The Chevy Nova, originally known as the Chevy II, had a prosperous and impactful run throughout Chevrolet history, cycling through six generations before retiring. The Nova met consumer demand and proved to be a popular car for decades.
Other Chevy models like the Chevelle or Camaro sometimes overshadowed the Nova, stealing its sales. An urban myth claimed the Nova didn’t sell well in Spanish-speaking countries because of its name (Nova is similar to the Spanish phrase “no va” which literally translates as “doesn’t go”) — a legend proven to be false. For the most part, the Nova was a staple part of Chevy’s lineup and provided a reliable compact car option for drivers everywhere.
But why was the Chevrolet Nova so successful and long-lived?
After a notorious genesis of rushed and cost-effective production, it’s interesting to look at the qualities and factors that went into making this one of the most classic Chevy models ever.
- First Generation: 1962-1965
- Second Generation: 1966-1967
- Third Generation: 1968-1972
- Fourth Generation: 1973-1974
- Fifth Generation: 1975-1979
- Sixth Generation: 1985-1988
The Beginnings of the Chevy Nova
At the time, Chevrolet was falling behind and needed a small, functional vehicle to compete with the era’s compact cars, such as the highly successful Ford Falcon. The Chevy Corvair didn’t get the success Chevrolet was looking for, so the Nova was an attempt to create something lasting and reliable.
There seemed to be some question as to what to call this compact car, and the first Nova produced rolled off the production line under the name Chevy II — a simple name for a simple car.
The early 1960s saw one of the quickest Chevrolet car productions ever, designing and building an automobile line in record time and at low cost. Rushing through the process to maintain their hold on the compact car market, Chevrolet watched their new vehicle go on sale and hoped for an enthusiastic response.
First Generation — 1962-1965
Smaller than most Chevy vehicles but larger than the Corvair, the new Chevy II was available as a four-door sedan, convertible, station wagon or two-door coupe. The Chevy II Nova 400 was the sportiest option, with a 120 horsepower, six-cylinder engine. The car offered smooth driving in a sensible version that appealed to many people.
Overall, the car was mainly functional, reflecting the initial purpose and goal of Chevrolet’s rushed production, but some performance options soon became available in the next year.
1963 introduced the world to the Super Sport RPO Z03 package, paired with the Chevy II Nova 400. The package put more emphasis on design than performance. The new trim, added bucket seats, new gadgets and upgraded steering wheel lifted the compact car into the realm of sportiness in appearance, but its performance was lagging.
Chevrolet introduced a new 283-cubic-inch V-8 engine to the Nova, bumping the horsepower to 195 and later 220. This performance boost put a muscle car label on the Nova, allowing it to go from zero to 60 in 11.3 seconds. Chevy also introduced a “Turbo-Thrift” option, offering a 230-cylinder engine that produced 155 horsepower.
Even with the performance upgrades and the array of options, Nova sales took a nosedive after the introduction of the brand-new Chevelle, Chevy’s version of a performance-based muscle car.
1965 brought expansion, as Chevrolet continued to boost performance on the Nova with the V-8 327 engine capable of 250 and 300 horsepower.
Second Generation — 1966-1967
Of all the Chevy Nova generations, the 1966-1967 era may be the briefest, but it also created a new and faster vehicle.
Little separated the second generation from the first, save more minor trim features, sheet metal makeovers and performance boosts. A new 327 eight-cylinder engine made the Nova capable of 350 horsepower.
Third Generation — 1968-1972
The third generation, starting in 1968, introduced a complete redesign of the Chevy II Nova. It was a similar style to the Chevelle, with a semi-fastback styling and 111-inch wheelbase.
The Nova SS, fitted with a standard 350-cubic-inch V-8 engine, generated similar horsepower as earlier models and resembled the Camaro.
The L34 and L78 models continued to highlight the Nova as an effective muscle car, with the L78 generating 375 horsepower. Both these models were relatively rare, with few produced and sold. Still, they remain vital pieces of Nova history and stepping stones toward a legit performance-based vehicle.
1969 — The Nova Is Born
In 1969, Chevy Nova replaced Chevy II as the sole name of Chevrolet’s prized compact car. From then on, the Chevy Nova would be the only name used, sometimes appearing in brochures and magazines as merely “Nova.”
The next couple of years would mostly see engine changes without any real performance benefit, causing Nova sales to drop slightly. After the performance enhancements at the start of the second generation, new upgrades to horsepower began to taper off. The Clean Air Act of 1970 also started cracking down on performance-based cars, causing Chevy to throttle back on gas-guzzling, roaring engines.
The automaker discontinued their higher-performance models and began devising a new strategy for the fourth-generation Chevy Novas.
Fourth Generation — 1973-1974
Government regulations impacted the fourth-generation Novas and returned the vehicle to a simpler, more functional car. In 1973, Chevy downgraded the SS model and started offering options for any engine, with the most effective being the 175-horsepower 350. Chevrolet also introduced a new hatchback version of the two-door Nova.
Safety regulations created changes in Nova body styles, with bigger, sturdier bumpers, new taillights and seat belts for driver and passenger protection.
Chevy unveiled the “Spirit of America” Nova model in 1974, with red, white and blue stripes painted on the hood and trailing over the entire car. The interior also featured red and blue fabrics. The model celebrated the upcoming bicentennial in 1976, a fun and unique way to include the Nova in a piece of history. It proved to be a hot new collector’s item for car connoisseurs.
