Maybe the fact that I blew the engine on my own ’66 Chevy Nova (bought for just $50!) is what makes me so interested in this exhibit at the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA) car show in Las Vegas. General Motors has taken a ’67 Nova and stuffed it with a very modern, and quite wild, four-cylinder LTG direct-injection 2-liter turbo crate motor. Meet the Chevy Nova 2.0L.

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The result, despite the car’s heavy 3,100 pounds, is a real screamer that could out-drag a stock ’67 Nova SS with the optional 5.3-liter 327-cubic-inch V-8. An icon of its day! The LTG power plant puts out 272 horsepower, which compares favorably to the 275 from the 327.

Chevy Nova 2.0LThe two-liter four fits neatly in the Nova's engine bay. (Photo: Chevrolet)

The real kicker is comparing the fuel economy of the two cars. Can you believe that the Nova SS 327 achieves a miserable 12.9 mpg? Although there are no official figures for the 2.0L, Chevrolet spokeswoman Cristi Vazquez told me, "It's a safe bet that the 2.0L does a lot better than that." My guess is the reborn Nova could deliver 30 mpg on the highway, maybe 25 in town.

The lightweight aluminum powerplant, replacing that big cast iron lump, gives the Nova an ideal 50-50 weight distribution. And on the track the Nova 2.0 rockets from zero to 60 in 6.2 seconds. That’s about the same as a 6.4-liter SS 396 Malibu of that vintage.

Chevy Nova 2.0LA clean profile for a '67 car. It looks almost modern. (Photo: Chevrolet)

So we have nearly equivalent performance from two liters as 6.4 — that’s the wizardry of modern engineering. Pushed to the wall by federal fuel economy standards that demand auto fleets achieve 54.5 mpg by 2025, engineers are wringing fantastic mileage out of tiny engines. The tools of the trade are turbocharging (as in this car), direct injection (check), lightweighting (check), six-speed manual gearboxes (check) and cylinder deactivation. I’m not sure you can do that one with a four-cylinder engine.

Of course, since it’s a show car, they did a lot more to it, including making the grille out of billet aluminum, shaving the door handles, adding electronic door latches and four-wheel disc brakes. The suspension was also beefed up with height-adjustable air bags and a four-link rear.

I remember my dark blue coupe was no great shakes in the handling department, though it was fine in a straight line. Amazingly enough, since nobody was putting pressure on Detroit (the emphasis was on changing the styling every year) the same old layout underpinned cars from the ‘40s into the ‘70s. Drum brakes. Beam axles. Three-speed automatics. Thirsty carburetors.

Chevy, if you’re listening, I want to drive the 2.0L! Here’s a cool time-lapse video of them putting the car together:

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Chevy's new Nova: Big power from a small engine
Through the magic of turbocharging and lightweighting, an aluminum two-liter four outperforms a beefy cast-iron 5.3-liter V-8.