By on December 21, 2010

The greatest crime in ancient Greece was hubris. And the perpetrator that carried out the sins as a result of their hubris inevitably faced great shame and retribution, most often fatal. So for the sake of this CC, we’re going to drop the Citation’s X-Car moniker, and call them the H-Cars. And just in case you’re not convinced that the Citation truly was GM’s greatest sin rather than the Vega (coincidentally numbered GM’s DS #2), let me cite you the incontrovertible evidence:

Of course numbers don’t tell the whole story, but I challenge you to find another newly introduced car that did so well in its first year and whose sales collapsed so spectacularly thereafter. And that 811k in 1980 doesn’t tell the whole story: the Citation was so popular, supply couldn’t keep up with demand. Folks waited months for their deadly sins to be delivered, and Chevy might well have been able to sell a million in 1980 if they could have made them fast enough. But they were so poorly built, the drop-off was almost instantaneous. By its fourth year, the Citation had dropped some 90%. And in 1985, it was all over.

Having jumped ahead to the final outcome of GM’s hubris-mobile, let’s step back a bit and consider the setting for this tragedy. For the third time at the beginning of a new decade, GM was determined to take on the import competition. In 1960, it was the VW Beetle, and GM countered with the conceptionally similar (rear engine) but bigger Corvair. It failed at its intended mission for a number of reasons, but there were no egregious issues with its quality or durability (for the standards of the time). But GM cut corners, and had make a series of improvements to its suspension to save face, including a substantially redesigned second generation, even though the Corvair was by then already doomed.

In 1970, it was Toyota and Datsun, as well as a few fading European imports that GM countered with the Vega. Despite them all being highly conventional rwd cars, Chevrolet bungled the Vega’s engine and rust-resistance. And although build quality was certainly not up to the Japanese competition’s level, it was not atrocious, in terms of what was yet to come.

For 1980, GM had the revolutionary Honda Accord in its visor, as well as the goal of redefining the compact American car in an all-new fwd package. The Citation and its H-Body brethren from Pontiac, Olds and Buick (we’ll get to them in more detail in another CC) were the closing number of GM’s overly-ambitious downsizing drama in three acts, which had begun three years earlier.

Make no mistake: this mammoth undertaking that would result in the 1977 Caprice and the rest of the full-sized line up, the 1978 Malibu and the other midsized cars, and the 1980 Citation and friends was no less than the biggest single corporate industrial re-investment ever up to that time. GM was betting its whole future here, and we all know how it turned out: the eighties were GM’s worst decade ever in terms of market share loss, and the Citation not only kicked it off, it also set the template for almost all of its sins from then on.

GM’s biggest act of hubris was in even thinking it could execute such an undertaking, given its history. And clearly, the results got worse with each act. The fact that the Citation would be GM’s first ever-front wheel drive mass-market car didn’t help. As well as GM’s perpetual obsession with the next quarter’s profit. The mega-billions GM committed to its downsizing was taking its toll on the bottom line, and the Citation was behind schedule. Switching production facilities and suppliers over to a completely new generation of cars was taking its toll.

Typical for GM, the Citation looked best on paper, or to the automotive writers who were suckered when they drive the most un-production-like “ringers” ever hand assembled and wrote breathless reports on the Citation’s spectacular “better than a BMW” abilities.  The current issue of C/D has a brief mea-culpa by Patrick Bedard about how they fell for GM’s bait.

The Citation’s basic body package was highly modern for the times, with a very roomy interior, a practical hatchback (a notch-back coupe was available but never popular), lightweight (2500 lbs), and featuring a new transverse engine/transaxle arrangement. Unfortunately, GM’s greatest industrial re-investment didn’t include a new four cylinder engine. The noisy, crude and rude “Iron Duke” 2.5 L OHV four was adapted for its new east-west orientation, and shook 90 hp from its crankshaft.

But GM was a bit more ambitious with the optional engine: the immortal 60-degree V6, still being built in China, and only just recently departed from the US GM line-up. In its first incarnation here, it had 2.8 L and 115 hp (110 beginning in 1981). And in 1981, the sporty X-11 Citation was graced with a bumped-up HO version, which churned out 135 hp. Just the ticket to fully display the Citation’s truly prodigious torque steer and other entertaining characteristics, some of them quite genuine, especially in later model years.

Since quietness was always disproportionately high on the list of criteria for GM cars, and because neither of the Citation’s engines were intrinsically quiet and smooth, extreme measures were taken to isolate them from the passenger compartment. The front subframe that carried the drive train and front suspension was attached to the body with very soft rubber mounts. This led to a remarkable sensation during acceleration.

