By on March 17, 2010

[Note: this car does not have the original rectangular taillights. Someone mounted some sixties round lights in an attempt to confuse our readers, at least some of them]

In our recent visit to 1976, we virtually pitted the Accord against the Malibu. One garnered the title of “The Most influential Modern Car in America”, the other was disgraced as a “GM Deadly Sin”. Lots of folks said the two would never have been cross-shopped; they’re probably right. By the time a buyer stepped into a Honda dealer, a Malibu had already fallen of the list. But what about the Nova? A hatchback Nova with the options to make it comparable to the Accord’s standard fare would put it right around the Accord’s price. Let’s pit America’s most popular compact against the upstart challenger from Japan for round two.

Given that the shameful Deadly Sin moniker is missing from the title, this is obviously not going to be as lopsided.  I happen to have a minor soft spot for the ’75-’79 Nova, and we might as well get the goodness flowing first. The year I was a bus driver in Iowa City, the transit district acquired a couple of ’75 Nova sedans for ferrying drivers and such. As I new relief driver, I got some seat time, and was rather impressed; with its handling, that is.

That particular Nova came with a fleet heavy-duty package (they must have known I was coming), including the excellent suspension package and wider wheels and tires. It’s no secret that the Nova was essentially a longer wheelbase sedan version of the 1970 and up Camaro, a car we have duly lionized here for its handling prowess. The steering was quick, direct ,and had some genuine feeling; the brakes were mission-appropriate, and the handling was remarkable: it gobbled curves and corners, staying mostly composed and almost utterly devoid of the dreaded Detroit understeer. Having not had a turn in a Camaro at that point in my youthful life, this was clearly the best handling American car I had ever driven to date.

It certainly wasn’t the fastest though, as it came with the 250 (4.1 liter) six that packed all of 105 hp. In all fairness, the six had a decent surge of torque, was very smooth, and was reasonably adequate in the urban setting available for my gymkhanas. Now if only they had kept the Pontiac OHC version of this engine going, the Nova would have better lived up to its ambitions at being a Euro-car challenger at the time, especially mated to a four or five speed stick. No such luck.

In Brazil, the 250 six went on to be developed and used in a highly non-US fashion, with proper MPI fuel injection, as in this 1998 Chevrolet Omega, which marries the big Opel RWD sedan with the high output Chevy six. Our loss was their gain. It was cheaper for Chevy to just to throw V8’s in it, as there were plenty of them around. Of course the golden days of the prior generation Nova with its thundering big-blocks were a long-distant memory by then. Take your pick of a 305 with 140 hp or the 350 with 165. Plenty of torque to move the reasonably light 3200lb Nova briskly for the times, but nothing like the good old days.

But let’s not meander into the Nova’s inevitable appeal to hot rodding, given its cheapness and infinite availability of the parts to do so. Anyway, its ’68-’74 predecessor seems to have more appeal to that faction, despite its less capable suspension and steering. Let’s stick to the Nova as transportation, as an alternative to the Japanese competition.

Space utilization was at a low point in Detroit during the seventies, one of the worst aspects other than quality issues. The Nova was a bit better than the Malibu, but not by much. There was still a highly unfavorable relationship of real estate wasted to oversized front and rear ends, and not enough where it actually counted. At least the Nova came in a hatchback version, which made access to a long but shallow cargo area easy. But rear seat leg room was mediocre, and the non-opening rear side windows were a royal put-off.

Of course, these cars couldn’t approach the fuel economy of the Japanese competition. Getting much more than 20 mpg even with the six was an act of heroism. With the V8, forget it. And when it comes to build quality…let’s not go there. Actually, in relative terms, the Nova was probably one of the better GM products, thanks to its simplicity. I know folks who got some cheap long-term transportation out of old Nova sixes. But the words “jewel like” will never be uttered in their presence.

Perhaps a more apt comparison would be with its Big Three competition, and there the Nova acquitted itself better. The queasy-handling and recall-prone Dodge Aspen and Plymouth Volare quickly destroyed Chrysler’s domination in the field, allowing the Nova to take the number one sales spot in the compact segment. Ford’s Maverick was long in tooth even when it arrived, but by 1976 it was in terminal decline. The Granada was more of a semi-midsized anyway, and with upscale ambitions pricing-wise.

Clearly, the Nova was at the head of the domestic class in 1976. But as a compact in the post energy crisis it was fundamentally all wrong, as the Accord and its ilk proved all too quickly. And by 1978, Chrysler’s Omni/Horizon twins had it all over the Nova in terms of space utilization and economy. The Nova soldiered on for those either in denial about the future of the small car or perhaps wanting a four-door Camaro.  Now that was a small niche. And within a few years, that option would be gone too, as the Citation was lurking just around the corner.

