1968 Chevrolet, conforming with the popular muscle car formula of a relatively long hood and a short rear deck, introduced the 1968 Nova and launched itself right into the hearts of those who wanted a subtle, yet effective street stomper. Small SS badges on the grille and between the rear taillights were the only tips that this was anything but granny's grocery getter.
The 1968 Nova was the first of its kind to receive an infusion of big-block power. Only two big blocks were assigned to the Nova - the L34 350 horsepower (234
built), and the L78 375 horsepower (667 built). Because of their obvious rarity,
they are highly sought after today by Nova enthusiasts.
The L78 was doing well in the NHRA manual stock classes since its introduction in April of 1968. Fred Gibb was a drag racer and Chevrolet dealership owner so he convinced Chevrolet performance engineer Vince Piggins to install the TH400 automatic transmission in L78 Novas so they could compete in the NHRA automatic classes also. NHRA required at least 50 cars be built and available to the general public before they would recognize them as stock for the automatic class. The 50 L78's with the TH400 (COPO 9738) were built during the first two weeks of July 1968 and delivered to Gibb's Chevrolet dealership in LaHarpe, IL, on or before July 15, 1968.
Just as Ford created the Mustang in 1964 from its intermediate Falcon, Chevrolet used the upcoming redesign of its intermediate as the basis for its own pony-car in 1967, the Camaro. While many say the 1968 and later Novas were just Camaros with a trunk and seating for five, the platform was actually designed first for the Nova and then quickly introduced in 1967 as the Camaro to catch up with the Mustang. From there, the Nova and Camaro would follow a similar evolutionary path, in terms of suspension and engine availability, until the Novas demise after 1979.
1969 Powering the base 1969 Nova Super Sport was a 300 horsepower 350 incher (up five horsepower over the previous year) that could be had for the first time with a three-speed Turbo Hydromatic transmission. The 350 was revised internally, too, with stronger main bearing bulkheads and caps that were retained with four bolts rather than two.
News of the L78 Nova combination traveled fast amongst the street savvy Bow-Tie believers, and production was way up over the previous year with 5,262 of them being unleashed on the otherwise unsuspecting public. Road tests of the L78 Nova showed it had the right stuff for doing battle on the boulevards. Even with skimpy E-70 tires and a 3.55 gear, mid 14's at more than 101 mph were easily attainable. Some tuning, headers, a 4.10 gear and more tire would put the Nova in the mid to low 13's.
1970 Nova fans are sure to lament 1970 as the last year for the Rat-engined compact. When it came time to appease the ever-tightening requirements of the insurance companies and government horsepower Gestapo, the Nova was the first on the chopping block. Even so, its final year with big-block motivation under the hood is one to be well remembered.
The big-block was certainly nothing new to the Nova lineup, having been introduced as a factory option when Chevy brought out the current body style on 1968. The hot setup was the L78 version of the 396, churning out 375 very strong horses. Now in its third year of production, the L78 Nova wasn't the well-kept secret that it once was and each passing year saw it produced in more prolific numbers. As in previous years, the hottest 396 outnumbered the still respectable 350 horsepower version, and in 1970 it accounted for 3,765 units compared to 1,802 Novas delivered with the "smaller" of the two big-blocks.
Mechanically, the L78 engine remained much the same as in the previous years, the only exceptions being an slight overbore (to actually displace 402 cubic inches) and a new intake manifold. While it still mounted a Holley carb, the intake was reconfigured to clear lowered hood lines on other Chevrolet models. And while the Nova still had more than adequate hood clearance, the smog certification for the L78 was completed with the new "low-rise" intake in place. Of course, the base powerplant for the SS Nova was a very capable 300 horsepower 350 small-block, especially when you consider its 3300 pound weight. In stock form, the SS 350 Nova was good for respectable 15 second clockings while the 375 horsepower big-block version was coaxed into the 13's quite easily.
Anyone but the most ardent Nova fancier would have an extremely difficult time discerning between the 1969 and 1970 versions; a slight taillight revision (larger lenses with the backup lamp moved to the middle of the lens) is probably the most evident clue. Super Sport insignia was still found on both the grille and rear cove areas (along with a blacked-out treatment), but that's about it. The downplayed visuals made the Nova a sleeper in the truest sense of the word and undoubtedly account for its popularity amongst the serious street runners. But they would have to find a new favorite for the coming year; the big-block Nova would be out of the performance picture for 1971. In fact, 1971 would bring about some tremendous changes for the performance enthusiast - none of them for the better. Unquestionably, 1970 will forever be regarded as the high point of Nova (and Chevrolet) performance.
