By Brian Earnest
Some guys lust after fabulous Classic prewar automobiles. Other guys dream about '50s fins, “Split Windows,” brass beauties or Hemi muscle.
Don’t ask him why, but Harold Stuber found himself wishing for a plain Jane 1962 Nova — a station wagon no less!
Dream cars come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and Stuber’s dream catcher is a wonderfully simple and humble four-door wagon. The car will never be named prom queen at any car shows, and it will lose out every time in a popularity contest to all the flashy coupes and convertibles of all vintages that litter the hobby.
Stuber doesn’t care. He knew the car he wanted from the first time he saw it, and he’s restored the Nova hauler to near-pristine condition and made it as nice as he can. Not only that, but he has the satisfaction of knowing that he helped save a car that probably deserved to be rescued after serving as a hard-working family transporter early in its life.
“At least 15 years ago, it had to be, a friend of mine found the car rotting away in the weeds somewhere,” recalled Stuber, a resident of Stevens, Pa. “He tore into it and got it running. It was pretty rusty and you could see through the floorboards. But he was able to get it running and the first time he brought it over to me I said, ‘Oh my god, I’ve got to have this!’ I just couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘The day you want to sell it, you let me know.’ I had never seen one like it.”
Not that Stuber was unfamiliar with Novas. On the contrary, he had owned them before, but not a wagon, and not one from the nameplate’s debut 1962 year. “My first car was a Nova. I always liked Novas,” he recalled. “Well, my buddy finally decided to sell it. He found one in better shape, and I think I gave him $400 or $500 for it. By then he had patched the floors and it had passed inspection. I took it home and slowly started working on it.”
Stuber began collecting parts and pieces for the wagon almost immediately and drove the car — “my Flintstone flyer” he says — for a few years the way it was, but when the suspension started to give out, he decided to get serious about restoring the Nova from bumper to bumper. He gutted the car and did some bodywork, then had it painted its original aqua color. Over time Stuber tackled pretty much every part of the car, and he was never in a big hurry to get things finished.
“I had the body painted, but not the interior or the inside,” he said. “I painted all that and put it all back together myself. I painted under the hood and all that. I pretty much had it all torn apart. Then after it was painted, it sat for a couple of years until I had the money for it.”
The Nova didn’t have power steering or power brakes originally, but Stuber added them after finding the necessary factory parts on some junkyard donor Novas. He also converted the back window to a power unit and replaced the rear window screen. “I was able to buy panels and floors,” he said. “They were reproducing the floors but not the quarter panels. I had to piece those together from a four-door, I think it was. [1962 Novas] are pretty rare and pretty hard to find, but there are a couple at the junkyards where I got the parts. They were bad and there wasn’t much left of them, but I got the parts I needed … I don’t see many of them around. A lot of people don’t like the four-doors, so I guess they scrapped them. With the interior, I had a local guy re-do the seats for me. It was like his last project and then he retired. I tried to go with the original vinyl but couldn’t get the exact vinyl. It’s close, and it looks good. I tried to go with the original design, but it’s not exact.”
Stuber admitted his biggest regret was his decision not to keep the car’s original 194-cid straight-six engine. The engine had been swapped out for a 1963 Nova engine by the previous owner, and Stuber didn’t figure he needed the old engine included in the deal when he bought the car. “Yeah, it’s kind of a sad story,” he said. “When I got it, he kept asking me if I wanted the original motor. I said, 'Nah, I don’t have the room.’ I didn’t take it, so he trashed it. Now I wish I still had it.
“But I do have the original air-cooled two-speed transmission in it, which is unusual.”
Stuber’s wagon was one of 139,004 station wagons built during the debut year of Nova/Chevy II series. The series was Chevrolet’s first foray into the compact car field. The cars did well on the sales front right from the beginning, but in truth, the company was already two years late for the party. Ford had debuted its Falcon for 1960 and had built about 900,000 of them before the Chevy II’s and Novas came along.
The Novas were the slightly upscale version of the Chevy II line, which featured boxy styling, unitized body, a bolt-on front section and a wide variety of body styles and options to suit a big cross-section of buyers interested in thriftier transportation. At the time, the rear-engined Corvair was GM’s only small car — unless you count the Corvette — but the Blue Oval was quickly proving that there was a market for smaller no-frills automobiles that got decent mileage and didn’t take up as much room in the garage.
The Nova 400 Series offered two- and four-door sedans, a two-door sport coupe, convertible and four-door wagon. All of the Novas came with the 194.4-cid six rated at 120 hp. The base Chevy II’s came with a 153-cid four-cylinder, although buyers could get the six if they wanted it. The options list was long and included PowerGlide transmission, air conditioning, power windows, steering and brakes, padded dash, heavy-duty brakes, push-button radio and antenna, seat belts, wire wheel covers and whitewalls. Station wagon buyers could get power rear windows and split rear seats.
Wagons like Stuber’s were priced at $2,497 without any add-ons, and his car was a very base model when it left the factory. By the time he was done with it, however, it was arguably better than new, even though that wasn’t his original plan. “To tell you the truth, when I got it I just wanted to drive it!” he laughed. “Then after I had it for a while I wanted to put a V-8 in it. I bought some headers for it, then I got to thinking, ‘You don’t see many of these around.' I didn’t want to customize it too much and I decided to try to do it as stock as I could. I’m glad I stuck to that.”
Stuber isn’t certain how many miles are on the car — he’s sure it’s more than 100,000 — and he has no concerns about adding more. “It’s fun to drive. When I re-did all the bushings, that made a big difference,” he said. “When I first got it, all the bushing were bad and it was sloppy to drive, but after I re-did all that it’s a lot better. It’s fun to drive and it’s solid, especially with the power brakes and power steering … When I first got it I drove it everywhere. It’s always been reliable.”
Stuber says he’s always had an appreciation for the humble Novas, even back in his teenage years when his sister drove one. And whenever he takes his 1962 wagon out for a spin, he is reminded that he is not alone in his appreciation for the enduring little Chevys. “I’ve had a lot of people compliment me on it, and that makes you feel good,” he said. “I was just driving it the other day and I stopped at a shopping center, and an older fella came over and just loved it. He was all over it. ‘What a great car. Thank you for sharing it with me!’ It’s nice when it puts a smile on somebody’s face and brings back memories.”
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