It felt as if your favorite H-mobile was composed of two separate components (which it sort of was), or to take the analogy further, it felt like the body was a semi-trailer hooked to the back of a semi-truck. Floor it, and the truck started heading one direction (left, if I remember correctly) while the trailer both followed as well as tried to keep the truck from running off the roadway. Amusing, sort of. I had the chance to do it several times a day, in my Skylark company car. And I got quite good at it: kind of like crabbing an airplane. I did used to wonder if one day my car’s front sub frame would just fully detach and head off into to the median by itself; it sure seemed to want to very badly.

One might eventually get used to that, and if you had a good running V6, these cars could feel pretty lively given their light weight. But what goes fast must slow down, eventually, especially in LA traffic. And that’s where the fun disappeared, in a cloud of burning rubber. GM made almost the same penny-ante mistake with Citation as with the Corvair. Then, they left off a $14 camber-compensating spring. Now it was a $14 (?) rear brake proportioning valve. Drivers complained, NHTSA sued GM, which GM ended up winning in 1987, way too late: the perception/sales battle was then long lost. My Skylark with wider tires and wheels wasn’t too bad that way, but I once drove a four cylinder Citation that was highly prone. Let’s just say that my old Peugeot 404 had a very effective ride-height sensing rear proportioning valve even though it was rwd, and the Citation didn’t, with 60% of its weight on the front.

That was just for starters (and stoppers). In between, a seemingly endless rash of maladies made these cars recall kings and queens. Transmission hoses that leaked and cause fires. Various driveability issues: fuel injection was deemed too expensive; meanwhile the two-barrel carb on the V6 was the most complicated and expensive fuel mixing device Rube Goldberg was ever commissioned to design. (A replacement cost  over $1000 in today’s money, as I well know).  Shifting the manual transmission was like sending messages to a distant cohort in secret code via carrier pigeon.

The Citation interiors were hard and cheap. Sundry pieces of trim were prone to suddenly disassociating themselves from the rest of the car, in shame perhaps. Starting on day one. General build quality varied greatly, somewhere between miserable and mediocre. Cost cutting resulted in skin cutting from rough edges. Within one model year, the word was out and the jig was up: the Citation was a lemon.

In a truly cynical move, GM found the pennies to add a “II” suffix to the Citation in 1984, even though anyone would be hard pressed to see any difference. Enough fools fell for the Citation II to bump sales by 5k units that year, before they realized that it was just a Citation Too.

What really must have burned GM with the Citation’s flame out was that Toyota was dealing with the exact same challenge: to convert its rwd Carina/Corona lines to fwd. The all-new Camry appeared in 1983, just as the Citation was crashing. Ironically, the Camry had a distinctly Citation-ish look to it too, especially the hatchback. But looks can be deceiving. First year Camrys are considered as utterly solid and fool-proof as this year’s, if not more so. I can think of no better example of the contrasting state of affairs that predicted their makers’ respective trajectories in 1983 than these two similar and yet so different cars. GM’s Death Warrant Exhibit A.

Perhaps we should just leave it there, but there is a relevant postscript to the Citation: it became essentially immortal, in new garb. The Chevy Celebrity and its A-Body kin were nothing more than a Citation inner body and platform with a new exterior suit. The magic of a restyle and a little attention to working out the most blatant kinks resulted in a long-lived career (through 1996), at least for the Olds and Buick versions. And eventually they got fairly reliable…just too late.

But the A-Bodies are just the most obvious genetic offshoot. Let’s face it; just about every fwd GM car built since the first Citation torque-steered its way off the assembly line has X-chromosomes in it, to one degree or another. The Citation was GM’s starting point with the fwd car, as well as the true beginning of its end.

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203 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1980 Chevrolet Citation – GM’s Deadliest Sin Ever...”


  • avatar
    Jeffer

    Had one, it was horrible! trying not to remember how horrible, replaced by a Malibu, which gave great service for many years and somewhat redeemed its’ maker after the…thing.

    • 0 avatar
      HONDA550

      I had a 1981 Citation X-11 as my second new car(traded in a 1979 Fiesta). I had to have it as
      soon as I read about it in C&D. Then I heard one drive fast down my street. I was hooked!
      Went to the nieghborhood Chevy dealer, traded my Fiesta and my dirtbike and drove home in a great looking burnt orange metallic X-11 4-speed. My first idea of what was to come, I drove to one of my friends house and one of the power steering hoses started leaking like a cut artery all over his driveway(110 miles on the odo). I still liked the car (it was pretty fast for the time, until the 1982 Mustang gt came out). It o/h in traffic(elect fan would not come on-never
      fixed). Still, I have positive memories of this car.
      p.s. I never bought another Chevy.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    It seems that many 2.5l+ I4 and V6 FWD Big 3 vehicles from the 80s and 90s have that same feeling of a tractor-trailer. The engine is pulling the vehicle along with not much feeling from the steering wheel. Totally different feeling than newer replacements, or even my 98 3.2TL.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Good Lord – You are dead-on with this article! What bad memories you recall!

