Home » The Easy Way Or The Hard Way: 1986 Chevy Nova vs 1961 Jaguar Mk II

The Easy Way Or The Hard Way: 1986 Chevy Nova vs 1961 Jaguar Mk II

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Good morning! I seem to have stumbled on a theme for this week, so we’ll just go with it and see where it leads. Today we’re looking at two four-door sedans with manual gearboxes, but with wildly different levels of difficulty. Before we get to those, however, let’s see what you made of yesterday’s air-cooled beasts:

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Yes! A full one-fifth of you are crazy enough to take on that dune buggy. When one of you one hundred and twenty-nine brave souls brings that beast home, we expect a full report.

Today, we’re shifting gears and looking at two vehicles with fixed roofs, four doors, and a certain degree of respectability that was lacking from Monday’s or Tuesday’s offerings. Does this mean that they’ll be boring? Not on your life. Here they are.

1986 Chevrolet Nova – $2,250

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6-liter inline-4, 5-speed manual, FWD.

Location: Portland, OR.

Odometer reading: 162,000 miles.

Runs/drives? Like a top, from the sound of it.

Before there was Geo, Chevrolet slapped its own badges on GM’s captive imports. The Chevy Spectrum was a rebadged Isuzu Gemini (or I-Mark in the States), the Sprint was a Suzuki Cultus, and the Nova was essentially a Toyota Corolla with some minor sheet metal changes. GM caught some flak for applying the Nova nameplate to a front-wheel-drive import, much like Chrysler faced with the Japanese-built late-1970s Challenger and front-wheel-drive Charger and Duster. What’s in a name? Quite a lot, according to some, it seems.

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The Nova was built alongside the Corolla at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant (NUMMI for short) in Fremont, California. As such, the Nova wasn’t really an import after all. Or was it? And what about the Toyota-badged cars rolling out of the same factory? They were built by the same workers; did that make them domestics?  The whole “Buy American” thing gets more muddled the closer you look at it.

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The best thing about this car, to me, is the complete lack of bullshit or pretense. It’s just a car, built to be useful, reliable, and reasonably comfortable transportation. And I can vouch for the truth of that: I commuted a hundred miles a day in one of these for the better part of a year, and it held up just fine. It won’t impress anybody except the person who owns it, but who cares?

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The condition of this particular Nova is certainly impressive; it has covered only 162,000 miles under one owner, and it has been well-kept. In fact, looking at the photos, I don’t see anything wrong with this car except a little ding on the left rear corner. Really, this is a hell of a deal on this little car, and I can’t figure out why it’s still up for sale after eleven days, honestly. Maybe nobody wants to drive a manual. Or the average car-shopper has no idea about this car’s Toyota DNA. Whatever the reason, it’s a bargain, and if I were looking for a car, I’d be tempted to scoop it up myself.

(Images and listing from Craigslist.)

1961 Jaguar Mark II – $2,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.4 or 3.8-liter inline-6, 4-speed manual with overdrive, RWD.

Location: Monterey, CA.

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Odometer reading: Unknown.

Runs/drives? That would be a no.

When you think of a 1961 Jaguar, what probably comes to mind is the legendary E-Type sports car. But about twice as many Mark II saloons rolled out of Coventry than did E-Types. The Mark II used the same XK series dual-overhead-cam engine as the E-Type. The Mark II’s engine was slightly de-tuned, and it had a live rear axle on leaf springs in place of the E-Type’s independent rear end, but this was still a high-performance car, especially the 3.8 liter version.

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There’s no indication of which engine size this Jag holds under its long bonnet, but whichever it is, its cylinder head is in the trunk.  It was in storage for a long time, presumably with the head off, so here’s hoping some sort of prep work was done to keep the cylinders from rusting, or this may be a famous Le Mans-winning dual-overhead cam boat anchor. The rest of it looks rough but restorable, and compared to an E-Type in similar condition, this is a bargain.

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I love these little folding trays for the rear seat passengers. This car may have been fun to drive in its day, but one wasn’t meant to drive it oneself; one was meant to be driven in it.

The seller seems to have thought it more important to take artsy close-up shots than any decent overall condition shots, so I guess I’ll leave you with this look at of one of the Lucas headlamps and fog lamps:

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Look at that patina. This old Jag wouldn’t be welcomed at The Quail, but we here at Shitbox Showdown aren’t so highfalutin (we are, at best, medium-falutin) and we appreciate a bit of texture.

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[Editor’s Note: This Jag has fantastic potential to become a rally car. It would be very welcome at a Gambler 500 or a HooptieX. Get that pile of crap running, wrap some all-terrains on those wheels, bolt some rally lights to it, then take it on an adventure! – MS]

(Images and listing from Craigslist.)

