I spotted this Nova while rolling down Catalina Avenue in Redondo Beach, California. While you don’t need to know I was in Redondo Beach, I did want to slide in the fact that I can drive over and cruise Catalina Avenue anytime I have a spare 40 minutes. (Not bragging, just saying…)
Still, the location is significant- We all know California’s climate is friendly to sheet metal, but the UV energy here does no favors to vehicle finishes. This Nova shows the impact of our California sun in the faded black-out paint around the window frames, as well as the disintegrating red and blue body striping.
This picture of the wheel center caps also shows the effects of UV radiation. The cap pictured on the right was the only one left still displaying it’s red and blue background.
But enough of the California climate- Let’s look at the features of this 1974 Nova. The internet tells me that in 1974 the “Spirit of America” trim package was offered on the Vega, Nova, and Impala. You can also find a few images of El Caminos with this package, but there is an online debate regarding the authenticity of Spirit of America Camino. Some feel any El Caminos so offered were modified at the dealerships, rather than factory built models.
This internal Chevrolet sales info brochure for Spirit of America models does not show an El Camino version, so I lean towards dealer built.
I also find it interesting that Chevrolet did not offer a Chevelle or Camaro version. Did some market research establish that intermediate and pony car buyers shunned patriotic trim packages? I’m guessing we’ll never know the answer to that question…
In the case of the Nova, the package was based on the 2 door hatchback (which had been introduced the year before). The exterior changes included subtle red and blue stripes on the sides, roof, hood and trunk.
With tasteful Spirit of America shields adorning the fenders and trunk lid.
The grille and window frames included black out paint, and vinyl covered the front of the roof. For unknown reasons, Chevy designers avoided using red or blue on the roof (and exterior mirrors), instead choosing black as a third accent color.
Finally, the package added styled steel wheels with an eagle’s head displayed in each center cap.
That year, Chevy sold 14,463 Novas with the Spirit of America trim, representing 3.7 % of 1974 Nova production, but a healthy 18% of all Nova hatchbacks.
Inside, the Spirit of America Nova included white seats and interior panels, red carpet and seatbelts, and a black instrument panel. The package also added red, white, and blue accents on the horn pad and door panels.
A look at our interior reveals a couple of interesting things. First off, a look through the driver’s window reveals another Curbside Classic headed south on Catalina Avenue. Some may get excited at such sightings, but for me it’s just another day in Redondo Beach.
More importantly, notice that this interior is missing the red carpet and the unique three color trim pieces on the door panel and horn pad. While this shot does not show it, the seatbelt webbing is also black, not red. Hmmm, it could be that we’re looking at a phony Spirit of America!
A closer look also reveals that two exterior panels include mounting holes for normal Nova badging, further evidence that the car may not be all that it seems.
Is it a fake? Hard to say, but here are the arguments it is a genuine Spirit of America:
1) The exterior parts are all complete, and appear to be original. The black out paint, black exterior mirrors and black vinyl roof all match the spec sheet.
2) Carpets wear out, and trim gets damaged. The dash and seats are the right color combinations, and the door panel reads “Custom,” correct for the Spirit of America package.
3) Spirit of America Novas are worth about 15% more than a Nova Custom, so cloning a Spirit of America hardly seems worth the effort.
You have my permission to argue clone versus fake all day. I’m leaning towards the real thing, if only because this car is a hatchback. Almost 20% of ’74 hatches came with the Spirit of America package, so if you find a ’74 hatch it’s often decked out in red, white, black and blue. Maybe a few panels have been replaced or repaired on this car, but I think it rolled out of the factory as a fully dressed Spirit of America.
Before finishing up, I should also note that both Ford and Chrysler offered Red, White, and Blue trim packages around the same time. Ford offered the Sprint Package for the Pinto, Maverick and Mustang in 1972. Celebrating the 1972 Munich Olympics, the cars came decorated with red and blue shields on their quarter panels, emblazoned with “USA”.
Two years later, Dodge offered this “Hang 10” package on the 1974 and ’75 Dart. Also using white body paint with red and blue graphics, it celebrated the California Surf scene, rather than US pride. I’ve seen a Hang 10 Dart in the flesh, but it was at a Colorado Dodge dealer back in 1975, rather than on the streets of Redondo Beach. Looking back in time, selling a surfing car in Northglenn, Colorado seems somewhat ironic.
But maybe not as ironic as selling a Spirit of America Nova in California. Given the wordly sophistication and imported car tastes of the California native, the cheesy “I love America” message, combined with the blatant “Buy American” vibe seems more appropriate for Detroit or Des Moine. Still, the blue and goldenrod plates establish the car’s California credentials. Six digit blue plates were issued up until 1980, so the car has been in state for at least 33 years.
However, this patriotic Nova is packed with one thing Californians always go for- The biggest engine available!
Well, that’s all I have for the Spirit of America Nova. While you enjoy it’s patriotic bunting, I’m headed out to search for that Hang 10 Dart.