One must remember the scope and power of General Motors in the early 1960’s. When the Corvair didn’t conquer all, becoming the #2 sales holder among all domestic compact cars, Chevrolet and General Motors were not satisfied enough with quarter million rear-engined wonders that buyers chose.
Crash development to add an additional compact to the Chevrolet line started immediately. This brought no less that 5 miniature motoring experiences to the General Motors fold by 1962. What made the Chevy II so unique among all of those offerings?
In actuality, the rote ordinary nature of the Chevy II is what made it so distinct from the size grouping in Chevrolet and other showrooms of GM brands. There were no swing axles, transaxles, aluminum V8’s or V6’s to be seen. Like the Ford Falcon, the advantages and some disadvantages of big Chevrolets were pulled together in a smaller package.
Although semi-Unibody with a front sub-frame, it was a front engine, manual options or powerglide, rear drive all-American fail safe machine with a live axle sprung by leaf springs. It came in Sedan of 2 and 4 door variety, and the spice mix of Hardtop Coupe, Convertible and Station Wagon in 3 escalating trim levels.
Initially they were either powered by a 90 horse 4 Cylinder or a 120 horse “new generation” Chevrolet Six that, when upsized to 230 cubes, would start to do away with the “Blue Flame” Six that had seen service in standard sized Chevrolets for a few decades. By 1964, however, the cottage industry of shoe-horning small blocks into Chevy II’s became in-house practice.
The basic 283 V8 became available as an option, alongside the larger 230 Cubic Inch 6. The Convertible parted ways, focusing fun in the sun attention back to being a Corvair responsibility alongside assisting in the greater profit margins for the new Chevelle Malibu.
The Chevy II/Nova never conquered the Falcon. Although the combined sales of the Chevy II and Corvair beat the Falcon for 1962, it was formidable competition for the combo as a freshened Falcon had assistance mid-year from the new Mustang. Volume of the Nova Wagon went from nearly 60,000 units its first year to 35,000 by 1964. While Falcon family mover sales also suffered in competition to the slightly larger Fairlane, it still maintained a lead over the Nova wagons with over 51,000 units making it out the door.
Both Chevrolet and Ford would de-emphasize the variety of basic compact models as their respective pony cars gained traction. But we must not forget the valuable resources they offered to automotive genres that still are with us today. From the humble origins of the Chevy II, we received decades of GM Pony cars and less porcine luxury cars in the form of the Cadillac Seville. One never knows where they might go with the right clothes and accessories.