So that’s what we’ve got for you today: A captive import in remarkably good shape, or a decent deal on a restoration-ready British motorcar. Which one will it be?

QuizMaker

 

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Scott Sullivan
Scott Sullivan
1 year ago

As the owner of a 1966 Jaguar salon the correct answer is both of them. The Jag restored or not will always be needing something and you will want a wheeled appliance to drive while you contemplate how to ge the Jag on the road again. Also the Jag is a thirsty beast. Luckily mine has the overdrive so my milage is in the double digits.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 year ago

I don’t have the time or money to serve that lovely Jaguar. The Nova would serve me. When I met my future wife in 1991 she had a 5 speed Geo Prism that she adored. She misses that honest machine to this day.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 year ago

Dear Annasmith. Your children are being held in a foreign jail on false drug charges. This is a serious matter. Please send me 2000 American money so I can bail them out before they are abused in a horrible way.

Fast Car-Slow-Car Fast
Fast Car-Slow-Car Fast
1 year ago

I took my driving test in this car’s twin. A greenish stick shift Chevy Nova that was probably the same year as this. I wasn’t surrounded by wealth back then and this was the only clean, reliable, and reasonably sized car I could borrow to take my test. The DMV officer was a BIG dude and took up the whole front passenger side plus part of my side. I remember struggling to operate the shifter around his bulk and having to look around him when looking right to make turns through downtown traffic in the ‘burbs outside Boston.

Dave Horchak
Dave Horchak
1 year ago

Sorry I guess I’m just s Jag-off. Gotta be the Jag. Especially having owned one of these rebadged Chevys. Mediocre and electric problems.

Conehead1978
Conehead1978
1 year ago

Voted for the Nova. We bought the exact same model/color in 1988 when we moved to Atlanta. My wife, short in stature really loved this car. Never left us on the side of the road. All we did was have it serviced when required. A couple of years into ownership we found the rear struts were faulty and the back tires were badly cupped. After that, no issues. At 232,000 miles it had a lot of things suddenly go bad (brakes, struts among other things) and repair costs were more than it was worth, so we donated it to the American Cancer Society and bought her a new 2005 Toyota Corolla CE sedan. We put 216,000 on the Corolla and sold it after buying a Chevy Volt off lease. My wife likes to keep cars a long time.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 year ago

Well the Nova was built in what is now the Tesla factory so that’s worth some sort of conversation points. Other than that it’s a stealth Toyota with a stick.

The Jag is every bit as expensive to fix up as an E type.

Nova wins as transportation, Jag wins as art. Maybe buy both so you have something to fetch Jaguar parts in?

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago

Guess I’ll take the Nova even though I already have a different NUMMI Chevy DD.
It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make because I know I don’t have the means or abilities required to give the Jag the life it deserves.
It would be selfish of me to vote for it. I’ll leave it for someone else. But they better not change anything about that lovely sunflower and maple interior besides cleaning it up and replacing what’s missing. Man that looks like a nice place to sit.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago

Definitely sounds life changing. But there’s easier ways to become homeless.

05LGT
05LGT
1 year ago

I want to be the man who could resto-mod that Jag with something stupidly incorrect, like an I8! Just to be strange and justify loving the patina without needing to stuff a modern V8 in it. But that’s not me. I’d be a lot more likely to find bliss by rebadging the NUMMI as a Corolla (because Nova’s are RWD damnit!) and puttering around in it.

annasmith
annasmith
1 year ago

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LorraineNester
LorraineNester
1 year ago
Reply to  annasmith

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unclesam
unclesam
1 year ago

Voted for the fold down tray tables. Try having a picnic in the back of that Nova

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
1 year ago

I remember the vile hatred for these Japanese-junk ” Novas” spewing from folks such as my dad and the owner of the local autobody shop in the small midwestern town I grew up in. “What the hell! Mechanics now have to have TWO sets of tools – one just for this new metric shit! Damn government.” Actual quote from an authority figure of my younger days.

Novas were supposed to be rear-wheel drive, have big meats holding up the ass end, jacked to the sky as God intended. Throaty big block “Rat-attack” motors pulling single-digit mileage as they prowled the 25mph streets, the driver’s arm resting comfortably on the edge of the open-windowed door, a Bud-heavy tallboy parked nearby in a make-shift can holder.

Years later I had a chance to test drive one of these NUMMI-Novas in perfect condition with my new girlfriend who was shopping for a car at the time. I remember thinking “huh, not bad” and then completely forgetting about the car after we left the dealership.

I voted for the Jag.

