Time can be a cruel mistress. An old, used blade loses its edge, rubber components get stiff and brittle, and of course a whole lot of less-than-flattering things happen to people as age sets in. Well, depending on the era you’re considering, it’s possible to see that same kind of degeneration in the wearers of certain automotive nameplates.
During the Automotive Dark Ages (From about 1973 until 1987-ish), it was not uncommon for cars whose nameplates that once stood for performance to be continuously watered down, tarnishing their former glories. In some ways, the lucky ones were those that just got cancelled. One that did not, however, and suffered continuous degradation in terms of performance and street cred, was Chevy’s Nova.
The Nova started life as the Chevy II in 1962. This was a rather humble beginning; the Chevy II was no hot rod, that’s for sure! It was a quick-and-dirty design for a basic, three-box, compact economy car. Its competition wasn’t supposed to be high performance cars, but rather the somewhat equally-Spartan Ford Falcon and oddly-styled Plymouth Valiant. With this in mind, the folks at Chevy deployed the Chevy II in sedan and wagon forms, and kept it simple. The “Nova” name wasn’t even its own line at this point, but rather an option on the basic Chevy II.
As the ‘60s progressed, though, the Chevy II/Nova continued to evolve. Interestingly, the introduction of the Chevelle apparently hurt the Chevy II rather badly, and so it was against its own brother that the poor little “economy” car had to struggle, even more so than against the competition from outside sources! However, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and in 1968 the redesigned Chevy II debuted. By 1969 the Chevy II name was gone and the family of coupes and sedans was simply known by the “Nova” moniker.
The third-gen Novas (Not Novae, as Latin scholars and MS Word might have you believe!) were much more muscular in appearance and output than their forebears. As the muscle car trend and horsepower wars of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s progressed, the Nova SS became a veritable pocket rocket. These tiny titans are, of course, very valuable today. Good things don’t last forever though, and the gas crunch and government mandated emissions controls wreaked the same havoc on Nova as it did on its contemporaries.
From 1974 onwards, the fourth generation Novas continued to carry the flag for Chevy’s original compact. Still sporting rear wheel drive and other classically American features, they heady days of the earlier SS models were, sadly, long behind it. The final Novas were the 1979 models, which, for some reason, had a redesigned front end (Why bother for one year? Good forward thinking, GM…) and were among the slowest and most lacklustre of them all. Pushing between 115 hp with a 4.1L six-cylinder (or a measly 90hp for the same engine with a 3-speed auto) and 125hp for the immortal “305” (the 5.0L), it was clear that the glory days of mini-muscle were long gone.
Because of the Nova’s long history and its justly-earned place in the pantheon of muscle cars, there have long been a great number of kits of various Chevy II/Nova iterations. Most of these, of course, focus on the more desirable, more powerful and more famous earlier models, especially the SS-trimmed ones. No surprise, of course, that these are kits about which I could care less. I grew up with the last of the Novas hobbling around and rotting to dust before my eyes. They shared the back lots of my townhouse complex with other greats like the final Vega wagons, rusty Datsun B210s and, of course, mid ‘70s to early ‘80s Malibus. I don’t want a model of a great car; I want a reminder of the last, squalid days of a long-degraded nameplate. I want the full on neutered version, desperately clinging to past glories like a Vaudeville starlet in ‘90s Hollywood.
Naturally, there is only one real provider you can look to for such greatness. That hallowed purveyor of the final kicks-at-the-can for so many cars is MPC. (Note: There IS an AMT 1976 Nova, so props to them. Still not as big a fail as the ’79, though.) Because of the “annual” business of models, MPC was often in a position to offer several variants of a specific car over multiple years. A particular habit of MPCs was to offer what was usually the last variant of a given car in a primarily custom form, with the ability to be built stock. This happened with Bear Bait (1979 Chevette), Fuzz Duster (1980 Volare “Road Runner”) and Pony Express (1980 Pinto), as well as the Nova. There was a ’78 Nova Custom kit, and then there was the “Nova Breakout” in 1979. This was almost the same car, but with the proper new grille for the final year of the soon-to-be-eclipsed-by-the-Citation bowtie compact.
