Give me a long kiss goodnight
And everything’ll be alright
Tell me that I won’t feel a thing
So get me Novacaine.
— “Get Me Novacaine”, American Idiot, Green Day (2004)
(Because Billy Joe Armstrong’s ’62 Nova was stolen in L.A. last week, and Billy Joe is turning AARP candidate member on Thursday.)
It was a Tuesday with a creamy pastel blue sky studded with dirty cotton smears of cloud. I spotted the sixty year old across a bus-rapid transit lane, behind a copse of trees, at rest with aged patience.
Scharfe-rechts from Woodhaven Boulevard, the Boulevard of the Little Death (because Queens Boulevard is the Boulevard of Death) and I was parked too many car lengths away from the subject to take a size comparison shot with my Outback. But the cars are spiritually related, because they are both compact station wagons of pure utility. Just about the same length and width – 187 inches bumper to bumper and 70 inches wide, although my Outback outweighs the Chevy II wagon by five hundred pounds, 3600lbs to 3100lbs. But the Chevy has more cylinders and more displacement in its 194 cu. in. inline OHV 6 cylinder engine than my Subaru 2.5L boxer four!
Sixty years to the day earlier, the day the KGB caught Oleg Penkovsky passing information on the R-12 and R-14 missiles that Castro would invite to Cuba the next year, my analog contemporary, a forty-six year old World War Two veteran with a growing family and a tight-fist on his wallet, could buy a Chevy II 300 wagon at a suggested manufacturer’s retail price of $2497 – almost $24000 in 2022 gelt.
What did you get for twenty-four grand? Chrome!
A dashboard visible every day of ownership.
Thirteen inch wheels!
And the badging! Everywhere. A Chevrolet!
And the punim!
I remember crank windows, but how did they work on the tailgate?
But the cargo area looks tasty and enormous.
I saw no seatbelts. It isn’t an Ernie Kovacs Lakewood special (Ernie’s sixtieth Jahrzeit is, well, the Sunday before the Thursday the KGB caught Penkovsky), but I don’t suppose one’s chances in a medium speed collision are great.
(Selfridge Street and 63rd Avenue, Rego Park, Queens, New York City, January 18, 2022.)
Kosher bacon… that idea perked up my eyes this morning. I had no idea (but should have given the impossible burgers I’ve had in the recent past). Now, if I can sell Debbie (an avowed animal lover and vegetarian) on the idea of, say, a soy-based maple tempeh bacon, then maybe I could have my bacon and eat it too! (?)
And Ernie Kovacs. I was truly devastated when his wife took the Rolls Royce home and he swerved his Corvair Lakewood into a telephone pole on a rainy night 60 years ago. I loved his TV show.
For the uninitiated (meaning young), here’s the Nairobi Trio and other Ernie grainy B&W TV treasures.
Alex does guanciale and belly bacon with lamb he gets from Bierig Brothers in Vineland. Full disclosure: Herbie Bierig’s brother Alfred used to date my cousin Judy back during the age of Kovacs, and his nephew Al kept us fed when we were under covid isolation down in Margate over the New Year.
The ribsteak was incredible, even through the veil of covid anosmia.
We use the maple tempeh bacon usually. It’s a good product,
Yes, my mental wheels were spinning, tractionless, at the very thought of kosher bacon. Google to the rescue. Ah, right…..
I’m old enough to know these cars; in fact I built an AMT 3 in 1 model kit of a Chevy II wagon in 1963. Equipped with a 4 cylinder if I recall correctly. And I know who Ernie Kovacs is. But I had to look up punim. Thanks for a fun morning read, a bit of nostalgia, and a vocabulary lesson all in one.
It’s a 6 and badged as such (4-cylinder wagons were not offered in the top Nova 400 trim AMT kitted) although some versions (including the one just reissued and partly retooled) have no engine, just a promo chassis albeit a separate hood.
I’m burying the lede here, the model kit’s just been reissued.
SemiCCeffect: I’m doing software customer service this morning for a prof at Queens College. Not too far from there, at least by my pedestrian standards. Your writeup gives me a visual and olfactory reference for the area, which I’ve never seen in real life.
That’s a beautiful original car. The 6th picture includes an icon of a more trustworthy era: Chevy’s keyless ignition.
