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Bargain Muscle

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Article by Matt Boyd
Photos by Bruce Wartleib

 

The Rally Nova is sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s SS”. This was certainly Chevrolet’s intended role for the car, but that characterization is only partly accurate when it comes to the technical details. By 1971 insurance companies had gotten wise to the perils of high-performance musclecars in the hands of the public, and had responded by socking drivers with hefty surcharges for high-powered machines. And since it was the image rather than the performance that drew many customers to musclecars in the first place, Chevy decided that a budget-minded appearance package that played on musclecar themes might give these customers what they wanted most without piquing the ire of their State Farm agent. The affordable Nova seemed the ideal platform, and the package name borrowed from a similar option on the sporty Camaro. But while the Rally Sport option could be combined with the SS package on the Camaro, it was decided that the Rally Nova option would be a separate package, distinct from and not able to be selected with the Nova SS.
Checking the YF1 option on a Nova 2-door coupe (it was not available on the sedan) got you the following: special tapered side stripes with “Rally Nova” on the hood and rear fender, black paint on the grille and headlight bezels, a black sport stripe between the taillights, a driver’s side sport mirror, polished drip moldings, special carpeting, a sport steering wheel, 14-inch Rally wheels and a heavy-duty suspension. None but the last two had any effect on performance, but they gave the Rally Nova a decidedly sporty look. Engine options were the same as for any 1971 non-SS Nova. The base engine was a 250ci inline-6; optional was a 200-hp 307 V-8, and the top choice was the L65 350 V-8 with a 2-barrel carb and 245hp (the 270-horse 4-barrel L48 was an SS-only option). More limiting than the engine choices were the transmissions—all Rally Novas had to make do with a light-duty 3-speed manual or an automatic (only SS cars got a 4-speed.) Still, if the musclecar look was what you were after, and you weren’t concerned with timeslips or stoplight showdowns, the Rally Nova was a great choice.

HIGHLIGHTS
Exterior. The philosophy behind GMP’s Rally Nova is not so different from the original car’s—take an existing product, spice it up with some unique cosmetic options and offer it up in limited numbers for a very attractive price. This casting has been around a number of years and is most likely nearing the end of its run, but no Rally Nova had been done to date, and with the tooling costs covered long ago, there was little risk for GMP in doing this car even as a 500-piece run. And for a tool that may have seen 60,000+ models, it looks quite fresh; the contours and character lines look good, and the trim and fascias are better. Panel fit is not an issue for the most part, as none but the hood open—a sure sign this is not from GMP’s more recent castings. About the only knocks are the cast-in door handles, which look under-defined. The orange paint is bright and smooth (it’s also available in black), and the badges on the trunk and fenders, though only painted on, are crisp and well-rendered. The side stripe, however, looks a bit thick and it is odd that the lines don’t transition smoothly from door to fender given that the doors don’t open.

Interior. Without opening doors, much detail beyond the basic interior bits would have been a wasted effort. GMP gives us a fair representation of a typical Rally Nova interior, with bench seats front and rear, and a plain dashboard with basic instrumentation that’s legible if not attention-grabbing. Black plastic simulates black vinyl adequately. Somewhat unusual is the presence of a manual transmission lever and a clutch pedal—automatics accounted for most of the sales. Sadly, the color-coded carpeting that was part of the Rally package appears to have been omitted.

Engine. This is where GMP models excel, and while the Nova’s 350 may not be as glamorous as some other motor, the accuracy with which it is presented here makes it the star of this model. The decal on the air-cleaner announces this as the Turbo Fire 350 with 245 horsepower. Below that are the block, heads and intake manifold, all bathed in Chevy engine orange. A distributor behind the air-cleaner sprouts plug wires, and gold paint covers the headers and brake master cylinder. The accessory belt carries only an alternator—no power steering or air conditioning on this car, though both were optional.

Chassis, Wheels and Tires. The undercarriage shows well with molded and painted lines for the brakes, and a very nicely crafted dual exhaust system. The rear suspension, with its 4-leaf springs and staggered shocks is well done, but the front is less deft, showing this casting’s age a bit. The Rally Wheels are excellent; the steel color has just the right sheen, neither too flat nor too glossy. The tires are also very good, with nice molding in the narrow tread pattern. Though the suspension is fixed, the car has just the right ride height and stance.

SPECS

Scale: 1:18
Overall length: 10.4 in.
Wheelbase: 6.12 in.
Price: $65


FEATURES
» Opening Hood
» Steerable front wheels


RATINGS (scale of 1-5)
Body, paint 3.5

Wheels, tires 4

Engine 3.5

Chassis, suspension, undercarriage 3

Interior 1.5

Presentation, proportion, stance 3.5

Collectibility 3

WRAPPING UP
The Rally Nova is typical of the direction that musclecars were heading in the early ’70’s—emphasizing show over go in the attempt to satisfy buyers who valued image over performance. Not that it was a sled; even wheezing through its 2-barrel carb a 350 could propel the relatively lightweight Nova through the quarter mile in the mid- to high-15’s. Like the original, GMP’s Nova lacks some of the features of its more upscale stablemates, but it’s the most affordable way to get a taste of the GMP musclecar experience. And it’s also the one of the only models of this often overlooked machine.

GMP (800) 536-1637; gmpdiecast.com

Updated: June 30, 2011 — 11:24 AM

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