this is a high street terror, blitzing around a car park near you. But look a bit closer, and things start to add up. The lowered ride height and Cavalier wheels go a small way to give the game away, but it’s that cleverly mounted intercooler up front that pulls the finger. An ingenious blend into the front bumper retains the sleeper ethos though, this is not an “in-your-face” type of beast. So, what exactly is hiding behind that relatively sedate exterior? The center of this party has to be that C20LET, rebuilt with ARP conrod bolts and FSE fuel pressure regulator. There’s a Courtenay sport actuator to keep all that boost in check, and a set of Calibra turbo drilled and vented discs 288mm front and 270mm rear to keep the brown trouser moments to a minimum.
So with all that extra power, what exactly is this machine like to drive? Jay tells me the car is very manageable and easy to live with, almost like a mk2 Cavalier that has shrunk in the wash! That being said, there is a big difference as soon as a foot is buried deep into that grey carpet. When it’s needed, wave after wave of turbo forced induction propels the humble saloon to silly speeds with ease, something we imagine never fails to put a smile on your face, and perhaps a look of annoyance on those unaware of what they’re up against. It’s not all been plain sailing for Jay though, his worst experience with the car happened at 70mph at 1am, never a good combination. Accelerating from 45 to 70, Jay was suddenly met with a huge banging noise. Fearing the worst, he was surprised to hear the engine still running fine. It turns out that a drive shaft had given up a long battle against the torque of that engine, so a replacement was sourced from his good friend Nick who happened to have some Cosvaux shafts rated for 300bhp in his shed to avoid a repeat situation in the future.
It’s all well and good having a car with a great deal more power than it left the factory with, but we all know that numbers aren’t everything. This Nova is keen to prove those numbers have real meaning, and a great deal of usable power. One afternoon, Jay pulls up behind a Ferrari 458 Italia that he had often seen locally, relinquishing the fact he’d finally found it in it’s element on some curvy drivers roads. Upon hearing the Ferrari drop down a gear, he knew the game was on. Jay quickly followed suit and flipped the box into 3rd, and planted his foot. Seconds later Mr. Ferrari’s face appears in his expensive rear view mirror, a look of total surprise wrestling with his features! It’s not everyday he has trouble saying “so long” to an ageing little 1980s Vauxhall. For me, this kind of modifying is what the culture is all about, harking back to the post-war engineering age. Young men fresh from the horrors of war spent their time spannering on cars, finding a new way to get the adrenalin flowing. Drag and street racing was a big deal, and cars would often remain stock looking to the untrained eye, only letting their secret out to those who chose to race them.
This Nova maybe a force to be reckoned with, but Jay still has more plans up his sleeve. He hopes to invest in a Vmax Evo 5 chip, tubular manifold and a bigger turbo to up the power even further, that is until the next engine comes out of the woodwork! That’s right, Jay is having another C20LET engine forged, ready for big power on Omex management and an F28 gearbox with a LSD. In keeping with the relatively sedate exterior, Jay has been considering adding a subtle GTE bumper and grill to the mix, with a set of side skirts lengthened to suit the saloon body, though he is still in two minds about taking the whole thing Drag-Spec, and going all out insane. We’re glad to hear the colour will never change though, it really compliments the sleeper ideology.
A car like this makes you feel alive, it’s really something special. Jay will have memories to last a lifetime thanks to this machine, here’s his favourite moment so far: ”I went to the breakfast club meet at RAF Cosford with Vauxweb on the 17th of March, I wasn’t really prepared to show the car as I’d been working all week and hadn’t had the chance to give it a full clean ready for show day. As we arrived I noticed there were a lot of supercars; Porsches, Aston Martins and all kinds or rare cars, but my car was still the only Nova Saloon which made me happy! After parking up I thought I’d get the bonnet up so people can have a look, not expecting to draw a crowd of people gathering around the car and taking pictures for their websites. A lot of people were discussing how it’s possible to get such a lump into the tiny engine bay. It was a good day on a whole and I’m really looking forward to the next one, as well as all the other shows that are happening in the year that I will be attending.”
