(first published 10/24/2011) How to best describe the 1968-1974 Nova? A plain brown wrapper for your choice of Chevrolet engine. And what a choice there was, more than any other car ever built. That’s come to define the Nova of this generation, and it’s still doing duty as an ever-eager receptacle of an engine swap. So don’t even ask what’s under the hood of this one; factory choices started with a 90 hp four cylinder, ended with a 375 hp L-89 396 big block; and in between just about every Chevy motor in production. And what all have folks stuffed into Novas? Everything known to man. This one might well have a Mazda rotary, for all I know. The Chevy Nova: it should have come with quick-release hood hinges: open wide!
Even the ads kept showing the Nova without a hood. The more mild-mannered ones featured the Nova SS with the 300 hp 350 V8. Was the hood an option?
The more serious ones were for the SS 396, which offered a choice of hydraulic-lifter 350 (gross) hp version, or the mechanical-lifter L-89 that was rated here at 375 hp, but had once been rated at 425 hp, before the bigger-bore 427 came along. Speaking of which, the 427 was the only engine that didn’t come (installed) from the factory, but a number of dealers did brisk business ordering 427 short blocks, and swapping them for the L-89 block. Have it your way.
And just who was having it their way on the other end of the spectrum? It’s been a life ambition of mine to find a Chevy II or Nova with the 153 CID (2.5 L) four. Even as a kid, I used to try and figure out if a Chevy II had the four or not, and a couple of times I thought I’d found one, but never long enough to open the hood and confirm it really existed. Has anyone out there ever driven one?
The four might have been a half-way suffer-able economy motor in the lightweight first generation Chevy II, which weighed as little as 2400 lbs with the four. But the all-new 1968 models were hardly compacts anymore, with a 111″ wheelbase just one inch shorter than a Malibu’s, and having packed on some 400-500 lbs. Is there an original four cylinder ’68-’70 Nova left in the world? (all of 2062 fours were built in 1970) If so, shouldn’t it be more valuable than the much-sought L-89 SS 396? Am I the only person in the world asking these important questions?
And to really up the ante, how about a 1970 Nova four with the optional Torque-Drive? It was Chevy’s answer to a fad that inexplicably erupted in the automotive world, and presumably had its origins in the VW automatic stick shift: the semi-automatic transmission. Suddenly, it’s 1940!
The Torque-Drive was basically a manual-shifting Powerglide. And how many cents did Chevy save by doing that? The one consolation was that with only two gears, not a lot of shifting was involved. You could even just leave it in Hi and let the 90 hp four’s torque do the rest. Too poky? Order a Muncie “rock-crusher” four speed behind the 396. Has a car ever had such a bi-polar personality?
In between these book-ends, almost every permutation of Chevy six and V8 was available, in configurations that changed somewhat from year to year. 230 and 250 inch sixes. And small-block V8s in 307, 327, and 350 inch formats, in low, moderate or high performance trim. Needless to say, they were the mainstay of the hot-rod crowd that soon saw the Nova coupe as the second coming of the of the holy trinity of ’55-’56-’57 Chevys: cheap, plentiful, and plug-and-play compatible. Just make sure it’s been sprayed with a half-dozen cans of gray primer.
Even though the Nova was designed to be a cheap and willing receptacle for engines, it did have a passenger compartment, strictly speaking. Obviously, it was an afterthought, not really designed to accommodate humans for any extended time, and then only in the front seat. The fact that the 1968-up Nova now shared much of its platform with the Camaro was all-too obvious. Space utilization was the lowest priority in its development, and interior ambiance, material quality and visibility were right there on the same low level. Nobody ever looked forward to getting into a Nova coupe, except for the thrill of unleashing what might be under the hood.
And yet folks bought them for basic transportation. Oh well. By 1968, GM had already given up on true compacts, at least until the Vega would show up. Of course, the Vega’s interior accommodations followed the Nova’s pattern, but on an even smaller scale. Anybody stupid enough to want a “compact” car should be made to suffer. Hey; it’s bigger inside than a VW! Next time you’ll know better and buy a Biscayne, sucker!
My brother’s girlfriend’s parents bought her a new stripper Nova six coupe in 1969. “Just the thing to drive to the community college, dear”. Kind of like buying your teenage daughter an obsolete cheap flip-phone. Oh the loathing! What she wanted was…a Datsun 510, an MG, or just a Beetle, even an old one, at the least. With its balky three-speed column shifter, slow and heavy manual steering, dinky drum brakes and depressing black interior; oh did we feel sorry for her, especially when she found out she had to make the payments.
Fast forward a dozen years, and my then-secretary was driving a similar Nova coupe, but at least it had a V8, automatic and power steering. It was a hand me-down form her dad, and although not exactly loved, she came to appreciate its simple ruggedness. It just ran and ran, and if it needed to be fixed; well, any greasy nincompoop with a set of cheap tools knew how to keep a Chevy going. No hunting for Peugeot dealers.
The comparison to my Peugeot 404 at the time was mighty stark though. The Nova had the interior ambiance of a bus station waiting room, rode like truck, and sucked gas mightily. There wasn’t one thing in or on it that expressed anything resembling attention to detail, craftsmanship, or quality. A joyless car, which is perhaps why Chevy offered consolations like the L-89 under the hood. When it finally croaked, she bought a new 1985 Corolla. And started smiling more.
So just what’s under the hood of this Nova? We’ll never know. That is the whole point of brown paper bags.
If they had the rare Yenko version, they could had found a 427 engine. 😉
When the sisters divisions got their own “BOP” Novas. I wondered what if Pontiac would had recycled the Tempest nameplate instead of the Ventura? Or even going a step further with what if Buick had put the 455 engine under the Apollo? Could we had a real Apollo GSX instead of some package model? http://www.pontiacventura.com/1974_buick_apollo_gsx.htm
The 427 was also transplanted into Baldwin Motion Novas.
Sorry for replying to a decade old post but one guy created a Phantom 1971 Yenko Nova with the 454 engine to imagine what if Yenko did a 454 Yenko Nova (althought Baldwin-Motion did one)? http://www.superchevy.com/features/1603-yamil-fonsecas-1971-454ci-yenko-tribute-nova-is-almost-lethal/
“Am I the only person in the world asking these important questions?”
The quintessential greasy punk car.
If I saw this pull up in the alley behind my house after dark I’d be calling 911 in a hurry.
True, if a crime was commited in the late 70’s through mid 80’s….I would say 70% of the time, a 1968-1973 Nova was involved.
I have always been conflicted over these. They were awfully good looking, particularly the 68-72 models. And they were the last GM cars that had that classic solid Body-By-Fisher feel that those of us who grew up in the 60s knew so well.
But they always seemed so heavy and ponderous for what they were. Maybe this is why the Valiant/Dart did so well. Those were the polar opposites of these cars – square, boxy, roomy and both economical and relatively quick and responsive.
I actually preferred driving Mavericks to driving these. And just as I was muttering to myself about that miserable Powerglide continuing to live in these cars, you schooled me on the manual shifting version that I had never heard of.
I did drive a Chevy II 4 cylinder with a 2 speed auto, but it was in a mail Jeep. Does that count? It was a pretty peppy combo in that lightweight vehicle. Probably would have been a real pig in the Nova.
Agree except for the rear lights – they look like an afterthought culled from the el cheapo parts bin.
I never drove a four-cylinder Nova, but got a ride in one before I got my avatar.
The last time my parents looked into buying a new car was a 1968 Nova. The two extra doors cost an additional $50 bucks. Even with the 4 cyl. and a price tag of $1995.00, my folks couldn’t swing it, so dad drove the 1966 Impala until he retired.
