By on June 28, 2012

The fifth-gen Chevy Nova was built at California’s NUMMI plant for the 1985 through 1988 model years, prior to becoming the Geo and then the Chevrolet Prizm. The Nova was really a rebadged AE82 Corolla, and so most of them managed to survive into the turn of the 21st century. By now, however, a NUMMI Nova is a rare sight; we saw a trustifarian ’87 hatchback in California last winter, and now this well-preserved sedan has appeared in a Denver self-service yard.
Just over 100,000 miles on the clock, which comes out to a mere 4,000 miles per year. The car doesn’t have That Distinctive Dust-and-Rodent-Whizz Smellâ„¢ that usually accompanies cars that sat for decades before getting scrapped, so perhaps this was just an around-town transport appliance that was driven very sparingly. Or maybe it spun a rod bearing in 1994 and has spent the last 18 years in a climate-controlled garage.
One difference between the Nova and the Corolla is the Delco stereo that went into the Chevrolet. In 1988, Novas and Corollas went down the same assembly line together at NUMMI.
Another example of the workhorse 4A engine, which powered everything from AE86 Corollas to MR2s.
Like the Corollas we dread renting today, this was a perfectly competent refrigerator-white vehicle with bland semi-comfortable interior and a low Fun Quotient. Still, a significant piece of automotive history.


Chevrolet’s marketers made the connection between the ’77 Nova (of the same sort that I once drove) and the ’87 in this ad. The tone of the ad is (non-GTS-grade) Corolla soporific, which seems appropriate.

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21 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1987 Chevrolet Nova Sedan...”


  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Lemons candidate? Wedge a 3800 in there and go!!

  • avatar
    brettc

    A woman on my street was having some work done to her house in the spring. One of the workers drove an 80s Nova hatchback. It appeared to be in decent shape and was repainted by hand because you could see the brush marks. I was surprised that it was still sticker-able being an 80s Toyota driven in Maine.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Other than the crunched right rear quarter panel, it looks to be in remarkably good shape overall.

    I don’t see this iteration of the Nova as much but still see the Prizms though as I do the early 90s era Carollas.

    BTW, had a ’78 version of your 2 door Nova once too! They were remarkable in that they actually did very well in the snow with the right stuff bolted on. It appeared I had the Posi rear in mine along with the 305 V8 and autobox. I had to drive it in bad snow storm that hit the Puget Sound area in ’85 and it handled the snow pretty much like it didn’t exist (except when it turned to ice as sun set and the temps fell) and when it was all over, over 12″ of the white stuff fell that week.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I looked at these when they were new. Very tinny, but better than an AMC Alliance. Obviously they lasted much longer, too.

    At the time, we needed something larger, so we just made do with our 1981 Reliant and 1984 E-Class…

  • avatar
    Synchromesh

    That same exact stereo was in my first car – ’87 Buick Skyhawk wagon. I remember swapping it out for a version with tape player I assembled out of 2 junkyard ones.

    Both my dad and my uncle had these Novas in mid 1990s. My uncle loved them so much he had 2, one for himself, another one for wife. My dad had a dark gray one with a manual transmission which he managed to total pretty quickly trying to avoid a dog on the highway. His next car was an ’87 Buick Skyhawk wagon. ;)

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Holy crap, a 1985 Celebrity is visible on pic #17…haven’t seen one of those in a while.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    With a little body work and engine repair this could be out providing wheels to someone who just needs basic transportation, what a waste!

    • 0 avatar
      chicagoland

      After 25 years, I am sure more parts are needed, like replacing worn rubber gaskets and seals. For same $ spent to get this on the road, someone who needs ‘basic trans’ can get a 1995 era Corolla with air bags.

      Even poorer car buyers will gfo for something newer, and they don’t care about ‘saving older cars’ for emotional sake.

  • avatar
    cadarette

    I had this exact car back in 2002, with 100,000 miles. I did absolutely no maintenance to it whatsoever, never even so much as checked the oil. Yet, it started flawlessly every sub-zero winter morning. Occasionally, I would have to rear back my right leg and kick the center stack multiple times to get the radio to work. And I would need to turn off the AC to make it up long inclines at highway speed. I kind of miss it – it would be a solid winter car here in New England. I sold it for $200.

