It’s no mystery that motor oil runs through my veins, as demonstrated in a recent story of my late great-grandfather’s 1923 service station. There is plenty more to share, starting with a car that I grew up hearing lots of stories about when I was younger.
Tuxedos and Muscle Cars
One of the most popular conversation pieces in my home today is this photo taken in the late 1970s of my dad and his younger brother, Bryon, standing in front of their muscle cars that were parked on my grandma’s back lawn in Logan, Utah. Bryon’s car (left) was a 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle SS, and my dad on the right had a 1968 Chevrolet Nova. The sibling rivalry was clear, but the wardrobe is as fun to see as the cars themselves – it looked like these boys were ready to head out on the town with their dates for high school prom. We’ll get into the cars in a minute.
Nova Model History
The Nova model started out on the General Motors X-body platform as the simple semi-unibody “Chevy II” in 1962. It slotted in the Chevrolet line up as a compact, and body styles were offered in coupe, sedan, station wagon, and even convertible variants. The Nova name first came to life as the Chevy II 400 Series, which was a top-trip variant for that first-generation. This is a photo of dad in 1965 with a Chevy II – perhaps this was the car that first caught his interest in the model.
A second-generation Nova launched in 1966 with a new semi-fastback roofline and vertical taillights (the convertible was dropped). Powertrain offerings were vast, ranging from a 153cid inline-four to a 327cid V8. For the first time, a Super Sport trim package became available: distinguished with unique badging, a bright deck lid cove, and special wheel covers.
By the debut of the third generation in 1968, the Nova was only available as a two-door coupe or a four-door sedan, and the Nova name had begun to take over from the “Chevy II” moniker (the Chevy II name would be retired fully the following model year).
Marketing materials stated: “The handsome, smooth-riding 1968 Chevy Nova is completely new inside and out. Though priced from just $2,222 and economical to operate, it neither looks nor acts like an economy car.” Chevy touted the fact that the car had grown in overall length by six inches and in width by an inch. The chassis, steering, and suspension had been tweaked, and 15 colors were offered (12 of them new for the year). For the first time, the Super Sport name was tied to a performance package rather than simply a trim package. Key pieces of equipment in that package were a 295-horsepower 350cid V8 and a heavy-duty suspension.
Looking at some of the brochures for the Nova, Chevy talked up the car’s Magic-Mirror finish acrylic lacquers. Based on the color swatches at the back of the book, dad’s car was finished in Matador Red. Available options for the year included power steering for $84.30, power brakes for $42.15 ($100.10 with front discs), a tape radio for $133.80, air conditioning for $347.60, and a vinyl roof cover for $73.75. Dad’s Nova was outfitted with that roof.
Dad’s 1968 Chevy II Nova
As for the story behind dad’s Nova, as I understand it, the car had been wrecked by the prior owner. My dad acquired the car in about 1977 (when he was around 17) as a project from her, and he did the body and paint work himself. Not one to leave things alone, he moved to mechanicals next. The miserly base motor was exchanged for a high-power V8 along with a Muncie four-speed manual transmission. My grandmother muses that it was customary around the house to have cars without engines in them. Swapping motors became a common weekend occurrence (between dad’s car and his brother’s), and the red Nova had various powerplants over the years.
Dad’s Nova had been sold by the time I entered the world in 1981, and we are not sure if it’s still around today. Quests to find it in the late 1990s were not fruitful. But many years later, my younger brother Bentley acquired and fixed up a similar 1968 Nova – this time, a true SS – and even managed to secure the same “68 NOVA” license plate combination from the State of Utah. Bentley’s pro-street Nova was later featured in a Hemmings Muscle Machines article in November 2016. It was a far cry from dad’s, having been modernized with an LS powerplant, a Tremec six-speed manual transmission, and a sport-tuned suspension from Speed Tech.
As the years go by, car memories like these remain a core part of my childhood and continue to be made each day. I’m glad dad captured so many images of his Nova in its glory days.
I only wish we had videos of his drag-racing adventures so we could see how it sounded and performed. I’m sure it had a slightly more growl than the first car I ever modified, which was 1989 Honda Prelude!