Chevy II Nova
Novas were groundbreaking in that they were one of the first true compact cars before such vehicles were in vogue. They appeared in 1962, which was well before the oil crises and the influx of Japanese imports. The only other comparable car in the domestic market was the Ford Falcon. Chevrolet GM Ed Cole said the Nova combined “maximum functionalism with thrift.”
The “Nova” name did not actually appear until 1969. Earlier models were called Chevy IIs. The Nova name lost out because it did not begin with “C” and also because designers wanted to distinguish the Nova from higher-priced and larger vehicles. These cars were quite popular. The nameplate reappeared in the 1980s, and in the 1990s, Novas were renamed Geo Prizms.
First Generation (1962-65)
The first Novas were nice-looking cars which had some elements of a family car and some elements of a sports car. The unibody construction maximized this look. Under the hood, the Nova had either a V4 or a V6 engine. Stories circulated that a V8 was available as well, but such a vehicle was never produced. The bigger engine came later, to help the Nova compete with the Chevelle (the car and not the band).
Novas came in several different styles. Customers could select a 2-door sedan, 2-door convertible, 2-door hardtop, 4-door station wagon or a 4-door sedan. By 1965, upgraded Nova Super Sports and 400s were available as well.
Second Generation (1966-67)
These Chevy IIs looked a lot different. It is amazing what a few small changes, such as sharper lines and a redesigned grille, can do to a car’s appearance. In addition to the Super Sport and 400, Chevrolet also introduced the even more luxurious Nova SS. This car looked different as well. It featured more aluminum trim and wider rocker panels.
A variety of powertrains were available as well. Some models had 90hp engines; others went all the way to 350hp. The latter models were clearly muscle cars. No automatic transmission was available on those vehicles.
Once again, however, Chevrolet competed against itself. To go against the Camaro, Novas received updated grilles and some other improvements. Nevertheless, sales fell precipitously.
Third Generation (1968-74)
These “compact cars” were almost as big as mid-sized Chevelles. To improve handling on the larger vehicles, designers upgraded the suspension system. These redesigned Novas could also accommodate almost any appetite for speed. Fifteen different powertrain sizes were available. But despite these efforts, sales still fell by about 50 percent.
The redesigned Nova Super Sport was an exception. With a very large 295hp V8, the new SS was one of the smallest domestically-produced muscle cars in history. So, it was quite a thrill to drive.
Fourth Generation (1975-79)
“Now it’s beautiful,” proclaimed the 1975 Nova sales brochure. These Novas completely abandoned the muscle-car look and tried to emulate European sedans. The subframe and suspension borrowed heavily from the Firebird and Camaro. Upgraded Nova LNs featured additional soundproofing along with extras like day/night mirrors and electric clocks.