1960s CHevrolet Nova Radiator

1960s Chevrolet Nova

The Chevrolet Nova did as much for Chevy as any compact car has ever done for its maker, and this article profiles all the Nova models responsible for that success.

The Nova traces its roots to the 1962 model year, when it came to the rescue of a division that had put its compact-car eggs in one fragile basket called the Chevrolet Corvair. The oddly styled Corvair had debuted for 1960, but buyers were already shunning the little rear-engine car -- and more would reject it as its safety woes became public.

Into the breach stormed a front-engine compact with conventional good looks, low prices, and a nice array of sedan, hardtop, and convertible body styles. It was called the Chevrolet Chevy II. That name doubled as the label for the new car's entry-level models, while sportier versions proudly wore the Nova badge.

Sales of the thrifty four- and six-cylinder cars were strong from the start, and for 1963, Novas could be ordered with Chevy's hot Super Sport package. By 1968, the Chevy II name had been shed altogether and the entire lineup operated under the Chevrolet Nova banner.

That was also the year Chevrolet redesigned its compact car, giving it curvaceous new styling. By 1969, the Corvair was history, Nova was Chevrolet's smallest car, and Nova buyers could order a 375-horsepower 396-cubic-inch V-8 to create a muscle car revered to this day.

By the early 1970s, the Chevrolet Vega had slipped in under Nova as Chevy's smallest offering, but the basic 1968 design served Nova well, finally being phased out during the 1979 model year.

The Nova name, however, would resurface for 1986 on a modern, front-wheel-drive subcompact built in California from a design shared with Toyota. Nova had come a long way, but it always represented sensible value and, occasionally, serious fun, as you'll see in the pages that follow.