    When these things came out, my mom was looking for a new car after my dad’s death, as the venerable(?) 1970 Duster I commented on last week was almost dead and returning to the dust (literally). I went to the local Chevy dealer to check the Citation out and I was absolutely horrified at what I saw and what had happened to my favorite car company in only 7 years, since the 1973 new models and the radical change (which I have never gotten over) debuted. This was early 1979. I thought the Vegas, Chevettes and Monzas were bad!

    I went to a mechanic friend for his advice. He was a Chrysler man, but with the Aspen/Volare disaster, his recommendation was to look at AMC(!). I did and mom eventually bought a metallic brown, saddle tan interior, 4 door Concord. This was a nice car, especially for the time. It had some niggling issues with the carburetor once in a while, but I don’t think Sherman tanks were built this solid! She owned that car until she stopped driving in 1990. One of my neighbors was waiting in the wings for the “For Sale” sign to be applied. He bought it immedaitely.

    That Citation episode cancelled any remaining equity and good will I had toward GM and Chevy until 2004. I was a Chrysler and Ford fan for the following 20 years.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      The AMC Concord…the size America needs, the luxury America wants! Or something to that effect.

      At that time, we looked down upon the Concord because it was based on an obsolete platform. Little did we realize that, compared to an X-car, this would be an advantage over the long haul!

    • 0 avatar

      I had an AMC Concord too, an 81! I had the coupe in dark brown with the tan vinyl opera roof, vinyl interior with sort of weird bench-esque seats, I put a $50 Sears cassette player in and it was heaven. 6 cylinder automatic, fast (for me) and nearly silent on the highway. That car was Sherman-tank-tastic. It was my second real car (the first was a 1975 Monza). I’d LOVE to see a CC on an AMC Concord. the only consistent problem with mine was that the vent on the passenger side leaked every time it rained (we eventually fixed this problem with a drilled hole in the floor). Eventually the front shocks went, then the hood blew off on the highway (replacement hood, $75, blue and white striped hood on a brown car, priceless). All that said, she was quiet, comfy, quick, and toted all of my friends around easily.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      My mother’s Concord was that dark metallic brown. It was a beautiful color and fit the car very well. The door panels were actually upholstered, or padded, not molded, hard plastic made to look like upholstery. We never had any leaking issues I can recall. The A/C worked very well, the radio was AM only – never bothered to upgrade – leaner times in my life with a young family and all. It was a very reliable car. Eventually, as it aged (we didn’t have a garage – mom lived with us), weather took its toll and little things like the headlight adjusting anchors broke out of their holes they fit in, so I just used toggle bolts which fixed the problem just fine. It began to rust out in certain areas as well from the midwest salted roads.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Fascinating comparison to the Aspen/Volare.  My parents had loan of my maternal grandfather’s Citation (he was carless due to a few DUIs; not the first time he did this, by the way) and while it sort of compared well enough to my paternal grandfather’s Aspen (in that it wasn’t rusting from factory) it actually managed to spit parts.
       
      It also drove my grandfather, a GM man and a long-time employee at Oshawa, into buying a Ford Tempo.  The Aspen, by the way, led to my other grandfather helping my parents buy their first new car, a Toyota Corolla despite his being a Chrysler man since he got off the boat in ’46.
       
      This is why you never, ever build poor-quality entry-level cars.  Porsche or BMW buyers, for example, will forgive all sorts of suffering for the sake of “heritage”, but someone scraping together pennies for Yaris will dump Toyota like a hot rock and never come back.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Psar:

      We actually did look at a base stripper version of the Dodge Aspen – a light blue 4 door for my mom. The Dodge dealer wouldn’t budge on the price. For little more than a 225 w/Auto and A/C, they wouldn’t go below $4700.00! That much for basically a taxicab! The Concord cost $4300.00. This didn’t get us much more than a 258 auto with A/C, but the thing was highly trimmed and looked much more expensive. Turned out to be the wisest choice we could’ve made, too!

      • 0 avatar

        Weren’t the Concord and the Eagle the first cars to have push-button 4 wheel drive? I seem to remember that in ’83 andmy parents were amused at what they though was a useless option that you wouldn’t need most of the year, made the car ungainly and would suck the gas. In 1992, they bought a first model Ford Explorer with exactly those features. Go figure.

  • avatar

    My parents had a 1980. They drove cars into the ground. This one didn’t make it to 100k.

    • 0 avatar

      My dad bought one as soon as they came out in Jan. 1980. I remember the TV jingle: “It’s the first Chevy of the eighties, it’s the first Chevy of its kind”
      I actually have fond memories of this car, which my dad passed along to me in 1986. It had the four on the floor manual transmission, and the base 2.5 liter. I made it past 100000 miles without too many maintenance issues, and I enjoyed the ample space in back for moving my life from college to graduate school and several places in between. The only major problem was the horrifying rust the car suffered from parking on the street in Buffalo, NY for several winters in a row.
       

