By on July 12, 2011

Remember the early Nova hatchbacks? They didn’t sell very well, probably because the hatch cost $150 more ($810 in 2011 dollars) than the Nova coupe with a traditional trunk. I can’t remember the last time I saw one, and I wouldn’t have noticed this one in my local self-service yard, had it not been for the sharp eyes of the Tetanus Neon LeMons team co-captains, visiting Denver from Houston and stopping at the junkyard on their way to the airport for some Neon throttle-body shopping.

This car, while reasonably rust-free, is probably too beat to have been worth restoring; while the Nova hatches of this era are rare, they aren’t worth enough to warrant pouring lots of money into a project car.

The 307 small-block-Chevy was the standard V8 available with the ’73 Nova, although there’s no telling how many engine swaps this car endured during its nearly four decades on the road.

This car was surrounded by a moat of icky, oily mud (Denver is in the grip of an unseasonably wet and humid July), so I wasn’t motivated to climb into (or under) the car and check for the presence of a Powerglide transmission. ’73 was the last year of the ol’ two-speed automatic in the Nova, which would make a Powerglide-equipped hatchback an interesting mix of 1950s transmission and 1980s body style.

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50 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1973 Chevrolet Nova Hatchback...”

  • avatar

    Sure! I remember it!
    Many cars of this era had huge C pillars and exaggerated sloping back window treatments. A hatch option would have been a natural for them. GM did this because it had to. Hatchbacks generated new interest in small cars after the 1973 Oil Crisis forced new car buyers into smaller cars. GM needed another hatch fast, and the Nova body style was a natural fit.

    The Vega was a showroom zombie, buyers knew it’s flesh would rot before they got it home and that it had an engine weaker than Dick Cheney’s heart. The tombstone for Vega was already written. GM, along with other auto manufacturers, turned the market on by putting practical hatches on small cars with the Vega. With the Vega market shriveling, GM needed to offer another small hatch. The Nova became the Vega alternative for this year.

    GM already had a redesign for the Vega and Nova, but with the Vega market imploding, the Nova hatch was shoved out the door. It is rare. But not because the market was not there. It was. The new Nova was designed with a hatch option, and the new Vega, the Monza, was also designed with a hatch. The Nova hatch for this model year was market insurance for GM.

    So what you are seeing here is what happens when an auto manufacturer’s model fails and another model is recruited to shore up the auto manufacturer’s sales efforts.

    • 0 avatar

      The Monza was one of the most awfully-crafted(?) cars I have ever seen – worse than the Vega, if that was possible! I’ve seen the hatch hinges simply pop off – they were spot-welded on! A flimsy heap if there ever was one.

      • 0 avatar

        That Nova hatch is an amazing find. I would love an Apollo with stick and a V6. A buddy had straight six Nova with a turboglide, other than a tempermental distributer in the wet, it bone reliable.

        The welds – very sad. Didn’t have to happen. Cold spot welds are preventable, GM had/has the know how to prevent them. I wonder if they’ve gotten any better at it – from what I saw on the H2, I doubt it.

    • 0 avatar

      I have one in the process of restoring now…sure would like to know where this one is and if it is still there. I could use some parts from it. I have the unibody off the front now and just finishing it. Everyting has been stripped and either powder coated or painted with industrial two part paint to match the powder coating. All new parts and bushings, everyting new, been quite a project and still have a long way to go with the body yet. Just had the transmission rebuilt and the 350 V8 will be my winter project to rebuild. I am looking for a 1973 Nova SS Hatchback assembly manual if anybody happens to know where I can find one. I am the second owner of this car, my daughter-in-law’s aunt bought it in Festus Missouri and brought it to Nebraska, I bought it and took it back to Missouri then brought it back to Nebraska so it has had 2 Missouri titles and this is the second Nebraska title, which the VIN states it is a Custom Series Nova. Awesome cars……

  • avatar

    A friend of mine bought one of these. Four of us went camping one weekend in the mid-70’s. No tents. Well, after sleeping on a hillside the first night, I decided to sleep in the back of his car. About midnight a thunderstorm brewed up and it began pouring buckets! Guess where everyone ended up? One guy slept in his Jeep CJ5! (I have no idea how), the hatch flew open and one guy crowded next to me, the other guy slept across the front seat. AT LEAST THE REAR WINDOWS STILL ROLLED DOWN so I could get a little air back there! Slept quite nicely, too!

    Murilee, if you REALLY want to impress us, find a Dodge or Plymouth “Convertriple”! Remember them? A Duster or Dart with the same type hatch.

