Junkyard Find: 1987 Chevrolet Nova

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1987 chevrolet nova

When the GM Fremont Assembly plant took on Toyota managers and became NUMMI in 1984, the same supposedly inept lineworkers who hammered together sub-par Buick Apollos suddenly started building Corollas that were at least as well-made as the ones made by their Japanese counterparts (you are free to draw your own conclusions about GM management in the 1980s). The initial round of GM-badged Corollas were given the Chevrolet Nova name, prior to becoming the Geo Prizm; you still see Prizms around, but the 80s Nova has become a rare sight on the streets and in the junkyards. Here’s a Nova I spotted in an Oakland, California, self-serve yard earlier in the month.

I had a summer job in a warehouse specializing in pumps and filters in 1989, and one of my duties was a weekly run to deliver boxes of paint filters to NUMMI. The place just smelled efficient, nothing like the horror stories I’d heard about Camaro abuse at GM’s Van Nuys Assembly plant, and I was impressed by the orderly ranks of new Corolla FX16s and Prizms. Every time I see a NUMMI-built car (which is frequently, given that I look under a lot of Toyota hoods during 24 Hours of LeMons inspections), I am reminded of my visits to the plant.

This Nova’s final owner was, apparently, a student at Mills College, an extremely expensive private university for women, located on the edge of a hardcore donks-and-drive-by-shootings neighborhood of East Oakland. I lived in this neighborhood during the height of the early-90s crack wars, and it was disconcerting to have this beautifully landscaped college campus, with its famous Julia Morgan architecture, side-by-side with homies getting cold blasted over disputed prime cavvy-dealing turf.

This car’s owner, who was either a slumming trustifarian gaining hipness points through use of a last-legs cheapo car or an honest-to-god broke student racking up vast amounts of student-loan debt, clearly moved in the same social circles as the owner of the East Bay Gig-Rig Ranchero we saw a few months back.

Then, one sad day, the reliable old Nova (which I’m guessing had an affectionate nickname, as such cars do) broke down and wasn’t worth fixing. Or perhaps it racked up $10,000 in parking fines from the Suede Denim Secret Police who run parking enforcement in San Francisco and Berkeley and wasn’t worth rescuing from the impound yard after getting towed.

Either way, this Corolla-by-another-name ended up in The Crusher’s waiting room. Perhaps GM will revive the Nova name once again, but for now this is the final one.











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  • Plee Plee on Feb 22, 2012

    Bought a used 93 Prizm 5 speed for my daughter while she was in college back in 1999-2000. It was one of the worst cars I have ever owned. The interior trim pieces kept falling off, transmission linkage was very sloppy, car had no cornering capability as it used to really lean over in turns. When you turned on the AC it felt like half the power was gone. That was the last time I used Consumer Reports when deciding on a car to buy, they thought it was wonderful because of its Toyota roots.

    • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Feb 28, 2012

      Couldn't be the previous owner used it up and sold it to you? Can't imagine why your experience would be so different than that of other folks here.

  • Acuraandy Acuraandy on Feb 23, 2012

    I destroyed one of these in a 'rally' at my buddy's farm house/land back in 2003. That happened to be a Silver '86. Got it for $75, ran and drove. Bad thing was, it didn't have a title, so couldn't drive it on-road (otherwise, I wouldn't have wrecked it). I painted big #3's on the front doors (it was, after all only two years after St. Earnhardt had passed) and proceeded to drive it until it blew up. Except it didn't. I had to stop every so often to spray the radiator with cool hose water to prevent overheating as the fins were gone when I got the car. Despite the beating and over-revving for several hours, it kept on tickin'. I left the car there where my buddy decided a few months later to have a 'brick party' (for those who are not enlightened, a 'brick party' entails draining the oil from an engine, starting it afterwards and placing a brick on the gas pedal until the engine explodes). It took 45 minutes to blow the engine. The Nova/Corolla was then hauled away for scrap. P.S. Murilee, are you me 20 years from now who made up a pseudonym and traveled back in time? Just wondering...lol

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion: https://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper2/thoreau/civil.html
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?
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