Rediscovering the Legendary 1969 L78 396 Yenko Nova in Western PA after 43 Years

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.

001 1969 Yenko Nova L78

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.

002 1969 Yenko Nova L78

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.

003 1969 Yenko Nova L78

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:

004 1969 Yenko Nova L78

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:

006 1969 Yenko Nova L78
007 1969 Yenko Nova L78
009 1969 Yenko Nova L78
001 1969 Yenko Nova L78
The unconverted 1969 Yenko Nova L78 396 in its resting spot of 40 years. Code 79-79 Rallye Green is the rarest color of the four that were available for the Nova Supercar candidates. Only three examples are known to exist.

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