1971 The Nova gave up a tremendous part of its performance value in 1971 when the big block disappeared completely from its list of available power-plants. Even in the smog-laden, low-compression form, big-blocks were still a part of the picture for the Chevelle and Camaro lineups. But tightening emissions and a decreased demand spelled doom for the Rat-engined Nova, much to the chagrin of Deuce lovers everywhere. If factory-built, Bow-Tie performance was what you were after, your time was better spent looking in other areas. Of course, that's not to say that the 1971 Nova was an incapable performer.
With a Q-jet fed 350 as its means of motivation, a 1971 Nova SS could click off low 15 second clockings at about 89 mph. With a few standard hop-up procedures, the Nova SS could start to deliver on its performance promise, and the ET could drop to mid 14's at speeds over 94 mph without sacrificing reliability or raising compression above its normal 8.5:1 ratio. Transmission availability for the SS was somewhat restricted; a decision had to be made between a wide-ratio four-speed or the Turbo 350 automatic.
Like the Camaro, the 1971 Nova was virtually indistinguishable from its immediate predecessor. Perhaps the most easily discernible difference was the lack of front fender louvers. Super Sport medallions could still be found in the grille and rear cove areas, both of which received the blacked-out treatment. Further proof that performance was becoming less important was evidenced by the fact that the bright engine trim, previously included as part of the SS package, was conspicuously absent. And while disc brakes remained a part of the SS package, the vented rally wheels that accompanied them were also relegated to optional status. The base wheel became a 7x14-inch steel unit sporting what was essentially a "baby moon" hubcap with the Chevrolet Bow-Tie embossed in its center.
Not surprisingly, sales of the sporty Nova also dropped off in 1971. There were a total of only 7,015 Super Sport Novas constructed during the model year, a sizable drop from the previous year's sales of 19,558 Nova SS's.
As an addendum to the Nova lineup, the Rally Nova (RPO-YF1) was created in 1971. This pseudo-musclecar featured a special striping package, blacked-out grille, rally wheels, and a sport mirror as the visuals, while any engine available for the rest of the Nova line could also be specified. 7,700 Rally Novas were built to meet the demands of buyers who wanted the appearance of a muscle machine without the insurance hassles usually attached to one.
1972 Unquestionably, the third generation Nova had secured a spot in the hearts of street savvy runners, particularly those with a penchant for going fast without looking the part. As a consequence, it also secured a spot on the Chevrolet hit parade as its popularity was reflected in sales figures. The restyled Nova, which made its debut in 1968, was a handsome package, to be sure. The boxy lines of its predecessors were exchanged for a more fluid, muscular design, and the "new" Nova was and instant hit. Especially when it was fitted with big-block motivation.
But the factory-installed big-block Nova had its last gasp in 1970. Despite it small-block power, the popularity of the Nova Super Sport continued into 1972, without major revisions - stylistically or under the hood. In fact, the demand for Nova Super Sports gained momentum as a total of 12,309 were built in 1972 compared to 7,015 in 1971.
The 1972 Nova SS could be had with only one engine, although buyers could specify either a three-speed automatic or a four-speed manual transmission to back it up. The engine was the L48 small-block, displacing 350 cubic inches and fed through a single four-barrel carburetor. Its horsepower rating was pegged at 200 (net horsepower figures were now used). This was good enough for 15.4 quarter mile ET's with a trap speed of over 88 mph. A unique option was added to the Nova line midway through the production year - a sliding fabric sunroof known as the Skyroof. Officially called the Ventura II Folding Sunroof, it was installed on 6,822 Novas in 1972. Each color carried it's own RPO code: White (RPO-WV1), Black (RPO-WV2), Blue (RPO-WV4), Pewter (RPO-WV5), Covert (RPO-WV7), Tan (RPO-WV9) and Green (RPO-YH8). The Rally Nova continued production in 1972 with a total of 33,319 built.
1973 The Nova received a minor appearance change in 1973. The rear side windows were enlarged, larger front and rear bumpers were government mandated, and new grill and tail lights freshened-up the look of the Nova. The door vent windows disappeared and a new three-door hatchback body style was introduced. The Nova Custom was the new top-of-the-line body style in 1973 and the Rally Nova was dropped. The SS option was now available with any engine, even the 6 cylinder. The package included a bold side stripe and a blacked-out grille and tail light panel. The Skyroof option was still available but this was the last year. 3,259 Skyroof Novas were built for the 1973 model year built unlike the previous year, all colors carried the same RPO code (RPO-CF1).
1974 The Nova remained generally the same for the 1974 model year except for slight revisions to the front and rear bumpers. The SS option was slightly revised with new stripes now on the hood and trunk. The tail light panel was no longer painted black but the window frames and sport mirrors were. In celebration of the upcoming bicentennial, Chevrolet created the Spirit of America Nova (RPO-Z51). This one-year option included special red, white and blue trim, stripes, and interior. There were 14,463 Spirit of America Novas built.