  • avatar
    Zarf

    Wow, I had a 1985, Dark Grey Nova, 5 spd manual and no radio or air.
    It was my first brand new car and I loved it.
    I actually used to autocross it on Sunday afternoons. Granted I was in H stock and had a whole 78 (or was it 87) horsepower but I still have 3 trophies from the fun afternoons.

    Died at 117K miles when I blew a hole in the head between the 1 and 2 cylinders about 6 years later.

  • avatar
    C. Alan

    I bet the ding in the back is the reason it is in the salvage yard. An insurance company totaled it.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Shame no one has taken out to at least export to So America. or the Caribbean

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I disagree that this car was as bad as the current Corolla. In it’s day, this was relatively a much more up-to-date and dare I say it, fun, car relative to its competition. The current Corollas ONLY good attribute is its alleged cockroach reliabilty. No fun, ugly, nasty inside, and a low tech engine and ancient 4spd slushbox when the competition have all moved on. The ’80s version actually had a nice interior, was decent looking, and was fun to drive with a level of tech on par with its competition.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    You learn Something new every day. In Australia Holden,GMs subsidiary here built a corolla in the early 80.s which had a Holden Six with two cylinders cut off the front. It was seriously horrible engine known as a 4X. I haven’t seen one for almost 20 years as they were the worst engine toyota ever put their name too and most self destructed early on. This would have been a more sensible approach to counter Australia’s local content rules for manufacturers although we had later corrollas with Nova bagdes and Commodores (your pontiac GTO ancestor) with Toyota Lexan badges.

    • 0 avatar
      silverkris

      Wasn’t that the Button Plan cars which were rebadging between GM, Toyota and other motor vehicle manufacturers? Heard it wasn’t all that popular.

  • avatar
    Syke

    These were the Novas that Consumer Reports was screaming at its readership to go and buy. Chevy dealers were dealing, if anybody would bother to look. At the time, a Corolla was selling from anywhere between $400 (Johnstown, PA) to $1200 (DC area) over sticker . . . . . and the Chevrolet dealers couldn’t give the Nova away. The Japanese buyers wouldn’t be caught dead driving a Chevy, and the American buyers didn’t want no “little rebadged Toyota”.

    And you wonder why the Geo marque came about?

  • avatar
    dave-the-rave

    Is it just me or does the ’77 look like a lot more car?

  • avatar
    Maintainer

    Give me the 77 Nova from the 87 ad. Looks like it was set up nice, GR-60s and all!

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    Destroyed one of these about ten years ago at a friend’s land in Central MN. Got it for $75. Painted big #3 on doors and such.

    About half way through the rally, the temp gauge pegged. Stopped the car, was amazed to be able to see through the radiator. The fins had rotted away over years of neglect; had to stop every so often and hose off the front of the car just to not overheat! lol

    Left it to my friend who made $50 on scrap after brick party. Went for 45min I guess with no oil. Wow.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    This was my first car! I’m a real young guy (turning 21 in July) and I didn’t get my license until I was 18. Back in summer 2011, after unsuccessful Craigslist searches, we found a solid little 1987 Nova 4 door literally in someone’s driveway for a thousand bucks. It was a solid little car…sorta. The engine was reliable…once you got it pumped up and started,it had an okay automatic transmission, the doors all worked, the lights all worked…but it had already gotten a pretty decent case of the tin worm. And, despite having factory air conditioning, the previous owner had removed the compressor.

    Fast forward a bit more than a year, and I was noticing a strange clattering noise from somewhere under the car. Sure enough, on the way home from a grocery trip, I lost all power to the front wheels. Transmission had gone dead, clearly the clattering I had heard was various transmission components turning into metallic mulch.

    It was so sad watching the little blue block get hoisted up onto the flatbed…but it would have cost at least a thousand bucks to fix up. Now I drive a 1995 Buick Skylark coupe with the 3100 V6 and a beat up interior.


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