Drag Strip Classics: Dog Dish Afternoon, Part I–1969 Chevy Nova 396 and 1969 Plymouth GTX


(first posted 12/8/2014)    For years, the simple dog dish hubcap signified the domain of the cheapskate, the hack, the socially awkward, and the old maid.  It was a placeholder for a set of Keystone mags or reverse chrome wheels, which were as ubiquitous as long shackles and air shocks.  Those days are gone.  The simple dog dish hubcap is cool again, and it’s egalitarian too, baby!  It’s a dog dish dichotomy at the local drags!


We’ll start today with this pristine, better-than-new ’69 Nova.  I’ll say it.  This may be the world’s perfect Nova–396 powered, dark green with black vinyl roof, red line tires, SS scoops.  Long heralded as perhaps the best sleeper muscle car, the Nova 396 packs one of Chevy’s best big-blocks, and is unencumbered by the extra weight of the Chevelle.  Dog-dish hubcaps maintain the sinister and business-like persona, because there’s no time to play when work is to be done.


The inside of the Nova is appropriately bleak and modest.  Only the prominent tachometer and auxiliary gauges betray the ruse, along with the requisite “SS” badge on the steering wheel.  The column shifter would suit Grandma’s Powerglide, but controls a Turbo 400 in this case.  The 6500 RPM redline on the period Sun tachometer can only mean that this Nova is motivated by the solid-lifter L78, rated at 375 horsepower.  When people today wax nostalgic about the 396, this is the one they remember, not the 325-horse imposter in Dad’s Impala.


My best friend in high school drove a ’70 Nova with a 250, and it never really excited me.  Lately, however, I’ve begun to understand the charm of these simple sedans.  The styling has stood up, it screams simplicity, and in this case, it just screams.  Novas awake the inner redneck hooligan, parking-lot donuts and all.


Plymouth, on the other hand, knew the Nova’s target market well; its version of the Nova was the ’69 Valiant, which (according to the brochure) could be had with the ready for action 318, which was certainly no L78.  A Valiant would undoubtedly be fun with a 340, but I digress.  On the other end of its spectrum, Plymouth offered a car for the more sophisticated speed freak, one who enjoyed a little culture, maybe an occasional dry martini, Dionne Warwick on the hi-fi, etc. That car was the GTX, the gentleman’s muscle car.  Would said gentleman, however, have rolled on these basic red-line adorned wheels?


Who cares when your GTX is this badass?  If Beelzebub drove a Charger, Mephistopheles would have driven a black GTX. Flat black hood, red accents, red line tires, 440 Super Commando…Good Golly Miss Molly, I want one of these things now!  I wonder if I’m on the nice list or the naughty list.


From this perspective, one can imagine the 440’s distinctive burble gone wail.  Anybody remember the chase scene in Bullitt?  It wasn’t the 390’s all bark, no bite cacophony that made my neck hairs stand on end, it was the 440’s muted howl as it revved.  Pure music, almost better than Dionne’s voice.  The dog dish caps suit this GTX well.  A set of Magnum 500s or aftermarket Cragars would have been akin to a business executive wearing a Joe Namath jersey, out of place.  The plain old hubcap, however, fits in anywhere.  Stay tuned for more dog dish excitement in an upcoming episode.