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    My grandfather bought one in 1980; it was nothing but trouble for the first two or three years of its life.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    The funny part is that when the FWD X-cars first became known in the late ’70s, shock waves of fear trembled through the entire auto industry. After all, this was when GM was at its mightiest. Not only could the X-cars devastate import sales in the US, there was even talk that they could sell in huge numbers in Europe and elsewhere. Here was a fleet of American cars under four brands directly and seriously challenging the Europeans and Japanese makers for the first time. I’m sure there were sighs of relief in boardrooms everywhere when the sad reality of the X-cars became known.

    • 0 avatar
      tech98

      Just imagine if GM actually had respect for their products, and produced great cars instead of penny-pinched, shoddy and unreliable disasters that drove customers away by the millions.

      Actually I can’t — for the most part they continued to build crap, launch after launch, ever since the X-Car disaster. Their grubby cars-designed-by-accountants culture seems incapable of producing much else, apart from a few niches like the Corvette.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      Looking back, it was obvious that GM spent most of it’s X-Car development money on the project’s hype machine.  There was huge buzz back in the day about how this was THE compact car…..lots of people bought into said hype.  Even the Japanese were scared.  One of the Japanese manufacturers…might have been Toyota…had agents in the US buy a couple examples as soon as they hit the showroom floor.  The cars were flown out of the US to Japan ASAP.  As soon as the cars arrived in Japan, the Japanese engineers tore them down and inspected every last nut, bolt and screw.  After the engineers stopped laughing, they reported to their bosses that there was nothing to worry about.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I drove an early 80s cavalier in Europe. Belonged to my roomate. Compared to the Rabbit convertible of the day the Cavalier was a joke. The Cavalier couldn’t stop, turn, or get out of the way with it’s big four cylinder while the VWs engine would carry it 120 mph on the Autostrada, get good mileage and the chassis did a good job too. Note the VW was an American spec car with all the air pollution stuff intact and stock. At 175K miles too. The Cavalier had ~100K miles. The other problem was that the interior space of the Cavalier was about the same as the VW but the amount of room required to park it was noticeably larger.
      No, the idea that the GM FWD American spec cars were going to be competitive anywhere but an American grocery store parking lot is laughable.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    An older gentleman around here has a Citation 4dr hatch.  He still drives it around town, has one of the last FWD 88 Oldsmobiles for long distance drives.  Loves that old Chevy though because everything is so cheap for it.  Brags about how he can get 13in tires for peanuts.  (He’s a real character – survived a refinery explosion, has a glass eye and a limp, and goes to car auctions and is a “small time” car dealer to add to his disability income.)
     
    I had an A-body Chevy Celebrity as my first car (as any of the regular commentators know.)  The Iron Duke was a real agricultural grade engine and I always felt like GMs heart was never in designing 4cyl.  At least the little beast made 120+lb ft of torque and would light the tires off the line (which was all a teenage boy cared about.)  The auto trans was as reliable as the sunrise but the combo of hp+weight+drag meant that it ran out of steam around malaise era hwy speeds.  (Maybe it was my dad’s secret plan to keep my speed down.  Didn’t work though, I think you could measure the 0 – 85mph time with a sundial.)  It ate O2 sensors.
     
    At least it had a HUGE trunk and great rear seat room.  I’ve still never seen a car that size with that sort of back seat room.  The 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme sedan that replaced it was claustrophobic in the back by comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Hah! I get to answer one of your posts, this time.

      “It ate O2 sensors” – I had a 1972 Nova I detailed in a post last week. The only complaint I had with it was it had this contact in a metal box attached to the firewall that sped up the engine idle when first started, then after about 5-7 seconds, brought the engine back down to normal idle speed. It ate those up like crazy, and in 1973-74, at about $5.00 a pop, that got expensive real quick. Eventually just unplugged the thing and had no more issues!

      Regarding the Celebrity – basically a big improvement, especially in later editions. You’re correct about the trunk and back seat. The Olds you mention above puzzled me – one of the guys I was out of town on business with in 1993 had one of these as his rental and I was surprised by how small the interior was – very cramped. Weren’t they basically the same car? If so, I wondered how GM pulled that off.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      No no no, I’m talking about the G-body Cutlass not the A-body Cutlass. http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/curbside-classic-gms-deadly-sin-8-1984-pontiac-bonneville-brougham/ It was not in anyway related to the X-cars, it was related to my Dad’s 1978 Monte Carlo.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Gotcha, Dan. I was referring, erroneously, to the Cutlass “Ciera”. My mistake, but I was on a roll – when you get old(er), once you get going, you can’t (or don’t want to) stop!