I thought the Nova was a great car and came close to ordering a new one during my last trip to Okinawa in 1972. Ironically, I bought a 1972 Nova coupe EXACTLY the way I was going to order one after I got out of the air force in October 1973, color and all!
My Nova was one of those cars I never should have gotten rid of – 6 cyl, three-on-the-tree, metallic brown, off-white vinyl interior, AM radio, power steering, no A/C – as it was one of the best vehicles I have ever owned, but being young and stupid – well, read my “worst vehicle” account on another thread!
The only thing I disliked about it was you could pull out the head restraints and my buddies did and started hitting me and each other on the head with them as I drove! I stopped that when I refused to drive the motley crew around anymore! Fun times!
Zackman, it looks like your family’s lack of resources was a blessing in disguise. Imagine – your Dad was spared from driving a 4 cylinder Chevy II and got to keep a 66 Impala instead. Who wouldn’t make that trade? 🙂 Of course, the Impala was 2 years older (and do I recall it as a 6?) but still- . . . .
And no, I never got your email.
Is he stuck in the UK too?
My e-mail to you wouldn’t go through, but I’ll try again.
Yes, my dad’s Impala was a 1966 250 powerglide and I dearly LOVED that car, which I described some time ago a couple of times.
Unfortunatley, the car was rusted to death by the time I got home from the air force and used it as a trade for my Nova. Got $250 for it! It was done in by then. Darn!
Yes, we were “working poor”, but it was a blessing in so many ways that I keep my life simple as I can and content. I was raised with a very strong sense of moral values that I keep and improve on to this day whenever possible. It turned out of all my friends, I had it best as to quality of life!
@JP & Zackman: I finally got around to checking the Lycos account yesterday, I sent out an email to you both. Did anyone get it?
Yep, Geo, I got it and replied. If this meet-up takes place next spring and if Educator Dan can’t make it, we’ll just have to have a cardboard cut-out of him to join us!
I am 64 years old and I drive a 62 chevy nova with a 4 cyl in it, and I love it even today.
Nice Al ;
In the mid 1970’s when no one cares bout first generation Chevy II’s (Nova was a trim package) , I used to restore them , especially the ’63 & ’64 Super Sport RPO 347 Coupes….
ONLY 6 cylinders , I never messed with the V’s .
Chevy II’s maybe wretchedly cheap Automobiles but they’re also roomy , stylish and fun to drive .
My Grandmother had a ’70 with the 4 popper in it. I sold it for her a year before she passed away in 1993. With no rust ( original calf. car ) here in Nebraska, 47,000 miles. think I got $1,800 for it…which I thought was a low price.. The car ran pretty good, but shook terribly motor-wise. Carb was a never ending problem, re-built 3 times that I know of. Was a good little car for her & the next buyer for it didn’t get any speeding tickets, that’s for sure..A Nice little ride, though. Wish I still had it today !
The college girl story brings back memories of the automotive generation gap of the ’70’s – and I went thru it, big time: Dad (Chevy dealer until the end of ’65) bought me my first two cars as college graduation presents (BA and MEd): a ’73 Vega GT that I autocrossed in B Sedan for three seasons and have wonderful memories of, and a ’76 Monza 2+2 that was too heavy for autocross but wonderful for rallying.
Not great cars, not the MGB I really wanted, but decent ones, and I didn’t have to pay for them. The crash came with the third car in ’79. Yes, I was following family tradition back then and trading in every three years. Cars were that affordable back then.
The problem was that I’d have to borrow to buy a new car, and with no credit rating meant getting the loan from dad. Who immediately said, “Any Chevrolet you want except a Camaro or Corvette. Period.” Which meant I ended up with the worst car of my life, a ’79 Monza Kammback, V-6, heavy suspension, 5-speed. First off, Chevrolet deleted the instrument package I had ordered, thus no tach (only available on the 4’s and V-8’s, go figure). With no notice. The car just shows up with the standard horizontal speedometer and fuel gauge. Then, carburetor trouble in the first 1000 miles. Then the lower body needed a complete repaint after the first winter. And it got worse . . . . . I spent some time in England that summer, got around with a new Ford Fiesta S. Which was my first choice in my car shopping, but dad wouldn’t hear of a Ford on the property.
Traded it in on an ’82 Omni two years later. Any attempts at rebellion against the family car policy were thwarted by dad who bought himself an ’81 Omni, then a J2000, after he stuck me with that POS. And later went on to Buicks for the rest of his life. Guess he didn’t want to get stuck with what he’d stuck me with – he didn’t own another Chevrolet until ’92, and I didn’t until ’01.
And I’ve owned plenty of Fords since.
COPO 427 Novas existed until 1970. You just needed to know which box to check.
The 4 banger though? I’d love to find one. I’d even consider un-swapping whatever belly button small block if I found a factory 4 banger. Add a turbo, fuel injection, maybe a 5 speed and that “little” bugger would really go.
I had a book once about some of the worst mistakes in US business, published in about 1990. One section dealt with a special promotion package on 4-cylinder Novas that the marketing department had dreamed up in the early spring of 1970. Apparently they hadn’t been speaking to the product planners because this engine was dropped about that time. So orders started rolling in and the dealers were sheepishly unable to fill them.
Well Paul I have to disagree on liking the Nova. Bought one after several years in Submarines and compared to where I was used to living it was a cadillac. I also thought it was like a tri five chev.
I had Zackmans nova, or nearly so. It was a 68, pea green, 230 with three on a tree. I wouldn’t have discarded it if I hadn’t needed a truck to carry my bike. It may be the one car I have had that did not break… at all. I did buy a floor shifter because the linkage became a pain.
I think that little six was understressed and that it could not overstress any other part of the car. There was plenty of trunk space and you could stuff three sailors in the back seat if you needed to go to another bar. Enough trunk to carry your stuff when you transferred or to pull a small uhaul if you were married.
Possibly the perfect car for a young military person. Would have been better if it were a station wagon but I think the 67 was the last year for that. Haven’t seen one anyway.
I never saw one with a four. The four was probably the best choice for a monza but the Nova would have been too big. The more I think about it, it is a more logical choice to work on restoring now than the 57- 210 sitting in my yard.
“There was plenty of trunk space and you could stuff three sailors in the back seat…”
Ha ha ha! How about 7 of us guys with all our gear returning from a deer hunt? The most crowded 70 miles I have ever endured! Good times, back then.
Come to think of it, could it be that the Chevy Nova was the very first “©Cockroach of the Road”? What say you, Geo?
@Zackman: Originally the “cockroach” was meant to be derogatory, but ended up being a term of affection. While I never owned a Nova, I spent time in dozens of them.
I would more likely call it the “bellybutton of the road” as Novas still have a better reputation than any other Chevy model that I know of. Plus, they used to be everywhere! (And I’m sure some of them were full of lint, too!) All the folks that I knew that had one generally liked them. I knew several people who grew to hate their Citations, which was the genesis of the Cockroach of the Road moniker…
I had a 68 four with three on the tree. Pea green. I bought it for 1200 in 1995. It was all org. The lady i bought it from was in her 90s. She only drove it to the store and to church. It had 69000 on it. I bought a house and put the car up for the down payment hard times set in and i lost the house and the car. I am still sick over this till this day.
Did say I disliked it?
You’re right; just the ticket for a young military person: cheap, reliable, easy to fix and modify, if so desired.
