1969-70 Chevrolet Nova SS 396
was once thought that a 283 small-block V8 was a hot engine to put into the small Chevrolet, badged the Nova. Originally called the Chevy II Nova (and both names were interchangeable), this car was built from 1962. When Chevrolet changed to only calling it the Nova and dropped in the SS396 engine and go-fast goodies, it lent new meaning to the term muscle car. Although all markings are for a 396 big block, the actual capacity for the engines in 1970 were 402ci. These engines were listed as the LS3 option. The two-door bodied cars (Chevy also produced Nova’s as four-doors and wagons – the latter only in the early years) were treated with a special bonnet with simulated air intakes and also fronted with a black-accented grille. SS emblems clearly spelt out these cars were muscle machines. Optional bucket seats and gauge packages kept drivers and passengers in tune. Cars were optioned either with a 4-speed manual or the 3-speed turbo 350 auto. The manuals were the quicker cars, although only a small number of cars were made with manual transmissions in each year.
Fred Gibb Chevrolet and drag racer Dick Harrell saw the Nova’s race-winning promise and turned the car into an NHRA Super Stock cult legend. Working with Chev engineering chief Vince Piggins, Gibb ordered 50 COPO Novas with L78 375hp 396 engines and the industrial-strength TH400 automatic transmission. Out back, beefy 12bolt rears stuffed with 4.10s and Posi-traction ensured against broken axles.
vHarrell’s Kansas City-based performance centre upped the ante further by swapping 427s into a few of the automatic COPOs – a modification that was legal in AHRA competition.
vToday you can find a number of Chevy Nova’s optioned with the 396 (nee 402) engine. They are easy to maintain with large numbers of the lower-specced cars available as well. Current pricing for high-end restorations is between US$22,000 and about US$45,000, but there are cars that can be purchased for less.
vNumber Produced: Under 10,000 produced in 1969 and 1970. Power Output: 375bhp (280kW) Top Speed: 203km/h
5.8 seconds Quarter Mile: 14.2 seconds Price New: $2200
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