I know these were incredibly cheap cars but I owned and loved more than a few during the 1970’s when thy were just $50 beaters with scads of good body & trim parts in the local junkyards .
The hood emblem looks narrower, I remember a four cylinder two door that had that, I don’t see the usual 194 C.I. callout, maybe because the camera didn’t quite line up ? .
I can’t imagine this car being propelled by the 4 cylinder wheezer ~ the 194 i6 was terribly under powered as it was .
Here’s the ‘6’ badge. It didn’t make it into the original post.
Wow, this looks really unmolested. Other than the front seat being reupholstered, this car could have been sitting in any midwestern street around 1969. The silver paint had probably lost all of its shine by then, if the car saw any sun exposure at all.
I remember the crank on the rear window of my father’s 63 Bel Air wagon. It was an emblem with a hinge that opened up. It must have locked somehow if you bothered to lock it, but I don’t think Dad ever did. I used to pop it out and crank the window up and down just for fun.
Great catch. I knew Nate would be here – we both have an unnatural love for Chevy IIs!
My grandmother got one of the first in Indiana from Hefner Chevrolet Fort Wayne in 1962 – a base 100 2-door model with the four cylinder, three-speed manual, and no radio (an attractive ribbed plate covered its absence). Three years later I had my learner’s permit and we went everywhere together in that little car. A good basic car that did the job. Chevy IIs were really popular for many years and in every version imaginable. In our little town there were 283s, sixes, fours, SS hardtops and convertibles, sedans, wagons. In attempting to compete with Falcon in a way that the Corvair could not, this car was a big winner for GM. I still like the original styling – very clean design.
This later model with original black and gold CA plates I spotted a few years ago on the freeway near Hollywood. I’m pretty sure the driver was the original owner. And this car had the 283 badge.
My Aunt had one of these Chevy Doosh (as my cousin nicknamed it) wagons; bought over the telephone (unusual for this time period) by my Uncle. (“Automatic and heater, nothing else! I don’t care what color it is!”) It was a “Sierra Fawn” (brown to you and me) exterior color, matching vinyl seats and no carpeting. That “Magic Mirror” lacquer paint faded down to something that resembled newborn baby diaper dumps before the warranty was up. It was unwashed, unwaxed and unloved by almost all of the family.
Driving that car felt like every control in the car had been injected with novacaine. Slow, sloppy manual steering, gradual braking, the 2 speed Powerglide automatic transmission kinda-sorta oozed from low to high gear. “Acceleration” was too strong of a description for this simple but durable powertrain. It just gradually gathered forward momentum going down the street. The addition of a Western Auto knee knocker A/C unit made it all that much more leisurely.
My car hating Aunt loved it. “It’s so smoooooooth” she often said. She truly admired that station wagon, no matter what the rest of the family had to say about it!
My Uncle would reply: “It’s so SLOW!”! He refused to drive it; would only occasionally, grudgingly ride in it’s passenger seat.
It was quite the reliable grocery getter. My Uncle would put points in it when he heard it missing and sputtering coming up the steep hill to their home. Spark plugs got changed when it took to long to start after a long drive. Even with my depth perception deprived Aunt bouncing it off curbs and over parking lot stops, even with three teen-aged cousins doing their level best to destroy it; it hung in there and gave them all reliable (if slow and boring) transportation.
Which is what it was bought to do.
My first car circa 1980 was a 1962 Nova 400 hardtop given to me by my oldest aunt, who had bought it new from Tropical Chevrolet in Miami. It only had 38,000 miles. Some recollections:
BODY: The salty Miami air, and subsequently being parked outside here in Tennessee, had not done it any favors, but the rust was of the bubbling-under-the-paint type, no holes. Some sanding and a new paint job helped. Panel fit was atrocious, with large gaps between the doors/hood and the body, and of course the trunk and backlight leaked. The part of the hood closest to the windshield would stand proud of the fenders unless you pushed down on it, which I understand was a common GM problem in the era unless someone took care to lubricate the hinges. Which nobody did.
BRAKES: Bendix self-energizing brakes are notoriously grabby, but after I almost went into a ditch on my first drive, my dad was able to get them adjusted and, surprisingly, they were fine! For low-to-moderate speed driving they stopped straight and never gave any trouble in the next five years.
