September 7, 2013

Nova returns home

Mardee Dill couldn’t figure out why it was so all-fired important that she be at the BlackTop Nationals giveaway of a classic 1929 Ford Model A. Sure, she had filled out a chance to win it, but as she said, “What was I going to do with a Model A?”

Mardee Dill couldn’t figure out why it was so all-fired important that she be at the BlackTop Nationals giveaway of a classic 1929 Ford Model A. Sure, she had filled out a chance to win it, but as she said, “What was I going to do with a Model A?”

But now her hands were shaking and she mouthed the words “What’s happening?” as she was led across the stage and the car cover was pulled back to reveal her late husband David’s project car.

Only it was no longer a project car. The 1962 Chevy II Nova was resplendent in fresh red paint, with a beautiful black interior and bright chrome Cragar mag wheels. The car that David had dreamed of and planned to build was finished.

Mardee slipped behind the wheel and bowed her head forward as the realization of what a dozen good friends had done began to sink in. They had finished the job that David was no longer there to do.

“David is still with me. He is my soulmate and when they unveiled the car, he was with me,” she said.

David passed away in late January after a long illness that left him too worn out to work on his Nova project, but not so tired that he couldn’t chase parts for it. Mardee later asked a couple of his buddies from their “dragging Douglas” days to help sell off other car parts.

Mark Bauer had asked about the Chevy II stashed in a storage unit. “She said that would never be for sale … that was David’s dream.”

So, quietly, a dozen friends stepped forward to tackle the job of rebuilding it.

The ’62 Chevy II had special meaning to David because he had owned a ’64 Nova when he was a teen-ager.

“David and I fell in love in that car,” Mardee said. “Back in those days, when you finished your homework, you got cleaned up and you went down and you dragged Douglas, even on week nights.”

She was the proud owner of a 1968 Firebird and David would wait for her to drive over the Douglas Street bridge. She always arranged it so she had to stop for the red light. David would come sprinting across the street, tap on her window and ask her, “Will you pull over tonight?”

Mardee would park her Firebird and they would cruise up and down Douglas in his Nova, making the turnaround at Sandy’s fast food place. It was a magical time for them.

Sadly, that car was stolen out of his parents’ back yard and ended up being burned in a field by parties unknown.

“It devastated him,” Mardee recalled.

Eventually they married and had a daughter. But the idea of owning another Nova never left David’s thoughts. “His true love was the ’62 Chevy II, the true `deuce,’” Mardee said.

He finally spotted a 1962 Chevy II in Andover.

“It wasn’t even for sale, but he went up and knocked on the door and the guy sold it to him gladly,” she said.

David began working on the car, but eventually, as his health worsened, he pushed it into the storage unit where it sat until last March, when his friends rolled it out and took on the job of restoring it.

“The car was in pretty bad shape. We probably built 50 patch panels for it,” said Bauer, who runs Bauer Auto Restoration. As word got out, many of David Dill’s car buddies stepped forward and volunteered to work on the car. “A whole bunch of local suppliers started coming out of the woodwork when they heard about the project.”

Mardee Dill had no idea what was going on at the time.

It was Kelly Dawson who persuaded her to be at the BlackTop Nationals. He was the one who offered up the last engine his father, Harold Dawson, had ever built, as a replacement for the tired 283 V-8 in the Nova. Now the car is powered by a 400 cubic inch small block Chevy V-8 with a later model automatic transmission. But it carries the floor shifter that David had stashed away for it.

A cowl induction hood scoop was added and a fresh interior installed. Those correct vintage chrome Cragar mag wheels, wrapped in BF Goodrich raised white letter TA tires, were donated and mounted. After Darin McCollom shot the flame red paint job, Nadine Ward, a high school friend of Mardee’s, pinstriped the bright red Nova and added an “In memory of David Dill” inscription to the back of the car.

The surprise return of the car was complete.

“I figured it would be a year or two. I had no idea it would be this quick. I was totally astounded,” Mardee said. “It was a great day. It was a `David day,’ a day I’ll never forget.

“It is David’s car, not my car,” she said. “When I feel like I am going to cry, I remember him and it’s not a sad thing.”

She said she doesn’t know how to thanks the sponsors and the people who built the car.

“There’s a quote I’ve heard (from the Tracy Chapman song “Heaven’s Here on Earth”) and it goes, `I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people leading ordinary lives’ and that’s those guys,” Mardee said.

The Chevy II will be featured later this fall on a two-part episode of “Street Rodding American Style,” which covered the secretive 6-month project.

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