Long after the Nova’s death, MPC continued to push the final moulds, producing what is, I believe, the penultimate form of the Nova: Squad Rod. Squad Rod was a combination of the previous street machine kits with some extra police stuff, likely from their Monaco police car, if I’m right. Thanks to Round 2, we can all now enjoy this oddly law-abiding welfare hot rod in a snazzy reissued form! Given that it can be built stock as well, you KNOW it was of immediate interest to me! So, let’s see what’s in the box, then, shall we?
We all know that MPC was the creator of some pretty gonzo box art, as well as some pretty lame-and-tame stuff. It depends on the era. The late ‘70s stuff was actually pretty boring in most cases, but by the time the early ‘80s came around they were getting some good stuff going. Squad Rod is better than some, but not as dynamic as others, when it comes to box art.
The box does hit you in the face hard, letting you know that this is, indeed, Squad Rod. The big, blocky “football jersey” font outlined in blue is hard to miss, being about ¼ the height of the entire box front! Just below it on a partial red background is a front three-quarters view of the model itself comin’ at you! Now, in a lot of cases, I don’t care for built models on the box, preferring drawings. That’s still true, but for a “built-kit box top”, this one isn’t too bad. Squad rod thrusts its amazingly square and surprisingly muscular snout at you aggressively, charging right off of the red background. You can almost hear the sirens and see the lights in your mind. Almost.
This is where the box art falls a bit flat. Despite the fact that the car is predominantly high-contrast black on a red and white background, and that it has high-contrast white stripes, it just doesn’t quite look… alive. There’s something about the car itself that just kind of looks static, despite the posing and striping. Part of the issue, I think, is that the interior is just plain black. It’s just sitting there, in plain view, doing nuthin’ but sucking up light. It’s so monochrome and plastic-y looking that it makes the picture look disjointed. The same thing happens on the radar unit on the rear window. It just doesn’t seem to fit, finish-wise or detail-wise.
Maybe, then, that’s the problem. The idea of a Police hot rod is just something I can’t get behind. Yes, I know police services have used things like Camaros, Mustangs and even Lambos for interceptor work and of course there was D.A.R.E that tried to get kids to say no to drugs by using cool cars, but overall, this works about as well as they do. It’s odd, somewhat forced and a bit out of place. It’s not that the car looks inappropriate, it just doesn’t look like a real cop car, or a real street machine, and it suffers as a result of this case of the “almosts”.
On the one side of the box is the MPC-patented and obligatory “full-sized” side-view. This helps let you know how big/small your model is going to be. I love that feature. I wish all kits did that, even now. Even from the direct side, the car still looks odd and wrong somehow. The cheesy Street Rat hood scoop just doesn’t suit the ersatz “Police Department” star on the door, and the chrome ladder bars just don’t fit with the lights. Then again, there’s that damnable radar unit just sucking the life out of everything. God I hate that thing. I don’t know why, but look at it. It’s just so… whatever it is. Blah. Lame. Out of place. All of the above… Not helping is the set of slot mags that look straight out of a low-income housing development, despite their all-too-chromy appearance.
On the other long side of the box are close ups of some of the cool features that your Squad Rod comes with. For the first time, too, we get to see the rear of the Nova. With no chrome around the tail lights (or anywhere else) it looks a lot tougher, and since you can’t see the bloody radar unit, it looks okay. I do like that one of the features is “side pipes” while the next one down is “weapons”. Hmm… they don’t show them, but that seems to indicate we’re to take this not as an “homage to police”-type hot rod, but an actual in-service police vehicle. Adding credence to this is the “fully equipped police interior”, which isn’t really detailed but seems to mean a big CB unit. This only adds to the overall disjointedness of the concept, in my mind, making Squad Rod a rather hard kit to wrap my head around.
