Plain Brown Wrapper: A Real Life Time Machine
The Real Deal

I’m absolutely convinced that Russell Rosales’ 1969 Nova is one of the coolest cars terrorizing the streets of California. After going for a ride, there is no doubt of this in my mind whatsoever.

This car is not a period-correct recreation of an old school racer; it’s not some sort of replica throwback to a high-horsepower monster, nor is it a nostalgia build meant to make you all warm and fuzzy. No, this Nova is a straight-up, legit 10-second ’70s drag car.


It hasn’t changed a bit in over 40 years and not only that, it’s registered for the street. The motor positively screams as you move through first and second gear, which are shifts that happen quite quickly due to a 6.17:1 ratio spool in the rear end.


The unmistakable howl from the differential certainly adds something to the experience as well, and by the time you move into third or fourth gear it sounds like the Chevy must be consuming other smaller cars to keep itself going.


Seriously, it sounds as though the thing is about to tear itself apart, just banging and screaming down the road. Even at ‘normal’ speeds, Plain Brown Wrapper is an intense machine; there is no way to avoid the brutality. Riding shotgun in Russell’s Nova is not something I’ll soon forget.


Of course, the story of this car goes all the way back to the late 1960s. Amazingly, Russell has done all the legwork to learn the story I’m about to share with you.

Back In ‘69

The original owner, Dale Cado, purchased this very Nova brand-spanking new in Dearborn, Michigan at Les Stanford Chevrolet. The photo above is one of several in this post that Russell passed on to me from Dale. The year was 1969, and the color was ‘Fathom Green,’ complete with a black vinyl top.


Dale’s purchase was for the Super Sport version, topped off with a 4-speed manual. Even in stock trim, it’s a little wild imagining these things as daily drivers, but of course that’s exactly what it was back then.


Dale drove the shiny green SS to high school, and dabbled in a bit of street racing. That didn’t last long though, as it was only two years later that the car became a dedicated drag machine.


The Chevy received a very ’70s and very psychedelic custom silver paint job, and along with it came a gang of groovy friends. They raced in the Modified Production class with a small block that was fed cool air straight through an old school tunnel ram.


Then, in 1975, Dale ditched the crazy look for the classic brown hue that is still laid down on the car today. Along with the more serious paint job came a more serious class: C/SM, which I’m told is C Super-Modified.


It was a consistent beast making mid-10 second pulls all over Michigan. Besides the motor, nothing about the car has changed since 1975.


It still has that Dana 60 rear with those ridiculous (for the street) 6.17 gears, running on Harwood ladder bars and Moroso housing floaters. Basically, this thing is one sheared bolt or bushing away from the massive rear end taking off in its own direction.


But that’s how they liked it back in the day, and that’s how Russell has kept it. He’s also stuck with the true manual 4-speed to deliver the power to those incredibly enormous drag radials; it’s an absolute blast to ride in.


Just for the record, they’re 15×10-inch Cragars with 13-inch wide vintage M&H Racemaster drag slicks out back, and narrow 15×3.5-inch wheels up front wrapped in proper old school Goodyear 710 front-runners.


I can only imagine the sensation the loud pedal gives the driver.

On To The ’80s

We all know that racing is expensive; any type of autosport, from drifting to Formula 1, costs serious money. It’s all relative, of course, but any car being driven in anger seems to have a way prying into your wallet time and time again.


This old girl was no different, and our friend Dale parted ways with the Nova in 1980 after blowing the motor. At this point, drag racing was becoming much more competitive, and thus, more expensive as well.


The car was shuffled around, and this is where the story gets a bit murky. But each owner that got their hands on Plain Brown Wrapper just couldn’t bear to change a thing about it.


It’s still got the original Bob’s Drag Chute harnesses — which haven’t been available since the late ’70s — hanging from a lone, surprisingly small, standard bolt behind the driver’s seat. It still has the awkward original roll-cage, with little regard for convenience (or concussions, if I’m honest). It still has the large, cumbersome steering wheel, and the uncomfortable fold-down bucket seats.


But none of these flaws matter at all. The fact that Plain Brown Wrapper exists as it does, alongside all the mundane cars of our time, is something that should only be celebrated.