  • avatar
    geeber

    I remember our high school principal bought one of the first Citations in our town. It replaced a 1975 Kingswood wagon. It seemed like the smart thing to do at the time…

    It really seemed as though GM had stolen the march on Ford with the X-cars. GM had a modern, front-wheel-drive compact for the 1980s. It helped that these cars debuted just as the second fuel crunch spread from California in the spring of 1979. Of course, in the long run, the people who bought an X-car would have been better off with a Fairmont.

  • avatar
    dastanley

    In the Fall of ’79, our church choir director bought a brand new Citation and was SO proud of his first new car – at least for a few weeks.  Then the problems started…

    The photo of the blue Citation with flat tire pretty much sums it all up.

    My only experience with the 2.5 Iron Duke was with my (USMC 90-93) girlfriend’s Chevy S-10 pickup.  That was certainly a rough engine and did not inspire confidence when we took it on road trips around the Carolinas.  Low power, mediocre mileage, cobby engine.  Yeehaw!

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    My company bought a fleet of these cars, not because they were stupid, but because they could not have possibly believed how horrifically bad a car could be!

    I think we had ten, all 1982s. By 1983, they got rid of them all and everyone involved in the deal took it in their shorts.

    I got one with SIX miles on it. I was obviously delited to have such an new car! I was proud of it. It was ugly, but it was new and ALL mine!

    I took it right to a car wash after my first trip and washed it. I accidentially removed all the plastic chrome paint from the grille. It was soapy! I thought the stuff I was blasting off was road shit. I was mortified to discover I now had a gray plastic grille.

    All the IP knobs lost their little glued internation chrome symbols on them. Since all the knobs were alike, one had to know or guess which knob performed which task. This happened about four weeks into my new car experience.

    The driver’s door became sprung. I was able to stick my finger outside through the rubber insulation around the door.

    The car shut itself off after an hour of driving, which in Colorado, left me above timberline in the Artic snowbound landscapes of the Rockies. When I tried to restart it, the car ran like it didn’t have all it’s four cylinders operating. After months of daily incidents, our garage discovered that the Citation had a crack in the distributor cap which opened wide due to engine heat, allowing oxygen to enter the system.

    Going uphill – Colorado has mountains, so you have no choice here – the engine knocked and pinged so loudly it sounded as though it would explode. We were told that the engine knocked so that we could get better fuel economy. That’s not a lie – this was the GM explanation – honest.

    The engine broke all of it’s engine mounts, causing the engine to twist and torque itself against the water pump. After doing this for who knows how long, the water pump housing was shattered against it’s mounts and so I ended up stranded along quite a few more mountain highways as it leaked and left the engine overheating.

    The car sounded like a school bus with it’s transmission mounted right in front the front passenger footwell. The car sounded like it had no sound insulation anywhere. It whistled through the gap in the front door, pinged and knocked like it was going to explode climbing I-70, and the transmission sounded like it was going to come through the passenger footwell.

    I had one of the better cars! We had the majority of the cars returned to the Chevrolet dealer before the year was up. I got stuck with this wreck of a new car until it finally died along I-70 and my boss got me a replacement which I adored – a 1982 Escort. He wanted the Escort for himself, but got stuck with the Citation since he remained in the local Denver office where he could be bailed out when it stranded itself.

    Honestly, this car was so unbelievably horrible I cannot believe we just didn’t sue GM for malpractice. I didn’t drive another GM car for twenty years, and next year – that will be it for me and GM – FOREVER.

  • avatar
    ccttac

    I had the 1980 Phoenix version for less than a year.  Bought used with very low mileage. I should have been smart enough to figure out that someone was dumping lots of problems at a fire sale price.  The brakes were especially bad, and dangerous as well.  Many times the pedal would be hard as a rock  – no downward movement at all – and no breaking happening either.  Fortunately letting up on the pedal and then reapplying force generally caused the brakes to engage.  Really scary. Traded for a used Corona which I wish I still had.

  • avatar
    wgmleslie

    The only unique item I remember was the vertical radio layout on the dash.

  • avatar
    peteinsonj

    Dear lord — spot on!
    Had one of these — looked great — contemporary styling, large interior space, practical.
    But after just a few weeks it was clear — was the car worse or the inability of the dealer to fix it in any reasonable way?
    Traded that car after a year for a Nissan – and have been driving exclusively Japanese or European cars since.
     
    Pete

  • avatar
    cfclark

    I wasn’t yet old enough to drive when the Citation came out, and by the time I was, its issues were well-known, so I never got the chance, er, had to drive one–but the one thing I recall from the reviews over the years was the godawful shift linkage, often compared negatively with the equivalent Honda linkage. My first car was a Civic, as it turned out. 

