There are cars we could have bought. Cars we would have bought. But this is the car I should have bought back in high school. My well-meaning parents helped me get a 1972 Vega in 1973, before the self-destructive properties of that model became so awfully and costly apparent.
They were thinking “small and economical” for my first car, but looking back in hindsight (as we all do), the long-term costs of a Chevy Nova would have been far less. And it wasn’t much larger than the Vega.
The Chevy II/Nova line started in 1962 and went to 1979, and again from 1985 to 1988. But I’d like to focus on what I would have had in my high school years, the ones made from 1968-1974, which are now known as the 3rd Generation Nova. Those other cars have their own followers, and deserve separate posts.
So what’s so unique about a Nova? Well, really, practically nothing at all. Recirculating ball steering, drum brakes (Discs were optional), blah sedan styling (window frames remained after the glass was rolled down), and spartan interiors and gauge clusters made up this car for the most part. But wait… is that a tiny tach I see, resting where the clock should be?
Maybe that’s what makes the Nova so special. GM took their best, proven build ideas at the time and made them work, skipping on some of the frills. And the test of time has proven that they still work. These cars were built during the heyday of muscle cars, and the Nova undoubtedly benefitted from some of that technology.
This foundation made it possible to build a Nova as anything from a nurse’s car to a dragster. And anything in between. I would not call them luxury cars during these years, but you could opt out of the vinyl floor and flat front bench seat with the LN Package in 1973. Of course, bucket seats were available all along.
These Novas were sold as coupes or 4-doors. There was no wagon or convertible Nova during this time.
One thing that was especially well-designed about the Nova was that it had a subframe up front, but was unibody from, say, the bulkhead/firewall on back. This large piece continued under the floor somewhat, as it had to be bolted to the main body. It added immense support for a large engine, but made the overall car much lighter that a full body-on-frame design. The F-Body Camaro and Firebird had a similar unit.
Where many unibody-car front-ends would have been beyond repair in an accident, this allowed the possibility of unbolting the subframe and replacing it, along with the front clip (That’s the fenders, hood, and radiator support assembly to some of us). This kept many Novas out of the scrapyard prematurely. I’ve seen it done.
The Nova offered Strato seats, Astro ventilation, an optional Turbo-Hydromatic transmission… GM sure went wild with space-age marketing names back during the 1960s’ Space Race and moon shots!
A bud of mine had a Nova, circa-1969 model, that was plain and stripped to the bone, and I got to drive it on several occasions. Seems it had power steering, manual brakes, an automatic, 6 cylinders, and moon hubcaps – remember them? His car, in that form, was about as exciting as watching paint dry, but it got the job done. It was a solid car, until a battery turned over in the trunk. We all know what happened after that.
When the Nova was reskinned for 1973, I think the new looks took the car out of the 1960s and was a pleasant update. The front vent windows disappeared for a sleek, more modern look, and 5-mile-per-hour bumpers were fitted as pleasantly as possible. A hatchback version was offered for the first time, and I remember a cool snap-on camping tent option called the Hutch (A future post on that is coming) for the hatchback. At least I think it was for camping. 😉
A 1968-’72 Nova SS (Super Sport) was and is known by some as “The Hot Set-Up.” Imagine putting a 396-cubic-inch (6.5-litre) V-8 with 375 horsepower into a 3300-lb. car (For reference, a 2001 Miata with 144 horses weighs 2500 pounds). Install a 4-speed, add disc brakes, and tighten the suspension. Don’t forget a sporty trim package. Better yet, let the factory do all of this for you and give you a warranty. The model years of power availability vary, but is there any wonder why folks love these cars? I want one even today!
This Nova has a claim to fame with Cadillac. With a little frame stretching and an all-new body, the first Seville sprang from the Nova. The altering of the Nova’s backbone and new coachwork earned the Seville the K-Body designation over the Nova’s then-named X-Body. At $12,479, the Seville was the highest-priced Caddy of 1975.
Maybe the Nova was a bridge between a large GM car and a sub-compact. Tidy dimensions, but tons of power and a solid feel. The doors sounded like a big car when you shut them, and there were no complaints of claustrophobic proportions once you were inside.
If I had owned a Nova in high school, I’m sure I’d have one now for reflection, as there are many still around. Today their owners are fiercely faithful, and with good reasons. I’d like to vote this as the best small car Chevrolet has ever built, and they fit in on Rodeo Drive as well as any Rolls-Royce or Mercedes. Well, maybe.
Hey. If one’s good enough for Eddie Murphy in “Beverly Hills Cop“…
Image Credits: Our beauty shot came from PinIMG.com The dash with tach image was found at ChevyNova.com. The 4 door Nova photo is from Hemmings.com. The Nova subframe picture was found at SpeedTechPerformance.com. The Hutch image came from Hemmings.com. That Nova SS photo is from PinIMG.com. The Seville image was found at CadillacForums.com. Eddie Murphy’s Nova image from “Beverly Hills Cop” came from IMCDB.org.