For a car that was rushed into production in a matter of months, the Chevy II enjoyed a long and successful life.
Introduced on July 7, 1959, the 1960 Corvair was a fairly solid seller for General Motors with more than 250,000 units shipped that first year. But due to its innovative air-cooled, rear-engine design, the Corvair was an expensive car to manufacture, constantly struggling to meet its cost targets and generate a reasonable profit margin.
Meanwhile, Ford took a very different approach with its entry in the compact class, the Falcon. With its extremely simple and conventional design, it was cheap and profitable to build, and the public liked it just fine. More than 435,000 Falcons were sent out the door in its first model year, outselling not only the Corvair but the Rambler American and Volkswagen Beetle in the USA. By December of 1959, the GM brass had seen enough. Chevrolet would take direct aim at the Falcon with a second entry in the compact class, the car we know as the Chevy II.
The Chevy II’s development program ran at an emergency-room pace—barely 18 months from the first blank sheet of paper to the start of production in August of 1961. And while it’s not quite a clone of the Falcon, the similarities are remarkable. The Chevy II’s wheelbase was 110 inches and overall length was 183 inches—same as the Falcon, give or take an inch or two. The front suspension (above) was strikingly familiar as well, with a strut-rod lower control arms and coil springs perched atop the upper wishbones. This basic platform, known as the X-body inside the company, was not shared with any other GM product in its first generation.
But there were some differences, and a few innovations, too. The Chevy II used a novel monoleaf rear suspension, and for ease of manufacturing, the unit-construction chassis was constructed in two halves that bolted together at the firewall with 14 fasteners. The new compact was also the first product to feature the Chevrolet division’s totally redesigned Powerglide automatic transmission, which the full-size cars would adopt the following year. (Read our Powerglide feature here.) There were two available Chevy II powerplants the first year: a 153 CID inline four and a `194 CID inline six. Both were variants of the third-generation Chevrolet straight six introduced on the bow-tie division’s big cars in ’63. (This inline engine family shared parts and tooling with the Chevy small-block V8.) The six found far more popularity than the four in the Chevy II, accounting for more than 80 percent of the deliveries in ’62.
The Chevy II lineup for the inaugural year included three trim levels, starting with the bare-bones 100 series, above. At $2003, the base price was eight bucks more than the Corvair and $18 more than the Falcon. Next up was the 300 series, which added a little more chrome trim and upgraded interior fabrics. The top of the line was the 400 Nova, which boasted real carpeting inside and the inline six as standard. All three trim levels were available in two-door sedan, four-door sedan, and station wagon body styles; on the 400 Nova wagon, a third seat was available. The 400 Nova line also included a snazzy two-door hardtop sport coupe (top photo) and a convertible (below).
For 1962, there was no Super Sport in the Chevy II lineup, no V8 engines or four-speed transmissions, either. All that would come a few years later as eventually, even big-block V8s became available in the platform’s third generation (1969-74). The Chevy II badge was retired for 1969, but the Nova name continued on for decades. It was last seen in the USA on a front-drive subcompact produced by the GM/Toyota NUMMI joint venture from 1985 through 1988.
Article courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.