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76 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1976 Chevrolet Nova Coupe...”


  • avatar
    rockit

    “…as the Citation was lurking just around the corner.”

    Citation Deadly Sin next?

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    76 was also the last year for the Dodge Dart-it was outdated in styling but bulletproof-they went a lot longer than the 76 Aspen-for that matter most cars from 76.
    The Nova was comparable

  • avatar
    postjosh

    thanks, paul. i was waiting for this post. i think this is what people really did cross shop against the accord in ’76. in my neck of the woods, there were only two groups of people who picked the nova over the accord: 1) america firsters who didn’t like anything new or foreign 2) people who didn’t like cars. they just bought a midsize gm because that’s what you buy. btw, this is the same category of people who buy camry’s today.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      Actually I think you have it reversed. Most people I know that bought boring Toyotas are people that A) Know nothing about cars or B)Care nothing about cars and just want to go from point A to point B. The Nova was an average compact sedan in it’s day and they were known for going hundreds of thousands of miles if you didn’t let the rear leaf springs rot away. It’s interesting when the Accord is brought up because how many folks do you see restoring 1976 Accords today vs old Novas and Chevelles. That alone speaks volumes on how these cars were and are still regarded in automtive society. I can’t even remember the last time I saw any 70’s or 80’s Honda on the road in Upstate, NY come to think of it. They are all disintegrated back into mother earth.

    • 0 avatar
      davey49

      Where are you that anyone but weirdos bought the Accord? My family had a 76 Accord in the early 80s but I never saw one before then. I’m guessing that early Accords were bought by the same wackos who bought Saabs or Volvos. My family had a ton of foreign made cars Austins, MGs, Plymouth Cricket, Dodge Colt, Datsun 610, Toyota Celica and later on Volvos. You might blame us somewhat for the rise of the Japanese car in the US because we were early adopters.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Any particular reason this one has taillights from a second-gen Corvair?

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Same diameter, same bolt spacing, why not? I still remember by dad’s used car manager’s oldest son had a ’61 Impala 2-door hardtop with ’59 Cadillac taillight lenses. Also direct bolt-ins. I get the feeling that GM back then had a standard size for round taillamps.

    • 0 avatar
      john.fritz

      I was going to ask the same question. I owned one of these. Those taillights don’t appear to be correct. Not quite flat or square enough.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      They’re having a little fun. I added a note pointing this out at the top of the post. It’s why I picked this one from several Novas in the can.

  • avatar
    Syke

    I always felt this was the prettiest car Chevrolet made during my lifetime. I remember magazine tests calling this the “second coming of the ’55 Chevy” as it was about the same in size.

    Proof that everything GM made in the ’70’s wasn’t complete shite.

  • avatar

    This was considered a compact? Wow. There’s a Nova sedan of this vintage living at my apartment complex; Midwestern winters have taken a heavy toll on the bodywork, but it’s still chugging along.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    My mother owned a 1977 Buick Skylark, which was a Nova clone. It was a satisfactory car but nowhere close to being in the league with the Accord. The front seats were comfortable, but you had to be a contortionist to get over the three-point harness to get into the back seat. It had the Chevy 305 v8, and if memory serves right, a 2:29 rear axle ratio to meet the CAFE requirements. Needless to say, acceleration left something to be desired. The overall quality was nowhere near that of the Accord, it has water leaks and other issues. One day as she was driving it, one of the rear springs broke.

    • 0 avatar
      wtrooster

      You have something mixed up. In 1977 the Buick version of the Nova was the Apollo, Olds = Omega, Pont.= Phoenix, Cadillac even used the Nova chasis for their Seville.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    The ones of those model I’ve seen down here in Venezuela (we got only 4dr versions) are usually in beyond-clunker condition. When the trunk’s floor collapses due to rust it looks like the car has broken in half.

    Very few look “nice”.

    Those ones used square tail lamps. That retrofit seems a lot like something we would do here because of lack of parts.

  • avatar

    I think those tail lights are transplants. This is what it should look like:
    http://www.novaresource.org/images/nova07.jpg

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Meh, I had a ’77 Nova that would stall on left-hand turns and whose (admittedly) full-size spare took up half the goddamn trunk.

    Plus it had like 3 friggin keys, not a single double-sided key like every other civilized car in the friggin multiverse.