    I had forgotten about the vertical radio! Almost as weird as the Ford horn-button-on-the-turn-signal-stalk idea.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      loved the horn there on our 80 fiestas and my dad’s big fords from 1979…  if you drive with the left hand at the 9 or 10 o’clock position, then the turn signal and horn are at one’s fingertips … weird for me is having to move a hand off the rim to the middle of the wheel hub to activate the horn … most times when the horn is needed, one also should be steering…

    • 0 avatar
      Dave W

      My 63 Citroen had a horn on a stalk, push it lightly and it did a 1 tone city beep, push it hard for a raucous 2 tone autobahn blast. I assume the stalk was because the end of the steering column bent down to become the one spoke of the steering wheel, leaving no place for a conventional horn button

  • avatar
    OliverTwist

    I used to own 1982 Buick Skylark and 1986 Chevrolet Celebrity (both were discarded from my father’s corporate fleet after their days ended).
     
    The first one had a teeny-weeny fire in the motor bay which took me seven weeks to repair. None of the repair manuals showed the diagrams of “spaghetti” tubes (for the “rudimentary emission control system) so I spent days scouting for the similar Skylark with V6 motor at the forecourts and asking the sales consultants to open the bonnets so I could take notes of which tube goes where. I succeed in restoring the order to the motor bay. The consequence of my “shade tree mechanic work” was horrendous fuel consumption that would make that Bentley 8-litre fitted with Packard motor ( http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/packard-engined-bentley-what-more-is-there-to-say/ ) very “green car”.
     
    I recalled the stupid design flaw when the bolt anchoring the subframe to the body broke in half. I had to drill a series of holes in the firewall that curved down to meet the floor as to snip the sheetmetal away to access to the nut holding the broken half. I would never ever want to replace the shock absorbers that is part of MacPherson suspension. They required a trip to the repair garage for the alignment every time the shock absorbers are replaced.
     
    Due to its magnamious appetite for the volatile remains of dinosaurs, I sold the car to the guy who ended up getting arrested for smuggling the illegal immigrants across the US border. I was served a notice from the US customs, asking whether I owned the car. Nope, it was sold a few months prior to the seizure.
     
    I accepted the 1986 Chevrolet Celebrity with 2,8-litre V6 motor and medium grey metallic paint job from my father’s corporate fleet. First thing I did was to swap the “L-shaped” brackets attaching the front seat backs to the bottom part of seat. The seat backs were leaning way too far back, making them very uncomfortable during the long trips. I also removed the clips from the seat belt winding mechanism so they didn’t sag every time I leaned forward. Not content with the shitty headlamps, I swapped for the Hella H4 and H1 with 100/130-watt H4 bulbs and 100-watt H1 bulbs while upgrading the wiring for heavier demand. I added the side turn signal repeaters from Saab because I was tired of close collision with other vehicles while changing the lanes on the highway. I reconfigured the wiring system so that the taillamps displayed the turn signal and brake separately.
     
    In 1996, the gasket blew and poured the anti-freeze mixture into the oil pan, seizing the motor at 325.000 miles. I sold the car sans Hella headlamps and Saab turn signal repeaters to the junkyard dealer for $75.
     
    One question I have been begging to be answered. On early X-body models, there was some sort of rubber L-shaped flap protruding under the motor. You can always notice it as they drive toward you. What are those?

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    These were just inexcusable.  We must remember that going into 1980, GM still commanded about 45% of the US market, and the other domestic manufacturers were scared to death of them.  From the outside, GM seemed invinceable, with virtually unlimited resources to blanket the entire market with fresh, new products.

    I drove a new Omega when these first came out because my mother was in the market for something “small and plush”.  It was bigger and felt more substantial than the Omni/Horizon.  I was a dedicated Chrysler guy in those years and thought:” Here we go.  This has beat the K car to market and it will be dead out of the gate once this car has a foothold, being from GM and all.”  Then, GM did what nobody expected.  It put a gun to its own head and pulled the trigger.  From this launch on, it managed to do what none of the competition could ever do – it managed to screw up its own products so badly that nobody but the most dedicated GM customers would come back for another.

    Who could have figured that all of those luddites who bought the Ford Fox cars (Fairmonts, Zephyrs, LTDs, Marquis’, TBirds and Cougars) were so smart.  Even Volares were better than these cars, and the Chrysler K cars certainly were.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      If you were there, it’s funny now to remember what a big deal these cars were in the spring of 1979. Not original-Mustang big, but still a big deal. The second gas crisis had just begun in California, and people were again concerned about fuel economy. Inflation was also on the rise. A small, economical, roomy, American-made, front-wheel-drive (a big deal in those days) car was just what the doctor, or at least Jimmy Carter, had ordered.

      These cars made the year-old Fairmont seem like yesterday’s news, and completely outclassed the Aspen/Volare and doddering AMC Concord. GM was on a roll…or so we thought. By 1982 it was obvious that everyone should have saved themselves a lot of grief and bought a Fairmont/Zephyr or, perish the thought, an AMC Concord!

