I stumbled across this fourth generation Nova five minutes after the Granada of the other day and the contrast could not have been greater. Yes, it’s two years newer but wasn’t much different in ’76 and the Granada wasn’t much changed in ’78 either. While both cars obviously have their fans and clearly provided profits to their makers and transportation to their owners, the manner in which they did was quite different. Of course, this Nova is also at the opposite extreme of the range which only makes the disparity more clear.
I spent several years as an early teen in the back of our family’s ’77 Pontiac Ventura, which of course was just a somewhat fancier Nova with a different engine selection, and a lot of the little details from that time came flooding back to me as I studied this car. I wasn’t a huge fan of it at the time and never really of the Nova either, but have come to appreciate it (and Chevys in general) over the years, with much thanks to this website that has taught and explained so much.
The Nova of course spent the ’70’s sort of competing against the Maverick at the beginning, then the Fairmont towards the end and the Granada starting in the middle. While of course many Granada buyers were really large-car intenders that downsized, I have to believe that a chunk of those might have cast a look toward the General as well. The Nova was the bottom rung with other divisions such as Buick, Olds and Pontiac as stated above creating their own models, and yes, even Cadillac dropping those well-worn bones into a pot and stirring up something with a Spanish name…
Notwithstanding the gap-toothed smile on this street brawler, the Nova overall was quite a clean design, devoid of unnecessary garnish and other crap for the most part (not completely, but never really over the top. The other divisions larded on some more toppings and you could get a vinyl top and hood ornaments on the Nova too, but even the Seville was actually fairly restrained, all things considered.) The Nova had what it needed to get the job done; and did it clean, lean, and without any airs. A simple grille but still with some character, inset turn signals, wraparound chrome bumper with a rubstrip (missing here), and two headlights to lead the way out front.
Pop the hood and just like in the Granada there is a 250 cu. in. I-6. Unlike in the Granada this one put out a respectable for the day 110hp at 3800rpm and a healthy 190lb-ft of torque at a very low 1600rpm. A 3-speed manual was standard, a 4-speed was not available, but a three speed automatic was (and a required option in California where the outputs also were reduced to 90hp and 150lb-ft). The rear axle ratio was 2.73 with either transmission which probably hurt it a bit. 305 and 350 V8’s were optional as well.
I’ve never had the pleasure of driving one of these so equipped but the base powertrain seems like it’s a decent starting point. Check out that little baby one-barrel Rochester Monojet carburetor, someone apparently took a look at it and probably squirted some starter fluid down there recently. I’ll say it looks a little tight in there, my Dad’s Ventura had the V-6 and it looked like there was a bit more room from what I can recall but that’s the rub with a long inline engine vs a squat V.
Heading around back I remember those slits in the bumper, we used to go all over the western desert areas into ghost towns and Death Valley etc. Frequently the rear of the car would scrape driving through gullies on the dirt roads and then for weeks there’d be sand and dirt coming out of those slits, presumably from being packed in from the other side.
The trunk seems a bit shallower than that of the Granada but better shaped. We generally had no problems fitting luggage and camping gear for four back here even if sometimes it took a hefty slam (or two) to close it.
You could get your Nova as a sedan, a two-door, or a hatchback 3-door, which are the rarest. There were 14 colors available, and I believe this one is called Camel, appropriate for such a beast of burden. This one’s very basic, but does have the optional rub strip along the side. Novas were built all over the place for the fourth generation but by 1978 had been whittled down to just Willow Run and Tarrytown, NY, where this one hails from according to the VIN for the US market.
Other factories were Van Nuys, CA (near where I lived at the time), Oshawa in Ontario, Sainte-Therese in Quebec, as well as Tehran, Iran (!) and finally also Mexico City between ’75 and ’78.
Around 288,000 were sold in 1978, a drop of around 100,000 from the year prior which was considered not a very strong showing anymore, but nowadays would be pretty respectable for a midsize car, if not a sales leader. Of course, 1978 is also when the downsized Malibu debuted and the Nova’s fancy Concours version was dropped due to that model’s introduction.
