MARCH 31 MSCC FIVE FOR FRIDAY: WHY THE 1966-67 CHEVY II NOVA SS WAS THE BRIGHTEST STAR FOR THE FAMOUS GM COMPACT

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There was already a serious compact car war underway in North America when General Motors introduced its Chevy II model in 1962.

Ford and Chrysler launched their small car lineups with the Falcon and Valiant respectively in 1960, but GM went to war via its famous Corvair compact that year.

The air-cooled Corvair was built to duke it out with the VW Beetle because the little German compact had gained a substantial foothold in the North American market since the VW’s debut in the late 1940s.

Jim Sutherland

However, the Corvair was no match for Ford’s Falcon over the next few years. The little Ford compact racked up significant sales and forced GM to design a small car to compete directly against the Falcon, as well as Chrysler’s Valiant.

The result was the 1962 Chevy II, a water-cooled compact car that took on its Big Three rivals 61 years ago. The ’62 Chevy II put modest performance and solid gas mileage on the front-burner, but eventually it had to rise to the challenge of rivals’ small block V-8s in their compacts.

The net result was the 1964 Chevy II/Nova SS, a compact car with plenty of 283 cubic inch horsepower under its hood-and plenty of numbers and letters in its name. The little road rocket marked the reintroduction of Chevy II’s hardtop model and gave the car a very racy style that enhanced the overall appearance of the first-generation GM compact built from 1962 until 1965.

However, MyStarCollectorCar rates the second-generation Chevy II/Nova built in 1966 and ‘67 as the brightest star in GM’s 1960s-era compact car constellation for five good reasons.

The first reason was the front end of the 1966-67 Chevy II models. The earlier Chevy IIs had a flat front end with a non-threatening grill design and a wide-eyed look that gave off a Barney Fife vibe.

The 1966-67 Chevy II models had more of a no-nonsense appearance with a slanted front end around its rectangular headlight sections so it had more of a fast and furious vibe.

The second reason was the rear end configuration on the first-generation Chevy IIs was simple and non-threatening by design because GM felt no need to build a compact car that intimidated onlookers in any way. Perhaps because the VW Beetle was a lovable car and set the tone for a warm and fuzzy style direction.

However, all bets were off when a second-gen 1966-67 Chevy II/Nova hit the streets because the aft section of these cars oozed plenty of cool in one compact package.

Which brings us to the third reason MyStarCollectorCar leans heavily to the 1966-67 Chevy II/ Nova models: these cars were foot soldiers in the early stages of the muscle car wars and squeezed as much horsepower as possible in factory form out of Chevy engines. In fact, the Chevy 11/ Nova SS even had a very limited-edition L-79 engine option (327 cubic inches/365 HP) that has become a part of GM’s Sixties performance folklore. The net result was many other drivers quickly saw the back end of the 1966-67 Chevy II/ Nova SS models on the road when these compact rockets were blowing by them on a road.

The fourth reason is a four-speed manual transmission was offered in the sporty versions of the 1966-67 Chevy II/Nova models. A floor-mounted manual tranny was the ultimate in cool features, particularly when it was hooked up to a beefy V-8 during a bygone automotive era. Sadly, the manual transmission has largely disappeared from today’s cars, a fact that makes it even cooler in 2023.

The fifth and final reason for the 1966-67 Chevy II/Nova’s status as the brightest star in its universe: the hardtop version’s C-pillar. The roofline descended into a C-pillar that could arguably be described as a subtle fastback design. The car’s B-pillar was understated coolness at its finest.

While it is true a serious case could be made for the 1968-and up Nova SS models, maybe because they got bigger and even more powerful (and fast-backy), but the style and period performance cues on the 1966-67 Chevy II models won our vote here at MyStarCollectorCar. Let the debate begin for the coolest Chevy II/Nova crown.      

Jim Sutherland

BY: Jim Sutherland

Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section. 

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