      What’s even better is reading the mea culpas from testers who, 30 years later, admit that they were snookered by GM’s test cars.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      geeber,

      I remember the impact of the X-car program well. I’m sure the K-car was in the works long before the 1980 model year, but we’d have never known of them as K-cars if it weren’t for the hoopla surrounding the X-cars. I’ve recently reread a couple of the introductory articles relating how wonderful the pilot cars were, which basically said they were the best cars in the world. The car magazines had all sorts of metrics to show that the X-cars were now the benchmarks, and that Rabbits, Civics, Omnis, Accords, Fairmonts, and 320is were rendered also rans. Supposedly the lack of a reclining seat and the high price of the V6 option meant to steer people towards Iron Duke cars with galatially tall gearing were the only faults. Now the magazines explain it all away by claiming they were fooled by the hand built pilot cars, but they were still shoveling X-car BS at least throughout 1980. I remember Car and Driver running a Special Advertising Car Care article about a fictitious couple who used a thorough script of maintenance to make there new dream car last indefinitely, and the car they chose to exemplify the best of the day was the Pontiac Phoenix.

      I’ll believe that Detroit has discovered how to build good cars when they’ve actually done it for a few years. I won’t believe it based on introductory reviews. They were still building cars tremendously inferior to Toyota and Honda when I stopped being a service writer in December of 2006. The Fords, Lincolns, Chevrolets and Cadillac in the fleet of a recent employer of mine were still the same with model years up to 2008.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      Having lived through the X car era, this should explain why new CAFE regs scare me to death.  Everyone had some good, serviceable hardware that was scrapped and reinvented in the early 80s, and was in most cases far inferior to what it replaced.  It took manufacturers until the mid 90s to work out the kinks and have a decent overall batch of product again, and it appears that we are about to go through the ringer for another cycle.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      jp;
      CAFE just separated the wheat from the chaff. You can’t blame CAFE for how horrible these cars were.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      At the time CAFE scrapped the wheat and kept the chaff, at least in terms of domestic products. It also created nightmares with astronomically tall gearing in order to produce a good number in the EPA labs and horrible driveability on the streets with no real gain in reduced fuel consumption. The EPAs CAFE test is still as badly modeled, and the negative results are still evident in many domestic products. It is exaggerated on cars like the Fiesta, which has the best EPA numbers in its class combined with the worst acceleration and the most real world fuel consumption. http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/comparisons/10q3/2011_ford_fiesta_vs._2010_honda_fit_2011_mazda_2-comparison_tests

    • 0 avatar
      dtremit

      It’s really stunning to see the investment Ford got out of the Fox (and Panther) platforms — they really weren’t revolutionary. No one had any clue that they’d still be building cars on them five years later — yet they lasted more than twenty.

  • avatar
    scottcom36

    I think that part of the crash in the sales numbers was due to Americans’ tastes turning away from hatchbacks, and the success of the notchback A-bodies supports that. It takes some of the wind out of the sails of the proposition that the X-bodies were so awful.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I believe the Citation went a long way towards making hatchbacks synonymous with garbage in the US. They sold 811,000 thousand in 1980. The Celebrity’s best year totaled half of that, and it took 4 years from the Celebrity’s introduction for sales to build up to the new ceiling after the Citation had sold like hotcakes on day 1. The Citation rode a wave of consumer good will for GM right onto the beach. The Celebrity spent its first two years just trying to paddle back out.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    How about the rack and pinion (morning sickness)

  • avatar
    sfdennis1

    Ah memories…back in the mid-80’s, my high school driver’s ed car (when HS’s still offered driver’s ed) was a few years old Citation…in that awful GM early-80’s metallic salmon pink with a maroon interior…rock hard plastic on the doors, scratchy cheap cloth on the seats, noisy and gutless Iron Duke…just awful.

    I remember when we got to learning ‘expressway driving’ and merging, the teacher/instructor kept (almost) yelling more gas! more gas! floor it!…the car was such a dog in acceleration, he was trying to not get us killed by approaching Semi’s. He didn’t have to yell at me, I was always happy to floor it, but the teenage girl I shared the lessons with always had an absolutely terrified look on her face when merging.

    In a (very) small defense of the Citation, an early 80’s Camry cost a good deal more to buy than any comparable X-car…price wise, it’s almost like comparing a Cobalt with a Camry. That’s about the only defense that can be offered other than that…in typical GM fashion, once they got the ‘bugs worked out’ on the upsized car it was a reliable, if boring, workhorse.

    • 0 avatar

      One of the cars my high school had for drivers’ ed was a brand new 1980 Pontiac Phoenix.  It’s the only drivers’ ed car I remember, because it had an unsettling habit.  Every time I would try to parallel park in that thing, the power steering system would somehow overload the engine, causing it to stall.  Not the most confidence-inspiring trait for a car being used to teach kids how to drive….

