Imagine if you could put a Corvette engine into a compact sedan and drive it off the lot for less than $3000. Well, in 1966, you could. That year, Chevrolet’s Chevy II brought a new exterior style to market, featuring sharpened body lines, a bold grille and semi-fastback roofline. The Nova was the top model in the Chevy II lineup.
There was a lot going on at Chevrolet that year and the restyled Chevelle got a lot more attention. Still, for a $179 premium, the upscale Nova 400 could be pushed to the top level Nova Super Sport (SS), which was only in the Sport Coupe configuration.
Several engine options were available on the Nova SS, starting from a 194cui straight six. The hot ticket under the Chevy II’s hood that year was the L79 option, a 327cui V8 that – but for the camshaft – was identical to the optional small block in that year’s Corvette.
In fact, you didn’t need to order a Nova SS to get this prime motivator. It was available with any Sport Coupe, just not with an automatic transmission. Because the SS option was not big on ornamentation, either model was an ideal stealth fighter, having 350hp under the hood of a package that weighed in under 3,000 pounds.
Rarity added to this phenomenon, with just 5,481 L79-equipped cars on the road, compared to 172,485 Chevy IIs – of which 20,986 were Nova SS models.
Actually, with an 11:1 compression ratio, forged pistons, big-valve heads and an aluminum intake with a 600 cfm Holley 4-bbl carburetor, the 350 hp rating may well have been conservative. The L79 camshaft provided good throttle response, a great power curve, decent power brake vacuum and a lumpy 800-rpm speed idle to boot. It quickly became the hot ticket for any self-respecting small block owner.
Picking out an L79 engine was as easy as opening the hood. A unique, chromed dual snorkel air cleaner topped the motor, while other factory chrome pieces included were valve covers, the oil filler and cap.
The free-revving L79 was a stormtrooper from 2,400 rpm all the way to 5,800 rpm and it could often leave big block cars behind. Despite the restyling, the Nova remained rather plain-looking, which helped keep it under the insurance radar.
At the price asked for these cars, there were few better bargains around. These days, clean and complete examples, such as those show here, go to auction for $25K to about $60K.