The fourth generation came and went quickly, highlighted only by a few downgrades to meet regulations, safety additions and the classic “Spirit of America” model in 1974. Ultimately, this era marked the end of muscle cars and created a line of vehicles based more on safety than performance.
Fifth Generation — 1975-1979
The fifth generation of the Chevy Nova saw extensive changes and highlighted a long and changing journey from the Nova’s genesis as a simplistic compact car.
Style changes made the Nova look a bit boxier, though it retained its smooth, semi-fastback shape. These newer models also included catalytic converters to combat emissions, disc brakes and steel-belted radial tires.
One model completely changed the perspective on the Nova, as it addressed the era’s current climate and consumer values. Chevy introduced a luxury option in 1975, meeting the demand for small, intimate and classy-looking vehicles. This model, dubbed the “Luxury Nova,” came equipped with large, comfy seats almost resembled lounge chairs, along with sound insulation and several other characteristics that put the Nova in a new category of almost European-style luxury car excellence.
Chevy met the era’s emissions standards with low horsepower, usually ranging in the 100s, with reliable, trusted engines respecting environmental regulations.
Chevrolet canceled Nova SS production in 1977, marking the end of a dynasty of blended performance and functionality. Many believe this generation to be the last, and most recognize it as such. However, a brief stint in the following years created the need for a sixth and peculiar generation of the Chevy Nova.
Sixth Generation — 1985-1988
The sixth generation ushered in a new era for Chevy Nova history. General Motors and Toyota teamed up to create a subcompact version of the Nova.
Though the Nova had already evolved significantly with the addition of the luxury model, the car had always been quintessentially American. As demonstrated by the symbolism of its “Spirit of America” model in 1974, the Nova seemed intent on staying an American car. However, this iteration was a far journey from the old days of the Nova and a remarkable identity shift.
New United Manufacturing Motor Incorporated
The Nova’s sixth generation was another step in the vehicle’s evolution, this time extending a hand across the Pacific to strike a new partnership with Japan. The joint venture was part of New United Manufacturing Motor Incorporated, an agreement that started in 1984 and closed up shop in 2010, shutting the door on a fascinating learning experience for both parties. The deal gave Toyota a manufacturing facility in California. In turn, GM would learn how Toyota ran an effective production line with minimal costs. This fruitful relationship produced the 1985 Chevy Nova, a rebirth of the classic compact car.
The new Novas had the same style as the Toyota Corollas, with a four-cylinder engine and an automatic transmission. Low on horsepower, this car aimed for functionality over performance. Clearly, this was miles away from the earlier models and a result of a brand-new production strategy. Styles came in four-door notchback sedans and five-door hatchbacks. The following years included various minor style changes and a sportier model in 1988 with a four-wheel drive.
But 1988 was the last time the Nova name ever appeared on a brand-new vehicle. In September, production stopped, and Chevrolet went in a different direction, putting a final stamp on this model’s long and successful run.
What Was the Best Chevy Nova Year?
You might not find as much consensus among car aficionados about the best Chevy Nova years as you would for models like a Chevelle. Some cars have specific model years that stand out, with jacked-up performance or enhanced looks. As you scan the Chevy Nova timeline, it’s maybe a little harder to determine because of the broad ranges of models the car went through.
Indeed, the Chevelle and Camaro may have overshadowed the Nova at several points. Still, the Nova was always a behind-the-scenes bestseller, offering the performance and function to create a reliable, effective vehicle. Chevy fought through regulations and competitors and kept evolving, changing with the times and moving for survival.
In later years, the Nova even became a product of foreign designs, a 180-degree turn from its moment of fame as the “Spirit of America” model honoring the 1976 bicentennial. But throughout the entire Chevy Nova evolution, is there one year that stands out?
The Best Chevy Nova
If you value power and performance, the third-generation Chevy Nova models could be your favorites, as these came out at the peak of the muscle car era before regulations invaded. The unique Yenko Nova could be your favorite, proudly displaying an eight-cylinder engine with 450 horsepower.
Or the 1969 version could stand out to you, serving as the first vehicle to fully take on the Nova name and retire Chevy II forever.
The ’70s Nova showed fewer improvements, but featured the red, white and blue classic that still exists as a potential collector’s item. If you value luxury, comfort and unique, personalized vehicles, 1975 could be your favorite year, as it presented the Luxury Nova, with upscale class emphasized above all else.
Alternatively, you might view the ’60s Nova as the best, reflecting quickly innovated products made in response to new rivals of compact cars.
Or, that last and unique sixth generation running through the mid-to-late ’80s could stick out to you, with its historic partnership between Toyota and GM and the creation of NUMMI.
Whatever your standards or preferences, the “best” year of the Chevy Nova is ultimately subjective and up for interpretation.
Restore Your Vehicle With Raybuck Auto Body Parts
Owning or restoring an old Chevy Nova can be highly rewarding, but it can prove challenging if you don’t have the right parts or materials to get the job done. You’ll want to get your Nova in mint condition and restore it to the classic, performance-driven car it once was.
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Whatever you’re looking for or need help with, our expert team can help you find and provide answers to your questions. We’ve spent the last 26 years crafting our product line and ensuring our customers get the very best. We’ll help bring back your vehicle’s former glory while giving you the care and attention you deserve. Contact us today!