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1969 Chevrolet Nova SS 396 from Ertl

By Mark Savage
Published: December 14, 2012

Product: Centennials only come around every 100 years, so why not enjoy the ride this year as Chevrolet turns 100? Ertl’s American Muscle series, available through Round 2, is celebrating the anniversary by reissuing several of its 1:18 die-cast Chevys in a chrome finish, some with color tints that will make them an eye-catcher in anyone’s collection. The series includes a 1966 Chevelle SS 396, 1967 Corvette L88, a 1970 Chevelle SS 396, a 1971 Camaro Z/28, a 1957 Bel Air convertible, and the review car, a 1969 Chevrolet Nova SS 396.

The Nova was a sedate compact family car, but in 1969 it was built on the Camaro chassis, allowing a big V8 to fit in the engine bay. So when Chevy created the SS package ($280 extra) with a 350-cid V8 packing 300 horses, a special performance suspension, red-striped tires and power front disc brakes, it was instantly a muscle car with a base price of just $2,405.

To up that muscle you also could opt for the L78 motor, for an extra $500. Then you had a 375-horse monster in a 3,400-pound car with about 55 percent of the weight over the front axle. That created excellent balance in the Nova. In fact, some think it was the best of the era’s muscular Chevys.

The SS name wasn’t new. Chevy had launched the SS, or Super Sport, name back in 1961 on the Impala to create a performance model. But since then, "SS" has been used on a bevy of Chevys.

The Nova SS had a black-accented grille and tail, simulated hood air intakes and the SS badge on the nose and tail. Our sample of Ertl’s chrome version had all that, too.

Super Sport was all about numbers. Most important was its 0–60 mph time of 5.9 seconds. It also did a quarter mile in 14.5 seconds at 101 mph. In total, 7,209 Nova SS models were sold in 1969. Today, primo versions will cost $30,000 or more at auction.

Performance: Ertl’s Nova replica was well executed with the appropriate markings and a flat black roof with flat silver trim. It was certainly distinctive with the chrome body finish, and will look great in a store display, or in a buyer’s collection at home.

The doors, complete with a driver’s side mirror and vent windows, opened to reveal a nicely detailed interior. I liked the black high-back bucket seats with molded headrests. The seat backs folded forward, too. The Nova’s dash was accurate and looked good, plus there was a floor shifter and a carpeted floor. Its steering wheel also turned the front wheels.

Probably more important to muscle-car lovers, the hood opened to reveal an L78 code motor, a 396ci V8 with chrome valve covers and an air cleaner, plus heater and radiator hoses, and brake booster details. This replica will display well.

Underneath, the car had rubber Goodyear tires labeled as Wide Tread GTs, with only the lettering, no white or red stripes on the tires. The wheels were chromed just like the rest of the car, and there were realistic head and taillights, too.

Marketing: Ertl’s American Muscle series cars delivered high value and were showy. What’s not to like about that when you’re trying to move some product?

These chrome cars should be at the center of a Chevrolet Centennial display in your store window, or in a high-traffic area inside the door. Pack the display with these reflective chrome models and a collection of other Ertl Chevys. You also could include a variety of Chevy plastic models in the display for your modelers, or folks on a more restricted budget.

Got some smaller die-cast Chevys in 1:43 or 1:87 scale? Those could hang on a nearby rack so that younger buyers could go home with a Chevy!

Product: 1969 Chevrolet Nova SS 396 (Chrome)
Maker: Ertl
Scale: 1:18
Stock number: AMM804/04
MSRP: $79.99
Availability: Round 2

• What's not to like about chrome?
• Popular muscle car
• Good detail vs. price