    EDIT: The “Convertriple” did not have a hatch, but a standard trunk lid, but the rear seat folded down. Thanks, VanillaDude, for correcting me!

    • 0 avatar

      That reminds me – GM offered a hatchback tent option for this car, decades before the Aztek tent option.

      I remember seeing it as a kid in 1974 and thinking it made a lot of sense.

      Here it is!

      And the Chrysler products did not have a hatch option – they had to make due with a fold down back seat only. The Volare/Aspen was the first Detroit built hatch from Chrysler. The term “convertriple” referred to the fact that these Duster/Darts had a sun roof, plus the folding back seat. So – it was a convertible, a sport sedan, AND a station wagon! Three cars in one – a triple! Woohoo! Chrysler spent years milking that old body style. It was their smallest domestic car and it was too big and too old to compete head on – so Chrysler generated years of silly modifications and rebadges for them.

  • avatar

    When my wife and I were dating, 30 years ago, she owned a ’74 hatchback. A Bicentennial edition in red, white and blue; a rust-free Southern car…not all that remarkable driving or powerful despite a 350 2-bbl and TH350. It developed that “dog-walking” thing all Novas of that era exhibited way back when, the pin locating the axle on the rear leaf spring would break or fall out and the rear axle would slide back & forth.

    I don’t remember what other maladies it had…but it needed other mechanical work…and at the same time, my daily driver was a ’57 Chevy. We both knew the Nova would be collectible but one project (the ’57) was enough. Her parents had a farm at the time so it could be stored in a hay barn, but we needed a trade-in even more…so the Nova was traded for a ’75 Monza with the 262 V8 and a 4-speed…and a new ritual of annual brake jobs.

    Thanks for the junkyard memories!

    • 0 avatar

      Wouldn’t a Bicentennial Edition be a ’76 model? You would think, but, stranger things have happened.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s easy to think of this trim as a Bicentenial Edition, but The “Spirit of America” option was offered in 1974 on the Nova, Vega and I think the Malibu (I may be wrong about the mailbu, it might have been the caprice).

        It was a white car, special red and blue pinstriping and different rallye wheel caps – like the SS Novas in 74, I think all the Spirit of America Novas were hatchbacks.

        Oddly, I don’t think this trim wasn’t available in 1976.

  • avatar

    I’d love to find one of these and “backdate” it to the much prettier ’68-’72 grille and bumpers. GM, in all their cost-saving glory, didn’t actually change sheetmetal (other than the C-pillars and taillight panel, slightly) for the boxier ’73-’74 X-body cars; they merely added urethane filler panels to close the gaps. Here in rust country, though, the hatchbacks’ extra-large body opening was just an invitation for more salt water to get in and rot the car.

    I’ve also always wanted to do the same with a ’73-’76 Dart Sport and the ’67-’69 Dart front end, since Chrysler did the same, resurrecting the ’67-’69 Dart fenders (and the ’69 Barracuda hood) for the ’73-’76 Dart’s “beaked” nose.

  • avatar

    Brings back memories of the Buick Apollo hatchback with the 350 V8 I had. Loved that vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      I see your Apollo and raise you an Olds Omega and Pontiac Ventura.

      Grandma had the 6cyl met green 4dr early ’70s Nova up to ’79 and a friend’s older brother had the 2dr hatch back version in the early 1980s.

      Sadly rust got all of these fairly quick in the coastal NJ area especially Grandma’s who lived 1 block from the beach. I remember my uncle (her son) painting her car every three years back then- both to keep it intact- and so he could have her pay for enough paint to do two cars. He would use the extra on whatever POS car he was working on at the moment. She bought a new car in ’79 (a ’79 Nova 4dr 6cyl) when she sold the beach-area monster 3 story 7 bdrm house and got a small 3brdrm rancher a couple of miles inland. Of course the scammy uncle was given the now rust ridden old Nova until he junked it 4-5 years later…

  • avatar

    When I was going to college in Buffalo, the pot dealer in our dorm owned a ’73 hatchback with the 307 V8. I drove it a few times and it was gutless, even though it looked racy, with yellow paint and oversized rear tires and mags that hit the fenders over potholes.

    The vehicle’s best attribute was that hatch. It could handle a staggering amount of Bradors malt liquor (6% alcohol) from weekly visits to Fort Erie, Canada.

    Luckily, the U.S. Customs agents weren’t focused on anything else that might have secretly been stored in the floor boards or door panels.