But no one will ever accuse a Nova six with three-on-the-tree and manual steering of being a joy to drive, unless they’ve never experienced something else. Which of course may well have been the case with many young Nova buyers.
My mother’s best friend bought a new Nova in ’71 — pea green, matching vinyl, 230, 3-on-the-tree, no frills. Shortly afterward my Mom traded the ’65 Bel Air for her first VW Beetle. At the time, the VW was probably a revelation for many Americans. Compared to the new Chevies it was a paragon of build quality. It was also really fun to drive, and super cheap to run — plus it was cool. I was proud and a little surprised at how cool my Mom could be back then. 🙂
The Nova is one car I harbor an IRRATIONAL hatred for. You see, my Driver’s Ed car…was a 1974 Nova.
It wasn’t the greatest year for build quality. Those floors used to twonk! over bumps like the bottom of an old oil can, the kind you pressed the bottom with your thumb to make the oil squirt out. It was rattly; no power with that smog-control-choked 250 six; it had dead handling. And, yeah, the interior was “intimate” which was good when your turn was over and you were in the back seat with Holly, wearing her miniskirt and squirming sideways because there was no legroom. But not so good in the front seat with the “instructor” – who looked like he’d done his share of time in Detox.
How bad was that car? It made driving a Maverick or a Torino, my parents’ cars at the time…made them FUN by comparison.
Like Paul, I’m fascinated by the four-cylinder Nova. I’d seen the specs…Popular Science new-car line-up promotion articles, every September. But other than reading about them, I’ve never seen one.
The four did exist, however. It was also used in Postal Jeeps; in some inboard/outboard boats made by OMC; and for all I know, some stationary powerplant applications. Obviously it was done that way to spread the costs…did the Chevy product-planners just goof, and then try to find a way to cut losses? or was it that someone in the Chevrolet offices was committed to keeping a “traditional” Chevrolet four-cylinder offering alive?
We’ll never know.
The Chevy II and the new family of Chevy sixes (and four) were designed in about 1960 or so. Since the six had to big enough to also use in full-size cars, rather than design a “small six”, like the 144/170 Falcon, Chevy lopped off two cylinders.
In 1960, the presumed need for a genuine compact-economy car was much greater than it turned out to be after the Chevy II arrived, given the rising incomes and dropping gas prices of the sixties. But once they designed it and had the tooling…
And of course, it re-appeared after energy crisis, in the form of the Iron Duke. I know that the ID is a Pontiac, but I’m also 100% convinced it would never have appeared if the tooling for the very similar Chevy four wasn’t collecting dust in the factory somewhere.
GMH got hold of this 6 and shrank it to 179&149 cubes for it 63 EH model and used it through till 86 when it refused to run on unleaded and was dumped.
Never could understand why Holden sixes were so small. With the 225 in the Valiant, Holden’s engineers must have known they’d need more room in the block for expansion – but the Valiant engine did seem unbelievably big at the time.
Makes me appreciate my drivers ed car all the more – a 75 Marquis.
Ours was a ca ’79 Datsun. I think it was a B-210 or some such. If the clutch still worked after I was done jerk starting it I’d be surprised? Actually one of the kids in school did end up buying it a year or two later….
A good college buddy of mine had a ’68 Nova coupe in blue with the black interior.
Eventually sold it and bought a Vega despite my warnings what an epic fail that would be – I had a 72 Kammback which was my Worst Car Ever.
When my wife and I began dating she was driving a ’74 Spirit of America hatchback with the 350/TH350. The only real problem I remember with it was when it began to dogwalk. (Common for those X-bodies as they aged) Should have fixed the rear springs but we were young and dumb so it was traded instead for a ’75 Monza with the 4.3 V8 and the 4-speed. (Besides I had a ’57 Chevy as our main car at that time, its story is in another thread) Ironically despite the Monza’s Vega roots, it was one of our best cars. Brakes were the achilles’ heel of course, GM simply kept the 13″ wheels and Vega brakes despite several hundred pounds difference between the Monza and the Vega.
I’d be happy with an early Nova…but my heart’s in the Tri-Fives and ’67-’72 Chevy pickups, as it always has been.
I had a ’74 Spirit of America Nova hatchback too! Certainly not to my taste, and not much like the car in the photo. It was a beater by the time I got in in ’83. But I got T-boned in a ’65 VW and wanted some Detroit iron, my friend at work had this car and sold it to me for $700.
It spent its first winter in Wisconsin before coming west, and that was enough, the fenders were rusting through. The roof was peeling and the red-white-and-blue decals were plenty faded. It ran great, 350 4-barrel and Turbo-Hydramatic, bucket seats. For once I enjoyed the smooth power of an American V8 and a good automatic for a few years. I still miss it a little.
Only time it broke down it blew a water hose, right in front of a gas station that had one in stock. Compared with the family car, a ’78 Peugeot 504 (worst car I ever owned) that was a real big difference.
Eventually the headliner started coming loose, but I just stapled it back up. What the hell. That long door was sagging pretty badly too, you had to lift it a little to meet the latch. When I bought my new ’87 Celica, they gave me $500 for it “in trade”, sight unseen. You should have seen the looks on their faces when I brought it in. It spent no more than five minutes on Beaverton Toyota’s lot.
That 4-cylinder version of Chevy’s straight 6 can still be found in the marine market, and I’d hazard a guess that many more of the 4-cylinders made their way into boats vs. cars!
But those weren’t actually built by Chevy? I thought OMC bought the rights/tooling to make them.
And if they did…Outboard Marine Corp., no longer exists. Bombardier owns the trademark names, Evinrude, Johnson, OMC…purchased out of bankruptcy. The designs they had, the two-stroke engines, don’t meet current EPA requirements.
The boatbuilding operation was closed a few years before bankruptcy. And the stern-drive division disappeared.
No, it may not be GM building those marine fours now…but it’s not OMC or its successors. Never was.
I meant to say Mercury/Mercruiser:
I learned a bit about boating as a young teen, trying to keep our family all-purpose tub running with a 20-year-old Johnson outboard…but as an adult, I’ve mostly stayed on shore. Lost track.
Mercury Marine/Kiekhaefer Mercury was a big name; their buying an engine line from GM would have been news.
Not saying it didn’t happen; but I have my doubts.
Nope. Still built by GM in Toluca, Mexico. Mercruiser and Volvo-Penta buy the base longblock from GM.
“And the stern-drive division disappeared” Nope, it was merged with Volvo-Penta in the early ’90’s, and they took over completely when Outboard Marine Crap when bankrupt.
A little bit of trivia: The Buick V6 also was used by OMC in its inboard/outboard boats…they started using it about the same time Kaiser purchased the engine line.
Given the small production run of Jeeps in those days, and the boat-buying craze the same years…it’s possible as many or more boats got the Buick-cum-Jeep V6 as did Jeeps.
When AMC closed the line and then sold it back to GM, there was no doubt havoc and consternation in the boat-building world.
Yes the 155hp OMC Kaiser/Buick V6 was a fairly popular package that no one missed when it was gone. However, the Chevy 3.8 and 4.3 was a blessing for the marine industry!
The tooling was never collecting dust. It was building the 153 (2.5L ,120hp) and its sister the 181 (3.0L, 140hp) for marine and industrial use. And yes, I have driven many of them in boats, very popular and very rugged engine. Also at work we have a ’41 Willys MB with a swapped in 181 that gets used every day to move boats around the yard, a job this Willys has been doing since the late ’60s.
I have lived around lots of boats and the 153 is still very popular in these circles. Tough motor, iron all the way.