WHEELS: Yes, they were 13 inch. In the early 1980s it was no problem to get some nice B.F. Goodrich whitewall radials in the correct size. They made an enormous difference in steering and handling compared to the Atlas bias-ply tires Aunt Al had got from a Shell station.
CHASSIS: Whether because the front subframe was bent, incorrectly attached by the factory, or some other reason, nobody was ever able to get the wheels aligned. It pulled to the left the whole time I owned it. There was a persistent groaning from the front suspension that at the time I thought was shocks, but it was probably some bushing or other. Chevy thought it was fine to sell these with no front anti-roll bar, and the roll angles going around curves were always a fright for first-time passengers. It would roll far enough to be scary but not enough to actually tip over, to their surprise. Maybe the radials exacerbated it by biting more than OE tires. A full load of passengers did not leave much room between the suspension members and the bump stops, either.
STEERING: Saginaw power steering back then didn’t come with the advantage of a faster ratio, or with much self-centering action, so you had to wind your way into corners, and wind your way back out.
INTERIOR: Lots of hard surfaces, as the picture shows. The vinyl-with-nylon seating upholstery had held up well, except for a seam where the driver sat. There were no seat belts, but Chevy generously provided anchorages for dealers to fit lap belts as optional equipment. A couple of used pairs from a junkyard Cadillac fit perfectly and made me (and any front seat passenger) marginally safer, I suppose. Fortunately I never had an opportunity to test the lack of safety features…hey, at least the steering wheel hub wasn’t one of those bullet-shaped protrusions that had been popular 10 years earlier.
ENGINE: The new-for-1962 Turbo-Thrift six was somewhat misnamed: It had a modest claimed 120 gross bhp, but mediocre economy to go along with it. Getting mileage above the low 20s seemed to be impossible. The valve stem seals had hardened, causing a little engine oil to leak into the cylinders, but this only seemed to be a problem when parking briefly with a hot engine (say, for running in a store). Starting the engine again produced a parking-lot-obscuring cloud of bluish-white smoke. For some reason, this didn’t happen from a cold start; nor did it smoke in normal driving, even when coasting downhill, and I never needed to add oil between changes.
TRANSMISSION: Powerglide had been redesigned for 1962 with a PRNDL shifter pattern and an aluminum case. It worked about as well as a two-speed automatic can work, but leaked like a sieve. I couldn’t afford to have a transmission place look at it, so I just added a quart of fluid when it got low and ignored the oil spots. Near the end of my ownership, I tried a can of Du Pont No. 7 Transmission snake oil, which was supposed to swell the seals, and it actually seemed to help! Maybe that was all it needed!
I drove the car, which had no AC and no radio, to Florida in the summer, and back and forth to school in Nashville, and it only stranded me one time, with what turned out to be a bad condenser.
I hated to see it go, but it was time for a car with more mod cons and more cred on campus. So I got a used BMW 320i. It was the Eighties, after all.
BMW 320i – you must have gone to Vanderbilt. 🙂 I graduated from there in 1981. No BMW for me, though, just a 1970 Pontiac Catalina sedan that I had there my junior year 1979-1980. Truth be told, older American cars like yours and mine and later model VWs (both Beetles and Rabbits), Datsuns, and Toyotas were typical student cars in those years.
AMT has reissued the 1963 Chevy Nova wagon in 1/25 scale….offering both a curbside version (no motor) or a complete 3 in 1 version. I waited over 50 years for this reissue. Check out the model kit websites….worth the memories building it again.
GM must have given the styling job to the second string guys. Then and now I thought this Falcon copy was way worse looking in every way and every detail than the original Falcon, new front clip version or the overall 1964 facelift, including the dash that looks worse than anything AMC ever came up with. The couple Chevy II’s I happened to ride in back then seemed worse riding than either Falcon version as well. (The revised suspension in the facelift Falcons seemed a bit better than the previous ones.) Kid me somehow managed to ride in a lot of different cars while paying attention.
I was going to award a consolation point for parallel wipers but it turns out Falcons had them too. Chrysler somehow didn’t get on board with them until the 1964 Valiant update and not until later with others. (I’m not HubNut – I just checked some photos).
“And the punim!” AAAAHAHAHAAaa!