Engine: C20LET fully rebuilt with ARP conrod bolts, Saab red injectors, FSE fuel pressure regulator, yellow Roose Motorsport hoses, Astra 2.0 radiator with slimline fan, competition solid engine mounts, polished swirl pot hidden in the boot with the fuel pump, custom front mounted intercooler in bumper, bleed valve hidden in the engine bay, turbo boost adjusted to 18psi on a Courtenay sport actuator, TX autosport single v lightweight bottom pulley, rocker cover, cam cover, coil bracket, exhaust heat shield and top hat all powder coated grey with added glitter
Wheels: Cavalier Turbo 16inch wheels powder coated to match the engine in grey with glitter, 205 45 r16 Maxxis tyres
Brakes: Calibra Turbo drilled and vented discs 288mm front and 270mm rear
Suspension: Calibra Turbo five-stud hub conversion all round with Gmax supersport dampers,
gmax 60mm springs, strengthened bottom arms and Nova GTE anti roll bars fitted
Transmission: OEM F20 five-speed manual with uprated clutch
Interior: grey merit seats and door cards, standard grey dash with triple gauge pod mounted above
the stereo with boost, oil pressure and air fuel ratio gauges fitted, deep dish “drift” style
steering wheel, 6x9 speakers mounted into the parcel shelf which are cover by a flat cap, trilby hat
and a walking stick for that OAP vibe
The information age. These days you can find almost anything on the internet, for better or for worse. We can thank it for bringing distant lands to our fingertips, and seeing all manner of otherwise hidden treasures. I can bet most of you will have found yourself on a car forum, or perhaps you’ve seen some incredible cars posted on Facebook. It’s not uncommon to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of quality motors churned out across the web at the moment, meaning when one really makes you stop and take another look, it must be incredibly special. I’m talking, of course, about Simão Costa’s Vauxhall Nova (Opel Corsa) saloon. I was taking a daily trawl through Facebook when a friend posted a photo of this wonderful machine on my wall. I remember just stopping and staring, taking in every perfect detail. This was one perfectly executed ride. I had to find more info, and eventually found a build thread with some more photos. It turns out the car is well known in the Spanish modifying scene, and rightly so. A great example of “less is more,” this car in particular pulls off its look with devastating effect. But in this day and age, what was it that made Simão decide on buying an old Nova? “The rarity, retro looks and simple mechanics” he tells me. It’s really very refreshing to see this viewpoint, especially in a time where modern cars seem to be losing character with each stage of their evolution. Simão prefers to take things back to basics, and has followed through with his ideas - some already decided before even purchasing the car! He had been looking at the wheels in the classifieds before the purchase was made, so there’s no doubt about the image the car was destined to fulfil. And what wheels they are! Not commonly seen in this part of the world, these French-made Tramont TY-1 wheels measure up perfectly; gently tucking their width into the saloons’ cavernous arches. I’ve always found the round arches on lowly Nova models to have a utilitarian chic, and they look achingly good with a decent wheel slotted into place beneath them. Now I can imagine there are a few of you (yes you sat at the back, simmer down now) who feel this car is nothing more than an ornament, perhaps a slightly expensive but pointless immobile vehicle. Of course you’d be wrong, but don’t take my word for it. Simão says that the car rides very well, and is quick around his city. He goes on further to explain the looks on peoples faces as he speeds past traffic, definitely a usable car then! It may not leave flaming 11’s on the asphalt, but the 1.6 GSi engine is easily enough for a spot of town blasting fun. Besides, you wouldn’t want to risk less people seeing it in motion now would you? Low saloon models in the Nova range seem to be gaining popularity fairly rapidly now, something almost unheard of in the heyday of fibre-glassed hatch’s bouncing of the rev limiter up your local high street. It seems the saloon was never lumbered with an ASBO image, and the recent retro revolution has certainly helped them gain their own image of easy cool.
The journey hasn’t been painless or simple for Simão though, there have been a few hurdles to pass in the cars build. Running any car this low has drawbacks, even more so when it’s an 80’s Vauxhall! CV joints and driveshafts are now a regular service item, but who said it’s easy to look this cool? Simão ran into another problem when installing the new 1.6 engine, one of his worst experiences during the build. This engine didn’t last long, and was a victim of oil starvation due to troubles with the sump. It’s all been worth it though, the car went down a storm at the Spanish Northernfest show this year, and continues to make new fans wherever it goes. So does Simão have any more plans for such a well thought out car? Even the best cars are never truly finished, and Simão is thinking of trying out some new ideas with the car in the future. Some interior work is on the cards, including a possible rollcage. Slightly larger 14” wheels are also being considered, I’m sure that if they’re anything near as cool as the current items it’ll be a winner. Simão certainly won’t be getting bored of the Nova any time soon, it gets crazy reactions wherever it goes. He says that the Nova is a rare car over there these days, and people often stop and ask what it is! He also gets a lot of questions about the ride height, something he has achieved through running a TA-Technix coilover kit at the front with cut rear springs and shorter KW shocks.
So after all the great times he’s been through with the car so far, what has been Simão’s personal favourite moment? “The photo taken at the Northernfest of my friend with his arm
out “liking” an old couple at the garden bench. Photographed a memory forever..”
1.6 8v GSI engine
13x7j + 13x6.5j Tramont TY-1 wheels
165/55 tyres all round
Nova GSI brakes
Mk1 GT dash
KW rear shocks
Size comparison between the new MINI and the old Range Rover..
Time for a change in name perhaps?