In January 1971 I had no idea that a decision I was about to make would end up playing out the way it did.
I couldn’t afford a Camaro, Chevelle, or a Corvette (nor was I able to pay for the insurance for one!) so I started looking at 3rd gen Novas.
After looking at many, I got serious about a ’68. I took the VIN# to Braeger Chevrolet, and found out that the L88 I was looking at was in fact a 396 with the heads dressed up in aluminum paint. It turned out that the salesman I was talking to had actually sold the car. He offered to put me in a new Nova, and after much negotiation, I ordered myself a new 1971. I missed the deadline for 1970, so I ended up with GM’s first low lead, lower compression motor with the new peanut plugs. “Bummed at the time” turned out to be a blessing that would pay off in spades years later. My Nova runs just fine on non-ethanol premium pump gas, and with no motor modifications.
So in April, I finally got my new Nova, the replacement for my ’63 Impala. Not one built for somebody else, but one built just for me; just the way I wanted it.
I was dating the first girl I was serious about, and I knew that I’d be teaching her how to drive, so I grit my teeth and ordered it with a 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic instead of a 4-speed. Another blessing as my left knee is shot from years of driving a truck.
There were so many Black and Red Novas running around, Mulsane Blue wasn’t right for me, White, Green and Yellow are good colors for flowers, so we decided on Burnt Orange. SS package with a 270HP 350, power disc brakes in the front and drums in the rear. Sport suspension w/sway bars, positraction, black interior with buckets and a console, no power steering, and no body chrome. 14X7 steel wheels painted the body color and baby moon caps w/the Chevy bowtie. The exterior is clean, simple and elegant. The only thing I wish I would have ordered was the gauge package mounted on the console. I know they’re hard to read while driving, and not many Novas came with them, but it is a “cool” factor. So in its place, I put in a Sun tach and a vacuum gauge from a ’63 Grand Prix. Before it had 75 miles on it, it went to Ziebart for rustproofing. Then went back 5 years later for a respray.
I decided to dress it up some, so I searched around and decided on some aluminum slots. I didn’t want the generic Ansen’s and the like, so I decided on Cragar Screamers. Shackles and 15X8’s in the rear, and 14X7’s in the front. My Dad didn’t understand, and kept asking me why I thought that the engineers in Detroit didn’t know what they were doing. I guess his generation just didn’t understand what made a car cool.
In April 1972, I decided to marry my girlfriend before somebody else did, and the Nova got put back to stock…
The Cragars went away, the shackles came off, and it turned into a grocery getter. We always had a winter beater, so my new Nova never saw snow and salt – car killers in the rust belt states.
I tell everybody that I put it in storage when my daughter got her driver’s license. That’s not really accurate, but the timing is about right. Fast forward to Father’s Day 2012; my daughter Nicole made that “the year of the Nova.” In spite of, and over my objections, the cover came off, and the Nova rolled out of the garage and into the sunlight for the first time in 22 years. With the help of her boyfriend Garrett, it got new fluids, plugs, wires, cap, points, and tires, rebuilt the carb, new shocks and rear springs, and now it’s back on the road. A living testament to arguably the greatest V-8 to ever come out of Detroit, GM’s small block chevy.
Early on, I assembled a set of Rally II’s, and they followed me every time I moved. 1971 was the 1st year for those wheels, and they would have come on the Nova had I ordered them. Two are date code 71, and 2 are date code 72, but they all look identical. Got them stripped and powdercoated, and had new B. F.
Goodrich Radial T/A’s mounted. They are on the Nova now. I searched for 5 years to complete a set of the elusive Cragar Screamers. I had them polished and mounted some more Radial T/A’s on them. Even with the 14X7’s, I can’t get the rears to clear even after having the fender lips rolled, and adding air shocks. They have different backspacing than the stock wheels. Looks like it’s back to shackles, or having the rear end narrowed. Something I don’t want to do as it came with a 12 bolt posi.
So here I am, nearly 50 years later. I’m married to my girlfriend, we have 2 great kids, we’re healthy and trying to enjoy retirement, and we still have our Nova. It’s like a time capsule full of 50 years of memories. Maybe it’s more like a book; I look forward to seeing what’s in the next chapter. I am truly blessed.