Chevrolet Nova Internet Source Police Novas

In the late 1970s, Chevrolet's 9C1 police package Nova was the ultimate squad car.

Chevrolet made some "test mule" '74 police package Novas, but it didn't start to produce them in masse until the 1975 model year. By then catalytic converters and only around 160-175hp were the norm. (In those days, cop cars had to pass the same emissions standards as civilian cars. From the early '80s, they only meet federal emissions standards.)

Chevy made a sample for the LASD tests in 1974. They were so impressed that they immediately ordered another fifteen for field testing. They then bought eleven of them, and Fountain Valley, CA bought the remaining four. The Nova was redesigned for 1975, but this only improved the handling and even the ride quality of the actual production 9C1s.

With only 170hp, they could do 0-60 in 8.5 seconds and top out at 125 MPH with police running gear. Considering the emissions controls and a standard-output engine, a top end of over 120 was spectacular. The quarter mile trap speed was 85 MPH. This car could outrun the L82 Corvette!

The police 350s had more heavy-duty components (e.g., tougher valve springs) that improved durability. They didn't get any performance-enhancing modifications.

The transmission was a special heavy-duty police issue Turbo Hyrdamatic 350. It had an auxiliary fluid cooler and recalibrated shift points. Its higher line pressure allowed it to "spool up" more quickly, giving a slight acceleration edge. Its shifting was quicker and more precise.

The cooling system was heavy duty. This car could idle or run "pedal-to-the-metal" for a long time without overheating.

The brakes were oversized, heavy duty units designed to stop a 4500lb Impala towing a 7000lb trailer. On top of that, they had special heavy duty linings. The Nova could decelerate at 1.2 Gs! The 9C1s also had a more responsive Z28 steering gear and many Z28 suspension parts.

Chevrolet put wiring in place for the overhead light bars and under-dash wiring for radios.

Cops liked the the Nova 9C1s so much because of their excellent handling and decent performance. While they were only designed to be patrol-class cars for city use, they were still just as fast as some pursuit cars of that era.

1976 Chevrolet Nova 9C1The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) was the launch customer for the '75 9C1 Nova after a prototype took their 1974 test by storm. In 1976 alone, the LASD ordered 222 9C1 Novas. After such a well known agency selected it the car, it caught on.

Until 1979, it was the urban squad to beat, even against the top-notch Chrysler compact offerings (Aspen and Volare). Ford's line of Maverick and Fairmont squad cars never came close. The Nova beat up the AMC Matador 401 after catalytic converters and weight strangled its performance. Since Chrysler was the benchmark of the time, the underdog police Nova 9C1s were exceptional. The Nova 9C1 was one of the best handling road cars available. It was right up there with the 1979-81 R-body Chrysler squads. It could pull .825 Gs on the skidpad. This is better than the modern Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.

Civilian buyers got tired of the paint-on image substituting for power in late '70s sport cars. With the help of car magazine hype, people began buying Nova 9C1s for their actual performance and handling.

Unfortunately, the Nova did have some drawbacks. The combination of mucho power and little weight made the car impractical on wet leaves, snow, or ice. Some city police departments considered them too powerful. The rear seats are already cramped; imagine how much more cramped they must be with a protective mesh screen installed to protect the cops from prisoners. And the exhaust was poorly positioned in some of the cars. A former Rochester, NY cop described a "rotten egg" smell and intense heat coming from the catalytic converter which was installed directly below the driver's seat.

Despite these drawbacks, the Nova was "the one thing I looked forward to each day" for that Rochester cop.

The Nova was not the only GM X-body squad car. Pontiac had a Ventura and Phoenix package from at least 1976. It was very similar to the Nova 9C1 package. The top engine was a big-block Oldsmobile "Rocket" 4-V 350. By 1978, the top engine was a Pontiac 4-V 301; the 350 was used only in California or high-altitude emissions areas. But because of the small block's better fit and lower price, the Nova was more popular. In Madison, WI, the city police department used Nova 9C1s for many years. One officer says that he likes the Nova squad car better than modern Caprices and Crown Victorias because of its power/handling balance and smaller-car agility.

Chevrolet concurrently made a 9C1 Nova and Malibu in 1978, and completely discontinued the 9C1 Nova in 1979.

California and midwestern cab companies picked many up these cars after they were retired from police duty. Some still drive these Novas to this date.

Comments on the 9C1 Nova from some current and former cops:

I don't remember what the horsepower rating was, but the cars were not altered. They came right from the factory. I remember another problem the cars had, they never handled the light bar too well. Fuses would blow while we were responding to calls, so you never knew if the lights were on during daylight hours and we had to look in store windows for the reflection, just to check. Later the factory sent some heavy duty wiring fix and it worked fine.
Phillip Goodwin

Here's a guy who discovered a 9C1 Nova after purchasing it:

Around 1991 I purchased a four door 1978 Nova from a guy in Poughkeepsie NY for around $800. Being a Nova fanatic, noticed the 120 mph speedometer and the fact that there was a three gauge panel where the radio should have been. After getting the car home, I found some poor bondo work covering up holes in the roof, both pillars next to the windshield, and the drivers side rear quarter panel. Another oddity was the omission of an antenna of any kind for radio. The back seat was set back farther in the car then it is in other Novas, and the cushion was much thicker. The car also had power locks in the rear, but there were no knobs inside to lock or unlock the doors manually. The car had a 350 four barrel engine and a TH400 trans. Also some time after I purchased it, a friend and I were cleaning it out, and my friend found some sort of field interrogation forms or some such thing under the back seat. They were imprinted with a seal from a police dept in New Jersey.
Thomas Herring

Here's a guy whose 9C1 rental car Nova saved his butt:

I am Canadian, but was living in California for the summer of 1978 working for McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach. Two friends and I flew down to San Diego and rented a very innocent looking baby-blue (metallic) 78 Nova which was a Hertz 'Mexico Car' complete with a protective underplate below the floor pan and engine as well as the full compliment of police special equipment. This included a 350 V8 I believe and was the best handling small car I ever drove (until I got my first Mustang.) That Nova would go like a bat out of hell!! We were chased back to the border by a Mexican cop in a major Monaco over some alleged parking violation and we got all the way there safely. The border guards took a dim view him following us so he f*cked off. That Nova really saved our bacon.
Dan Perley

Many thanks go to Seth Ellestad for providing the bulk information. Thanks also goes out to Phillip Goodwin, Jeneth Hawke and Don Seributra.

Copyright © 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 Aren Cambre.