    Fcuk GM.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    My dad bought a used 1975 Pontiac Ventura 2-door with the Olds 260 V8 with 29k on it in Jan 1977 for $2700. He wouldn’t consider a foreign car (though we had a VW Beetle living in Greece) and thought big cars were a waste of money. The A/C didn’t work (and would never be fixed). The car was as slow as a six, with the gas consumption (15mpg) of a healthy V8…

    Other than being thirsty and slow (though OK by the standards of the late 70s), it was terrific car. It only failed once, when the electronic ignition module died around 1978. It had good steering and brakes and handled very well, a very smooth engine and tranny, not bad-looking, and it felt solid–3599 lbs according to the registration. Eventually it had some rust behind the wheelwells, and when the trans started to slip in 1987 with about 98k miles, I was gone, and the car was given to an acquaintance for $300, who kept it going a few more years.

    It was arguably the most reliable car ever in my family!

    Maybe your next Curbside Classic will be the Ford ‘Fox’—Fairmont and Mustang next. We got one in 1980, 4-cyl 4 speed, and while it was much better on gas and had more room, and was not a lemon, but it was a tin can compared to the Ventura, and had a few problems during its 80k stay, first with my dad and then with me…until my first new car, a 1986 VW GTI, which was (and probably will be) the best all-around car I ever had, though after 90K I had something to fix every 10 to 20 months.

    Thanks for the memory!

  • avatar
    Don C

    The tailights were probably changed because the originals have become hard to find. The 75 up Nova was a quick and dirty design job. They bolted the subframe and front suspension from the 70-up Camaro into the 68-74 Nova chassis. This gave the car better steering due to the steering box being mounted in front of the wheels instead of behind. It also widened the front track width, much wider than the rear, making the car look like the kluge that it is. The rear suspension was pretty much the same as the older Novas. The patch-up design job becomes obvious when you drive one of these with bucket seats, the steering wheel is mis-aligned with the center of the driver’s seat by four inches or so.

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting… and all this time I (seriously) thought GM’s tradition of misaligned steering columns began years later, with the J-cars and L-bodies. (I’m not sure about the Js, but I believe on the L-bodies the steering wheel was also canted away from the driver on the left.)

      That always struck me as a particularly craptastic GM “feature.” If they couldn’t even line up the steering wheel to the seat, what else did they skimp on? Alas, the list was too long to quantify.

    • 0 avatar
      TCragg

      My mother-in-law had a ’91 Grand Am (L-body) with the Iron Duke and a 3-speed auto. The steering wheel was off-centre by about three inches. Very annoying to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      I’d forgotten all about those misaligned steering wheels. GM wasn’t alone in this egregious slap in buyers’ faces as both Ford and Chrysler had more than a few vehicles with this poorly engineered ‘feature’.

      To me, nothing said, “Crap-built American car” than having to drive a car where the steering wheel wasn’t directly in front of the driver. I suspect it was a carryover from years of building big American cars with bench seats where the interior designers and engineers didn’t have to worry so much about passenger compartment steering wheel alignment. So long as the steering wheel was somewhere on the left side of the car, everything was fine. That is, until cars got smaller and had bucket seats where it became real obvious that there wasn’t a lot of effort expended on coordination between design teams.

    • 0 avatar
      bugo

      My 1998 Cavalier’s steering wheel is perfectly lined up.  Maybe they changed it later on.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    In 1981, I drove a Nova from San Francisco to New York. I liked it pretty well. The Nova was just like Paul writes: good to drive, no space inside, low fuel economy. In addition: sooner or later, everything broke. The fuel tank leaked, the exhaust collapsed, the instruments went on strike, the windows either no longer opened or no longer closed, the door sagged. Looking back, it is surprising that a ten-year old model of simplicity could be be so full of problems. It was a much better long-distance car than anything eastern European, but the build quality was similar to Skodas, Ladas and Wartburgs of the time.

  • avatar
    catbert430

    After my first nightmare of a car, a 1974 VW Dasher that I loved to drive on the rare occasions that it wasn’t in the shop, I had a bout of buying only domestics.
    I bought a 1977 Oldsmobile Omega new. It was a clone of the Nova but, with formal padded roof and a 231 Buick V6.

    I really liked it a lot. It was solid and handled reasonably well. The 260 V8 would have been a better choice but, I was still satisfied overall. It was even very good in snow with Winter tires.

    A close friend had a ’77 Nova and I thought it very attractive from the outside but, had plaid seats that I used to make fun of every chance I got. My Omega had light blue velour seats so I felt that my taste was impeccable.

