The Chevy II was borne out of the disastrous experiment known as the Chevy Corvair. In troduced in model year 1960, the Corvair was Chevrolet’s first stab an economy, compact car. The design was startlingly innovative, built with the engine at the rear, but consumers found it too strange and didn’t take to it. While the brand eventually found some success as a high-powered sporty Corvair Monza, offered as a convertible starting in 1962, the model was officially cursed when consumer advocate Ralph Nader condemned it in his 1965 book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” for a problem in the Corvair suspension that had been fixed by model year 1964.
The engineers who went back to the drawing board in search of the Corvair's successor decided to go the same route as Ford and Chrysler by releasing a more conventional compact car (basically, a scaled-down full-size car), which was dubbed the Chevy II. Released in model year 1962, these affordable and attractive cars came in sedan, hard-top, and convertible styles and with four- or six-cylinder engines. The speedier sports versions were tagged Nova, and by 1963, they were available with Chevy’s coveted SS (Super Sport) engine package.
In 1968, the Chevy II was abolished in favor the Chevrolet Nova name, and the line got the curvaceous “Coke bottle” styling treatment from GM design chief Bill Mitchell. When the Corvair was dropped in 1969, the Nova became the smallest car in the Chevy line—a title it held for one year before the Chevy Vega was introduced in 1970. The 1969 Nova could be ordered with a 375 bhp, 396 cid V-8 engine that turned it into a super-charged “muscle car”—those Novas are especially coveted by car lovers today.
One urban legend asserts that the Chevy Nova, offered in the Latin America countries like Mexico and Venezuela between 1972 and 1978, failed miserably there because “no va” means “it doesn’t go” in Spanish.
This popular story, in reality, is completely unfounded. For one, Spanish speakers are unlikely to read “nova” as “no va,” the same way English speakers wouldn’t read “notable” or “carpet” as “no table” or “car pet.” “Nova” means “new” in Portuguese, something any fan of Brazillian bossa nova music would know, and Nova is also the name of a Mexican gasoline company. Lastly, “it doesn’t go” is not an expression anyone would naturally use to describe a car that doesn’t run, in English or Spanish.
But more importantly, during the '70s, the Novas that Chevy intended for the Latin American market sold well in Mexico and were so popular in Venezuela they surpassed Chevy’s expectations.
Even though the Nova had a reputation for dependability, it was phased out for model year 1979, and the last original Novas were produced in 1978. However, the Nova name was revived briefly in the late '80s as a front-wheel-drive subcompact that shared a design with Toyota.