Kind of like a bellybutton, everyone has a Nova story, or at least an experience. I seem to remember a lot of the six cylinder cars, and looking at other people’s posts here, it reinforces my impressions.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in these cars, as a number of friends and acquaintances had them. In all stages of tune and repair, but the 350/Turbo350 ones were my favorites. Lots of punch from the engine-tranny combo, and the SBC could really wind up when properly prepared. I owned a 360 powered 1975 Dodge Dart Sport back in the day, and it was the only car that ran like those 350/350 Novas.
Even my old 289 powered Maverick couldn’t quite rev like the SBCs, but of course it was down 60 cubic inches too. That 74 Maverick body was heavy with those battering ram bumpers, and in retrospect, I should have figured out a way to hollow them out or retrofit them with older ones…
I read somewhere that the 1970 4 cylinder Novas were sold to fleets only. I wish I could remember where I saw that. IIRC, they were 4 cylinder-4 door dog dish hubcap affairs, like the military and the utilities used to buy. Which would partly explain why the production was so low, and no one seems to have ever seen one in the wild. I wish I had a source, but I don’t right at the moment.
What kind of mileage did the 4 cylinder get? Was it possible worth it compared to the 230/250 combo? I drove a ’68 el Camino with the 3 on the tree stick and a 250 for three years. It NEVER got better than 18 mpg back in the 55 mph mandated 80s. My father’s ’78 Monte Carlo with the 305 would get 22 mpg just like the sticker said.
I’d have ordered TWO NOvas (if I could go back in time, etc.) One economy special for daily use, and a COPO for cruising and the weekends. Identical color, rally wheels and options, the only difference would be the powerplant!
But if we could go back in time, wouldn’t we all have Dart 340s now? 🙂
I wonder if Paul can find us one of those or 4 way road tests of the Nova, Dart/Valiant, Falcon/Maverick and the AMC. At the time, the Nova would have come in 3rd in a 3 horse race for me. I just never liked the way the Nova drove – too heavy and ponderous for what it was supposed to be. Might as well have a Malibu.
Actually, here it is. I guess the Hornet was the sleeper here. http://books.google.com/books?id=OwEAAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA122&dq=popular%20science%20Nova%20road%20test&pg=PA122#v=onepage&q&f=false
Afternoon wasting commence.
Australian E49 Charger for me
The Chevy Nova has not gone to the big forgotten junkyard……. in Argentina, for example, they are still considered the muscle to have and are still used in Turismo Carretera. OUr Winston Cup of sorts.
Here’s two more Nova accounts:
One of my friend’s mom owned a 1968 Chevy ll Nova bought new. It was a blue four-door. I can’t remember if it was a stick or automatic, but he got to drive it almost as much as he wanted and we used to cruise around every so often. What did that car replace? A pea green 1952 Chevy – My first car! I’ll save that for another story. Anyway, his mom drove that car for years until it turned into rust in the mid-70’s. His dad drove a 1966 Bel-Air, 250 three-on-the-tree – I learned to drive a stick in that car!
Another friend owned a 1971 Nova – 307. School bus yellow, black interior. Right after I returned home from the service, he and I went to St. Joseph, Missouri to see our friend who lived up the street from me, who was still in school at Missouri Western U. Well, we had a cooler full of Schlitz in the back seat, and he made me drive. He was drunk before we reached Columbia, Mo., 100 miles into our trip! Now that was a weekend!
Oh yeah, when we all piled into his Nova, out came the head restraints and a pounding match began! Fun days, all. That car was fast, too.
Yes, I spent lots of time in Novas!
I never owned a Nova, but rented a 72 on a fly/drive vacation to Vancouver BC. It had high-enough miles on it that the paint was all scratched on the corners from repeated carwash trips. Six automatic, brown, it got the job done but was no fun at all.
Had a 75 Nova Concours as a loaner car once that I really liked. Very tight ride with decent handling, 262 V8, automatic, black on black. Someone bought it who lived on one of my regular routes where I could drive by and see it; they had it for years. (edit: That’s one of the nice things about living where the license plates stay on a car…you know it’s *that* car and not one like it.)
I think the Torque Drive was an attempt to offer a sort-of-automatic transmission for less money than the regular Powerglide, which was something like $175 at that point. I remember an Eric Dahlquist article in Motor Trend when it first came out, about how Chevy was trying to market its low-end Nova (and Camaro six, at one point), but running into problems because once you added automatic and a few common options, it was no longer particularly budget-priced.
In a lot of respects, Torque Drive was a rehash of earliest Powerglide (1950-1952), which didn’t shift, either — as with Ultramatic or Dynaflow, it just relied on the converter unless you manually selected low. It was reengineered in 1953 to start in low and upshift automatically.
The Powerglide was so ancient and outclassed by the late 1960s, I am surprised Chevrolet didn’t just offer it as a no extra charge option over the 3 speed manual. Then they could have at least made the car a real value. Why anyone at GM figured that there would be a market for a manually shifted 2 speed semi-automatic in 1968, I will never understand. Proof that Chevrolet had really lost its way by 1968.
John Delorean’s book (On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors) indicates severe operational problems at Chevrolet when he took over as general manager in 1969. He recounts the 4 cylinder Nova promo fiasco that Roger628 referred to earlier. The division had grown like topsy and management controls and systems had not caught up. Every new manager (including Pete Estes) tried what the 14th floor identified as the problems, when in fact, the 14th floor had not a clue what was wrong. DeLorean came close to getting fired over several changes at Chevrolet, but results were so good that he was protected until he was transferred out.
Chevy maintained publicly that the two-speed Powerglide, with its smaller torque converter and lighter internals, was a better match for small engines, in part because it was lighter and more compact than THM, and consumed less horsepower. At least in terms of proving grounds benchmarks, they thought the two-speed plus torque converter was the match of a three-speed stick in performance. I assume they probably did some kind of marketing study that asked average buyers if they’d pay extra for a three-speed automatic and got a generally negative response.
I always wondered how much cheaper was the Torq-Drive compared to the Powerglide?
For the ’68 Camaro, it was $68.65, compared to about $175 for Powerglide. I assume the Nova would have been about the same.
A friend of mine did a tune on a little old lady’s 1968 Torq-Drive 6 cylinder Nova as a favor for a friend, and as he describes it, it was “ok”,but it was kinda of a “whats the point” option, all the power robbing of an automatic, without any of the ease of self shifting< Why Bother?
He told me that the first couple of miles he would keep cursing the car, cause every time he came to a stop, he would forget to drop it back down to Lo-gear, so he would hit the gas and the car would barely move, then he would look at the gear lever and say "sh*t!"….and then clunk, back down to Lo and he would putter away from the light.
Novas also remind me of my dorky 7th grade science teacher, who drove a green 73 Nova 2 door with white walls and the full wheel covers, he had a bad comb-over and coke bottle thick black framed glasses, for some reason I alway remember the car and man, they seemed like a perfect match.
I’m only familiar with the derivatives of the 3rd Generation ones. My Aunt’s second car was a 1976 Oldsmobile Omega that somehow had the Buick 350 V8 instead of an Olds 350 V8. I remember a big deal being made about that.
Either way it was lightning quick compared to Our 1975 Cutlass Salon. What a different 3,500lbs versus 4,200lbs could make. But I guess I’d have to take either a late Falcon or a Valiant over a Nova. They look good, but why the swoopy hardtop styling without being a Hardtop?
I inherited my grandmother’s 77 Buick Skylark that had a 305 Chevy mill. What a dog. It may be the slowest car I have ever owned.
The car only lasted a year before the front stub started peeling away from the body shell and I had to junk it.