    When I got a company car (1976 Malibu Classic), I gave the Omega to my Mother.

    She wasn’t as fond of it as I was and traded it for a 1979 Cutlass Supreme so I have no idea how it would have held up over the years. It was completely trouble-free from late 1976 – early 1979.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Now you are comparing the Nova to the Accord?

    Uh-no.

    By 1976 all the original compacts were on their way out. Everyone except GM had a newer compact line with new names and higher aspirations than the original compact cars. AMC had their Pacer, Chrysler had it’s new Volare/Aspen, Ford mined the luxury compact market successfully with the Granada/Monarch, leaving the Maverick behind, and Honda had it’s revolutionary Accord.

    Then there was the Nova. GM was lauching awesome downsized large cars by now and the Nova and Malibu were old school. GM demonstrated within the exact showrooms the direction they were taking the Industry with their new full sizes, and few shoppers believed that what was passing as the Nova or the Malibu was long for this world. Chevy even kept the old school names while their refreshed and new compact competition were selling under new names. GM launched brand versions of the Nova at the same time to spread this chassis around and to fill niches here and there. The Nova ended up being called the “Concours” so that it could sport a hood ornament and padded roofs. In 1976 the Nova wasn’t GM’s ground breaking new compact car, like the Accord, the Pacer or even the Ford Granada was. GM wasn’t building a ground-breaking new compact car that year, and shoppers knew it. If you wanted a ground-breaking new car from GM that cost as much as the new Accord, you bought a Chevy Caprice.

    How well did the 1980 Citation compare to the 1980 Accord? That would be about right era, and right moment for each car company. We also know how that came out for both companies.

    The Nova back then was a surprise because few expected the car to be a surprise. It was marketed for conservative drivers replacing their previous Novas or downsizing from their older Chevys. Also a nice car for fleet sales. The Nova wasn’t designed to draw Honda Accord shoppers.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      ‘Dude, have you ever considered where the exploding masses of Japanese car buyers came from in the seventies? Thin air? A large portion were coming from American cars, or would be soon. Yes, they were considering whether to buy a Toyota, Honda, Dodge or Chevy. Several young work colleagues went through this at this time. One bought a Dart, one a Nova, one a VW Rabbit, one bought a Toyota, one a Datsun, etc… And their decision weren’t always solidly entrenched before they went looking.
      Some were attracted to foreign cars, but were hesitant for whatever reason. Other found certain qualities in the domestics to still be desirable.  In the early-mid seventies, these cars really did compete with each other.
       

    • 0 avatar
      wtrooster

      The Concours was just a trim level within the Nova line.They still had the base Nova, SS and Concours. In 1978 the Concours badge became Nova Custom.

  • avatar
    dejal

    Didn’t these things have problems with the rear end over time? I remember tons of them where the back end was tracking a bit to the side compared to the front end making the car look like a crab when running. Looked like a panhard bar had moved or broke.

  • avatar

    The flatter dash on this one makes it a ’77 or ’78. The ’75-’76 dash pad has a pronounced contour change over the instruments.

    http://www.oldcarbrochures.com/main.php?g2_itemId=131361

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    No that is a 75-76. Later Novas no longer used round headlights. Those are Canadian brochures you have linked to, Stu. And it may well be the difference you describe. Quite possible a build out of the previous gen especially because they still used the same cowl IIRC

    • 0 avatar
      supremebrougham

      Actually, if I seem to recall correctly, only the 1979 Novas used square headlights, and the ’79’s ended production in late 1978, so they could begin tooling up for the new X-body. This got me to thinking, I remember as a young child (I would have had to have been only three) going on a tour with my parents and their friends of the GM Willow Run factory where these were built. The plant is located in my old hometown of Ypsilanti, MI. Anyways, I can still remember being placed up into a white Nova coupe that was on the assembly line. It had no interior other than the dashboard, and I was walking around in the car and looking out the side window down at my parents.

      Ah, memories…

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    Oh yes, those crazy Brazilians and their stovebolts…

    http://www.opalasp.com.br/galerias.php

    http://www.opalaclube.com/2009/fotos.php

  • avatar

    Only the short-run ’79 had rectangular headlamps – I’ve never understood why they bothered. There were no differences between Canadian and US versions at this point.

  • avatar
    LectroByte

    Those 60s-era taillights over that monstrosity bumper… just wrong.

    They seemed pretty popular, I can remember a lot of friends and neighbors having them, including a metallic-green v8 4-speed that seemed to survive the kind of abuse that only high-schoolers can give a car. What was his dad thinking back then? I also remember a camper-tent-option for the hatchback, but it’s possible I am thinking of some other car.