We had a ’62 Nova/400 wagon in white bought new 6/PG. It was my mother’s car and was kept until ’68 when it was traded in for a ’68 Montego wagon. I didn’t get a chance to drive it on the road as I turned 16 in ’68 after it was gone. I don’t remember any glaring problems-it made it’s grocery, school and trips to our place in the Finger Lakes with no issues during the family ownership.
Boulevard of little death? One of the uses of my bachelor degree was learning in baroque music class about “petit-mort” aka little death in the overwrought lyric content of Madrigal art songs. Petit mort. “To die in your arms…” Aka orgasm. Wondering just what sort of neighborhood this car might be parked in… Oh, and in answer to how crank down windows worked in wagon tailgates, that rectangular chrome piece in the rear gate, below window, would have folded open (perhaps requiring the key to unlock its hidden function) with a hinge on the short side to reveal a teardrop shaped knob that would swivel in your hand as the rectangular chrome object , now showing it’s hidden inside casting, became the arm of the crank to lower the glass. You could reclose it every half turn to allow numerous partial opening positions of the rear window, or be a heathen and let it dangle to allow any size opening.
There’s a fish restaurant about two blocks from the Nova, called London Lennie’s, which is a highly favored Valentine’s Day dining spot and where I took my now wife for our first serious date to celebrate her new job 20 years ago, and it is a neighborhood filled with a lot of residential houses and a lot of cul-de-sacs that aren’t lit by Street lamps pour le parking and a lot of children so le plus des morts petits.
When I was in my early teens my aunt and uncle bought one almost identical to this but white. It was to replace their 57 Ford wagon. I always liked the Chevy. It was an honest practical car. The styling also appealed to me. A simple square box, sort of like the Volvo 145. No pretense of sleekness unlike some current SUVs.
My Dad’s last car was a Chevy Impala, which my Mom took over until last year, when she stopped driving, my sister now drives it, but in 1962, they had a ’61 Rambler Classic Wagon (and then a ’63 Rambler Wagon) which really isn’t that different than this.
Of course, it’s been years since you were last able to buy a wagon from Chevrolet (that isn’t an SUV/Crossover)…maybe since the Cavalier? My Parents moved up the size scale, after the Ramblers, there was an Olds mid-sized F85 wagon, then the remainder of their wagons were full sized (ending with a ’78 Chevy Caprice Classic). After that, the eldest (including me) moved out, and they no longer needed a wagon (and after another decade couldn’t buy a full sized one from Chevy) so it they bought sedans instead since they were all that were offered.
Of course it was a big loss when Ernie Kovacs died in the Lakewood wagon before these came out. Wonder if tire pressure could have been an issue, being a rear engine vehicle, I think that air pressure had a big effect on the handling, of course it could also have been distracted driving if he was lighting his cigar. Guess a couple of years later he could have bought one of these, which might have been more conventional if the handling was an issue in the accident…if it was his cigar, guess he’d have to wait until modern times for the demise of a cigarette lighter as standard (but he could have had it as an option I guess). My Dad had his ’63 Rambler totalled in 1965 when he was hit outside our motel room by a driver that was letting him make a turn into the motel lot, but another driver didn’t have the same idea. We were moving to another city and had just vacated our home (and as it turns out vacated AMC as the next wagon was an Olds F85…never to own an AMC car after that).
nice to see this 62 Chevy II wagon, and close to where I live today. Hope it gets taken good care of. My parent’s bought their first new car – an all tan 62 Chevy II 100 wagon similar to this one. It had the 194ci six, three speed manual, manual brakes and steering, no radio, no white walls. No options at all, nothing. My dad was not much for options if he had to pay for them. He was also color blind, and thought this one was green, which is what my mom said she wanted. She got fawn tan. It’s Corvair sized brakes were just adequate. A number of years later, when power disc brakes became more normal, switching between cars became a problem of which one had the “good brakes”. In 1969, my mom’s Chevy II wagon was rear ended hard while waiting in the traffic when the local factory shift let out. It was replaced by a new 69 Camaro (her choice) with V8, disc brakes and a 4 speed (pop’s choice). My mom made darn sure she ticked off Frost Green on the dealer order form. She got the Frost Green, but not power steering, so she hated driving it. That Camaro was more than a handful to drive, but we had it until 1983 when age, high mileage, NJ road salt and a hydroplane trip on the NJTpk finally took that Camaro out.