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Nova’s Last Gasp: 1985 Chevrolet Nova

A Chevy Novawhatwho?! Taupe is the perfect color for this 1985 Chevrolet Nova to blend into almost any background, including the background of badge-engineered cars from this era. The seller has this California-built car posted here on craigslist in the great city of Raleigh, North Carolina. They’re asking $2,200 for what isn’t a classic Nova of days gone by, but these little cars are interesting to see just for a little history lesson.

Most of you know that what the majority of Americans refer to as the real Chevrolet Nova went away after the 1979 model year. It was a sad loss as they’re popular today, maybe not in all forms and configurations, but they were the stuff that most folks look for today on vintage car sites: rear-wheel-drive, front-engine cars, often with V8 engines. This Toyova / Novyota is basically everything that the original Nova wasn’t, but they were and are great, reliable, dependable daily drivers. You could do much worse than paying $2,200 for this one as an around-town errands car that you don’t have to worry about parking in the back of every parking lot to keep door dings away.

A lot of readers have moved on by now but for those who have the gumption to stick this one out, New United Motoring Manufacturing, Inc (NUMMI) was a company put together by General Motors and Toyota to make the Nova and other Corolla-based cars in California. The factory produced a very high-quality product and a high rate but even so, we rarely see this version of the Chevy Nova on the streets anymore. This car is a notchback sedan and a few months after production began, they offered a hatchback version.

The seller included ten photos and a super-detailed description, but they didn’t include an engine photo which is always disappointing and a major head-scratcher for me. They say that the engine – a 1.6L inline-four with 74 hp – has been replaced but we don’t know any details. They give a huge list of maintenance items that have been changed on this car. The Nova lasted until 1988 when it was replaced by yet another “world car”, the Geo Prism.

The interior looks perfect for the most part, even more so given the 5-speed manual transmission. This isn’t a car that turns too many cranks here at Barn Finds, but we thought it would at least be interesting to see what the exalted Chevrolet Nova ended up being for its last bout in the ring. Any thoughts on this Nova, or how the Nova name ended up? I bet that some of you have either owned one of these cars or knew someone who did.


  1. Stevieg

    I’d rather have an Omni or Horizon lol.
    My Mom had one, a red 1988 4 door. Not a bad car, just dull. Did nothing exceptionally.

    Like 9
    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      I think you nailed it, Stevieg, I would, too.

      Like 5
    • Jonathan

      I’ll take full and not sitting in a repair shop often, any day

      Like 0
  2. angliagt angliagt

    I call these “Toyota Novas”.One of our
    neighbors had one in this same color.It reminded
    me of a Saturn SL – basicly good transportation.

    Like 8
    • Mikefromthehammer

      Another name would have been “Chevrolet Corollas”. I think the plant they were built in is now the home of Tesla.

      Like 0
  3. Bob S

    I had a blue one like this with the 5 speed in the mid 90’s here in the Midwest. Bought it as a cheap work beater, the tin worm had already started chewing on it, but one of the most indestructible vehicles I’ve owned. Ended up driving it to the junk yard when the strut poked through the tower.

    Like 7
  4. Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

    In trade school auto tech we worked on some customer cars. Usually older, worn and torn cars that we repaired for the price of parts. I’m the mid nineties a customer brought one of these in for maintenance work. It had nearly 220k on it and I remember that because it was the first car in my orbit that I had seen go over 200k. I didn’t realize that was even possible. At that same time I had an 87 Dodge Shadow with about 78k on it and it was one more problem away from the junk yard. 70-100k was still the average lifespan of a car back then.

    Like 11
    • Fred W

      This was absolutely the beginning of the 200,000 mile car. I remember scoping out the market a few years after these came out and thinking, “Hey, I can get a Toyota for the price of a Chevrolet” because the average buyer had no idea. But I was looking for a larger car at the time.

      Like 9
      • joenywf64

        Not if you are talking about the MEHCANICALS.
        I think the 250k mile car started with the intro of the liquid cooled GM powerglide & turbo 400 auto trans.
        ’74 firebird with all these original: front end, non rack & pinion quick steering, low compression low stressed 400 cube motor & turbo 400 trans. 225k miles. Motor just needed timing chain. & carb rebuild. Still no smoke or ticks.
        Friends’ ’68 nova with original 250 strait 6(no timing chain OR belt!) & powerglide. Over 300k miles.
        By the early ’80s the above were gone from GM, however, replaced with mickey mouse transes, rear ends, etc.

