Doane Yawger: Nova is the essence of simplicity

August 30, 2013 

— The Chevrolet II and its ancestor, the Nova, are among my favorite cars. I even owned two of them years ago.

Last week's "My Favorite Ride" feature in the Merced Sun-Star profiled a 1962 Chevy II convertible owned by Larry Masengale of Merced. I've taken a ride in that car and it is awesome with a capital A. With plenty of power, it still stays faithful to its original styling.

General Motors introduced the Chevy II in 1962 as competition for Ford's Falcon, which hit the dealerships two years before. At the time, the manufacturers were pushing basic compact cars; consumers wanted economy and the Big Three were happy to oblige.

Compacts were an alternative to the full-sized cars that had reached their maximum size as the 1960s dawned. The compacts cost less at first and guzzled less gas.

The Nova was more of a mainstream offering than its sibling, the Corvair.

The Nova's style is the essence of simplicity. The front of the 1962-64 Nova is marked by a pronounced horizontal grille, single headlights and chromed bumper. There is a crease running from the front fenders to the rear, and the trunk is marked with rectangular taillights. Pretty elemental, but it works for me.

The Nova's interior appears fairly roomy for at least four people. Those Novas initially came with four- and six-cylinder engines, simple and economical. By 1964, V-8 engines were available, which boosted the power considerably. Super Sport option packages added both power and luxury refinements.

The first-generation Nova was extensively restyled for 1965-67, and a totally new Nova styling package emerged in 1968 and was refined through the early 1970s when the last version appeared.

My first brand-new car was a 1970 Nova two-door coupe equipped with the 250-cubic-inch, six-cylinder engine and a three-speed manual floor shift. Gutless wonder or not, I loved that car and dearly miss it now. I put a glasspack muffler on the Nova and it sounded more menacing than it really was.

I remember looking at "sleeper" 1969-70 Novas with the 396-cubic-inch V-8 engine, blackwall tires and plain "dog-dish" hubcaps. For someone just starting out in the work world, these power upgrades were more expensive than the budget would allow, and I didn't crave that much speed anyway. Now that 396 Nova would be a big-buck item and a ticket magnet as well.

The nice thing about Novas is they can be rebuilt in mild to wild versions, with upgraded motors and suspension components. With new paint and graphics, those early Novas look terrific now.

Besides the metallic blue 1962 Nova convertible running around Merced, I know of an all-white 1963 Nova hardtop that looks showroom fresh. I've also seen one of the plainer-Jane, two-door post sedans parked in limbo outside a north Merced garage.

My dad's last commuter car was a 1962 Nova four-door station wagon that would be fun to drive now and not as stodgy as one might think. For a while I owned a 1962 Nova 400 two-door hardtop that needed more love (and financial attention) than I could supply.

Novas are fun vehicles that respond well to upgrading and would look great in just about every driveway, mine included.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsunstar.com.

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