  • avatar
    ChevyIIfan

    Can I talk to the owner and buy this one? Talk about getting a great investment, get it and fix it up, worth some serious $. I would LOVE to get one like this. Or you could try that with the Accord… oh wait, you can’t, because there are non of those around anymore (in any quantity). I guess the Nova was built a little bit better than the Accord after all. :)

    BTW, these are awesome cars. My father has a ’78 Custom, had it custom built, had to wait 9 weeks for it. It turns 32 in April, and has the 305 4 speed, w/ the F-41 suspension. Car handles great on the track. Car still gets 24 mpg today (It’s a flawless showcar, very much unlike this CC).

    • 0 avatar
      thirty-three

      There’s an Accord a few blocks from my house – still runs.

      My uncle used to have two Novas, one for himself and one for my aunt. Both rusted away long ago, and I live on the west coast!

    • 0 avatar
      Joel

      Actually, that *is* a good point. Why do we still see these around (Oregon and other non-salt states) and not too many Accords? Not to say there aren’t any, but my feeling is that there’s more Novas around than Accords. Or I could be completely off base, either way, I’ll take my answer off the air.

    • 0 avatar
      ChevyIIfan

      Nah Joel, you’re not off base. There are orders of magnitude more Novas of this gen around than Japanese cars.Check out e-bay motors, auction sites, or any other marketplace. There is currently 1 Accord between 1976-1989 on ebay right now. There are currently 11 ’76-79 Novas available. Ssssh.. its the Japanese dirty little secret… they don’t really last as long as the supporters claim they do. Meanwhile the old GM iron keeps on plugging away. This is partially because Chevy parts are cheap, and the Honda/Toyota parts will make you broke quicker than a drunken binge in Vegas, lol.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      There are more Novas around today because there are a ton of parts – both stock and modified – available to replace something that gives up the ghost. Plus, a Nova is relatively easy to repair compared to an Accord.

      There aren’t more Novas around today because it was a better-built or more reliable car than an Accord.

      Remember that the Accord still sold in relatively small numbers in the 1970s. It was a big success for HONDA. I’ll bet that in raw numbers, this generation of Nova still handily outsold comparable Accords for each year they were both on the market – and that’s not counting the Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac variants that shared parts under the skin.

      Still, these weren’t bad cars for the time. A little more refinement, a LOT more care in assembly, and some better materials, and GM would have really had a great family sedan for the late 1970s.

    • 0 avatar
      wtrooster

      Sounds like my car ! Are you my Son ?

  • avatar
    nova73

    My TTAC logon probably is a dead giveaway on my opinion of the Nova. The green ’73 hatchback I drove through high school, college and beyond was my first and so far most memorable car, despite its overall obsolescence. I never got to drive an example of the ’75-79 generation, but these cars were somewhat aspirational for me. My thinking at the time (early 1980s) was that if my Nova died I would replace it with a late 1970s model. The attraction was their reputation for better handling and wider availability of front disc brakes and a/c. If I ever acquired one, I would have done a few mods. For starts, disconnect the seat belt buzzer. Next, I would have “desmogged” it by removing the air pump and blocking the passages, and having my mechanic friend help me replace the cat con with a straight pipe. Probably rip off the vinyl roof, if so afflicted.

    By 1987, with my Nova still running strong, I replaced it with a 1980 Century V-6. My main motivation was to get into an air conditioned car. Looking back, I should have installed an aftermarket A/C in the Nova and driven it another 7 years.

    I actually preferred the Nova over the Accord. The Nova parts were cheaper and easier to replace. Though the Accord was reliable, the Novas seemed to have a higher abuse quotient. And mechanics cursed the complicated and expensive Accord carburetor. To a young person of limited means, the Nova was the better alternative. The Accord was for girls, rich kids and yuppies.

  • avatar
    gasser

    My Dad was one of the “buy American” die hards. He had had a succession of not so great Ford/Mercury sedans and decided to go for a ’76 Nova 4 door with the 302 V8. My brother-in -law was good friends with a Chevy dealer who did him a solid by having my Dad’s new car “gone over by the mechanic” prior to delivery. The dealer later told us that 2 men had spent an entire day prepping the car. It ran great on delivery. It did, however, develop all the problems and maladies this generation Nova had to offer. By ’82 Dad threw in the towel and moved on to an Accord. He never looked back. It took over 20 years for anyone in our family to buy another American car. Our local Cadillac dealer told me that the ’76 Seville had been built on a stretched Nova frame. Any truth to that rumor??

