1977 Chevrolet Concours: “It’s just a Nova!”
For a brief period in 1976–77, Chevrolet tried to give its plushest compact a separate name from the perhaps more prosaic, basic Nova. It’s kind of ironic. Initially, the compact Chevrolet was dubbed Chevy II upon its introduction for the 1962 model year, with the Nova being the top-of-the-line version with more chrome, nicer seats, and more standard equipment. But within a few years, “Chevy II” was retired and “Nova” became the name for the basic version. So, when a new Broughamier version was added, the GM marketeers needed yet another model name.
I had a confusing experience with one of these in my youth. I rode my bike all the time, 90 percent of it within about an eight-block radius of my house (that included the disused black 1971 Lincoln Continental I previously have written about).
It was probably around 1990. There was an alley that ran behind our block, which included our house, the Ohlweilers next door, and the Kendalls at the end. I’d just hit the far end of the alley and saw a caramel-colored Concours parked on the next street. I think it had a beige top, pretty much the same as the one featured on the cover of the ’77 brochure.
I thought, “Nova,” of course, but as I slowed down (it was in super nice condition, and even then I had an appreciation for ’70s domestic rolling stock), I noticed it did not say Nova anywhere. On the side it said “Concours,” which I dimly recalled was the top Chevelle wagon in the early ’70s (thank my science teacher Mr. Spilker’s cache of vintage National Geographics for my remembering that obscure fact, even back then). And each wheel cover had a cursive letter “C.”
Out back—again, no Nova nomenclature. Instead, in a Cadillac-like cursive script on the right side of the trunk lid, it said, “Chevrolet Concours.” I was thoroughly confused! What was this, some obscure export version? It looked like a Nova. Same sheet metal, same glass, same size, same everything, perhaps rather more ornate and well-equipped than an average Nova, but really … what the heck?
It wasn’t until years later I found out it was just Chevrolet Motor Division trying to separate their fanciest compact with a different name. At some point I finally got a ’77 Concours brochure and immediately remembered the much more elaborate grille with a chrome header, the wider taillights, and, of course, that “Chevrolet Concours” script on the trunk lid.
I was reminded of that experience back in mid-February when I saw our featured car, a rather well-preserved example in Medium Green Metallic. It was for sale at Murphy Chevrolet, a dealership in Foley, Minnesota. It looked to be in nice shape, with the exception of a sunburned passenger-side fender. You don’t see these fancy versions often. But first, if you don’t mind a minor digression, the whole luxury compact Chevy started with the LN, a one-year only model.
When the Nova was redesigned in 1975 with a highly touted “European” look, with more upright styling and more glass area, the LN, or Luxury Nova, debuted with color-keyed wheel covers, plush seats, and a much lusher look than the usual utility-company-spec Novas hovering around in refrigerator white.
The Luxury Nova was available as a sedan and coupe. A LN coupe with the V-8 had a base price of $3857 ($21,639 today), while a plain-Jane Nova coupe with the six-cylinder engine started at $3280 ($18,402). An extra-frugal Nova S coupe was $3099 ($17,386).
After all was said and done, 1138 LN six coupes, 11,395 LN V-8 coupes, 1286 LN six sedans, and 8976 LN V-8 sedans were sold. Not terribly great, but let’s face it, around $700 more over a stripper Nova was a lot of money back then. If I had to guess, I imagine many folks took that $700 and moved up to a Malibu. But the LNs sure were pretty!
At any rate, in 1976 the luxury version was renamed Concours, but it retained the nicer interior, trim and appointments. This continued into the 1977 model year. As with the Novas, the Concours came in sedan, coupe, and hatchback versions.
GM went all out for 1977 in differentiating the Concours from the lesser Novas, as it was the only year it had its own showroom brochure. Yes, in 1977 if (like me) you routinely went to the local dealer to collect brochures, there was a 1977 Nova brochure and a separate 1977 Concours brochure, the only model year where that happened.
As the copy extolled: “This elegant compact, finely styled and engineered in the great road car fashion, is now even more luxurious … and in the continental manner, styling changes this year are subtle rather than extreme.”
“Concours also has very complete and elegant standard trim work. All three models include newly designed full wheel covers, wider bright-metal wheel-opening moldings, a stylish hood ornament, and distinctive identification. For 1977, nine of the 14 available colors and three of the seven vinyl roof color choices are new.”
It was all very nicely presented, and the extras the Concours sported were stylish in my opinion, but it just seemed like giving it a different nameplate didn’t work. It looked like a Nova. Because it was one, more or less. More chrome, more trim, more standard features, more wood-grained trim, yes, but still essentially a Nova—ornate grille and stand-up hood ornament notwithstanding.
And some wags who should know better will likely chime in right now to say the 1976–79 Seville was the same deal. Let’s not go there; I’ve covered the K-body Seville already.
When it was all said and done, with its own special brochure and everything, 5481 Concours hatchbacks, 28,602 Concours coupes, and 39,272 Concours sedans were sold for the model year. Sedans, like our featured green example, had a base price of $4066 ($21,569 today) with the inline six and $4186 ($22,205) with the V-8.
Chevrolet gave up, and most of what made up the Concours became the “Nova Custom” in 1978. It was nice but perhaps not quite as gilded as the ’77 Concours but retained the snootier grille and wider taillights. Sales didn’t improve however, as 23,953 Custom coupes and 26,475 Custom sedans (sixes and V-8s included) were sold. Seems like most folks just preferred the garden-variety Novas!