        Like 2
  5. Howard A Member

    Oh, these once mighty names, Nova, Challenger,fire breathing, wheel standing monsters, reduced to this. It was crystal clear, the American carmakers, try as they might, just couldn’t create a suitable econobox, and therefore succumbed to just renaming some Asian model from their many holdings overseas. Quite a cop out if you ask me, but regardless, people bought them at the local Chevy dealer, where they trustfully bought a Nova years ago, how different could it be? I bet some never even knew it was a Toyota. Many never made the connection, denial at it’s finest. I had a neighbor with one like this, served them well. In true import form, they didn’t last long in the salt bath, but for a spell, you couldn’t buy a better car on a budget. I knew people that put hundreds of thousands of miles on these, you need a cheapie you’ll rarely have to get gas for, can’t go wrong here.

    Like 13
  6. angliagt angliagt

    Now tell us how you really feel about this.

    Like 8
  7. Autoworker

    I think that color is fitting…Old Man Tan.

    Like 11
  8. DRV

    I helped a neighbor get one new . They were made by a new GM company (NUSSA?) out of Toyo Carolla parts. It needed a new distributor in 30k miles, but was good other than the rust.
    This I believe was a GM experiment leading to the formation of Saturn.

    Like 2
  9. DRV

    Sorry, I missed that paragraph between the pictures. NUMMI!

    Like 4
  10. Mikefromthehammer

    Another NUMMI product (I almost purchased new in 2008) was the Pontiac Vibe. The one I would have been interested had the 2.4 Camry engine and 5-spd. I liked the salesperson, but unfortunately the dealer did not have that version in stock. I wound up at a Toyota dealership and bought a 2009 Corolla XRS with the Camry engine and 5-spd. It was a wonderful car. The Pontiac salesperson called me after I bought the Toyota because the dealership had gotten ahold of a Vibe with the 2.4 and 5-spd combo. That impressed the heck out of me. How many salespeople would follow up with a potential customer literally months later? Answer: a very good one.

    Like 9
    • Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

      During my one and only brief stint selling cars in 2002 I worked for a Pontiac/Chevy dealer. The Vibe was a good car, but our main selling point was “it’s basically a Toyota with a Pontiac badge”. Too bad it was that way, Pontiac held its own once upon a time.

      Like 9
  11. losgatos_dale

    Think the world is screwed up now?
    This was happening in 1985. Clearly none of us were paying attention.

    Like 3
  12. GOM

    These were wonderfully utilitarian cars, economical to run, easy to repair, and mechanically durable. The ones I knew of did not rust noticeably faster than the other vehicles of the day. About anything from NUMMI was a desirable product for those of us who look for practical, functional vehicles.

    Like 5
  13. tom hofstad

    NUMMI was made in the old GM factory in Fremont CA and produced very good quality cars. As mentioned, this Nova and Vibe as well as Corollas and Tacomas. It is now the TESLA factory. My 66 GMC pickup and 99 Tacoma pickup were both made there!

    Like 4
  14. Mark

    In mid “87, I bought a new ’86, charcoal metallic with the factory sunroof and believe it or not, luggage rack as well. Sharp looking and I have to say one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. Zero problems, well until some kid in an 80 Camaro skidded left of center.
    There were plenty of parts of the car that said Toyota on them. Well worth the money.

    Like 2
  15. Neil

    NUMMI is now the home of…. Tesla.

    My wife had the Toyota version of this (an ’85) when I met her in ’92. It took her from Indiana to the D.C. area and back several times a year and never broke down. Great car, rust bucket…
    It lasted 2 weeks after she started her job at Ford in Indianapolis (Ford steering gear plant) before she bought a Ford ‘Probe’ as her car was the only foreign car in the lot and people kept getting really close to it when parking and driving around it… Not to mention all the dirty looks.
    The Probe was a great car too (Mazda made). Sold it to my cousin for $1,000 with well over 100k miles on it. He drove it another 5 years (~80k miles) and then got hit in the door. Insurance totalled it and gave him $1,500 for it. :-)

    Like 2
  16. PRA4SNW

    My friend’s sister had the Corolla equivalent of this. It was a nice – appliance.

    Unfortunate to say, but it was probably one of the most reliable cars in the early 80’s Chevy lineup.

    Like 2
  17. Ray

    a toyolet

    Like 2
  18. Angel

    I bought a Blue one just like this used.I paid $2800 in 1994…Had it for 18 years..Drove through the snow like a tank..never got stuck…the engine and tranny were great(automatic).. It was a great everyday car..Got rid of it when the cv joints went. Best $2800 I’ve ever spent.