The Ultracrepidarian
The Ultracrepidarian
1 year ago

I was hoping the Nova model was a typo and it was really a 1968. That’s be real cool – and I HAD a 68 Nova at one time. But even so, as much as the Jag would be cool if only… that Nova is really clean and will run another 100,000 miles at least. Nova for me, dawg.

steveed
steveed
1 year ago

Nova!! I drove an 84 Chevy Nova that I bought for $250 from a friend in Northern Virginia (aka NOVA) as it would not pass inspection. This was the late 90s I was in the Army and stationed in North Carolina so no worries about inspections. Drove that car up and down the eastern seaboard for a few years before I got out of the Army. Great car, very reliable. No power windows/locks to break and no AC to worry about. Just roll down the windows, crank up the radio and start shifting gears.

I am tempted to buy that one just to putter around, though living in Texas now it is hard to survive without AC. Summer is about 8 months of the year.

Todd Beauchamp
Todd Beauchamp
1 year ago

Electrics by Lucus means be home by dark

The Toecutter
The Toecutter
1 year ago

I’d totally do a restomod on the Jag. Electric conversion. Tesla Model 3 pack and drive system would be a good match. Gut the original electricals and go with a cheap GM wiring harness. All of this could make it into a reliable daily driver, with all the style of the original. Plus it has decent aerodynamics, even by today’s standards, and it is light. This could be a 250 Wh/mile car.

SteamTroller45
SteamTroller45
1 year ago

Grew up in a Nova. A few notes:
Ixnay on the A/C. Not great for a family in Houston. Don’t know if retrofit even exists for this.
The coolant system only takes antifreeze, any water will result in overheating. Not sure what brainiac came up with that, or decided not to put it anywhere but a tiny blurb in the owners manual, which by the time we got it the car didn’t have. Even the Chilton had this tidbit buried.
Vacuum controlled cruise control is somewhere between stupid and criminally negligent. We had a hose break and punch it. Were doing 20 over before we figured out what was wrong and cancelled.

Still seriously considering a road trip to buy it and bring it down to Houston.

Jason Roth
Jason Roth
1 year ago

A ca. ’86 Nova was (kind of) my first car! For awhile we were a 2-car family with 3 drivers, but my dad’s colleague had a spare Nova (his wife left him and returned to England—bad for him, good for me) that I used until my mom got a teal Plymouth Laser (I’ve now narrowed the date son this story pretty tightly) and gave me her Grand Am.

Anyway, the Nova, an automatic, had awful response off the line, but pulled surprisingly hard in 2nd gear. My friends and I joked about future teens dragging ’80s Novas in races that started verrrry slowly then picked up.

Anyway, I’d rather have a nonfunctioning Jag than a pristine ’86 Nova. I mean, I already own a car.

annasmith
annasmith
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

$3

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

I can’t tell if we have a really smart bot or a not really smart human poster here. Hmm…

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
1 year ago

I’m thinking dumb human. A really smart bot would earn WAY more than $3 per month.

Dave Horchak
Dave Horchak
1 year ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

Maybe just being honest?

Mercedes Streeter
Mercedes Streeter
1 year ago

I can’t tell, either. And sadly, we can’t ban them at this current time. But we can wreck their comments, which is exactly what we’re doing! LOL

Stig's Cousin
Stig's Cousin
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Last I checked, Spam was selling for $3.49 at my local Kroger… so maybe not. Damn inflation!

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
1 year ago
Reply to  Stig's Cousin

About tree fiddy for a CAN OF SPAM? We all know how that will end.
Monstrous

unclesam
unclesam
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

Hey man, someone has to be the bottom of the pyramid

Mercedes Streeter
Mercedes Streeter
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Tucker

It’s hilarious how silly this bot sounds when you remove a 1 and a k from the dollar figure. I think we’re going to continue to mess around with this thing for the funsies.

05LGT
05LGT
1 year ago

Thank you. This is BLISS!

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
1 year ago

The Nova for me since I’m not looking for a project.

But if I was looking for a project, then the Jaaaaaaag would be the ticket.

Jared Lokay
Jared Lokay
1 year ago

Chevy Nova, aka Toyota Corolla, aka Geo Prism for me. I had an ’86 Nova and two other friends had the Corolla..all at the same time back in the day. Mechanically they are tanks. I think we all totalled them within a year of each other. We were young and dumb.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
1 year ago

Passion wins out over rationality today although both are worthy. As a Jag owner it’s the MkII all day every day since a well-done end result will result in much more pleasure than the Nova could ever give. But props to the Nova for being a really solid piece of engineering and a decent car in its own right.

RC Mil
RC Mil
1 year ago

JagUar !
Class, Taste, Breeding.
Runs, Drives Just like a new one.

WK2_5.7
WK2_5.7
1 year ago

Really wanted to vote for the Jag. I did. But I can see much money and time disappearing in a wild goose chase on that one.

Voted for the Nova. I would take it to car shows and tell all the boomers “Look, I’ve got a Nova just like you!”

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