Inside the box there’s a lot of black. Unlike a number of Round 2 kits of late, Squad Rod comes in colour, or rather the absence of it. All the plastic is black, and there’s also a nicely, and separately, bagged rack of chrome parts as well as another bag containing the clear parts, with windows separated from police flashers. There’s also a nice, modern rendition of the decal sheet with a butt-load of licence plates on it. In another separate bag is a quartet of Round 2’s new-fangled rubber-looking tires, replacing the clearly old-school vinyl units of the original. Unlike many others to date, though, the tires are black walls – no lettering here. It seems odd, but it will be great for doing a typical, period finish on the car; white letters were not standard equipment by then! Finishing the package is a typical Round 2/MPC instruction book.
Looking at the kit, it seems pretty good. This is typical late ‘70s MPC stuff right here. That means there’s some flash, of course, but that’s no biggie. That was how it was, so this kit will help with that nostalgic feeling. The detail on the firewall is quite good, although the chassis is a bit underwhelming at first glance. The black plastic makes it hard to see some of the details, especially given the pickled texture that reflects light in all kinds of weird ways. The rear wheels are held in place with a very non-descript and inaccurate “ladder” that is (hopefully) covered by the actual rear differential/leaf spring combo.
There’s the typical underhood pattern with texturing, although one gripe of my brother’s, which is legit, is that no one actually moulds an underhood mat in place. I guess you could always make one, but I’m sure the hood won’t fit closed if you do. One place I count on MPC excelling is in the interior. In the case of this Nova, the interior is only okay-looking. Yes, there’s the typical “worming” texture for the carpet in both the passenger and trunk area. The detail on the seating surfaces is actually quite decent looking, and the seats are supposed to be the stock vinyl ones. In fact, this kit has the “Nova Custom Coupe” interior. This can be proven by the fact it has the built-in armrests for the rear seats (although they are oddly devoid of the ashtrays, which sucks) as well as a cloth headliner and, of course, the bucket seats.
Looking at the Nova’s body, a quick flip to the inside shows, indeed, the cloth-covered visors and non-perforated “colour-keyed acoustical headlining” (that’s straight from the brochure) of this upper-echelon Nova. Looking at the headliner, you can see the sunken spots to drill out for the light bar. Thankfully, a bit of Perfect Plastic Putty should fix this in a jiffy, and clean up shouldn’t be too bad at all. The white copyright info on the headliner is a bit weird… I would have preferred it on a part that wouldn’t be seen, like the inside of the trunk lid. Here’s hoping it doesn’t show through.
The chrome rack looks nice, but is, as always, too shiny and heavily chromed. There are many things that are inappropriately chromed, too, like the carb and valve covers, but that’s part of the charm of and old dog like this one. Some “yellow can” Easy Off (not the lame blue “non-toxic” stuff; it sucks) or brake cleaner will take care of whatever you don’t want chromed. The bumpers have the rubber strips moulded into them, which is cool. One other thing I do like is that the kit includes the aforementioned “social assistance mag wheels” as well as the correct Rally (sic) wheels. These are normally colour-keyed, so some paint work will be needed on them. Oddly, the kit doesn’t have clear red tail lights, opting for chrome instead.
One challenging part will be the light bar; the lights come in halves, so getting a clean alignment and glue-job on them won’t be fun or easy. That’s a great reason to NOT recreate the full-blush Squad Rod right there. Also, if you’re like me and don’t see the need to “deadbeat hot rod” this tame looser up by adding the ridiculous, but seemingly de rigeur “Street Rat” hood, you can take solace in the fact that the hood is moulded as the stock version. Like so many weekender-type project cars, the hood scoop just fits on top of the hood, and is as fake and inactive in the kit version as many were in real life.
One thing that’s a bit vague in the kit is the engine. Yes, it is a V8, and it’s likely the 305, but it’s not very exact. Some people have said it looks like the 400 from the ’79 Firebird, and I assume that this lack of distinction is just MPC going a bit crazy on the cost cutting. It’s interesting because when it comes time for them to do transverse 4-bangers, they knock it out of the park. (See my Cavalier for details!) There are some separate engine accessories, but overall, the engine is just kinda “meh”. That’s fine for doing a boring everyday driver, so I don’t care, but purists might. One thing to note; the valve covers do seem too smooth to be a Chevy, and that part does look more Poncho-like.