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    re: Stumcallister and DweezilSFV

    The Nova in the feature is 76-78. The 75s had slightly smaller front turn signals and a different grille. The 75s also had a long horizontal speedometer.

    Interestingly, the downsized 77 Impala/Caprice had the horizontal speedo before going round in 78.

    Any experts out there who know if the 76 came with horizontal or round instruments?

    • 0 avatar

      See my link above – the combination of the flat dash (with the round instruments) and round headlights make this a ’77 or ’78.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Stu: I have to apologize. I tried to get the moderators to delete my comment as I realized I was wayyyy off in my response.

      BTW: I love that old car brochures web site and the Old Car Manual Project.

      Again: forgive my bad memory and apologies for incorrectly correcting your observation.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    At my high school, a couple of friends had the previous gen Novas, but another buddy’s dad had the Olds version the Omega. This one was a 1978 4 door and had the 305 & automatic with dual exhausts. We found that the Omega had quite the chassis and plenty of power for the smog days of the late ’70’s, when we could flat out run away from the then standard issue late 70’s Plymouth Fury’s that so many PD’s bought back then.

    My buddy was so impressed with the Omega, he tried to find another RWD X body for himself, but all he could afford (and afford to insure) at the time was a six cylinder Nova. It moved so slow, he dubbed it the Nova-caine. No kidding. But, the car lasted for close to 10 years in his care, we eventually renamed it the Atomic Cockroach, as we thought nothing short of a nuclear blast was going to kill the car. Eventually rust took it’s toll and the Atomic Cockroach met it’s end in a boneyard.

    @gasser: Yes, the first gen Sevilles were on a stretched, reinforcrd X body chassis. And by all accounts, it held up very well.

    I’m finding that my spelling is getting worse with each Irish whiskey I’m having to celebrate St. Patty’s Day. I quit.

  • avatar
    rmwill

    I had a 1972 2 door 307 with 2 speed Powerglide from summer 1984 until mid 1988. Mint 25K mile old lady mobile. Navy blue; black vinyl top; cloth bench seats. Stripped. I had it South Chicago-Hyde Park during college. Car was a drive anywhere anytime urban warrior. Brother crashed and destroyed it weeks after I gave it to him. I still think he is dick for that.

  • avatar
    NoChryslers

    I thought the GM compact coupes looked great with their Landau roofs….I must be in the minority.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    I owned a ’78 Buick Skylark and have to say that these are the cars that sent people literally running to Honda & Toyota. They all suffered from weak rear springs that eventually broke and most dog-tracked. The 231 V6 in mine has was a miserable engine.

    What blows me away is that the ’81 Olds Cutlass I bought to replace that turd was a great car. It’s hard for me to beleive that both were built by GM.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      We, too bought an ’81 Cutlass. Our family’s first GM in a long time. It was a pretty good car. Of course, there was one weak spot and that was GM’s CCC electronic carb. It just didn’t stay in tune for very long. When set just so the car ran really well, but six months later it would drift out of calibration and the result was heavy pinging and hesitation on acceleration. We sold it with 90K to a hot-rodder guy who promptly ripped out the 231 and installed a 350 with a standard carb. We used to see (and hear!) the car until the late ’90s…

      Have to note that while the Novas had their issues, I don’t see much interest in the restoration of Accords…but I can’t help but wonder what changes to history there would be had GM really sweated the details on this car…really bolting it together properly and using high quality materials. Simple and well built…kind of what the Corolla was for years…

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Mine was a 71 2dr 307 with 3 spd on the floor. upgrade bucket seat interior. posi rear end. Bought it new per my order. Great simple fun car. Had it 12 yrs. When I sold it a couple of guys were interested as a beater work car, then an 18 year old came by all excited to get it, sold it to him for less money. Saw it around town for a few years.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    http://www.oldcarbrochures.com/main.php

    Great tip, thanks!

    Trivia: X-body family –
    N = Nova
    O = Omega
    V = Ventura (nee Phoenix)
    A = Apollo (nee Skylark)

    Regarding the Granada, while it was a mini-LTD comfort-wise, wasn’t it and the Maverick based on the 1960 Falcon chassis (albeit massaged?). The Fairmont (Fox platform) was much more modern…

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Above all, the late-70s Nova symbolizes how little GM cared about the compact car market. During the 1970s each of the Big Four tried to squeeze exceptionally long production cycles from its compacts, but GM was No. 1 in the negligence parade: 1968-1979.