Anybody stupid enough to want a “compact” car should be made to suffer. Hey; it’s bigger inside than a VW! Next time you’ll know better and buy a Biscayne, sucker!
I think you just sumed up GMs post-war marketing/engineering of less than medium to full size cars.
FWIW even though I was ferried around while in the womb in a 396 Chevelle and my father made sure I grew up surrounded by guys who always had a “muscle” car tucked away somewhere, I have never ridden in or gotten to drive a Nova of any kind (or a Chevy II for that matter.) It kinda makes me feel like I’ve lived a deprived life.
“Anybody stupid enough to want a “compact” car should be made to suffer.”
I am assuming you were channeling your inner 60’s GM exec. If so, thank you. =O)
I always thought that these were good looking cars. I always kinda wanted one and, eventually did own one. Well, a used ’74, 250-6 with a three on the tree. The mandated extendo-bumpers and emission controls. It didn’t want to stop when I turned off the motor. I didn’t realize how really low rent the interior was until I had it for a while.
Although the ’66-’67 Nova with the Corvette 327 engine was a legend on the street (right up there with 440/Hemi Mopars, 396 Chevelles and 428CJ Fords), for some odd reason, the later big-block Nova wasn’t. I knew a guy who had one and he lost so many races because of its inconsistancy on the drag strip that he got mad one day while drunk, left it in Park and put a brick on the gas pedal until the engine blew.
One of my favorite movie Novas was the yellow-green 1974 with a white interior driven by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. I always thought that was an odd choice for a couple of crime ‘enforcers’ to be driving but, hey, it was definitely memorable.
I still can’t get over the fact that nice Nova’s apparently command big money, because during my formitive years it was the ubiquitous $1500 teen hot rod.
A friend had one with manual everything, built up 350 and 4 speed. It was literally a receptacle for the fabulous engine, a blast to drive in a straight line but miserable everywhere else.
It also had the same steering wheel as our CC example, I drove it to his wedding and the maid of honor said “Beep the Horn!” I said “You beep the horn, I get a shock every time I touch it”. She didn’t beep the horn…
Oops, two more Nova accounts – another friend had a 1973 Nova, burnt orange, 250 auto hatchback. By that time, the Novas were turning into junk like most other American cars. The ONLY redeeming value of it was the back windows still rolled down!
One 4th of July camping trip in 1975 during a 2 am thunderstorm, three of us slept in that car. The fourth friend somehow slept across the front seats in his 1974 CJ5! I still don’t know how he did it! Kids…
Another friend who’s mom had the ’68 Nova mentioned earlier, bought a 1975 two door Nova hatchback. That car was our wedding day limo, as he was my best man!
I’m sorry for all the memories, but I had lots of fun as a kid/young person, and at 60, my wife and I still do!
Wow. Novas were all over the place back then! I didn’t realize they were such a large part of my life in those years. Amazing.
V.E.N.T.U.R.A. ventura,ventur rah, it’s an economy car,it’s a prestigue car, Ventura’s an economy with prestigue. Owned a hand me down 74 ..350/350 White with white checker stripe seats. Polysteel tires helped the ride, cheap parts helped the student. Traded it as soon as I could. Oh no carpet just precision cut left carpet pieces. by 1976 the tail light housing was cancer covered,by the time I got it cancer was in spots everywere. Fun & Fast for a 17 year old.
Got one for you here too: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/curbside-classic-1971-pontiac-ventura-ii-gms-deadly-sin-3-badge-engineering-begins-in-earnest/
When I was growing up my dad had a ’69 Nova. Plain white with the 250 CID six, Powerglide, no A/C , manual steering, and an uninspiring black vinyl interior. The best I can say it was dependable. When it finally threw a rod out the side of the block, he sold it to our local mechanic and bought a PINTO.
Ironically, I now have that car’s cousin, a 1972 Pontiac Ventura, sitting in my parents’ garage. I’ll turn it into a 1/4 mile terror someday, if I don’t get bored with it and sell it first.
With the 6 cylinders they made great beaters after the age of 10. In the mid 80’s we had one in our neighborhood that was sold back and forth between about 5 families. We lived in a large city with terrible schools, all of us were paying parochial school tuition and working strange shifts in iffy neighborhood (Policemen, firemen, bus drivers) . A rusty blue Nova made the rounds at least twice to each family for an emergency car, I owned it twice. Just kept a couple cans of starter fluid handy for the worst of Chicago winters. Could park it any where, no one would touch it,
Between the fall of 1983 and the spring of ’85, I drove a base Chevy Nova 4 door with the 250 I6 and 3spd auto. It WAS no frills but had power steering and power brakes and of course, by then, had front disc brakes.
My Dad originally bought the car in 1979 from the general service US Gov’t fleet auction. it was that copper/rust metallic with the parchment white vinyl interior, had the black rubber flooring, no radio and had heat/vent and not much else.
He’d bought it for my oldest sister and her first hubby and my Mom and my maternal grandmother drove it out to Wisconsin where my sis and her hubby were living that fall. That spring, my sister and her family drove that little car back out to Tacoma where we lived via I-90 (as my Mom and grandmother did going out to see them). But it was a month AFTER Mt St Helen’s had exploded and it sucked in copious amounts of ash so the poor rocker arms slowly broke, one by one. My BIL realized, after the fact that he should’ve replaced them all at once when the first one went, oh well. I replaced the last couple or so when I bought it.
By the time I got it, it had around 140K miles and it smoked a little but was reliable otherwise and a good car. spent some time in the backseat when it was my sister and her husband’s and it was not bad back there at all. The seats were a bit too soft but that was it and yes, they’d had a sears AM/FM cassette deck installed and a pair of 2 way 6×9 speakers mounted in the rear shelf area.
I actually liked the car as it was for such a plain Jane model and it got me through those couple of years and was replaced by a 1978 Nova with the not so hot 305 V8 that I would end up trashing, selling it for $200 in early 1988.
Of the 68-74 Novas, I think I liked the 73-74’s best, they looked a tad smaller than the earlier iterations of this body for some reason, I think it was due to they being a bit more rounded than the 68-72’s.
I’m with you on the 73/74 Novas. Especially the hatchback version.
I’ve found myself liking the 75-79 versions more and more too. The 79 with the rectangular headlights looked pretty mean.
If Paul or somebody else gets around to doing a late model RWD X body post, I will have more to say about the 75-79 Novas, and other GM X bodies, but I agree with you those versions are about the best of the breed.
Of course, now that I want one, they’ve become valuable and I can’t find any to play with. Nor can I find a Box Malibu (78-82) 2 door sedan.
My first two cars were Novas, starting with a ’65 230 six w/ Powerglide. Bought it in ’70. Second was ’68 bought in ’72 also with 230 and Powerglide. I paid $750 for the ’68 with 34,000 miles on it.
The ’65 was quicker due to less weight and shorter axle. The body was more solid, but it was noisier due to wind and higher revs at 70 mph.
The ’68 had longer legs with 2.73 axle, quieter at cruise, slower acceleration, bit of cowl shake. It got better cruising fuel economy up to 22 mpg or so on fwy. Brakes on both were poor, they frequently overheated and pulled to one side.
As 18 year old didn’t care if the interiors were crude, it was a car and I drove it a lot. Driving a car was joyous occasion.
On the ’68 I updated the engine to a small block V8/Turbo 350 and drove it another 100K miles. It would be interesting to drive another one. I liked it at the time, thought it was a decent enough fwy cruiser.