How About Now?

Seeing as it was raced hundreds of times in the ’60s and ’70s, its pristine original condition today just blows my mind.


All of the stickers are legit ’70s gold, and the old driver net is the real deal. The hand-painted lettering and pin-striping, absolutely timeless. I seriously hope that peeling gold flake is never replaced, and I hope this car lives on exactly as it is.


And in the hands of its most recent owner, I’m confident this will be the case. Russell has owned over 50 cars in his time, usually buying up some muscle car, tinkering a bit, and moving on to the next one in a year or less. It’s practically the American way, after all.


This one means something different to him, though. Plain Brown Wrapper isn’t just going to be passed on; Russell has finally found one that seems to have stuck.


He plans to build a period-correct Chevy 331 for the car some day, as the Nova currently has a 383ci stroker sucking up fuel and turning it into torque. Even with the smaller displacement, Russell should be capable of a healthy dose of power.

Back in the day, the same motor was good for 475 horses to the wheels.


Heart transplant or not, Russell assures me he’ll keep it registered for the street as a fun cruiser, as well as taking it over for the occasional run down the strip.

Being born and raised in the Bay Area, I met Russell at his place in San Jose, which was a proper garage-turned-shop, and the perfect home for the car.


He took me up to his old high school spot that overlooked California’s Bay Area for some shots as he filled me in on the backstory of the Nova.

I think we all know what sort of spot this was — probably a bit different for everyone, depending on what they were into.


At any rate, this Chevy is an absolute time machine. It feels every bit as insane as you can imagine, and then some.


Passing the evening chatting with Russell and taking in this wicked creation was the best way I could have spent it. Certainly not everyone understands this sort of thing, but if you’re here I’m sure you do.


Just writing about it now makes me want to experience the clanging fury of that rear differential, the smell of unburnt fuel, and the angry exhaust announcing to everyone in the vicinity the arrival of a grumpy elder.

Long live Plain Brown Wrapper, and keep on rolling Russell.

Trevor Yale Ryan
Instagram: tyrphoto

Cutting Room Floor


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Gorgeous!! Looks like a blast to drive.


Any links to video though? Can’t seem to find any. Need to hear this beast


No video, I'm pretty lame that sounds like something between a big V8 and an avalanche, if that's any help.


This is the perfect Nova!


This is the only plain brown wrapper I will accept this christmas. Merry Christmas Speedhunters .


Is it an 1/8 Mile drag car?? It doesn't see it would even be able to make it a 1/4 mile with those gears without bouncing off the rev limiter for the last 18th mile...


Nah it's a quarter miler, with a 1:1 fourth gear and those huge rear wheels you'd be at about 7500rpm at 130mph, which is ballpark for a 10.5s quarter.

Not sure what fourth is geared at but I'm sure someone thought it through.


Thanks for the love really appreciate it! Merry Christmas


Russell I grew up watching this car being built by Dale Cado in Taylor mi. I lived a few houses down. I hung out in his garage as a kid and watched him wrench on it. Also a guy across the street Gary did the other wild paint job that was on it before. It had like a space scene or something on the deck lid! This is giving me the chills seeing this car as I remembered it as a kid! My parents knew his very well. I remember running outside when he fired it up to put it on the trailer! This is so cool! I don’t know what ever happened to Dale?


Gotta love a car with history as rich as this... good job on featuring this gem.


Survivors are so cool. Stoked to see this here.


That's my boy! I financed the first car when he was 16. Turned out to be a good hobby that kept him out of trouble! Mom


you know, my parents were always supporters (non financial, if we wanted it, we had to pay for it) in my brothers and Is hobbies...I think it makes a huge difference knowing your folks are there...Even when you call home in the middle of the night after you broke street racing haha


Your comment has just turned my depressing Christmas into what it should be, a night to show my appreciation for whom I love the most. Tonight, I'm giving my mom a very simple present: a conrod on a wooden stand with "1st Place - World's best mom" written on it. I've always been a good kid, good grades, never in trouble...but that conrod I'm giving her came from the engine in a 1300cc 11.8s car she bought for me after the first car I bought and tried to tune for racing crapped out on me. I've been a sucker for racing since I was a little boy but luck hasn't been on my side this year: I was testing some repairs and money-shifted the car, completely ruining the engine. Nevertheless, my mom was by my side and even though we're not particularly wealthy she somehow allowed me to get a new engine. The conrod I'm giving her is a stock Suzuki item that can stand some 100HP...but my mom's even tougher 'cuz she stands me.

