Humans are obsessed with the idea of flight. Much of this, of course, can be chalked up to the fact that we physically can’t and therefore want to (a different human flaw all together). I do have to admit the feeling of being completely weightless brings with is a sort of high that one can’t get anywhere else; it’s a narcotic that none of us seem immune to. Enter Orville and Wilbur Wright, the Wright brothers; the young innovators that thrust North Carolina into flight. North Carolina still boasts this anthem and the Wright Brothers remain a stirling symbol of American ingenuity and a perfect example of following a dream to weightlessness.
What about being the exact opposite of weightless? What about the feeling of being stuck to the ground and feeling every horse working under the hood in front of you? Enter every American muscle car ever made. Theres nothing quite like taking a turn at 60mph and sliding out the back end; feeling every single one of those 60mph.
There’s also nothing quite like a Chevy, add muscle car and 60s-70s and you have a piece of American automotive history that will give you goosebumps. If they don’t come from looking at the sleek body or incredibly well designed interior, just wait for the turn of the key. The Camaro (almost dubbed the Panther by Chevrolet who had a hard time naming it) is one of the first monsters a gear head thinks about when thinking about American muscle. No one ever jumps straight to the Chevy Nova, which came first and was the building block of the Chevy Camaro.
Introduced in 1961 for a 1962 model as the Chevy II, the Nova was offered by Chevy as a midsize economy car that gave a happy medium option between the Corvair and the full sized Chevy. While it was introduced as a grocery getter, it quickly picked up its muscle car persona around 1964 because of its mean design and image of a true muscle car. While there are very few distinguishing features between years, the one thing that changed about the Nova was its horse power. In ’64, Novas were coming out of the factory at 195 and 220 horse power; by ’66 they had been upgraded to 350. The Super Sport first became available in 1963 but it wasn’t until ’68 that a big block power option was made available as a very unknown option.
Enter Greg. An army reservist and Nova aficionado. I met Greg by stuffing a note under the windshield wiper of his Nova asking to learn more about the car, which I’ve learned is “The Beast”, a ’72 Nova with four on the floor. A fellow and self described “car nut”, Greg started looking at cars far before he turned sixteen. While he’s gone through plenty of cars getting to The Beast (including one other ’72 Chevy Nova) he’s found true love: overheating, running out of gas, locking himself out before work love. There’s nothing like it, kids. “It runs great in the cold air,” he laughs, describing night drives to his home town of Orange County. “I’m fine when I’m moving, but as soon as I stop I just see my water temp gauge just go up, up, up!” It’s that pesky day time air that will get you every time.
Most people ask why? Why buy a car that is painfully unreliable? Why buy a car that you’re going to spend hours underneath? Because when you drive it “there’s nothing like it. You get a big goofy grin on your face that you can’t control.” Sure his Nova only has half a seat belt, sure it eats his keys, but he’s a gear head. “I think what drew me into muscle cars was the sound,” Greg explains, “when one drives by you can hear the power; you can feel it.”
Of course the Nova is to the Camaro what the Falcon is the Mustang. The Camaro being the true muscle car and the Nova being the car that transformed into a muscle car. Why not a Camaro? Why not the true muscle car? “I think it’s for that exact reason. Everyone wants a Camaro. I wanted something different. I didn’t want to be another Camaro I wanted to be something different. It’s one of those cars your don’t see too often.”
The Chevy Nova did a lot of great things for Chevrolet. In 1979 Chevrolet announced it would no longer be producing the Nova, but it has very clearly lived on through its kid brother, the Camaro, which has of late taken the American made car industry by storm. The Nova encapsulated a time period and is everything a true American muscle car should be. It can’t fly, but I think even Orville and Wilbur would be okay with being stuck to the ground in this thing.