Yours Cars: Tom Ellis’s Vauxhall Nova

It’s amazing what can happen with the passage of time. Wind the clock back ten years, and say ‘Vauxhall Nova’ to anyone you know.

The response will all be the same.

“Boy racer.”

“Barry/Ned/Gazza has one.”

Vauxhall’s baby was its interpretation of the exploding supermini formula and it’s hard to believe that early examples are approaching 30 years old now. My 1989 1-litre base (poverty-spec) model is just three months my junior. My first car was a 1.2 litre 1992 merit and it’s suffice to say that despite the bland, square-cut styling, there is something bewitching about the Nova.

Why else do we have men in their 30s who still drive them, usually with XE redtop power?

Age will give most cars character. In its heyday the Nova was very much seen as a competent if dull machine, but compared to the domestic appliance that the Corsa is today it’s a positive classic.

Let’s take a look at the 1.0 model then. Most of the range was powered by the sweet-revving SOHC engines based on GM’s Family II design, but for the smallest engine, GM instead elected to revive the 993cc OHV engine, which first saw service in 1962 in a new model of Opel Kadett. While the 1200 and up models were blessed with such niceties as breakerless ignition, all Novas came with four-speed gearboxes (considered passe even in 1984). The 1.0 has old-fashioned points-ignition.

This little car has only done 87k as of December 2011, despite its somewhat shabby bodywork.  It was bought from the Bedfordshire town of Sandy in February 2010, and it came from a pretty rough estate -the BB gun scars in the nearside rear wing and the lack of service history were the only drawbacks. My other half actually had it before me as a first car to learn in, but that fell through so it fell into my hands in May 2010.

On the whole it’s been a pretty trouble-free classic (and yes, I will say it because despite the 80s exterior the technology is pretty 1960s underneath, in the 1.0 anyway) although I paid the price for others neglect – it required a new coil, HT leads, points, plugs, cap, rotor arm, fanbelt and rocker gasket in October 2010 to prevent it from choking to death.  Coil going was a particularly fun affair – happened on a road in Cambridge full of million pound houses…cut out in traffic and refused point-blank to start again, just so happens a nice jogger offered to push it onto the grass verge.

The ignition points  can cause headaches if they wear, as I found out this winter.  Since  September the car began to run badly.. First it wouldn’t start until second or third turn, and then the idle speed dropped before the engine would stall completely on idle unless the choke was out.  Then it ran on three cylinders briefly.  After being fleeced out of thirty nicker, a mate found out that it was knackered HT leads (which were supposedly new a year previously) and a helpful member of the PNG (Performance Nova Group) identified it further as a worn, stuck contact-breaker.

“Surprised it even runs.” he said before spending just five minutes with a flathead screwdriver in the distributor and got the thing running.

So one job for 2012 will be a full service. Some people say it’s not worth spending any money on an Eighties banger….I wish people would accept that cars from Thatcher’s era are approaching classic status now! Living with one in the 21st Century is pretty easygoing. It is modern enough to keep up with traffic and be part of most people’s living memories, whilst having a certain kind of street cred.

Well I am a 23 year old man and here I am driving a distinctly-stock Vauxhall Nova and yes, I can hear you, there was a Jet Black Mini and Metro edition from around the era my car was built. I was actually in the market for an A-series Metro before I landed this. So the vinyls are a reasonably subtle way of customising it without attracting traffic coppers.

After a horrid 9 months with an unreliable crock of a 1-litre Vauxhall Corsa this car despite its niggles it has been a joy to own, itI find it much easier than a modern supermini to drive – because you actually have to drive it as opposed to operating it. A clunky mechanical gearbox (albeit a touch notchy), manual choke, no PAS (though at 700kg roughly it really doesn’t need one – it’s very light to steer, and very responsive), but excellent visibility. Lots of room in the back as well – can easily carry four to five adults without feeling like a tin of sardines.

And for a one-litre, this doesn’t hang about. Sure, 45bhp (when new!) is not impressive even by 1980s standards but around town the gearing is perfect and it is a very nippy little car. The four-pot pushrod, Weber-fed (something to boast about down the pub) engine has a pugnacious, angry growl when floored as well! Okay so hills aren’t great fun but it will cruise reasonably happily at 70 (and I visit my parents several times a year who live fifty plus miles away) and even made the trip when not running properly. These engines will even go on two cylinders!

So what do I love? Cheap to run, tax, insure, fix, and just £35 will fill the tank to the brim. Plus it’s an absolute giggle to drive and never sounds coarse even when pushed.  There might be no fancy wizardry to boast about but it’s less cause for a garage to rip you off for. Manual choke and ‘Winter-Summer running’ valve on the airbox a little irksome sometimes I suppose.

I intend on getting at least five years out of this. Regardless of how much it cost. The scrappage scheme ain’t taking my baby away from me!

You can follow Tom here


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