  • avatar

    1950s Powerglides are alive, and very well on our dragstrips.

    • 0 avatar

      I never had an issue with the Powerglide tranny, but I was never a hot-rodder, either – too cheap!

    • 0 avatar

      I think the drag racers are all running 1960s Aluminum Powerglides. I may be wrong, but I think the cast iron version was replaced with the lighter aluminum one in 1962?

      The Powerglide was supposed to be gone before 1973, but a fire in the factory that built the Turbohydromatics meant they were is short supply for part of the year, so Powerglides it was for the Nova.

  • avatar

    I saw one this weekend at the local car show – I’d forgotten that they existed.

  • avatar

    I did not know these existed – sweet!

    This is a body style that needs to come back. The fastback rooflines of today’s sedans would be a natural for a hatch and would make trunk access so, so much better.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem is, just like this Nova, even if there’s no styling penalty (since Americans presumably hate the typical boxy hatchback), people just won’t choose it, if it’s not the default choice, especially if it costs a few bucks more. Mazda tried to do it with the first-generation Mazda6. The hatch looked identical to the sedan and most people didn’t even know it existed until they saw one with the liftgate up.

      There’s also, as with so many other things these days, an NVH penalty that car makers aren’t willing to take when you eliminate the cross-brace running between the C-pillars. This is why even though the majority of coupes are fastbacks, only the 370Z and Scion tC are hatches, and the rest get mailslot trunks. The 370Z gets by with a floor hump between the rear shock towers (you’ll recall the 350Z had an obnoxiously large brace there); the tC is based on a car that’s sold as a 5-door or a wagon overseas (the Avensis) and is thus overbuilt and heavy for its size.

      • 0 avatar

        “Mazda tried to do it with the first-generation Mazda6.”

        Anyone remember the Corsica 4dr hatchback? I saw one in person just once and it made sense though still it was a Corsica.

      • 0 avatar

        How about the SEAT Toledo Mk1, circa 1991? That was one massiv hatchback opening. And, yes, it was based on the Mk2 Jetta.

  • avatar

    No, the Bicentennial Edition was a ’74 model. I think there were other white Chevy models (Vega? Impala?) with red and blue stripes. My college roomate’s girlfriend had one.

    The Nova was completely redesigned for 1975 (with Camaro/Firebird front suspension) and I don’t think they offered a Bicentennial model.

    Bicentennial marketing/promotion went on for 2 years or more in advance of the Big Day. CBS ran a daily “Bicentennial Minute” every day starting in late ’73 or early ’74 and, if my hazy memory is correct, went on at least until the end of 1976.

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    The Novas of the era were prized in the muscle car arena -here’s a guy who mourned the loss of his 72 Nova but came back in a big way later on…

  • avatar

    windswords – one other thought: “Bicentennial Edition” would have been consistent with Chevy’s red, white, and blue “baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet” advertising theme of the time.

    In the Seventies, you had to sell paint jobs and patriotism because you couldn’t sell power.

  • avatar

    These cars were perfect for boinking the girlfriend in.

  • avatar

    If I were to build a musclecar, this car would be my go-to. Why? My wife uses a wheelchair and most of the commonly seen collector cars like Torinos, Camaros, Darts and Mustangs have tiny mailbox sized trunks with no way to squeeze her folding chair in past the lid. I could put in a 350 4 barrel, headers and a TH400 and live quite happily with it. The only thing I think I would do otherwise would be to swap out the front bumper and grill for those from a ’68.

  • avatar

    The Bicentennial edition was in fact a ’74, they came in white and dark blue though the white color was more common. There was also an Impala version. I worked for a Chevrolet Dealer from ’72 until ’74 and remember them clearly.

    The hatchback Nova of this era was not as popular as the notchback and were not seen as often. In typical Chevrolet quality control of the era, the gas struts that hold up the hatch would quit prematurely and it made for a maddening head bonking experience.

    I worked on many of these cars back in that period and they were pretty reliable & solid if not too exciting. Biggest complaint that I can recall was regarding the general cheapness of the materials used, particularly, in the interior. I can say that I never encountered an event of “dog-walking” as one poster here indicated.

    As for the Powerglide, it was available until about April or May of ’73 and then dropped. It could be had on the 250 six cylinder engine or the 307 V8.

    Speaking of the 307, it was dropped at the end of the ’73 model year, I think it strangled itself. I encountered more Novas of this era with the 350 engine. I don’t recall the “performance” of the base 350 but I do recall that the 350-4 barrel carburator equipped cars (dual exhaust, pre-catalyst) were brisk. Every now and again I would encounter one with a 4 speed manual transmission but they were fairly rare; fun to drive though.

