Chevy’s Baby Riviera: The 1964 Super Nova

One of the most handsome Chevrolet show cars of the 1960s never made it to production in its original form, but it was influential all the same. Here’s a quick look at the 1964 Super Nova. 



Introduced at the New York Auto Show in April of 1964, the Chevrolet Super Nova made a positive impression on the car show circuit and in the enthusiast press that year. But despite the encouraging feedback, the Super Nova was almost totally overshadowed by the new Ford Mustang introduced at nearly the same time. That doesn’t prevent us from circling back now and taking a closer look.


The Super Nova that appeared before the public in spring of ’64 was a faithful recreation of a full-scale clay produced in the styling studios of the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, directed by design VP Bill Mitchell. Styling elements of many concept and production cars of the Mitchell era, including the 1965 Corvair, can be seen in the Super Nova. But to many, the design resembles a compact version of the 1963 Buick Riviera, one of Mitchell’s more memorable creations. And that’s a real compliment.


Constructed in fiberglass like many GM show cars of the time, the Super Nova’s coupe body shell was seven inches longer and six inches lower than a production Chevy II Nova and rode on the same 110-inch wheelbase chassis. The windshield was laid back at a 60-degree angle, while the rear greenhouse employed a recessed glass and flying-buttress C-pillars like the production 1966 Chevelle Sport Coupe and its GM A-Body siblings.

Paint was Fire Frost Silver, a special finish with high metallic content usually found on Cadillacs. And note there are no exterior door handles: The doors were operated by electric solenoids with buttons hidden in the window moldings, an old customizing gimmick. One slick package, the Super Nova was also known as the Shark, it seems.

Although its size and proportions were similar to the Ford Mustang, the Super Nova did not contribute much if anything of its styling to the Camaro, Chevrolet’s Mustang competitor introduced in the fall of 1966. Chevrolet stepped away from the Super Nova’s elegant razor-edge theme and adopted a sportier look for its pony car. However, the sharp lines of the Super Nova design are easy to spot in the second-generation Chevy II Nova of 1966-1967, below. Even in frumpy four-door form, it’s a handsome compact car.


12 thoughts on “Chevy’s Baby Riviera: The 1964 Super Nova

  1. There’s Camaro DNA I think from the hood through the end of the doors (cover the front end with your hand over the image). There’s more relation to the ’68 Nova body shape than the previous Chevy II (the body itself, not the front end so much or A pillars at all, but check the rear window on the ’68 two-door). The Corvair is the most direct connection, with the light look of the greenhouse and the overall lines that unite the body. All of these are of the “canvas over wire frame” design family that Bill Mitchell established in the 1960’s, so they naturally evoke each other.

    The Camaro differs from the Super Nova II in that the Camaro has separate front and rear fender lines. The body crease runs front to rear off the side edge of the front end on the Corvair, and sits well above the wheel arches. On the Camaro instead the crease sits lower than the wheel arches, blends into the tumblehome at the front end, and isn’t tied directly to the grille design. As a results of the lower crease, the Camaro ends up with visually larger, more “muscular” fenders, and emphasizes the wheels.The late model Corvair front fender gets a nice sense of visual direction from the higher crease, visually aggressive even, though balancing the overall body against the wheels.

    Comparing the Super Nova II and Corvair back to the production 63 Riviera is revealing, too. The Riv get the same sense of visual direction the from the top and side creases, but the Riv fender is taller and more massive, providing an impression of a volume carrying through from front to rear. The fenders on the Riv basically make the design, along with the forward canted grille, but still have the effect of the late 50’s production bodies with pronounced full length fender volumes predominating and sandwiching the horizontal surfaces that connect them. The Super Nova II refines the big fender shape, using the front end lines of the Riv in a similar way, but making them part of a whole body no longer reading as independent volumes.

    The Early Riv and the ’67 Camaro share the pronounced humps in the fender line over the rear wheels, something the Super Nova dispensed with entirely, and the Corvair adopts only minimally.

    After studying all these side by side, I think what impresses about the Super Nova II is that it is such a pure styling approach of a refined minimalism uniting the whole car in a balanced design. And more remarkably, also building on the same styling concepts, the Corvair carried so much of this idealized styling concept into production.

  2. It’s as if the photographer knew the rear styling didn’t coincide with the rest of the design, so they deliberately ‘overlooked’ taking any rear shots. A real shame, as I envision the rear with waterfall taillamps riding up & over the trunk crease, in the style of say, the `75 Pontiac Grand Am–even if it didn’t. At any rate, a gorgeous design now relegated to history.

  3. The first thing that came to mind when I saw the photograph was mid size mid 60’s Buick.

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