The Nova was everything from budget transportation to muscle car, however it does tend to be overlooked by the other models. While never owned a Nova myself, I have scale modelled 1966, 72 and 76 examples. And yes, the detailing pointed that the car had one basic interior to it.
While I have heard of rust being a major issue with Novas, I am still unsure what they used in the 1973-74 shape models – visiting Los Angeles in 2009, I lost count of the number of 1973-74 coupes still running there.
I’m glad to hear that someone has heard of a four cylinder Nova. My dad has one that he restored roughly 6 years ago. He found it in a neighbor’s field and initially thought it was a six cylinder and was going to start a V8 swap. After realizing it was a four cylinder and doing a little research he restored it back to its original condition. We have taken it to the local shows and no one seems to believe that the four cylinder was a factory option since the 396’s were so popular during that era. Since we have limited information… does anybody have an idea of what it is worth? I will post photos soon.
Many years ago (about 1982), I found a well worn 1969 Nova 4-Cylinder 3-speed stick for sale advertized for about $300. I needed basic transportation and was curious about the 4-cylinder engine. It was a Rallye Green coupe with Black vinyl top.
I drove the car and just could not see myself putting around in this tired vehicle. It seemed a bit underpowered for a nearly 3000 lb. car and that green paint!
I bought a Dodge Dart with the slant six instead.
I have an original 70 nova with the 153 -4 cyl & torque trans with 37,000 original mi
You should find someone with an SS396 version and park side-by-side at car shows.
This one was a regular sight in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, but I fear it has moved on.
I don’t know why but I never took to these compared to Falcons/Comets and the Dart/Valiant opposition.
My great aunt Jean had one of these 1970 four cylinder Novas during the mid to later 70’s. She traded in a ’63 Dodge 330 for it. Dark green, hubcaps, black wall tires, cheap black vinyl interior, it was one ugly car. I remember riding in it and seeing the “Torque Drive” identifier within the transmission gear indicator but at the time, just thought that was what Chevrolet was referring to as Powerglide in the Nova. As a 13 year old, I was well aware of the famous Powerglide but knew nothing about Torque Drive. Thinking back, I don’t believe Aunt Jean knew either – she kept it in “Hi” all the time, didn’t shift from 1st and eventually we got where we were going.
Someone had added an aftermarket Mark IV air conditioner up under the dash further diminishing what little power the four cylinder had…
Aunt Jean and her late husband always drove a Dodge – after the Nova, she went back to a Dodge Aspen – nice little car that turned out to be her last.
It’s so fascinating that anyone with one of the rare four-cylinder Novas and Torque-Drive would leave it in ‘Hi’ all the time. I can’t imagine how slowly it must have moved away from a stoplight. It would have made a slant-six Valiant seem like it had a Hemi in comparison.
I have a couple of lines from this weeks New Yorker that I am just dying to use and they apply nicely to the four cylinder Nova:
“Zero to sixty in under half an hour.”
“All requests for acceleration must be submitted in writing!”
I wonder if these are slower than a sixties VW microbus, which is usually the ‘gold standard’ when referring to the slowest accelerating vehicles ever mass produced.
oh wow, so many comments LOL never have seen a 4 n one, I had a 72, with a then almost new 350 roller motor n it out of a totaled state troopers car, what a story, I need to sit down n type, thing would do 120 n second 🙂 not sure after that cause she was pegged but just starting to breath good, she had 2.?? gears n posi, add to that, traction bars, no smoke here, just go to about 50 then hang on 🙂 oh, n I about forgot, no brakes, n if she would have, they where drums sooooo Oh how I had plans for that car, see I was a import guy, into road racing, so I put some low pro Yoko’s all around her, disc brakes, she was already a pwr everything car 🙂 well under the hood, and I fig the same fool who put the traction bars on her had cut this big hole in the roof, 80s everyone had to have a sunroof LOL anyway i used that n brakes n few other things to get $ down by half, paid $400 n drove here howe, anyway, i fig i’d use that hole to get the cage n then cover it over n repaint, maybe. after getting her stopping good, running better I was ready to put cage n, started stripping the chrome off that hole, hmmmmm thats a factory edge ??? with no I net, headed to library SkyRoof ??? 2500 made well so much for my plans of what would now b called a Pro Touring car 🙁 this has already gotten long, try n tell whole story one day, or maybe write a book LOL but she now sits with bunch of other Chevys n a warehouse of a local collector
pic not of her, don’t have a one 🙁 one n pics is 4 sale now n OK 22500 on CL
hmmm it only took 2nd pic, inside better idea, also, someone talked of Ventura, just ran across a 74 GTO here local on ebay other day, never knew. here’s what looks like from inside
I can still recall the looks of su-prize, shock and horror when my 340/4 speed Duster Quickly & Quietly sucked the headlights outta all those jacked up, no mufflered Novas in the 1970’s.
Those pimply faced, long & greasy haired “hot rodder” kids thought they were “SO cool” with their 307 or 350/PowerGlide Novas!
My dad bought a 74 with around 60,000 miles in the late 80’s. I loved that car, before I got my own car I drove it to school every chance I got. In fact that’s one of the reasons i convinced my parents to let me get a car, my dad was sick of me driving his Nova.
It really had been owned by an older couple and they kept it garaged, it was an ugly kind of light brown with a white vinyl top. The body was pretty much perfect.
Later my brother ran it into a guardrail, the damage was cosmetic but for some reason I still don’t understand dad sold the Nova for a few hundred bucks. The car still ran great, it just needed bodywork. I actually would have bought it, but it sold as soon as he put it up for sale.
It had a 350, but was a complete stripper, I don’t think it had any options. I always thought it was funny that the Nova was supposed to be a compact car because to me they’ve always seemed big and I’ve always thought of them as hot rods or muscle cars.
Motor Trend did a test of a 4 cyl. Nova and ironically a VW 1600 FI [like the one featured a few days ago]. The Nova got a respectable MPG # but the VW beat it.
They pretty much summed 4 cyl Nova up as not worth the savings over the 6. And of course found the VW to be the “better” car.
As to the “Iron Duke” : this was engineered to use pistons and rods from the Pontiac V8 for cheaper machining and commonality of parts used on the line. Reference:
Another article from Motor Trend circa 1976-77. Featured on the cover for that month. Article featured the engineering Pontiac used to create their own 4 Pontiac studied blueprints of what Chevy did [as well as a version used in Brazil] but put their own spin on it.
It was not badge engineered Chevy 4. They share no parts. Pontiac’s Iron Duke was based on it’s 301 V8 so it could be machined on the same assembly line [bore and stroke the same, pistons probably, a bean counter’s dream]. See Wicki “GM Iron Duke” for further info on the engine and it’s development.
My Dad’s boat used a 153 Chevy 4 as well.
A family friend bought a 68 Nova 4 brand new, with 0 options. So I assume it was a 3 on tree. He showed it to my dad and I and lifted the hood revealing the little 4 cylinder engine. Never rode in it so have no impression how it ran. He totaled it about a year later, a larger car turned left in front of him and it was a hard hit. He remarked how he was dissapointed in the way the car “folded up”. I never saw what the car looked like after it was hit. He was a big man, north of 300 lbs and was in the hospital for a while. No permanant injury, and i’m sure no seat belts were worn. Interesting on paper the 2400 lb weight and 90 HP engine match up with my 86 Jetta, although missing 2 gears compared to the 5 speed trans. If a 1600 air cooled VW was faster then it would have been much slower then the Jetta which is no powerhouse but is faster than a 1600 cc Beetle. Although, to be fair, you would have to shift the Jetta 1st, 3rd, and 5th in a drag race skipping 2nd and 4th!