    Performance was gone after about ’70 with these cars due to Federally mandated emission controls. By ’73, they grew too much girth too, in part due to Federal crash (bumper) standards. Still sold in huge numbers however.

  • avatar

    A guy in my Auto Body Tech class had one. He had chosen this school specifically because they said “You can work on your own car. It can be a class project. You pay for the supplies and we’ll supply the labor and the knowledge.”

    Three months in, he’s finally allowed to bring in his Nova hatch. Teacher takes a look and says flatly “We’re not touching that car. There is no point to it. The hatch opening is rusted to $#!& and so are the frame rails. These cars aren’t worth crap and for the time and effort it’s cheaper just to buy a restored one.”

  • avatar

    I remember my aunt and uncle in Tennessee having one of these. There’s was a maroon color with I think a black and white houndstooth interior. This was about thirty years ago and I was quite young. Whenever my parents and I would fly there for the summer they would lend us the car. I thought it was kinda nice. I do remember me, my mom and dad, and my aunt, uncle and cousin packing into it and heading off to Great Smoky Mountains Park. On the way back my cousin and I were placed in the hatch area and my mom has a picture somewhere of us asleep back there.

    Good memories…

  • avatar

    As you might guess by my TTAC handle, my first car was a ’73 Nova. It also was a hatchback with the 307, but it had the 3 speed THM. Drove the car from ’80 until ’87, from about 60K miles to around 140K.

    The 307 wasn’t the most powerful engine in the high school parking lot, but it had plenty of torque at low revs and got decent MPG for the day. When Dad bought it for me, I noticed a rough idle and a bit of hesitation off line. Returned to the Chevy dealer, the mechanic popped off the plastic “tamper-proof” caps from the idle mixture screws and turned them a bit to the right. Problem solved.

    Later, I removed the air pump and plugged the tubes to prevent flow of exhaust into the engine bay. I also fashioned a piece of tin to plug up the EGR valve. These simple, $0 modifications increased power a bit and cleaned up driveability. No more hesitation and surging. In fact, I never experienced another car with such good driveability until I started to sample fuel injected models in the mid-80s. Dad was always happy to swap his ’76 Volare for the day, even though the wagon had a/c and my Nova did not.

    The Nova in the photo sports two braces under hood. Mine did not have this, and I don’t recall them in my friends’ ’72 and ’74 Novas. Doesn’t seem like this would be on the option list. Could they be after market?

    As for the hatch, it was not a novelty by 1980 but it was unusual for a larger car. I used it to carry all sorts of stuff that nobody else could fit in the tiny trunks of their mid and full sized cars. At school in DC, we could pull up to the drive in liquor store and pass the beer cases from the driver all the way back into the hatch. Also could fit a couple kegs with the seat folded down. I actually fashioned a small metal bracket to brace the rear seat when folded down, otherwise it would squeak and rattle.

    I really miss that car.

  • avatar

    I see it’s missing the emblem on the C-pillar that bragged “Hatchback.” Just in case you forgot what that big opening in back was called.

  • avatar

    Had several deck lids (the name we used at the yard for the entire rear hatch) with struts and glass intact in storage and ready to sell.

    After sitting for several years the struts were sold for top dollar. We would have also sold the rear glass separately if asked but never were.

    Thus they sat. Vertical. Taking up little space.Awaiting the call to duty.

    Pert-near every yard in the country tied into the HUGE shared inventory via our on-line computerized databases had one or more for sale.

    Prices dropped with time, relentlessly, as did ours.

    Just no demand.

    To allow room for newer in-demand (hopefully) parts I tossed those hatches into a metal buyer-bound stripped heap going bye-bye.

    When the yard went out of business I was saddened to toss the 1973 Road Runner hood in perfect condition onto the truck hauling all to the metal buyer in Oakland on the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel.

    If I had had a place of my own or a place to store it I would have kept it. A piece of Detroit Iron history and assuredly desired by somebody in the future; especially considering its like-new condition.


  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    In 74 once GM introduced hatch models of it’s compacts the other manufacturers followed with similar types. The AMC Hornet hatch was one of their better designs, about as much room as the Sportabout wagon and more space than the Gremlin with less liftover. Mopar offered versions of the Dart/Duster with folding back seats. Too bad Ford never offered a hatch version of the Maverick/Comet, they probably thought they had the hatch market covered with the Pinto and Mustang II as well as the redesigned Capri.

