V6s and V8s are the big and mighty motors that dominate the scene in racing and performance culture. However, a lowly four-cylinder like the Chevy II/Nova “Super-Thrift” 153 proves that sometimes, more cylinders do not necessarily equate to more significance.
It began in 1961: a new motor was inserted into the Chevrolet II/Nova for the 1962 model year, and with it a new contender to take on the popular Ford Falcon compact car. Based upon the 230 I6, it was the first four-cylinder powerplant GM had used in over thirty years.
The motor saw use for the next seven years as the base four-cylinder used in Chevy II/Novas, and went on to become one of the most successful engines in history, carrying over to multiple platforms, including maritime applications, forklifts, generators, the 1964 Chevy Van in the U.S., and the Chevair and Rekord in South Africa.
One thing to remember about this engine is its uniqueness. A frequent mistake made is the confusion between this and the “Iron Duke” engine of Pontiac design. Both were used in General Motors cars, contemporary, and had four cylinders, but that’s where the similarities end.
It may surprise some, but the Iron Duke was exclusively used in Pontiac cars, and had a different cubic inch volume: 151, where the Chevy II/Nova was 153. Nevertheless, the mix-up was accepted and ingrained for years, and now it seems improbable that the two will ever be made distinct. Oh well.
By now, the 153 engine has seen more than its fair share of successes and usage in a multitude of fields.
The 153 has lived on through usage in motorboats as the MerCruiser 3.0, rated at 140hp, and in Hyster and Yale forklifts. And even though technology may have changed its processes and methods, the 153 is still manufactured by GM as the Vortec 3.0L I-4.
An interesting piece of machinery, and a historic, versatile design.
Perhaps we’ll get to see these rejuvenated in car manufacturing in the near future, as the world trends less and less toward performance, and more toward fuel efficiency. Hopefully, we can still have fun with the 153 for years to come.