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By Brian Earnest
You never know where the collector car bug is going to strike. Quite often, it just shows up out of nowhere, at the least likely times and in the most unusual places.
Long Island, N.Y., resident Jeff Schilling can attest to that. Schilling had mulled over the possibility of getting into the old car hobby someday, but an old car was the furthest thing from his mind back in 1999 when he was out communing with nature in upstate New York.
“I was out with a friend hiking part of the Appalachian Trail… and we had to go into town for some supplies,” recalls Schilling. “And we went past this farm house off a rural road and there was a [1967 Chevrolet] Nova sitting there for sale with a beat-up sign in the window.
“So we stopped and talked to the young guy who was selling it. He was the nephew of the man that owned the car. It looked like it was in good condition. It had seat covers on the seats so I figured the seats were all torn up in it. I said, ‘Will you let me take it for a ride?’ and we went for a ride and it rode great. It needed some cosmetic attention, but it turns out the seats were in great shape and for only 700 bucks it was a great car! I took it home, did some restoration work on it, and it’s back to stock now and it’s a great car.
“I’ve got a collection of four-door sedans from the 1960s now, but the Nova is still my favorite. It’s the one that I have in the garage at my house. It was my first one and it’s like your first child.”
Schilling says he wanted to start his collector car adventures with a car that was uncomplicated and easy to feed and care for. In that regard, he hit the jackpot with his sturdy Mountain Green Nova sedan, which was about as simple and straightforward as any car on the market in 1967. The Nova was positioned as a slightly upscale version of the Chevy II, but there weren’t many bells and whistles on cars such as Schilling’s. It was your quintessential basic four-door 1960s compact sedan, with a 194-cid six-cylinder under the hood, three-speed on the tree, no radio and “manual everything.”
The car had originally belonged to a Pennsylvania farmer, who actually used it to do some pulling, in addition to normal transportation duties. The car’s odometer showed 103,000 miles when Schilling came across it. Apparently, a good number of those miles came with a trailer behind the Nova, testing the capabilities of the car’s six pistons and 120 horses. “Believe it or not, the car has Positraction,” laughed Schilling. “I did a VIN breakdown on the car and contacted a Nova specialist, and he said if it has Positraction, then somebody probably did some hauling. That’s why the rear bumper was so damaged. The bumper was all beat up and bent up.
“That makes sense because the guy I bought it from said his uncle used the car on his farm in Pennsylvania.”
Eventually, the original owner died and the man’s nephew took the car home with him to New York with plans to restore it. The car was apparently well cared for during that time, but the plan to revitalize the old Chevrolet never got off the ground. “Sometime around, like, 1995 the nephew got it and he put it in his barn,” Schilling said. “It had been sitting for awhile. The kid was going to restore it but never got around to it. He was into cars and he restored cars, but this one he just never got around to, so he decided to get rid of it.”
Schilling had never taken on a restoration, but he attacked his first project eagerly. He rebuilt the carburetor and transmission, and swapped out many other parts, including the brake and gas lines, gas cap and fuel tank, side-view mirror and weather stripping. The interior remained intact, except for a new package shelf. The Auto Museum in Long Island did some of the heavy lifting on the project, including a repaint of the car’s Mountain Green exterior. “They detailed the engine. They re-sprayed the trunk. They cleaned up the undercarriage and re-sprayed the undercarriage,” Schilling said. “They did a nice job.
“I didn’t do any modifications whatsoever. I replaced everything with all GM parts. The interior is all original. It’s got the original engine, which is nice… It looks just like it did from the factory.”
The Chevy II/Nova lineup was somewhat overshadowed in 1967 with the introduction of the crowd-pleasing Chevrolet Camaro, but there were still plenty of buyers who took home new Chevy II/Nova sedans, two-door hardtops and station wagons. About 47,000 Novas were built for the model year, with the sedan being the least expensive at $2,298 without any options.
It cost roughly $200 to jump from the Chevy II ‘100’ to the Nova, and for that you got a six-cylinder under the hood instead of the 153-cid four. If you wanted to sacrifice a little fuel economy for some hotter performance, you could pony up for a 283-cid V-8 with 195 hp, a 327 with 275 hp or a 327 with 325 hp.
The Novas were also spruced up with some fancier trim pieces and body-side moldings, color-keyed carpeting on the floors, a foam-cushioned rear seat, a cigarette lighter and a few other little niceties. Of course, buyers who were interested in more style and flair could opt for the Nova SS model, which dressed things up inside and out with amenities such as bucket seats, accent stripes, special badging and SS wheel covers.
“Mine had the Positraction and a tinted windshield. Those were the only options it came with,” Schilling said. “I have the window sticker, and it shows that was all it came with. It was fully carpeted, radio delete … you can’t get any more basic than that. All you got was windshield wipers, a cigarette lighter and that’s about it.
“These cars were not high up on the food chain. But the great thing about this one is I have all the documentation. It was a one-family car, and I got the window sticker, bill of sale, cancelled check, Protect-O-Plate … All that came with it.
“The bill of sale shows that the owner traded in a 1951 Plymouth for, like, $725.50,” Schilling added with a laugh. “That’s what his trade-in was.”
He may not have expected it, but the Nova has sparked an entirely new hobby for Schilling. He is partial to 1960s sedan survivors, in particular. “I collect four-door sedans, but I have one four-door hardtop,” he said. “I’m not a particular make guy, but I love all mid-1960s American sedans. I just like the four-doors. I like the look of them, they are easier to take a ride in, and you don’t have to baby them. They just give you a chance to enjoy the hobby more. I sort of stumbled onto this car and it kind of opened the door to everything else. When I realized how great they are, the obsession really took off from there.”
There are plenty of Novas around that are similar to Schilling’s, but he says his particular body style and power train combination are a bit of an oddity, at least in his neck of the woods. “I’ve never seen another ’67 four-door Nova with a three-speed on the column,” he said. “I’ve seen them in earlier models, but never a ’67 with a three-speed — at least not on Long Island yet.”
Schilling tries to get the Nova to summer car shows as often as he can. He’s added about 6,000 miles to the car’s mileage total, pushing the odometer up to 109,000. After 12 years, the novelty of having a no-frills sedan to cruise in and show has definitely not worn off for Schilling. “People love the simplicity of it. It’s just a bare-bones ‘plain Jane,’” he said. “I come in with my car and people say, ‘Wow, what a great car.’ I gets more attention than the GTOs, you know.
“It’s the kind of car my mom had, the kind of car my dad had. It’s the kind of car I learned to drive on. People can relate to these cars.”
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