However, as far as I can tell, if you were to add the Buick, Olds, and Pontiac variants to the mix, then that would add another 250,000 or so if my math (and source) is correct. The Seville (which is admittedly very different) added yet another almost 60k. So overall that’s still pretty good insofar as the Granada/Monarch/Versailles had dropped to a combined 350K for 1978 but the new Fairmont racked up 460K sales while the new Malibu added 350K. Big numbers.
The interior actually caught my eye first, this is the “Sport Cloth” interior upholstery option, which was available in Blue or Camel, so this is obviously the match to the exterior color. The plaid does work though, and gives it a jaunty and ready-for-anything vibe here – or at least it did when new, now I don’t think I’d want to sit in it either.
For any young’uns out there, no that isn’t a fast and furious boost gauge fitted in the upper left corner, but rather a temperature gauge as GM did not fit a lot of gauges (or gages as they call them) to the lower-line models. This owner apparently thought it wise to be informed as to the state of his engine. The rest of the interior is fairly spartan with manual windows and locks, no tilt wheel, one speed wipers, but the passenger seems to get four air vents compared to the driver’s one.
The gauges aren’t ugly at least, just there is the absolute bare minimum with reminders of what could have been. The blanks aren’t even blank, they have printing on and around them. That notch above the steering column that covers part of the gauge trim is bad design though, it could have been rounded off of the gauges reshaped/resized to accommodate it.
Lights are a simple pull knob and that looks like one of Delco’s finest AM-only radios towards the right, below the column shifter.
I can’t say that I mind the Camel color all over the place here, it’s at least bright and probably not too tough to clean. It also retained its actual color which isn’t something that always happened at GM. This owner did opt for the Air Conditioning option but not the rear window demister which was a fan installed in the rear parcel shelf as another way to keep it from fogging up. I don’t see how that could have been cheaper than just a heated rear screen but perhaps it was. I also see an ashtray but no lighter.
I suppose with the front bench there’s seating for six, never mind the monster hump in the middle. Perhaps that’s the reason for all the vents or, more likely, the only way to get some air to the back seat. Overall this looks comfortable and sporty enough to spend time in without feeling like you’re in an overstuffed parlor.
My old domain. The seat cushion is out of place here, the leg room wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t great as I recall but for early teen sizes acceptable. I seem to recall that the rear windows would not go all the way down, they stopped about 4″ or so short of that which was annoying but here they do seem to, which is odd. Those front headrests were the same as well with the single-blade support design.
For 1978 Chevy played up the fact that the Nova was very popular with police departments for some reason. I’d hate to be “cuffed and stuffed” back here but I guess the perps don’t get to choose their accommodations. Well, besides Aunt Becky but let’s not go there…VinceC actually put together an excellent post regarding the Nova 9C1 police package which went into great detail regarding the development and changes made to the car to prepare it well for such duty, amongst the changes was in fact a different rear seat that seemed to be set further back in the car precisely so that a divider could be installed inside the car and still leave (some) room.
The Coupe was the most popular of the versions, but it is curious why Chevy stopped using the name after 1979 until the rebadged Corolla version came out. I wonder if they ever had any intention of creating a new 2-door as well, such as by using a version of the Corolla SR-5. Although they did have the fairly rarely seen 5-door hatchback which I had completely forgotten about until just now.
In case it’s not obvious, this would be my pick over the Granada. Then and now. Never mind the performance, this just seems like a much more dynamic package overall, notwithstanding the lesser “luxury” appointments and yes I believe that term needs to be in quotes. Even though its styling is older the Nova seems more modern, weird that. Never mind the Maverick, this is leagues ahead of that in styling. The Fairmont though, hmm, not sure there, that new really square design ethos was something I could get behind. Still, from what I understand, the Nova drove better than all of them. Presumably my Dad knew that as well and while he had the Pontiac version, it was probably better for him than whatever the other options at the time were.