The Chevy Nova was a compact competitor in the legendary American pony wars.
While the 1960s and 1970s witnessed a fight between American automotive manufacturers to produce the fastest and most powerful muscle cars, the Chevy Nova was just right when it came to size, speed, and affordability.
But it didn’t start out as the Chevy Nova…not quite, anyway.
Eager to produce a budget-friendly compact muscle car, Chevy introduced the Chevy II. As a model name, Nova was relegated to runner-up name because it didn’t start with C.
However, Nova was chosen as the name for the higher-end, sportier trim option, and did eventually replace Chevy II as the car’s official name in 1969.
Produced between 1962-1988, you can find used Chevy Novas at your Chevy Dealership in Albany.
After the Chevy II’s rapid fire design and subsequent approval, which lead to its manufacture only eighteen months later, this car was among the speediest new car development programs released by General Motors.
Designed in 1961 and released in 1962, the Chevy II was a back-to-basics compact car, smaller than the full-size Chevy vehicles, but bigger than the compact Chevy Corvair.
Available as a two-door coupe, four-door sedan, convertible, or station wagon, the simple design of the Chevy II represented what Chevy’s General Manager, Ed Cole, dubbed “maximum functionalism with thrift.”
The first generation ran from 1962-1965, with a few notable highlights.
Equipped with either a 153 cubic-inch four-cylinder or 194 cubic-inch six-cylinder engine, the Chevy II quickly evolved to include sportier options.
The Super Sport, or RPO-Z03, was released in 1963 on the Chevy II Nova 400. Although it wasn’t much of a performance booster, the trim, bucket seats, new instruments, and spiffier steering wheel gave the car a spicier appearance, making it seem sportier than its performance actually was.
This was the only year that the Chevy II Nova SS was available as a convertible.
The following year brought about a larger, 283 cubic-inch engine, able to generate either 195 or 220 horsepower.
Already lightweight, this engine upgrade edged the Chevy II into muscle car territory, zipping it from zero to sixty miles per hour in 11.3 seconds and crushing the quarter-mile in eighteen.
The final year, 1965, of this first generation delivered additional muscle to the engine in the form of a 327 cubic-inch V8 engine, generating 300 horsepower, available in a Powerglide transmission.
Short, but Sweet…1966-1967
Although short, the second generation brought about a new and faster Chevy II model. Equipped with a 327 cubic-inch eight-cylinder engine, this model year boasted 350 horsepower, completing the quarter mile in 15.1 seconds, shaving nearly three seconds off its earlier record.
Not much changed with the 1967 Chevy II models, other than some additional cosmetic enhancements.
We can drop the Chevy II name in favor of simply Chevy Nova or Nova, redesigned in 1968 as the Nova SS, mechanically and aesthetically based off the Chevy Camaro.
Outfitted with the standard 350 cubic-inch V8, generating 295 horsepower, there was also the available 396 cubic-inch V8, which boosted horsepower between 350-375.
The L34 option generated 350 horsepower, while the L78 generated 375 horsepower. Only 234 Novas were equipped with the L34 engine configuration, and 667 Novas featured the L78, making them both targets of car collectors.
1969 came and went without many significant changes to the Nova.
An available Yenko Nova 427 cubic-inch eight-cylinder engine generated a maximum 425 horsepower with 460 lb.-ft. of torque, but only 37 were created during that year, making them another classic car collectible.
Those of us familiar with car history, or those of us who were alive during the seventies, can attest to the muscle car parade being rained on by emissions regulations, increased safety requirements, and the astronomical price of gas…when gas was actually available.
With respect to safety initiatives, automotive manufacturers were forced to decrease horsepower in favor of additional safety features, which resulted in heavier vehicles, straining performance and power.
The 1970 Nova featured a modified 396 cubic-inch engine, which boosted its size to 402 cubic-inches, generating 375 horsepower.
With performance no longer a priority, the 1971 Chevy Nova was given a 350 cubic-inch engine, which got a maximum of 270 horsepower.
Not surprisingly, after the previous power and performance of earlier Novas, sales of the 1971 Nova started to slip.
Chevy tried to bolster its sliding sales by released the Rally Nova, or RPO-YF1, reminiscent of a race car, but without the actual performance of one, and only lasted until 1973..
1972 introduced a Nova with a 350 cubic-inch V8 engine, able to get 200 horsepower, while 1973 just brought with it additional compliance with federal regulations, and cosmetic enhancements, including: bigger bumpers and rear side mirrors, as well the availability of a hatchback.
More regulations influenced the 1974 Nova, but the biggest change was cosmetic, and came as a “Spirit of America,” one-year option, which unveiled red, white, and blue accented trim levels.
The Fourth…and Almost Final Generation…1975-1979
Due to additional regulations, the 1975 Nova now came standard with mechanical changes to the brakes, suspension, and tires.
Because of emissions concerns, the 1975 Novas were equipped with catalytic converters to reduce emissions, disc brakes were a required safety feature, as were steel-belted radial tires.
In 1976, the Nova’s 262 cubic-inch engine was replaced by a new 305 cubic-inch eight-cylinder engine, as part of the Gold Medalist package, designed in honor of the 1976 Olympic Games.
By 1977, production ended on the Nova SS, and sales plummeted, especially in the shadow of other new Chevy releases.
The fourth generation lasted until 1979, but the Nova made an unexpected return in 1985.
Chevy resurrected the Nova badge in the spring of 1984 and released the fifth generation of Novas between 1985-1988.
Built on the same platform as the Toyota Corolla, the Chevy Nova was a front-wheel drive subcompact car equipped with a 1.6-liter, 98 cubic-inch four-cylinder engine, operated by either a five-speed manual or a three or four-speed automatic transmission.
You know those urban legends kids tell each other to scare or gross themselves out? Or to seem very worldly, even though their “facts” are based in…um…falsehoods?
Yeah, well, in some ways the marketing and automotive industries are like those two kids on the playground.
A popular “fact” about the Chevy Nova has been widely circulated as a cautionary tale with respect to branding.
Who knows where or when it started…neither really matters, if it was even possible to find out with any certainty.
But, for ages now, automotive lore insists that the Chevy Nova did not sell well abroad because in Spanish, nova, means “no go.”
Couple of problems here…the first involving numbers. The second, letters, or rather the lack of spacing between them.
The Chevy Nova actually sold very well throughout Mexico and Venezuela, especially, both Spanish-speaking countries, let’s not forget.
It’s likely that any slump in sales abroad would have been mirrored by disappointing sales in the States. In other words, it was a sales trend, not a semantic smoking gun.
Speaking of semantics…nova in Spanish doesn’t actually mean anything. There must be a space between no and va, no va, in order for it to have meaning. And even then, the translation of no go, is tenuous at best, and not the phrase a Spanish-speaking driver would use to indicate a car that wasn’t running.
In that case, you would expect to hear, “no marcha,” or “no funciona,” to indicate that a car was somehow faulty.
Nova no go?
Not a chance.
An Exciting Investment
Though some model years, particularly those that were available only in very limited release, are considered collectible classic cars, Chevy Novas are often more affordable than other classic cars out there.
And you can find them more easily than others, especially given their ubiquitous presence on the big and small screens, featured in countless movies and television shows.
A very fun investment option, you can find nearby Chevy Nova inventories by contacting your Chevy dealership in Lexington, KY.