Birth of a Nova: A Chevy Star Is Born
It was 1960, and Chevrolet realized they needed something new—a new car to challenge the Ford Falcon, which had outsold the compact, rear-engine Chevrolet Corvair. The Falcon, introduced in 1960, sold extremely well, a half-million units in its rollout year. The market didn’t see the Corvair as a Falcon alternative, so Chevy needed a new challenger, and fast.
So, Chevy engineers jumped right on it. Chevrolet cranked out the new car, from inception to rollout, in 18 months, which was like light speed to car manufacturers back then. “We worked night and day on that car, and it didn’t take very long to run it through our shop because we had a deadline.” That’s what Clare MacKichan, Chevrolet designer, said about the rollout. He recalled that getting the new compact out quickly was the goal, not new ideas, innovations or any experimentations. “It had to be a basic-type car,” he added. In August of 1961, the first of the new compacts rolled out of the Chevrolet facility in Michigan and was introduced the following month, on September 29th.
But, they weren’t sure what to call it.
Hey, what’s your name?
They knew they were rolling out a new compact car, so they had to come up with an exciting new name. Or, maybe not so exciting. Choosing a name isn’t always easy. Chevy management finally decided on “Chevy II,” because it started with a “C”—really. That’s why the other name they liked didn’t win the day—however, they decided to keep it for the top trim line for the Chevy II Series. That name was “Nova.”
In other words, anyone who owned a Nova actually owned a Chevy II. But not every Chevy II owner drove a Nova. Here’s how that worked.
The first lineup of Chevy II in 1962.
Initially, there were four series to choose from:
- The Chevy II 100
- The Chevy II 200 (which was dropped pretty quickly)
- The Chevy II 300
- Finally, the Chevy II 400 Series, the top trim level and high end of the new model—Chevrolet decided to call this series Nova
There were two-door and four-door versions for each series, with a station wagon option as well. There were also two engine options—a 153-cu.-in. 4-cylinder was offered along with a 194-cu.-in. straight-6.
Simple and straightforward. That was the point.
Except for the dressed-up 400 Series Novas, there was nothing too fancy about the Chevy IIs, and that was the point. Chevy execs didn’t try to pass it off as anything dynamic or revolutionary. In fact, Chevrolet GM and legend Ed Cole said the new Chevy II delivered “maximum functionalism with thrift.”
The Chevy II was the first post-WWII American car to offer a 4-cylinder engine.
That first Nova 400 Series included these:
- Four-door station wagon
- Two-door sport coupe
- Two-door sedan, 6-passenger
- Two-door convertible, 5-passenger
The two-door hardtop (different from the two-door sedan) was called the Nova 400 Sport Coupe.
Of course, the coolest Nova of the bunch was the convertible, and Chevrolet produced almost 24,000 of them that first year. Like the other Novas, it offered a 6-cylinder engine with 120 horsepower and 194-cu.-in. displacement.
The Nova 400 Convertible would run you $2,475.
1963: Say hello to the Nova SS.
Being the prettiest sister of the Chevy II series, the Nova got most of the attention. In 1963, an SS package (SuperSport) was made available for Nova convertibles and the sport coupe hardtops. It was primarily for looks and it caught a lot of attention. Here’s what it came with:
- Special emblems
- Instrument package
- Wheel covers
- Side molding
- Bucket seats
- Floor shifter
All this was going on while the Chevy II 100 Series and 300 Series were still in production. There wasn’t a V8 option for these early-year Chevy II 400 Nova Sport Coupes or Convertibles, but that was about to change.
1964: The first V8 Nova shows up; the convertible goes away.
1964 made a lot of Nova fans happy. Chevrolet added a V8-engine option for the Nova. In fact, there were two options—one delivered 195 horsepower, the other, 220.
There was both a two-speed and three-speed automatic transmission, as well as a four-speed manual transmission. Added to the Super Sport package carried over from the year before, the new, powerful V8 Nova was exciting, and just a notch below was a new engine option, the 230-cu.-in. Turbo-Thrift 6-cylinder, with 155 hp.
The bad news was that sales of the Chevy IIs dropped. Actually, you might say they were cannibalized by Chevrolet’s brand-new midsize Chevelle. And the Chevy II’s nemesis, the Ford Falcon, had double the sales of the Chevy II and was still causing headaches.
Looks and power in ’65: the Muscle Nova
Smack in the middle of the 1960s, the Chevy IIs got a makeover. There was now just the 100 Series (in a few configurations) and the 400 Series Nova. But there was something new with Nova—the Nova Super Sport Series.
All the Chevy IIs and Novas were sporting a new grille, clean front-end styling and a new roofline on the sedans. The rear cove was also restyled, plus the taillights and backup lights.
The best news for Nova nuts was that the Nova SS was available with a new V8 option—with a 327-cu.-in. engine that delivered up to 300 horsepower—a car that some people said was challenging the GTO 4-4-2 and Mustang 289.
1968: Nova sheds it image.
The Chevy II that rolled out for 1968 was an all-new compact. It was styled, somewhat, to look like its cousin, the newly redesigned Chevelle, with a semi-fastback look. The Chevy II was a foot shorter but had pretty much the same wheelbase. Here are some other highlights surrounding the ’68 Chevy IIs:
- No more convertibles, station wagons or hardtop coupes
- Only two-door and four-door sedans were offered
That’s not all that was disappearing—the original name was fading away as well.
Chevrolet was drifting away from the Chevy II name. Officially, the entire lineup was the Chevy II Nova, but the car was referred to as simply “Nova” in sales brochures. The 1968 Nova Super Sport became a performance package. It was America’s smallest muscle car and it included a 295-hp, 350-cu.-in. V8 engine, along with a heavy-duty suspension. By 1969, the Chevy II name was history, leaving just the Nova nameplate. “Nova by Chevrolet” had replaced the “Chevy II by Chevrolet” badge.