Nika’s favorite car is his 1970 C3 Corvette. What makes his choice of car so great is that it fits him well. A short blocky man with hands that look like they could punch though cement and a penchant for one word responses, Nika is the visage of the force embodied in the C3.
What I mean is that Nika’s C3 is a brutish car. The LS5 motor displaced 7.4 L and required four barrels in its carburetor to meet the fuel demands of the motor. The power from the engine was connected to the road by a brutish two speed Powerglide transmission. According to engineers, fewer gears means fewer frictional losses due to a simplified design. According to the drivers, it means breaking traction when you shift to second at fifty miles per hour. This all went to a rear end that was mounted on a transverse leaf spring (read: light). Effectively, this entire car was built around the engine, and anything between the engine and the ground was designed to be as out of its way as possible.
Similarly, Nika belongs to an older, harder class of mechanic. When something breaks, he opts to hammer, wrench and drive a part back into alignment. Rather than go out and buy a new part (as is more common on newer cars) Nika constructs his own parts or fabricates new components to repair the part. In a sense, Nika is more apt to grunt and struggle through a challenge than to give up and take the expensive way though.
And that was apparent in my interview with him. Beyond his monosyllabic answers, it was very clear that he is drawn to car restoration for the challenge. For him half the fun is maintaining the reputation that his shop has earned, and the other half is building a vehicle that is borderline concours level in quality. In fact, he takes pride in the work it takes to take a junkyard worthy chassis and completely restore it.
However, this façade of the tough meathead was really just that – a façade. Behind his burly front is a sharp business mind and an ability to unerringly produce vehicles that win awards at car shows. I was tipped off by one of his latter responses. When asked about why he restores instead of working on more modern vehicles he said “In new cars, you buy the parts and bolt them on. But with old cars you have to build the parts. And that fabrication that I do, not everybody can do.”
While that may seem like a simple statement it highlighted a basic fundamental of a successful business – do something that is hard to do, but people want done. And the truth is that Nika is really an artist with what he does. Crafting parts and repairing individual components requires finesse and being able to plan out an entire build from a piece of otherwise junkyard worthy scrap needs a strong vision.
And similarly, the C3 has a bit more to it than meets the eye. The relatively high 10.25:1 compression ratio requires precise tuning to produce the amount of power it does, and the transverse leaf spring is a well calculated move that allows for a relatively cheap, robust suspension that lowers the center of gravity. And lastly, that Powerglide transmission as explained earlier allows the engine to put all 500 foot pounds of torque down to the road without losing as much of the power as possible.
And I think that’s what is really great about Nika. He has the appearance of a gritty mechanic meathead, but the mind of a sharp business man. Similar to his C3 there’s more to Nika than meets the eye.
See more pictures here.