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This Rare unconverted 1969 Yenko Nova is greater than the sum of its parts

HOT ROD logo HOT ROD 7/31/2018 Hot Rod Network Staff
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You know by now that there's a cadre of barn car commandoes hard at tracking and exhumation in many parts of the country. Like the cops, they can't do it alone. They must rely on informants of all stripes to ferret out the mantles of the forgotten and the near-dead. These detectives also have thousands of social media followers and contacts. Mostly they find what they expect to find; sometimes they don't. Sometimes, what they don't find is more important than what they were after in the first place. The unconverted Yenko Nova you see here is one of those very rare rats. This one is from musclecar veteran, Tennessean Patrick Nichols.

Dennis Michalo of White Oak, Pennsylvania, purchased this unconverted 1969 Yenko Nova L78 396 new on April 4, 1969. Kenneth Collins is a barn car sleuth of Patrick's in Pittsburgh and tipped him off of the whereabouts of the car in January 2018. Collins worked alongside Michalo's son Noah Stark and had known about the Nova for years.

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The Nova back story: In 1969, Chevrolet denied Yenko's Central Office Production Order (COPO) request to have the L72 427 installed in the Nova at the source. Though Camaros and Chevelles were accommodated, management deemed that the Nova was too much of a compact car to safely use the power the combination generated (but brother-under-the-skin F-bodies somehow were not?). Ever the high-performance prince, Yenko made a plan, ordering some special batches of stripped-down, rubber-floor mat SS396 L78 Novas in Lemans Blue, Garnet Red, Rallye Green, and Fathom Green.

Yenko then offered the L72 427 short-block replacement to potential customers in what was called the Yenko Super Car Program. Therefore, the cylinder heads, intake manifold, carburetor, exhaust manifolds, etc., from the L78 were assumed by the L72 if the customer opted for the 427 Super Car conversion. Most agree that approximately 37 or less of these Novas were ever ordered by Yenko; according to Nichols, less than 30 of them have surfaced so far.

Nichols: "The exact number of cars that received the 427 conversion short-block and entered the Super Car program isn't known. Yenko records show proof of only two conversions--by way of final selling price--but those records are considered somewhat incomplete so the probability of the total number of cars that got the 427 being more than two is pretty good, but it still remains unknown."

Until the car surfaced this year as a heretofore unknown example, the general consensus was that all of the '69 Novas ordered by Yenko as potential 427 Super Car Program candidates were equipped with a manual transmission. Michalo's car seems to prove that long-time anecdote, that urban myth, as incorrect.

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According to him, Yenko personally took the initial phone call. Michalo specifically sought a Nova fitted with an automatic transmission, a combination that was extremely difficult to access even when the car was new. Yenko explained he did have one with a Turbo 400 transmission and that he had also explained that it would be available in the Super Car Program at an additional cost. Michalo bought the car as it was, doggedly resistant to the L72 short-block premium. Yenko seemed just as persistent for him to have one anyway. When Michalo brought the Nova back to the dealership during the warranty period prior to 1971 for a replacement engine, the 427 conversion upgrade option was offered again. He would not move. He took a replacement L78 396 instead.

In 1978, when the car was parked for the last time, it was less than thirty-five miles from the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, dealership from whence it came. It didn't move again until Nichols purchased it in May, 2018. It had been driven 74,386 miles. It was built at the Willow Run assembly plant (near Ypsilanti, Michigan) during the fourth week of February, 1969, and included the following equipment:

F416A Special Purpose Suspension

G80HA Posi-Traction Axle 3.55 Ratio

L78AA 375-HP Turbo Jet 396 V8

M40MB Turbo 400 Transmission

N40CM Power Steering

U63AB AM Pushbutton Radio

731EA Black Vinyl Trim

925JJ 79-79 Rallye Green Paint

As Patrick runs down the attractions of his catch, his speech is hushed, reverent, as if he was in place where reverence is expected, like a holy place or sanctuary. This Nova is very special:

  1. It is currently the only '69 L78 Nova with an automatic transmission to ever surface with all the pre-existing requirements for the Super Car Program.
  2. It is 1 of only 3 documented to exist with Rallye Green paint and the only one-owner example in existence.
  3. The VIN is not on the registry
  4. Shift lever remains on column, not converted to floor
  5. It has only light surface rust in all the usual places- no rot anywhere

COPO 9561

As the lucky second-hand owner of a very low mileage COPO 9561, I was astounded at how poorly the engine responded on the street. Actually, it was more about how the engine sounded, especially at full throttle, like a strangling vacuum cleaner, or maybe something you'd hear late at night at a zoo, not the deep, mellifluous throat you expected from a mighty 427. The conversion was packaged with exiting pieces, saddling the L72 with clunky 396 exhaust manifolds and the congested transverse-muffler exhaust. Ostensibly, the thinking was "high performance" and that anyone with an interest in optimizing it would, at the very minimum, outfit the engine with tubular exhaust headers, a more streamlined exhaust system and operating it with the most advantageous carburetor jetting and spark advance. I drove it to California, 4.10s and all, without incident--RM

Have a rare find to share? You can contact Patrick atpnichols26@yahoo.comor follow him on Facebook and YouTube at Patrick Glenn Nichols Musclecar Barn Finds.

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