    It’s not like the Nova had been a particularly good car even when it was introduced. More so than Ford, Chrysler and AMC, GM saw its compacts as price leaders designed to get people into the showrooms with the hope that they would drive out with a larger, more expensive car. Even the mid-70s attempts to dress up the Nova (and add models for Pontiac, Olds and Buick) were half-hearted compared to efforts by the rest of the Big Four.

    Ford offers the most interesting comparison. In mid-1969 it replaced its aging Falcon with the Maverick. Although the Maverick was little more than a shorter and decontented late-60s Mustang, it had fresh styling and a lower price than the Nova. Ford recognized early on that compact buyers increasingly wanted up-scale features, so in 1975 it can out with the Granada. That car was based upon the Maverick platform (it even shared the same wheelbase), but looked like a small LTD. The top-end Nova was completely outclassed.

    Not surprisingly, for 1976 the Ford-brand compacts utterly demolished the Nova in sales. Yet GM didn’t lift a finger. The Nova soldiered on virtually unchanged until 1980. Sure, in 1978 GM effectively downsized the Malibu to compact dimensions, but the price point was quite a bit higher. And we all remember how the Citation, the Nova’s direct replacement, turned out.

  • avatar
    Joel

    I still find it flabbergasting that this was considered a compact car in its time. From looking at todays compacts, the compacts of olde really look more like mid-sized cars. But maybe that’s just me talking up nonsense again.

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      This’ll flip your wig, my ‘midsized’ 77 Chevelle/Malibu sedan is slightly longer than an Expedition, has the same leg/head room as my ’95 Explorer and my old ‘6000-STE, and has a 16 cuft trunk.

      The compact Dodge Dart from ’74 is the same length as my Chevelle, and has even less interior space, but a gigantic trunk.

      These cars weren’t light, as they were only about 300 pounds lighter than the mid-sizers, nor were that that much smaller or efficent, they were just cheaper and not in a good way.

  • avatar
    big_gms

    @ tomLU86: “Interestingly, the downsized 77 Impala/Caprice had the horizontal speedo before going round in 78.”

    The downsized Impala/Caprice had the horizontal speedometer from 1977 well into the 1980’s; the round gauges were an extra cost option during those years. My ’79 Caprice had the horizontal speedometer. The horizontal speedometer was combined with a round fuel gauge on the left and a round cluster of warning lights on the right.

    StuMcAllister is absolutely correct about the vintage of this Nova. I dug out my Car Spotter’s Bible and narrowed it down to one year. Flat dash/round gauges + older style steering wheel = 1977. 1975-76 models had a more contoured dash with horizontal speedometer. 1978-79 models had the flat dash with round gauges like this one, but had a redesigned, more modern (and better looking) steering wheel. The 1978 model also had the Chevy “bowtie” emblem above the grille, which this one lacks. And the ’79 was the only one to have rectangular headlights.

    @gasser: According to what I’ve read, the first generation Cadillac Seville was indeed built on the Nova platform.

  • avatar
    big_gms

    I just happened to notice that the seats in this car don’t look right: the headrests are missing.

  • avatar
    riko

    Think the tail lights come from a mid-60’s Chevy Biscane (SP?) Think ’65.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I took my driver’s test in my grandpappy’s 1972 Nova coupe. I remember it being an agile little car (pre 5mph bumpers), and a not terrible handler due to it’s light weight. But the 6 was anemic at best, and the power steering was the worst of both worlds – slow ratio and way over-boosted; I almost failed my driver’s test by going too slow through the slalom!

    No fair on the taillight swap, BTW :-)

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I’ll never forget when we owned our used car dealership in the early 90’s having several 80’s automatic Accords traded in. Every one came back within a few weeks with a shot auto trans and a messed up carburetor with 500 vacuum lines runnign everywhere. After 3 automatic transmission replacements and thousands of dollars later on carb replacement we took any 70’s or 80’s Honda to the Auction and laughed all the way to the bank because suckers were by that time paying obscene amounts of money for these money pits. I’ll never forget when the dealer up the street bought a Civic with 80K miles at said auction right in front of us and paid thousands for it. Well to make a long story short when we went to his place the next day to see how he made out the little Civic was sitting on a flatbed with the hood popped. The timing belt grenaded causing the valves to collide with the pistons meaning a new engine was in order. He never bought a timing belt car without physical inspection again.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    My uncle owned a 67 pea green valiant with slant 6, 3 on the tree and manual steering and brakes with 135k on it.
    He traded it for a brand new 77 nova with 305 and three speed manual on the floor, power steering and brakes. It wasn’t long before he started wishing he had bought another A-body mopar.

