Curbside Classic: 1975 Chevrolet Nova Custom – “X” Marks The Spot Of Its Uncertain Future

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There are some cars that are hard for me to find any excitement about.  Yet after looking at this burgundy Nova it appears I may be experiencing a softening of heart in my middle years; it certainly isn’t nostalgia.

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Growing up, I went past one of these Novas every single day.  The road leading to the house I grew up in necessitated turning right next to Louie and Pauline’s place and they had a green Nova of this vintage.  They were good people in spite of Louie having a fairly broken down spirit from Pauline’s incessant barking of orders.  Her barking wasn’t limited to just Louie either; she barked at the three kids and got into their business so bad she accompanied the two older girls on dates until they were married.

Shocking and lingering rumors – perpetuated by my bachelor great-uncle Stan, the town gossip – claimed Pauline had even been present for their daughters’ wedding nights to ensure the union was consummated.  What a stone cold sobering and nauseating thought.  If true, this is a situation in which only true love (or the new husband being a totally hen-pecked and intimidated idiot) could overcome and/or endure.  Performance anxiety, indeed.

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Louie and Pauline’s youngest, Buddy, must have also fallen prey to his mother’s perpetually heavy-handed directions.  Literally a forty year-old virgin, Buddy drove their green Nova at an infuriatingly slow 45 mph top speed – on long, flat, straight roads.  Being stuck behind him was the automotive equivalent of a root canal as it was horrifically painful and getting anywhere seemingly took forever if one was so unfortunate to be trapped behind that pokey green Nova.

Is it any wonder this generation of Nova has imprinted itself on me in an unjustly negative way?  While it’s guilt purely by association, I know I’m likely overlooking the bountiful goodness this Nova possesses.  It isn’t the typically glum 1970s era sedan.

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Perhaps the thawing of my icy to indifferent thoughts about this generation of Nova can be attributed to my co-worker, Bill.  Bill and I spend time together every summer on an annual project that involves us scurrying around an area that is about 150% the size of Wales.  Having a lot of windshield time, we talk about everything and no subject is taboo.  It’s great fun for being at work.

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One day while out and about, Bill mentioned a Nova sitting at his mother’s house.  Curious, I asked more.

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Originally, Bill was thinking this was a 1974 Nova.  Being off by a year is by no means a big deal, although there is a distinct visual difference between the 1974 and 1975 Nova.  But with his thinking this was a ’74, it’s a terrific tie-in to what makes the 1975 and up Nova so unique.

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When AMC set out to capture the police car market in the early 1970s, they offered up a Matador that was quite noteworthy for the times. While not exactly the most reliable and durable car ever built, the availability of the 401 cubic inch V8 made the police specification Matador unusually rapid.  It made a big splash, with many cities, especially in Los Angeles, counties, and states providing them for their law enforcement branches.

If you’ve ever seen the later episodes of Adam-12, you’ve seen one of these Matadors.

During 1974, Motor Trend Executive Editor, and reserve deputy for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, John Christy helped make a few tweaks to the procedure Los Angeles County used to evaluate cars for purchasing.  These revisions allowed less than full-sized cars to be considered for use.

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One of the cars tested by the department was a 1974 Nova.  Powered by a 350 cubic inch (5.7 liter) V8, this Nova was a mixture of Camaro and Nova SS parts with brakes from a full-sized Chevrolet thrown in for good measure.  It made a good impression as the Nova was evaluated again for 1975, when Chevrolet, in a microburst of genius, released a factory police package Nova.

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The police Nova for 1975 was noticeably slower than the 401 powered Matador, but it also had a 100 horsepower deficit that was not completely offset by it being 500 pounds lighter (the 401 was not available anymore in the 1975 Matador).  In its favor, it out handled the Matador and went two miles further on a gallon of gasoline.

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Also tested was the 1975 Plymouth Fury; powered by a 360 cubic inch (5.9 liter) V8, the Fury was also outmaneuvered by the Nova.  The Nova was observed as getting four miles per gallon more than the Fury.

The Nova had been all-new in 1968, sharing the platform for the new 1967 Camaro. Amd in 1975, it was pretty heavily revised, both visually as well as under the skin, as it got a completely new front end with the new suspension and steering from the acclaimed 1971 F-Body Camaro and Firebird. There was a reason it was almost universally considered the best handling domestic compact sedan. It would become quite popular in law enforcement circles, going a long way to diffuse the mindset that full-sized cars were the only cars suitable for police work.

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Of course, the annual de-escalation of the horsepower race helped detract from the full-sized cars.  A 454 cubic inch (7.4 liter) V8 cranking out 215 horsepower in a 4,220 pound Impala could best be described as pitiful.  Opportunity was ripe for the Nova, which would continue in police work through 1978. For 1975, the standard Nova’s 350 V8 was rated at 145 hp, and the optional four barrel brought that up to 155hp.

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This particular Nova belongs to Bill’s aunt and uncle.  They are getting on in years and, sadly, they have moved into assisted living.  No longer able to drive, the Nova was transported to Bill’s mothers house for safekeeping.

Don’t let these pictures lure you into thinking this Nova is a decrepit derelict of a Chevrolet.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.

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Until last year, this Nova had been sitting in a garage in northern Idaho.  Bill’s aunt and uncle rarely drove the Nova they had purchased new, with its longest trip usually being the four blocks to the grocery store.  The dirtiness you see is entirely pollen from the nearby trees.

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There is an usually heavy amount of tree pollen on this parcel of land as this Nova sits within spitting distance of what had for years been the largest black walnut tree in the entire state.

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It’s documented as being at least 240 years old and this picture does not even begin to do justice to the sheer size of this tree.  It is one of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen and certainly the biggest I’ve seen in my state of residence.  It’s a monster.

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This nearly pristine car is yearning for some elbow grease.  A little wax would do wonders for this 35,100 mile Nova.  Everything works and the car runs great.

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Even the straight six under the hood had me excited.  That’s a statement I have never made before.  The ice said “crack” when it started to melt.

Of course there is a fly in every ointment.  Bill is one of ten children; there are certain dynamics within every family, and it seems to grow exponentially when there are large numbers of offspring involved.  Let’s just say the future of this Nova is somewhere between muddy and murky.

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Despite what the outcome may be, let’s appreciate this Nova for what it is – a simple, straightforward car that was considered a compact in 1975 and a car that was able to realize even greater successes later in life.

Shouldn’t we all be so lucky?

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Photographed in Fayette, Missouri, June 2016