Chevrolet’s mild mannered compact went from wallflower to street beast in 7 years flat
by Mike Boffo
When GM introduced the Chevy II in 1962, no one realized what a following the car would have in the years to come. The compact car market was hot in 1960. Ford offered the Falcon, Mopar brought the Valiant to market, and Chevy offered the forward-thinking Corvair. When the Falcon outsold the Corvair, GM went back to the drawing board and quickly came up with the Chevy II, a more conventional compact to compete with the other major manufacturers.
The 1962 Chevy II was a water-cooled front engine, rear-wheel drive compact, unlike the Corvair’s rear engine, air-cooled platform. The Chevy II’s baseline engine in 1962 and ’63 was the 153 cubic-inch four-cylinder engine with an optional 194 cubiciinch six. A V8 engine was not offered, but that would soon change.
V8 conversions were offered by dealers in late 1962 and ’63, but when Chevrolet released the Super Sport option in 1963 for the Chevy II, the engine offered was still the 194 cube six-cylinder. It wasn’t until 1964 that the Chevy II was offered with the V8 option, which was a 283 cubic-inch V8 with 195 horsepower. The Chevy II sales were hurt that year due to the introduction of the Chevelle, a mid-size entry model.
The 1965 Chevy II was given the 327 V8 engine option with 300 horsepower. A new entry into the muscle car arena was born. These early Chevy IIs were very popular with the drag racing crowd. Their excellent power-to-weight ratios made them great contenders at the track, with few modifications needed to make them very competitive.
In the first years of production, the Chevy II held its own with the compact market. Most of the Chevy IIs that were sold had the six-cylinder engine. The Chevy II had a hard time finding buyers that wanted performance right out of the box, even with its light weight. In its own Chevy family, the Chevy II had to compete with the Chevelle, and in 1967 it had another family competitor to deal with once the Camaro was introduced. The squeeze play was on for Chevy II buyers.
In 1968, Chevy decided to redesign the Chevy II and rebadged it as the Nova. When Chevy designed the 1967 Camaro, a front subframe was incorporated into the design. The subframe is sort of a half full frame that bolts to the body structure. By incorporating this subframe design into the new Nova, many of the complaints and issues of body creaking and tire alignment of the older Chevy II platforms went away.
The Nova was right in the mix with the rest of the muscle cars available. It was popular with the economy-minded crowd as well as the performance people. Engine options spanned the spectrum from the lowly 151 cubic-inch four-cylinder (whose last year for Nova’s availability was 1970) to the ground pounding 396 cube big block.
Chevrolet dealers who were deep into the performance arena developed their own versions of the Nova, such as the ones offered by Yenko Chevrolet and those built by Baldwin-Motion Performance. Highly prized and sought after, these specialty low production Novas bring top dollar at auctions today and are the epitome of the muscle car era.