Edit. Just noticed Paul stated the 1st gen Nova was 2400 lbs, but this car was probably about 3-400 lbs heavier. Better add a couple of good size passengers to the VW as well!
You can say whatever you want Paul, but that thing still have a good looking profile. Overall is not bad style wise. GM did know how to make a car look good back then… and still does with some of the newer ones.
So it’s not just a plain brown bag, but a fancy one with handles.
Bought a year old ’69 Nova 2 dr. while in college – my first car. 250 6, Powerglide, radio, wheel covers and oddly, a light in the glove box, which was an option. The 250 was an optional motor as well, the 230 being std. I recall it cost about the same as a new VW Beetle, but I liked the Nova coupe styling, which IMHO was much improved from the previous generation.
Very basic, but uncomplicated and dependable. These were everywhere in the late 60’s and early ’70s, but never, ever saw a 4 cyl, let alone the Torque-Drive.
In 1967 or 1968 Motor Trend did a comparison test between a 4cyl Nova and a VW. As I recall, the focus was on fuel economy.
Oops, just saw that DweezilSFV shared this information in an earlier reply.
I can well remember my parents buying a new 4 door ’69 Nova. I wanted the Camaro Pace Car in the showroom, but no dice. The Nova had a 250/Powerglide and compared to our older cars was “loaded”: power steering and brakes, AM radio, and factory A/C that couldn’t be used because the car would overheat quickly in the Miami heat.
Within a year the paint on the passenger side started peeling off. GM wouldn’t do anything about it, so we paid to have the blue car painted red. The thing always kept running after shutting it off until we learned to leave it in drive when turning off the engine. Lots of other problems as well.
The Nova did last a long time, and was passed on to me. I gave it to my first wife when we divorced in the ’80’s, and she drove it until it just about fell apart. While it was kind of a POS, it was the first car I ever drove. The 68-72 Novas always bring back lots of nostalgic memories for me.
To this day I’m amazed how many GM vehicles my family and I bought after the Nova debacle. I’m cured of that now, with a BMW and an Infiniti in our garage.
I think these look nice .
I’ve had lots of Novas but only the early ‘ shoe box ‘ ones .
Good cars if cheap .
The 2-doors have a nice profile, not a lot in the way of detail but with the right options they can be sharp-looking cars. They can also be invisible-boring. All depends on the options.
A ’72 Nova was my Dad’s first brand-new car, and to this day is the one and only brand new car he’s owned. Bought it after graduating college as soon as he had a “real” job. I’ve never seen it as it was gone well before I came along in ’80 but from what he’s said, it was a navy blue coupe with the 307 and a 4-speed. He quite liked it for a while, but evidently the ’72’s didn’t have great rust protection, or he got an indifferently assembled one. By ’76 the floorpans were rusty and the rockers were starting to go. He sold it to his sister in ’77 when it was still driveable and would pass inspection…but didn’t have too much longer to live by his estimation. And so went the one and only brand new purchase; I wonder how much the fact that it went from brand-shiny-new to rusty was a factor in deciding that used cars were the way to go in the future. It was replaced by a ’74 Dart with the slant 6, which he also got about 5 years out of but for a much more reasonable entry price!
I owned a 1969 torque drive iron duke nova and I still have some of the original engine parts
400 i paid for it in I think 1978 . Tuned it up and re jetted the carb and it got way over 30
mpg in Syracuse ny
the car was super cool !!
My dad worked with older cars all his life. He ran up on a four cylinder 68 2 door. 3 speed on the column. He said it was the only one he had ever seen. We restored it about 15 years ago. I put a 350 in it but have all original parts for it. Motor tranny everything. Is it as rare as he thought. Williams7777@gmail.com
My very first car I bought with my working money $2.75 hr in 1980 was a 1968 Chevy II Nova..I bought it just because it still had the Chevy II badges and nova..last year and new year of new style…love love loved that car..creme yellow 2 door 230ci torque drive 2 spd auto.No power steering or brakes no air condition didn’t even had a radio..only 39K miles, when bought. I didn’t care what engine was in it I would of enjoyed the 153 ci 4cyl, if it had it..I like the change over year period! I traded it in for a 1971 Chevelle 307 2dr royal blue.PowerGlide, no air condition which I wanted…i enjoyed and miss working on the 230ci 6 cyl easy to work on and the 4cyl might not have the power but still would of enjoyed tinkering with it..1968 Nova best cars had 2 other ones 70/72. YES I miss that Nova I was a stupid punk that just graduated High School 80…if I knew now what I didn’t knw then…Oh well
“…The fact that the 1968-up Nova now shared much of its platform with the Camaro was all-too obvious. Space utilization was the lowest priority in its development, and interior ambiance, material quality and visibility were right there on the same low level. Nobody ever looked forward to getting into a Nova coupe…”
And that was just like the first generation Camaros, too! The only thing that made the Camaro a better driving experience was that most of them had V8s, the smallest one a regular gas 327. And Camaros never had Torque-Drive!
And Camaros never had Torque-Drive!
It was available on Camaros too.
Oh, no!!! Did they sell any more than a half dozen????
The ’71 Vega offered it too. Perhaps they had some extras lying around?
Chrysler should have paid more attention to the Nova transition from 1967 to 1968. The earlier Nova started before the Camaro got into production (the ’66 L79 Nova was quite a street machine) and GM correctly figured out that the good-looking Nova would cannibalize Camaro sales. They even discontinued the L79 option for the ’67 Nova.
So, the brand-new ’68 Nova, although still available with high-performance engines, was styled as a much more stodgy car and Camaro sales didn’t suffer.
Chrysler, OTOH, made the 1970 Duster quite a bit more stylish than its predecessor. In effect, they reversed the GM formula, going from the 1969 Valiant 2-door sedan to a sporty car that ate into the more profitable Mopar E- and B-body coupes.
I must come to the defense of these Novas, as I really don’t believe GM designed the 68 Nova to be deliberately unattractive, it’s styling clearly echos the design themes present in the 68 A bodies and B bodies of the period just as the original Chevy II design did, and despite the front end of the 66-67s looking a little like the 63-65 Buick Riviera the rest of it looks almost indistinguishable from a 67 Plymouth valiant, especially in sedan form. The Duster was just styled for the times just as these Novas were, they happened to strike a chord for would be ponycar buyers disillusioned by the fact that the segment’s dimensions and price tags ballooned and practically plummeted with the E bodies
Besides that, if the the L79 disappeared to bolster Camaro favorability, why the L89 396 option in these? The Duster never got any of the mopar big blocks (which the A body Barracuda did) so it’s not like there wasn’t a deliberate effort to separate the Junior muscle cars from the senior muscle cars at Chrysler
Indeed, if deemphasizing style had been a deliberate goal they simply would’ve frozen the design, as indeed they did for 5 years from ’68-72, a couple years sooner and built the 1966 car until ’72.
FWIU the big block Mopar simply wouldn’t fit in the A-body, at least in a way that met corporate engineering’s standards of service access which was why the E-bodies were so much fatter than the older Barracudas. All of the Big 3 expanded their ponycars to take big-blocks just as the insurance companies shut down the party, it’s just that the Duster was a more convincing sporty compact alternative to the minned-out Maverick and one less accepted by management than the Nova which didn’t fully lose its’ big-block and SS options until after the party was well and truly over.
The L79 was discontinued on the ’67 Chevy II because of the 10lbs/hp minimum set by corporate for 1967. That explains why several Chevy models had engine line-up revisions that year. But that was apparently shelved again in 1969, which explains the 375 hp 396 available that year in the Nova.
