By on August 24, 2015

00 - 1986 Chevy Nova Junkyard Car - photo by Murilee Martin

Every summer, I go to Wisconsin to stay in a cabin on Lake Michigan owned by my wife’s family. Mostly I’m rendered too immobile by excessive cheese curd and cured-meat consumption to do much junkyard exploring, but this trip I managed to hit Green Bay to check out a self-service yard full of very rusty and/or late-model Detroit inventory. Among all the 9-year-old Malibus and endless stretches of Buicks in the GM section, I spotted this NUMMI-built Nova.
09 - 1986 Chevy Nova Junkyard Car - photo by Murilee Martin

I grew up in the East Bay where NUMMI was (and Teslas are built today), and I visited the plant numerous times when it was producing Novas and Corollas, so I always get a little nostalgic moment when I see this sticker under a junkyard car’s hood.

04 - 1986 Chevy Nova Junkyard Car - photo by Murilee Martin

This one doesn’t have many miles, by Corolla standards (the 1985-88 Nova was an AE82 Toyota Corolla/Sprinter behind its Chevy badges), but it has the kind of rust you expect on old Japanese cars in the rusty Upper Midwest.

17 - 1986 Chevy Nova Junkyard Car - photo by Murilee Martin

I think I would not feel comfortable trusting the integrity of the suspension mounting points in this car.

11 - 1986 Chevy Nova Junkyard Car - photo by Murilee Martin

The good old 4A engine, one of the all-time Toyota legends.

06 - 1986 Chevy Nova Junkyard Car - photo by Murilee Martin

In this series so far, we’ve seen a fair number of NUMMI-built cars, including this ’87 Nova hatchback, this ’87 Nova sedan, this ’92 Prizm, this ’87 Corolla FX16, and this ’88 Nova sedan (not to mention this hyper-rare ’90 Prizm GSi), which reminds me that it’s about time I started shooting some junked NUMMI-made Pontiac Vibes now that those cars are getting so easy to find in the self-service yards.

Reading the list of standard features on a new Chevy Nova can get pretty boring.

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35 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Chevrolet Nova Sedan, Wisconsin Rust Edition...”


  • avatar
    RideHeight

    “I think I would not feel comfortable trusting the integrity of the suspension mounting points in this car.”

    Rust like that is how I learned to hate popcan unibody. At least on my trucks all I’ve had to worry about was the odd shock bracket or exhaust hanger.

    But everybody’s rustproofing *has* improved by a quantum leap.

    • 0 avatar
      Bill Crab.

      Hi, I will ask you because you have a few post here. I just happen to run across a 1965 Plymouth Belvedere that Murilee wrote about and took some pictures of a few years back. I am very interested in this car and/or parts that are on it. Is there any chance that I could get in touch with him to find out if the car is still there?

  • avatar
    dolorean

    An example of a good product ruined by the use of the ballyhooed NOVA name. Not the legend of “No-go” rather the resurgence of, well, at the time it seemed to the loyal Chevy fanboys, a storied name-plate that Chevy just slapped on to a “rice-burner”. I don’t remember much about the car, but the name just seemed to incense certain people. This is the same period where Pontiac called it’s Opel Kadett the LeMans to which infuriated my Dad to never buy another GM product. I didn’t say it was rational, but there’s a lot in a name sometimes.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      I’m probably close to your Dad’s age and my first sight of the Opel/Daewoo “Le Mans”, replete with bold door-bottom name stripe, was fer sher a Road to Damascus moment. I knew then that Asia would eat us.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    What is a “column mounted smart switch?”

  • avatar
    Chris Tonn

    My wife’s first car was an ’87 Nova hatch. Nearly indestructible, or so I thought.

    We had to sell it to raise cash for our wedding–we had two other cars, so it wasn’t strictly necessary. Had a tiny bit of fender rot poking through, but it had lived through 17 Ohio winters at that point.

    A few years later, I was trolling junkyards for Miata parts. Happened across a sad silver ’87 Nova hatch, with no wheels, sitting on the ground. “It couldn’t be,” I thought.

    Popped open the glovebox–the owners’ manual was still intact, with maintenance records indicating that it was indeed her old car.

    I really wish I hadn’t told her about it. There were tears.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      That would make for a great CrabSpirits type of story. Exemplifying how we become emotionally attached to an inanimate object. In this case one that was there for a lot of memorable moments and served with loyalty for 17 years.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    What happened to the pictures? You had the ’81 GM vertical HVAC controls earlier, that now seems to be replaced by an ’84 or later horizantal :/

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Given that hue of beige this may have once been a rental car. These Novas, and their stablemate the Spectrum, were very popular in rental fleets in the mid-80s.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I remember seeing Vegas with the “America’s Biodegradable Car” bumper sticker. These were a good bit better, but in the road salt belt of America, no car is safe forever.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Jeez, Wisconsin! That yard needs a little Husqvarna!

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Check out how nicely that interior has held up! I actually worked at a Wisconsin salvage yard, back in the 1980’s when I was going to college, and having come from a tropical climate I was always amazed at the 15-20+ years old cars in said junkyard with practically pristine interiors. Always thought one could do good business selling those interior bits to states (and territories) in warmer climates, where car upholsteries were usually fried or badly deteriorated within five years. Have always wondered if someone has actually done it…

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Yes, I never cease to be amazed at generally how well old GM and even Ford interiors have held up in many of Murilee’s finds.