    Like 0
  19. Maestro1 Member

    If I remember correctly NUMMI cars at least here in California were used well and not loved very much. Many went over 100,000 miles, and were cheap on gas and maintenance. If I were to be serious about this I’d want to know what engine is in it now. And get it in the air to see what it needs.
    If you bypass this you are losing out on a rare car which is as much a part of the Hobby as anything else is.

    Like 5
  20. Bakyrdhero Bakyrdhero Member

    I think these were priced and slotted above Chevy’s own Cavalier.

    Like 2
  21. AZVanman

    When I sold these new in Phoenix, they were referred to, as Ray noted, Toyolet’s. Ironic as they were the best quality vehicle on the lot besides the Isuzu trucks.

    Like 3
  22. nlpnt

    As a car-crazed 11-year-old in 1985 I always thought these were a worthy successor to the ’62-79 Novas. Four-door only, as the Nova had been until at least ’73.
    Or at least, the earlier 2-doors were all but extinct, seen only in pictures and as the occasional model kit while their sedan brethren were still on the road as daily drivers at that point.

    Like 1
  23. Sidejob53 Member

    In 85, I worked at Ourisman Chevrolet here in the DC area. I worked in New car get ready, and boy they sold millions it seems like! Good times! Lol!

    Like 2
  24. Michael L Gregory Member

    File Cabinet is my favorite paint color. I’m sure this will make a good, dependable ride for someone.

    Like 0
  25. Carlos J Guzman

    I had 1986 Toyo-Nova..Hatchback in Blue.. Navy Blue I loved it .. and YEs I knew it was a Toyota.. It was extremely reliable and well built car.. We had a started a trip to Vegas when it broke down.. Apparently a section of the differential wasn’t serviced much.. I was 3rd owner or something.. thought it was the cv joint.. tried to have friend fix it.. but that wasn’t it.. had it towed to a transmission shop. they wanted a lot of money.. I drove it to a Chevy Dealer and bought another small car.. Suzuki Swift.. used drove that a few years.. paid it off and traded that in for my 1982 Pontiac Trans Am.. black T top.. yes I lost money on the deal.. but 22 years later I still have my Knight Rider inspired.. Car.. rebuilt engine and trans.. fixed the ac.. reupholstered the inside.. only need a paid job.. I have the fiberglass Knight Rider front end.. just need to install the scanner and fog lights.. the dash is stock.. Everything happens for a reason.. surprising the Trans Am never left me stranded.. I had a 2016 Buick Regal break down twice before I got rid of it. Vegas wasn’t in the cards for us that day.. I’ve had several Novas real ones.. I had a 1969 baby blue, white vinyl , console shifter : 1963 Nova White 4 door. red interior : 1974 Nova inline 6 , like the 1963.. you could have bought these cars all day long for cheap.. now a 1974 goes for 6k or higher its ridiculous.. In my short life I’ve had 40 cars or so.. mostly classics or now classics.. Married now almost 9 years.. and where we live HOA land no room to work or have extra cars.. I’m keeping my Trans Am till my dead, lol. both my kids love and want my Trans Am.. Hopefully it will stay in the family.. after I’m long and gone. Great memories in my Nova’s .. Merry Christmas and Happy New Years.. guys and girls.

    Like 1
  26. Bamapoppy

    When my first wife’s’ son needed a car she insisted on spending as little as possible. I found him one of these as a Toyota version and it ended up a great little car for very little money-$900 I think, back in the mid-90’s. I drove it from Memphis to Dalton, GA then back to B’ham and it was a tight little buggy.

    Like 0
  27. Tom

    I bought 2 Vibes and put well over 100K miles on both of them. They were reliable vehicles and would still have continued to buy them as second vehicles had Pontiac not folded. I stepped up to something larger because I needed more room. The Vibes were the best I ever owned.

    Like 1
  28. joenywf64

    It’s bad enough they called this a Nova, which didn’t even come as a 2 door, but i cringe when i think what the latter would look like with that out of proportion “basketball player” high roof.

    Like 0
  29. Bakes

    My ex had one of these when we met. Blue 1986 four-door hatchback. The car was awesome. It held everything. We called it the TARDIS. Just a basic utilitarian car but very well made and did everything we wanted it to do. She would likely probably still have it if the guy at Auto Phall, err, Palace wouldn’t have left it running for 15 minutes with a bad thermostat. Blew the head gasket on the poor thing.

    Like 0

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