  • avatar
    davey49

    I would like to think I would have bought a good ol reliable Nova as a new car back in ’76 but I probably would have gone for a Monza or a Mustang II

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    I’m surprised no one brought up what nova means in spanish.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      “nova” means exactly the same thing in Spanish as in English. “no va”, two separate words, means doesn’t go. The myth about “nova” being misnamed for Latin America has been popped numerous times. Time to let it die the death it deserves.
      BTW, the myth was made up by Spanish language ad folks to point out how it was important to choose correct words in Latin America. They just happened to pick the wrong word for their example. And the Nova was never sold in Latin America.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Check it out.
    http://www.snopes.com/business/misxlate/nova.asp

  • avatar
    AnthonyG

    What I think we all miss out this talk of the energy crisis was that, by about late 1975, the oil ‘crisis’ had subsided and in 76,77,78, and most of 79, for most people economy cars were not what they wanted. It was only after the second oil shock of late 79 that people’s perceptions of what they wanted in a car, and which manufacturers supplied that type of car best, changed permanently.

    In 1975 to 79 they wanted bigger, but not gigantic, cars – see the success of things like the Monte Carlo, Thunderbird, Regal/Cutlass/Malibu, and Mustang II which were all churned out by the million in the mid to late 1970s. GM were right in that intermediate was the popular segement of the 1970s.

    Besides, early VW Golfs/Rabbits were dogs, and in Europe, the first Accords were incredibly rust prone and hampered by their size/price combination – the size of a Ford Escort with the price of a Ford Cortina (a very popular family 4 dr sedan of the 1970s, I guess equivalent to a Torino)

    Both cars got a hell of lot better in the early 1980s, the second generation Accord was almost unrecognisable, a far superior car, and a proper mid-size car in european terms. The mildly facelifted Golf , from about 1980 on, and the Mark 2 one from 84 were also excellent cars.

  • avatar
    NickR

    I still think the 76 Nova SS was one of the only handsome/sporty looking cars GM managed to produce in the 70s (especially the late 70s). The 75 was almost as good but didn’t have quite as cool a grill.

    There was one in sort of a burnt orange in my neighbourhood for a long time and I always liked the look of it.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    You are correct, AnthonyG. No one wanted samll cars in the 70’s. The majority of people wanted full or at least mid sized cars. Most people who bought small cars used them as a second car for the wife, or they bought them for their kids to learn to drive on or to drive in college.
    Guys who drove small cars in those days were either very poor,just plain cheap or geeky, and a small car was certainly not a chick magnet.
    Another fact is that the downsized 77 chevy was down on sales a little compared to 76.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    No, I have not yet been to California. From what I understand though, california probably had more small car buyers than anyone else.
    But it was pretty well obvious in the 70’s that most people bought mid sized or large cars. The fullsized chevy was usually the biggest seller, followed by the fullsized ford. Sometimes times the midsized cutlass was the best seller. And most people with more than a couple of children that did any amount of traveling had some type of station wagon.
    History has shown time and time again that when fuel is cheap people do not want small cars, look at the truck and suv boom.

  • avatar
    MichaelJLouie

    This is a response to Paul, the author, indicating falsely that the Nova is a good driving car. I happened to know better as this was my first car behind the wheel. I first drove a 1977 Nova and later the newly downsized 1978 Malibu Classic in HS driver ed for a semester. I still remember the back and neckaches I got after driving the 1977 Nova with its harsh and bouncy ride, hard to turn steering and difficult braking. When the dealer took back the Nova and substituted the newly release 1978 Malibu Classic, it was simply day and night. (Back in those days before liability issues, the dealers would lend out cars to HS driver ed training as a way of advertising.) The new Malibu was simply better appointed, more quiet, easier to drive, and better built overall. It truly made the process of getting my driver license more fun and less of a chore. Yes, to me, driving that Nova was a chore. As for the first generation Accord, a typical Nova buyer would NOT be able to afford the Accord as it was at least a $1000 to $1500 higher or even appreciate the sophisication of this car. That Accord was marketed more as a little Mercedes with its better build quality and rounded corners and roof mouldings similar to the Mercedes coupes of the time. It is because of American compact cars like the Nova, Valiant, and Maverick with their harsh ride and crude features that people turned to foreign cars. Definitely, a Nova is not a car I lust after in that era like a 1976 Seville or 1976 Ford Granada Ghia.


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