      Wish that they would go back to offering the old velour/corduroy interiors and coloured interiors.

      • 0 avatar
        RideHeight

        Amen. And offering interiors of such clean simplicity as those of ’80s J-cars. In fact, if I were Allah I’d have frozen design aesthetics at around that time.

        Neat & simple inside, tall and boxy outside.

  • avatar
    Pesky Varmint

    Good point about re-selling Wisconsin interiors. A joint effort with an Arizona salvage yard would be perfect. The sun down here rots all the plastic and interior parts while protecting the metal. In Wisconsin the weather rots the metal and saves the interior.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      I heard of a similar scheme back in the 1980s of a yard here in Tennessee swapping good Southern vehicle sheetmetal parts- fenders,front clips, truck beds with a yard in Indiana for lower mileage motors, transmissions, axles from rust bucket Midwest vehicles. Kind of makes sense from the distance standpoint.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Back in 1987, my two finalists for a new car were the Chevrolet Nova and the 1988 Mercury Tracer. I knew the Nova due to its Toyota underpinnings had a reputation for durability, but the tracer had more power due to a multiport-fuel-injected engine and a much nicer interior. I think I made the right decision. It was the difference between a fun car and an appliance.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Does posting “The Heartbeat of America” over a rebadged Corolla count as irony?

  • avatar
    Joss

    You could go to your Toyota dealer and get a longer warranty and towards the end the 4th cog in the automatic was only available with the twim can. Interesting you mentioned the suspension it was tuned softer than the Corolla.

    With option packages Nova could get pricey for what it was.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    why does it seem like all japanese cars used the same font for their underhood emissions stickers? is there a universal JDM “english font”?
    its been used on motorcycle and scooter info and warning stickers as well, among im sure a lot more things from japan i never paid attention to

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    My aunt had one of these, hers was that darkish red Toyota color, applied to this little crapcan sedan that said Nova on the back. It was the first car I’d been in with a sunroof! I liked it because it seemed foreign, and it confused me that it said Chevrolet.

    My dad hated that car, because he had a REAL Nova for a while from the late 70’s through mid 80’s, in all black. My mom ruined the passenger seat leather when she got in after their wedding in May ’85, and drug her wedding ring across the seat back, tearing a hole in it.

    So they sold it and bought an 85 Regal in dark blue.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    These were some of the ugliest cars of the era IMO. The last RWD Corollas were boxy and simple, but it worked well and was kinda handsome for an econobox. The first FWDs were just hidious. They got better with the next redesign, but this version always makes me gag. By contrast, I really liked (and still do) the 1980-1982 (Corolla) Tercel. My 83 wagon was ugly, but I liked the very first Tercels. I tried to trade my SR-5 4WD wagon for an 81 Coupe when I was in highschool. No such luck.

    The last time I saw a Toyota Nova on the road, it had died in the middle of a busy intersection and people were pushing it into a parking lot.

  • avatar
    MichaelD_Utah

    I had an ’88 Nova CL as my first car (well, first car that was titled to me — I drove a ’77 Chevy van as my ‘first car’). It was slow, but it handled pretty well and was a pretty fun little car for what it was.

  • avatar
    RS

    Maybe we’ll start to see some more aluminum used in unibody vehicles as automakers chase MPG regulations.

    Rust is why Ford’s Aluminum F-150 should hold their value well on northern used lots 10-15 years from now.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      Oh? You don’t think aluminum oxidizes? When a nice shiny aluminum panel becomes coated with an oxide that is harder than the base metal, you know it’s oxidized….

      • 0 avatar
        RS

        I have an aluminum trailer that’s slightly older than my neighbors rusty steel one and it still looks like new. Both are stored outside here in MN. It’s not even close to which one held up better against the elements.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    My mother had one, ’88 I think. It is the car I think of when I see the word slushbox. There was a weird delay between hitting the accelerator, the engine revving, and actually going forward. In typical 80s style the paint went from red to matte rosé/off pink within a few years.
    To its credit, the car ran well, if slowly, for the 7-8 years she owned it.

  • avatar
    Joss

    I seem to recall the automatic was available either 3 or 4 depending on option package. The 4th was a welcome cog back then on any four. Made the world of difference on the expressway between a buzz box or something more relaxed.

    I believe if you optioned up to 4-sp this Nova became pricey and in the last few years you could get it on Corolla for less.

    I remember considering as a replacement for my Chevette but being turned off by that. The Mazda tugboat with 4-sp was a better buy.

  • avatar
    bickel84

    Yep, I live and Wisconsin and this is pretty much what all the old Novas and Corollas look like. You don’t really see them on the road all that often…but more than you’d think though.

  • avatar
    sco

    I’m in Wisconsin right now and there are plenty of <15 year old cars on the road with major rust. As for the Nova, we had two, a blue 87 and a gold '88. Both went over 100k with minimal repairs which for the time was highly commendable. The hatchback was also extremely practical and yes the interiors did wear vey well even with little kids. NUMMI was the best thing Chevy had going

  • avatar
    Tony Clifton

    “…but this trip I managed to hit Green Bay to check out a self-service yard full of very rusty and/or late-model Detroit inventory.”

    OK, be honest, this was you, wasn’t it? Don’t worry, your secret is safe with us.

    http://wbay.com/2015/08/12/firefighters-fight-fire-on-green-bays-east-side/

  • avatar
    Polly Razzmatazz

    Looks perfectly fine to me. In fact, somewhat tasty.

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