Mothers like you rock and truly make a difference!


feed it little Teslas for breakfast


I like this article a lot. Go Russell! Great to see old school hot rodding featured on this site. You guys should just axe all the stance bullshit and feature cars like this from all walks of life. unfortunately you wouldn't sell key chains if that happened so I understand all the bullshit. At least we get a nugget once in a while. Great story.


I'm fairly certain we do feature "cars...from all walks of life." That's the whole point.

I'm glad you like this story but you'll notice the spirit of many other builds on here are the same (keeping it original, period correct, quality OEM/racing parts, etc), just with different bits and pieces from overseas.


You just couldn't enjoy it without taking a swipe, huh? God forbid people like different things to you.


hahaha nah man this is just quality content. Don't be so sensitive.


You must be such a blast at Christmas time with that super POSITIVE attitude....



I don't change who I am for one day because Christmas. Cars are pieces of metal bro. Quality is still quality and shit is still shit no matter who comes down the chimney haha!


All walks of life, but only what you like huh? Your troll game is pretty good.


Thank you. I deal with people in the industry who build things correctly. Apologize if I see a slammed GTR on bags that have compromised the performance of the car and criticize. Troll game 100.


Cool car. Though something is fishy here if the original green in the driveway is in fact the same car as in the feature. It does not seem to be. The engine call-out on the front fenders (by the indicator) says 307, if it were a true SS with a smallblock it would say 350, nothing else. The fake gills that were on SS fenders are missing also and the Nova script. What makes more sense (I would think) is a stripper 307 Nova built up for Drag racing with some SS trim.


Good eye, I could have been wrong about that detail, but I think more likely is that he got some standard replacement fenders to thrash on (although they made it through decades unscathed). The badging matched the smaller motor he ended up building so it all worked out.


Id love to see more vintage drag stuff like this...AND SOME VIDEO


oh, and I do love those Moroso and other makes mechanical tachs


Amazing car, paint and stance is perfect. And that shot from the rear 3/4 with the sun behind is just too good


Badass Car


Best story on Speedhunters ever.


Congrats Russ. Not at all surprised of the Hot Rods you build, always Spot On!!!!
More so, I'd like everyone to know Russell is a great man to know. He has always had the kindest heart and cobsideration for others! Russell is a Great Example of the True Hot Rodder.... Well Done Russ


Wonderful to see some good USDM content here, though it still makes me want to cry that so much of American car culture revolves around drag and circle-track racing. Makes us look like idiots on the international stage, as far as I'm concerned.

I heard of a guy who's spending his life in jail because he lost control during a highway pull and wadded up an oncoming car along with its occupants. For the longest time I couldn't figure out how that happens when it took a pack of drunken bikers to get a similar result from Japan, but tonight it hit me. Between our nice, straight, smooth highways courtesy of eminent domain, the relative low cost of high performance here (both initial and running costs), and the popularity of drag & oval racing, it is extremely tempting when in America to treat everything as if it were a drag race. Now I absolutely do not condone weaving in and out of traffic at 150 MPH like the Japanese did, and I can't really condone any form of highway racing or street racing in general, but I can say that the skill of the average American driver is just sad, and it makes me sad. We can be fine drivers when we care to try, but very few who do find themselves marginalized in in the shadow of the NASCAR juggernaut. The ones content to race on the highway, who think that racing just means flooring the throttle in a straight line, aren't going to know what to do when their overpowered supercar du jour tries to swap ends on them. Then you have the omnicidally overconfident maniacs who try gunning it through heavy mid-afternoon traffic because they don't realize how quickly even a stock LT1 Camaro or B5 S4 can get them into trouble. Honestly, this is probably the reason for the current (and annoying) JDM fad.


Gorgeous car, the paint, the old school wheels, the details, the whole thing. I also love that it gets driven too, seems like a lot of cars of that era are being bought and then locked away as investments.


I want you