Curbside Classic: 1963 Chevy II Nova SS – Saved By the Stock Wheel Covers

I saw this Nova coupe swing into the gas station as we were headed out to Mt. Pisgah for our daily postprandial hike. If it had been wearing big aftermarket wheels like 99.9% of the Nova SS coupes out there still, I wouldn’t have given it a second glance. But lo! It was wearing stock wheel covers!  A quick U turn and I’m pulling up next to it. Dare I hope that it was truly stock and sporting a Turbo-Thrift six?

The Falcon and the Chevy II took very different trajectories after they were done serving their original owners. Falcons just became cheap beaters, until their little weak-chested sixes just wouldn’t wheeze to life anymore. Or they sat in grandma’s garage for decades and were finally rescued to become the ultimate hipster-mobile in recent years. Not so the Chevy II.

From the moment it arrived, Chevy enthusiasts realized that swapping in a potent small block V8 was so easy, one might think the factory had planned it that way. Out came the little 90 hp 153 four; in went a 360 hp fuel injected 327, if you had the bucks. If not, even a 283 with a four barrel carb and a few other tweaks turned it into a dragon slayer.

Of course, the result was that just about every Chevy II—except perhaps the four door sedans—was turned into a budget hot rod, or even a high bucks one. So finding a suitable one for a CC write-up took me a few years, and then of course it was a four door, and ’65 at that.

I admit to having a soft spot for the ’63 Nova SS coupe. A teacher at Lincoln Elementary bought a new one in ’63, which was the first year they were available. It was an option package available on the Nova 400 coupe or convertible, and the second Chevy to wear the iconic SS badges after the Impala first wore them in 1961. But it was all show and no go, as the only engine was the 120 hp 194 CID six. The only concession to anything that actually affected performance or handling was perhaps the required 14″ wheels.

And that was probably just so that the Impala SS’ unique wheel cover would fit. But they looked rather heavy on the little Nova, whereas they looked just fine on the big Chevy. Were those protruding big hubs and spinners inspired by Ben Hur?

I used to go over and gaze into the windows of that red Nova SS coupe. I was obsessed with bucket seats, consoles and floor shifts at that age (10), and any car that had them was an object of profound veneration and desire. I knew it just had the six under the hood, but those red buckets, and that floor shifted Powerglide!

Speaking of, the Powerglide’s floor shifter was different back then, as it had a gated pattern instead of the straight-line shifter that came along a few years later, with the button on the T handle to lock out unwanted shifts. This is a much nicer affair, and of course was essentially out of the Corvette. In fact, this is about as nice as a floor shifter for an automatic as I’ve ever seen.

I gazed lovingly at it for extended periods, and the teacher must have wondered about all of the drool marks and finger prints on her passenger side window.

These interior shots are from a white ’63 Nova SS convertible I shot several years back, in front of a consignment store. For some reason, I never wrote it up, although it’s in pristine condition. And of course also wearing its original wheel covers.

The back shows off the bright metallic finish, a hallmark of the SS models, large and small.

And this is what the underhood compartment looked like on a ’63 Chevy II as it left the factory; well except of course if it had the four, but that was not available on the SS. This all changed significantly in 1964, as the 283 V8 and a four speed manual were now available from the factory, as well as a slightly-hopped up 155hp version of the 230 six. Maybe the fact that I showed you the convertible’s engine compartment is a giveaway as to what’s under the black coupe’s hood?

Well yes, but at least the owner, who appeared after a few minutes, isn’t trying to disguise the fact, given the discreet 327 badge on the fender where the six’ badge should be.

It’s sporting a 327/350hp air cleaner, but doesn’t exactly look like one, given the valve covers. Yes, it’s got Vortec heads, which make the SBC breathe even more easily. I assume they’re not exactly overly common on a 327. And I suspect it spins pretty happily.

Yes, this doesn’t look like the Nova SS coupe I used to gaze into in 1963. This must have been a three speed manual car originally, as the floor shifter and console was only available with the Powerglide. Too bad he couldn’t have made one of those work with the THM-350. That shifter is not exactly very aesthetically pleasing, unlike that lovely Powerglide shifter.

Obviously, the rear end is a beefier affair, as are the wheels and tires on it. I asked the owner about his decision to run stock wheel covers, and he said he just couldn’t find anything that looked better in his eyes. Yea! And no big fat chromed sewer pipes out the back; presumably just some shorties under the car, the way it was done back in the day. My kind of Nova SS; well, except for that shifter.

At that point he got in, fired it up, and pulled out. When he hit Seavey Loop Rd he gunned it, and the inimitable sound of a healthy SBC working its way up the musical scales reverberated through the still early evening air.

We soon left such man-made delights behind for natural ones, and after a 5 mile hike on a (mostly) secret abandoned road along the Willamette River, and a quick dip, we headed back to a psychedelic sunset, which is happening at just about 9 PM up here these days.

Which got only more and more obscene before it finally flamed out. Two of my favorite things to admire in the course of two hours; lucky me.


Related: CC 1962-1965 Chevy II – Chevy Builds a Compact, Take II   PN