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions are exactly as one would expect from an MPC kit. They’re okay, and functional, and not overly complicated, but I’m sure there are some details that, when it comes time to build it, will be a bit vague or just wrong. I know I’ve found that with a lot of the reissue MPCs from this period. I don’t believe it’s Round 2’s fault, it’s just that’s how they did things back then! The drawings are all hand-done (no CAD models here!) and there are many cases of details being omitted for clarity’s sake.
By and large, though, the instructions are passable and shouldn’t provide too much hassle, let alone be a hindrance to building the kit, as they often are in some eastern European kits! For some things, like the CB and gun rack, placement is pretty vague, but use your judgement and it won’t let you down. A few things do give me pause, like the lack of bumper supports (at least at the front); read the instructions carefully to ensure you’re planning to meet these challenges head on!
One nice thing that IS an addition by Round 2 is callouts for both exterior and interior colours. There is a list of standard colours for both the inside and the outside, and this is very welcome. However, it’s not all that detailed; for example, it won’t tell you if you can get a certain colour interior with a given external paint colour. Still, that’s what brochures are for, and these are common enough cars with enough of a following that finding out info shouldn’t be hard! As a note to Round 2, though: consider putting in a brochure-like chart of what colours go with each other (interior and exterior) like in a brochure. I feel this would help a lot!
The decals are almost all devoted to the “police” theme. The large white panels/stripes look like they’re nicely done, and if the decals are like those on other Round 2 reissues, they will be tough, maneuverable and conform to curves quite well. The rest of the decal sheet is covered in… licence plates. For whatever reason, and I don’t know if it’s a Round 2 thing or an MPC thing, the sheet is just overflowing with different licence plates. There are something like 20 different options, some with front and rear matching plates, others just being a rear one. Still, that’s a lot of plates. Sadly, most of them are “Nova”, “1979” or police-themed, so they aren’t going to be too useful for the spares box, unless you have other Novas and/or police cars!
Squad Rod is typical of MPC’s late mould-life hijinks, and offers a weird take on what is really a pretty humdrum and pedestrian car. The original intent was clearly to bash out one more Nova and use some extra parts form other kits, and it works on that front. While I’m not a fan of the actual “squadded” rod itself, I am glad to see that the last model of Nova is now once again available.
For anyone who’s never built an MPC, this kit might be a bit of a challenge; those who’ve built MPCs immediately understand why! MPC kits are, by and large, very good, but there can be significant fit issues and I don’t yet know if everything on the kit is correct. I only find that out when I go to build it and start doing very detailed research. There’s likely to be a lot of finesse work involved in getting the most out of this kit, and given that it’s not all that cheap, it might not be advisable for inexperienced modellers. Still, the original was issued with the intent that it would likely become a gluebomb, so if you want to get someone use to car modelling, at least the Squad Rod will be living up to its original potential.
My only real gripe is that it’s issued in black, but again, it’s going to be primered anyway, so that’s not a big deal. I do love that it doesn’t have lettered tires, since so many “weekend hot rods” use slot mags (present) and non-functional hood scoops (accounted for) with some lettered tires to try and turn a sedate midsize loser-mobile into something more. It rarely works, and not having the letters for this rather outlandishly oddball hot rod is kind of like Round 2 admitting “Yeah. It’s a 1980 Nova. It’s going to be sucky no matter what. Take your slot mags and be happy.”
So, if you are looking for a convincing police car or hot rod, you should likely look elsewhere. That makes this kit a very accurate representation of the real thing. If you, like me, are getting a bit more than just warmed up at the thought of making your very own midsize commuter car, complete with all the faded glory that the Nova name could muster, than I suggest you search this out. Mediocrity, of both subject and the kitmaker’s art, awaits. What could be better than than?