  • avatar

    The second car I ever owned was the ’74 Nova, the 4 door sedan with the 250 inline 6 and the 3spd auto and not much else.

    It was originally a US Gov’t fleet vehicle so it had rubber floor mats, vinyl upholstery and no radio of any sort.

    I bought the car from my oldest sister and her first hubby in 1983 with something like 130K miles on it for $300 as they were moving and taking the smaller 72 Gremlin they had towed behind a U-Haul trailer.

    It served me well for 2 years even though it required rocker arm replacements due to the ash from the 1980 Mt St. Helen’s eruption.

    Other than that, it was reliable but so basic it hurt even though it had a cheap AM/FM cassette deck and 2 way 6×9 speakers bought from Sears new in 79 or 80.

    I liked the car for what it was and replaced it with a ’78 2 door coupe Nova with the 305 V8 and automatic (column mounted at that) with A/C and a stock AM/8-track stereo and basic interior with splick back bench with vinyl upholstery. It DID have the argent ralley wheels and the sport mirrors (both the driver’s and passenger’s) but was your basic 2 door otherwise. It turned out to be a POS.

    Replaced that with a ’78 Ford Fairmont which was ALSO a POS, 200 CID inline 6, AM radio and carpeting and an electric blower for the rear window defroster and it was ALSO a Gov’t fleet vehicle, bought in 1982 originally and was my Dad’s before he gave me that thing in ’87.

    Ah the memories of adding fog lights an upgraded, if you will cassette deck and such and driving it around delivering pizzas for Domino’s back between 1984-86 and even been forced to buy new tires for it one day when it was discovered I had BULGES in 3 of the 4 tires.

    Would’ve loved to have had the hatchback myself and good friends had the ’76 orange hatch version for a while, again, the basic bench seat 2 door hatch with column automatic and it had the paint flacking and such within 2 years and another set of friends had MUCH better luck with the 76 Monza hatchback with V8 and 4spd manual, drove that car for a good many years before selling it in like new condition even though it was obvious the motor was beginning to tire slightly.

  • avatar

    We get almost to the end of the comments section before anyone mentioned this car’s natural competition, the AMC Hornet hatchback. AMC made a pretty big splash with the Hornet Hatchback, at least in our area. It was a compact car that had a useful cargo area. It wasn’t tiny like the VW Rabbits and the other small cars of the day. I think GM tried to horn in on the mild success of the Hornet hatch, and came up with a better competitor.

    What I really think was happening here was the capitalization on a trend, all of those furrin cars had those hatchback thingies and they were stealing sales away from American car companies. Detroit responded with what they had. The Pinto and Vega (and clones) were a tad bit small. The mid 70’s compacts weren’t all that bad in terms of space utilization (not until FWD became standard) and were a good size that many folks could feel comfortable with.

    A friend of mine had one of these in high school. Her dad bought it for her when she turned 16. It was dressed up with a vinyl roof, but it had the six and autobox, nothing to write home about. She drove it all the way through college and then some. I remember it reaching 110K miles and at the time that was something of a feat.

  • avatar

    where is this car i need parts for mine lol if any one has info where the car is let me know thanks

  • avatar

    “Hatchbacks generated new interest in small cars after the 1973 Oil Crisis forced new car buyers into smaller cars. GM needed another hatch fast, and the Nova body style was a natural fit.”

    False! The Nova hatch was introduced in the fall of 1972, for 1973 model year. This was designed long before gas lines and OPEC embargoes. There already was a Vega hatch at GM 3 long years before Oct ’73, so GM did NOT “need a hatchback quick”

    Not everything in the 70’s was a “reaction to Oil Crisis”! Some car history gets distorted on the web. Common myth is that the whole decade from 1/1/70 was all ‘gas crisis’.

  • avatar

    I need that hatchback lid for my restore project. If anyone has one please let me know [email protected]

  • avatar

    I bought a 74 nova in 1981 from an old lady who ordered it new. It had 42000 miles on it and was white with a hatchback and all black interior with bucket seats, and a console (auto). It was in perfect shape and cost me a whole 1600 dollars. I kept that car for 16 years clear into marriage and kids. Me and the wife use to take it to the drive-in and back it in and lay down in the hatch and watch the flick! I do have fond memories of that car. I use to have huge home speakers in the back of it hooked to a pioneer super tuner and an amp. Guess who always got invited to the outdoor partys! :-)

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