(first posted 6/13/2014) Base engine. Dog dishes. Powerglide.* This Chevrolet Nova from 1970-72 is a survivor of the plainest kind, the sort of car driven in large numbers by young families and grannies on tight budgets during the 1970s and mostly extinct for a quarter of a century. It is old-fashioned basic transportation without the hipster chic of a Falcon, the bulletproof appeal of the Dart/Valiant, or the budget muscle car second life of most surviving Novas. It was common and boring in its own time, but after the passage of 40 years, it is unusual and interesting because of its plainness.
* Any resemblance between this opening and the “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet” commercial jingle of 1975 is entirely intentional.
Spotting this car parked on a side street in Washington, DC in May, during the same jog in which I found a household with Chryslers spanning six decades and five Eldorados and a Riviera on one street, brought back memories of my family’s slightly less basic 1973 Nova coupe, which drove past this very location many times. Our family’s first new car, it had a 307 two barrel V-8, automatic and full wheelcovers, but no A/C or other creature comforts. Its beige paint, always chalky, was the epitome of dullness but did a remarkable job of protecting the car from rust, because it never had any significant rust during the seven years that we owned it. This Nova has a lack of engine callouts indicating that a base six cylinder or perhaps even a four cylinder lives under the hood. Dog dish hubcaps, the first that I have seen on a Nova in many years, and white paint complete its basic and anonymous look.
Inside, the basic nature of the car continues. A shift quadrant marked PRNDL reveals a Powerglide transmission, which together with a base engine, would have given this car a leisurely accelerating but durable powertrain–unexciting, but fine for driving the kids to softball games or for granny to drive to church, with little trouble for many years. The vertical ventilation control panel with its many levers, identical to the first car controls that I was ever allowed to touch in our 1973 Nova, show no A/C markings. The fuzzy seat cover is the only dash of color in the dark interior, and it is probably a vast improvement over either the standard vinyl or the optional “cloth” of our Nova, a material reminiscent of woven synthetic fishing line whose only virtues were wear resistance (it inflicted wear on you, not the other way around) and imperviousness to sweat and barf (thoroughly tested during my childhood).
Looking around this old Nova, a fundamental “rightness” emanated from it. Straight, almost rust-free (the rust-through on the bottom edge of the passenger side door, probably from water pooling inside, was the most significant rust visible), and apparently unaltered from its original condition, it appears to be a car that has been used lightly and allowed to age gracefully. Only the seat cover and slightly oversized rear tires that give the car a slight rake depart from originality, and neither suggests hot rodding or any other adolescent attitude toward the car. At the same time, this Nova generation’s good proportions and slight “Coke bottle” hips give it a bit of style, and its versatility in accommodating any Chevy powerplant would make this car either a nice as-is daily driver or a great sleeper. I am not looking to re-create my first childhood automobile memories (Sweat and barf? No thanks!), but I do find starter classics appealing, and this Nova would be a very good one.