And I quite agree with Matt that the ’68 Nova, especially the coupe, was a good looking car at the time. And there’s no doubt that it directly influenced the future Duster.
I wonder whether Torque-Drive was mechanically sustainable. If people were starting out in Hi, how might that affect the engine over time? Or would it? And wouldn’t the frequent shifting between Hi and 1st wear out the transmission? I’ve heard warnings to avoid shifting automatics between gears unless absolutely necessary.
It was, very much so.
It wouldn’t affect the engine; the original Powerglide and Dynaflow used to start in high gear all the time, unless manually downshifted into Low.
Automatics shift gears all the time. This was the same thing, except it was activated by a move of the lever instead of a valve body or such. Same thing in the end.
The warning you heard was maybe 40 or 60 years ago, when it was recommended not to shift down into Low more than necessary. Downshifts at higher speeds could be a bit harsh on those early automatic transmission. Modern transmissions? Since the late 50s or 1960s? Help yourself. Many have paddle shifters. Ford did call their 3-speed automatic “Select-Shift” for a reason. And console shifters were designed to make manual shifting easier; that was their whole purpose.
On a two speed automatic, a shift from hi to lo at anything over 80 km/h could cause some serious damage to both the motor and the transmission.
The Torque-Drive hits the fabled, “What were they thinking” gong dead on. The Powerglide in the Chevy II came from 1962 and the engineering from long before that. It was long paid off. GM kept it because it was a simple and cheap way to getting automatics to buyers. I can’t ever recall anyone complaining about.
There simply wasn’t any point to Torque-Drive. Powerglide was already cheap and no doubt GM was making fat profits on each one but Torque-Drive was hardly any cheaper. The valve body on a Powerglide isn’t a very sophisticated piece of engineering so deleting it couldn’t have saved much money. Even at today’s prices, it’s like $200 and that’s retail.
I saw about a gadillion of these cars go through our shop. The majority of them were four door sixes with Powerglide from 1968-1971 and THM after that. The two doors had about a 50/50 V-8/6 split and those V-8s I saw were all 307s. Canadians were a pretty frugal lot in those days.
Torque drive cost just $68.65, in 1968 ($513 adjusted). Or a bit more than half the price of Powerglide. It was away to get rid of the clutch and balky shifting for quite a bit less than a full automatic. That was the whole point.
Full story here:
That’s pretty much the exact figure I got, the cost of the TD was $50 less, which is $335 today. I also found a production figure that stated 14,000. I have no way to confirm this but in a zillion Novas I never saw one. Loads of Powerglide and three on the tree, and a 50/50 split.
If all that was missing from the Torque Drive were the proper valve body and solenoids, I wonder how many people were slick enough when they got one so equipped, that they simply went to a junkyard and picked up a Powerglide’s valve body and solenoids for cheap and turned their Torque Drive back into a Powerglide.
That 153 four must’ve at least handled well, with the radiator shifted back close to the engine like that it’s practically mid-engined.
Later on, in 1977 (only), Pontiac offered the Iron Duke in the Ventura. It came with a 5-speed manual while the 6 still only had a 3-speed, so you could keep it on the boil. But of course being GM you could get one with an automatic. 0-60? Yes.
In fact, they all handled well. It was basically the same car as a Camaro.
I bought a used ’69 Nova 230 with the Torque Drive in 1975. The low power output of the 230 with the trans left in drive and the car did a very commendable job of going without getting stuck in Wisconsin Winter!
No power anything, but the car was reliable and just kept chugging along. Compared to my first ’69 Nova 250/PG, bought new, the second one was a fine low end automobile while the first was a trouble plagued PO$!
My last Nova, a ’79 250/3 on the tree was ok after it “ate” 3 camshafts resulting in a new short block. Following that transplant it was another reliable piece of low end transportation. Incidentally the ’75-’79s were the same basic car as the ’68, but with SOME new sheet metal that resulted in a rather successful facelift!! 🙂 DFO
“Incidentally the ’75-’79s were the same basic car as the ’68, but with SOME new sheet metal that resulted in a rather successful facelift!”
There were similarities. I’m thinking the dashboard in particular.
The ’68–’74 X-body subframe/steering/front suspension was based on the ’67 F-body piece, lightly massaged. By comparison, the ’75–’79 X-body subframe/steering/front suspension was based on the “70 1/2” F-body–far stronger/beefier/heavier; and subsequently used on ’73–77 A-body, and the “downsized” 77–96 B-body.
With either the ’68–’74, or ’75–’79 X-body, any engine that could fit into an F-body would fit into the X-body. The total lack of Ford/Chrysler/AMC engine compartment Unibody sheetmetal “shock towers” made engine swaps simple and common.
Unfortunately, the rear suspension was a horrible mess. As bad as leaf springs are, the F- and X-body was worse. Broken leaves are epidemic–show me a ’67–82 F-body, or a ’68–’79 X-body, and I’ll show you a car with broken leaf springs or leaves that have been replaced at least once.
When my father first started buying this taxi company (a huge mistake, based on sins in past lives) the cars were mostly six cylinder Novas with THM. It was not hard to see why these shareholders were going broke. Change the oil ? Phhht, that’s a waste of money, just keep adding! Carpets on the floor? Where did you grow up, what’s wrong with bare metal? When I started as fleet manager, they were utterly shocked I got the cars serviced once a month as maintenance. Funnily enough, I didn’t have many tow bills but they did.
But you know what? As horridly abused as these cars were, they ran. Yes, they stank of cigarette smoke and dirty feet, but they ran. The doors creaked and the windows were filthy but they ran.
We quickly replaced them with B Bodies.
I owned a ‘68 Chevy II Nova, bought in the Fall of ‘72… in that kind of weird, turquoisey blue, black interior, bench seat, 307 with a 4 speed, dog dish ‘caps… good car… kept it through all of ‘73, had it painted a bright gold at Earl Scheib in Anaheim, Ca. for $39.95 (a step up from the $29.95 they were famous for) and I quickly learned not to wash a car with a cheap paint job at a coin wash.
I then sold it to a friend in Summer of ‘74 in prep for the purchase of my first new car: a 1974 Fiat X1/9. Good times.
I’m glad you reran this entry. My brother came across a ’70 a few years ago and, for reasons he can’t quite explain, bought it. I think it was because it’s the car he’d like to have had back when he was in high school (Boomer nostalgia is a potent force). It was in a sorry state and needed, among many other things, a new engine (350 crate went in). He didn’t do a full-on restoration–just enough work so that (1) it looks respectable, and (2) he can drive it for fun. He loves it.
You really do have to love Pony Cars to ‘get’ these ~ they were cheap in every way but IMO still good drivers and as mentioned they -could- be maintained to last forever apart from the tin worms…..
Your Dodge Dart GT was indeed a better car in every way but looks….
I preferred the earlier ‘shoebox’ Chevy II’s .
BTW : Boomers, yeah we’re weird .
An interesting aside to the Nova story is something a guy once told me about trying to order a 1970 Nova. His claim is that the 454 was available but as a COPO (much like the famed 1969 427 COPO Camaro). Unfortunately, his claim falls flat when he goes on to say that the dealer couldn’t get it for him, so he, instead, bought a 1970 Super Bee.
I have my doubts since I don’t think I’ve ever heard (much less seen) anything about a factory 454 Nova. I suspect it was more of a typical sleazy dealer move to keep him on the hook until he finally relented and just bought a Nova SS396 off the lot.