Vauxhall Nova: Simple hatch or symbol?
Good morning all (writing this at exactly 00:15 in the morning), welcome back to my kitchen table just past midnight while the kettle is boiling and Bob Dylan is on the radio. I simply couldn’t sleep in this unbearable heat so I’ve decided to write another article, this time a personal tale, one of my first car, a 1989 Vauxhall Nova SRi. This car defined a huge part of my teenage years. I was a total hot hatch head, a boy racer in a car in his parents’ name, not giving a toss about anything. Anyway, on with the article.
The year was 2001 and I was a weird teenager, the one with too much hair and a bad dress sense. I’d always looked forward to the day of owning a car and here it was right in front of me, a red 1989 Nova with the flared wheelarches and some rust in questionable areas. The rev counter didn’t work and the ignition wires had been soldered together and were hanging from the dashboard. I didn’t think much of it then but looking back, I think it could have been a stolen car and I just never realised at the time. The car had cost my parents the princely sum of £150, and you could certainly tell.
One of the first things I did with the car once I got it was tear out nearly everything that was too heavy and took up too much space. I’d love to tell you that I did this because of weight-saving measures and to improve handling but the truth is, I was a member of a punk rock band and I needed space for instruments and amplifiers. My particular model also came with roof racks, which was extremely handy and saved mine and my friends’ lives, as I will explain later on. Once everything had been removed bar the driver and passenger seat, the car showed itself to have a pretty big capacity inside.
Fixing up my car was always a big occasion. I’d go outside with a toolbox and a can of WD-40 and make sure everything was in perfect working order. If you’d passed by my house at any point in the years 2001-2003, chances are you would either see me giving myself scoliosis from bending over the engine for so long, or see nothing but a pair of feet from underneath the car where I was fettling with the usually broken radiator, which had a party piece of spluttering to a halt at every red light. Eventually I fixed the issue by installing the radiator from a similarly built Cavalier, which amazingly kept the car running nicely until it remembered one day that it was a Cavalier radiator. And it was in a Nova. And it shouldn’t have been there. And promptly decided, out of pride for Cavaliers, to commit radiator suicide right on the A25.
I recently drove a 1988 Nova, which gave me the inspiration to write this. I took a friend’s Nova out on some country roads to see if it was still as good as I remember. While it isn’t Peugeot 205-levels of fun to drive, it seems to attack the corners it reaches rather than responding to them, as many other hot hatches would do. It appears then, that the Nova is the bull terrier of the 1980s hot hatch scene: it certainly idles like a dog. Seriously, the throttle response is atrocious, and if you are looking to buy this car as a driving tool then you should seriously heed my warning.
To go along with its aggressive handling, this car has the looks of a bobcat. Its slightly pinched nose gives it a permanent snarl. Its looks were what drew me to it in the first place, as an awkward teen with a bad dress sense and a Nokia phone. Back then, the car was an absolute steal, at around £200, but these days Novas (especially the much sought-after GTE model) fetch thousands on the second-hand market and at auctions. I don’t believe that this car will ever become a classic in the future, as it sold too well and generally don’t hold up well in the building quality department.
But I believe that while this car will not join the future classics club, it has done something far more admirable; it has defined a generation. Think about it. An awkward, sullen, middle-class 1980s suburban teen, trying to fit in and be cool. He hasn’t got much money yet wants a nice set of wheels. What’s he going to drive? A Fiesta? Even back then they were hopelessly slow. A Micra? Sure, they were reliable but they may as well have been made from gold, they cost so much to insure. A Golf? Not unless you’re a millionaire. That only leaves a Metro, which unless you spend your free time jumping between charity shops and National Trust car parks, wouldn’t have the “cool” appeal.
That’s why the Vauxhall Nova ranks high among my favourite cars, as it defined a generation and gave them something to identify with. It was a great car for me, until I crashed it of course.
Anyway, the kettle has boiled, Bob Dylan has finished, and I’m tired. So it’s goodnight from me, goodnight from him and goodnight from him.
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