When you’ve found a car that’s right for you it becomes a platform for self-expression, says Nova owner Rosie Redshaw. Here, she tells Charlotte Vowden why she’s planning to give hers a new look.
The Vauxhall Nova was launched in 1983 as a rival to the Ford Fiesta and it did a very decent job. A go-to car for young people that lacked luxuries it became a coveted sales chart-topper, but this 21-year-old owner is planning a makeover that will take her Nova to a whole new level…
“Don’t follow the crowd, but do your research. People will tell you what car to buy or what not to buy, but if it’s right for you, if you feel it, if you really like it, go for it. I’m crazy for Novas, I love everything about the nineties (I’m 21 and I’ve always said I was born in the wrong generation) so driving around in one feels way more ‘me’ than if I was in something more modern. I like to be that person that’s a little bit different and shows up in something unexpected, it reflects my personality, and because I’m a woman and I’m alternative, everyone’s always like oooh look!
Buying the Nova, it’s a 1992 1.2 four-speed Merit Plus, was an impulse decision I made just before lockdown in 2020. I’ve got no regrets at all. It cost me £1,450, which is stupidly cheap, and is probably one of the best things I’ve ever done because it kick-started the realisation that my love for cars, particularly nineties hatchbacks, isn’t just a visual hobby. If you’re going to buy a car older than you are, you should at least know how to do the small jobs like change the spark plugs.
My first car was a Peugeot 107, which was like driving in a bubble, and the Nova, which has no curves, was 100% an upgrade. I love the way it looks more than anything, it’s overall shape is so simple yet so complex. There’s never been a time when I haven’t turned back to look at it; I don’t want to say it’s quirky because I hate that word, but yeah, it’s quirky. The square glass headlights are just awesome.
Before me, the Nova was passed between three women in one family, and then it sat for eight years. It’s nice to keep that female legacy going. Driving the Nova home for the first time was more scary than exciting; jumping into a car which has no power-steering or ABS was a massive change. With no electronics to help, you get cramp in your clutch leg and have to stamp on the brakes every time you want to slow down. It doesn’t have a rev gauge or fifth gear so I never go above 60mph on motorways.
Inside, the Nova is a bit of a Tardis; there’s an incredible amount of storage space in there for such a small car, and most of it is shelving. The seats are comfortable but the driving position gets a bit uncomfortable after a few hours because the chair isn’t in line with the steering wheel and pedals so you’re ever so slightly twisted.
To make it more me, I’ve done some cosmetic stuff to the exterior. I’ve bandied the original steel wheels to make them wider and painted them blue to match the pinstripe down the side of the car. I actually dyed my hair blue to match when I first did it. I’ve also removed the Nova 1.2 and Merit Plus badges because I want it to be more sleek and clean.
I’ve got raging ADHD so I’m always talking, but owning the Nova is much more of a doing kind of thing. I’ve never taken a car to a garage to be fixed and that gives me a lot of pride. When I first bought it, I bought both Haynes Manuals, and read the entire things straight away. That’s where a lot of my knowledge about how to diagnose and fix problems in Novas has come from.
Not knowing the basics is where things go wrong for a lot of people and they end up spending so much money at a garage or specialist on jobs that they could have done themselves. I’m not a rich person, I work hard and spend all my money on car parts; it’s a great feeling knowing you can look after the car you feel passionately about. It can be an emotional rollercoaster, every time the Nova has broken, I’ve cried, and then every time I’ve fixed it, I’ve cried because I’ve felt proud of myself. Girls, you can do this.
My dad is a narrowboat engineer and loves classic cars so we’ve not struggled to find shared interests over the years and he’s taught me a lot. He bought me my first tool kit for my 18th birthday and although he still likes to help, he now says get up, get out there and do the job yourself when I’m feeling lazy! To be fair, I’m spanners on all day at work, I’m a junior technician that builds hydrogen development cars, so I get the best of both (very different) worlds. I never get bored.
One of the most stupid things about the Nova is that if you take the hazard lights switch out and turn it upside down, you can bump start the car – without the key. I did it to see if it worked and it did, but I broke the switch in the process. It caused me so much hassle because I was sent two dodgy replacement switches before the third one worked.
When I bought the Nova everything was mechanically sound but after using it as a daily for almost three years and 30,000 miles I’ve decided to take it off the road, rip it to pieces and rebuild it. I’m going to do a full restoration. The Max Power era is so cool and even though I’m going for one of the common engine swaps – a Saab B204 – I want to give mine a refreshed look that makes it stand out from all the others in the scene. I don’t know if anyone has done it before, but I want to paint it Lotus Carlton Green [Imperial Green], the wheels are changing colour too, and it’s going lower. It’s still going to look like a Nova, but it’s going to be a 300bhp turbo (hopefully) that looks sick – without looking tacky. It’s going to be mint, but it’s never going to be a trailer queen; I’m going to put a roll cage in and put it round a race track. I’m bonkers.”
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