  • avatar

    Ouch! A 1981 Citation X-11 was my first car, and was far from “sporty in name only.”
    Pros:
    –strong acceleration for the time from a 135HP “high output” 2.8-liter V6
    –good handling for the time, aside from a kink in the steering caused by poor engineering (rack was attached to subframe, while pinion fixed to firewall); check contemporary reviews
    –the back seat was wide and flat–four people could fit in a pinch
    –hatchback versatility
    Cons:
    –not very reliable, though mine had far fewer problems than most; the carburetor was awful–FI couldn’t happen soon enough
    –awful build quality–had to slam the doors to get them to shut
    –ultra-cheap interior materials, with obviously fake stitching molding into the single-piece door panels
    –awful ride quality from the “sport suspension”
    –clunky shifter operating only four widely-spaced ratios
    –massive torque steer
    –hit the brakes mid turn and you were almost guaranteed to spin

    Overall I remember the car quite fondly. Had a great time with it.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Michael: I would take issue with the phrase “sporty in name only”, too. I test drove one of these before I decided to p!ss money away with my Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde-like 1981 Mercury Capri Turbo RS. It seems it was a pretty snappy ride if it was in the top three of my picks at the time. IIRC even with the Turbo package the Capri RS was less money than the X-11. And this was back when we were paying 14% or more for car loans. Collectively we’ve forgotten just how bad the malaise era cars were, and not all of the stinkers were domestic. I’m so very happy, not having to deal with carburetors any longer. And that was just one of my pet peeves.
       
      OTOH, I knew a few people with the regular Citations, and they were not good cars. They weren’t built well, had many problems and weren’t always the least expensive, either. I’m more of a GM fan than most here, but these were nothing to write home about.
       
      Oddly enough, the later versions of the Citation were the cars I first started calling the “cockroaches of the road” (R), because no matter how poorly they ran, and scabrous they looked, they kept on going and going. Like a zombie Energizer bunny.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Good point, 135 HP from 2.8 liters was pretty good for 1981.  We had a 4-door hatch with the 110 HP six, and acceleration wasn’t bad.  AS for the shifter, I remember Motor Trend describing it as gear-bag as opposed to a gear-box, that summed it up.

    • 0 avatar

      This article brings back memories!  When my brother and I were 17 we were given a white X-11 Citation and a two-tone blue Citation.  Yes, exactly like those shown in this article.

      Michael, your pros and cons are right on.  They were roomy and versatile and the X-11 was kinda fast.   Besides that these cars were absolute nightmares.  The first week we had the car it overheated in traffic.  Something about those new-fangled electric fans.  That was only the beginning…

      The following year we were given a new car.  Did we learn our lesson?  Absolutely not.  We picked a 1984 Camaro Sport Coupe.  It rivaled the X-11 in terms of maladies.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Michael and others: I made a typo that is creating the wrong impression about the X-11. I said 1983 instead of 1981; that’s when the (previously) sporty in name only X-11 got the HO engine. In 1980, the X-11 was primarily a trim package. I admit the HO and handling package made for entertaining driving, although I use the word “entertaining” loosely. Keep in mind that the bulk of my critique is aimed at the 1980 model; GM did scramble to try to fix some of the more egregious shortcomings. A later model year X-11 undoubtedly has its charms.
      I have corrected the typo and amended the text accordingly. Thanks for pointing it out.

    • 0 avatar

      I had forgotten about the 1980 X-11. It was lame.

      Then there’s my guilt by association. Even back in 1983 I was looked upon by my family and friends as the one to go to for new car advice. So two family friends, seeing that I bought a Citation, bought Citations for their children. They didn’t realize that the only reason I bought a Citation was for the X-11 treatment, which the ones they bought did not have. Both of their cars had lots of problems, and were soon disposed of.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Wahoo, is this EVER the worst car GM ever built. Coming from a 15-year stint of playing with Corvairs, The 1980 Omega I bought used with 60K on the clock had me really missing my ’65 Monza convertible.
    2 batteries
    3 alternators
    2 halfshafts
    brakes galore
    and what about those reed-valve replacements for a smog pump? when they burned out, the replacements from GM were 350 bucks each. The 2.8 V6 was the only good thing about that car, but the carb was truly awful. You had NO room to work on anything under the hood, interior plastic bits turned to dust, and the tranny was not meant to live long either. All in all, the worst GM experience I ever had. It took me 25 years to take a shot at another FWD car, and when I did, it was the 2001 LeSabre, the second worst car I ever had.
    Bye Bye GM, you lost it a LONG time ago.
     

  • avatar
    iNeon

    Ours was a deeper-than-is-common-today shade of champagne, two-tone Citation II model with a lovely rosewood interior I wish they still made today. It was bought used, with low-mileage. It lasted approximately 18 months before the “your engine overheated and is already dead” light came on.
     
    Mother replaced it with a new Ford Tempo LX in 1989. That one was superior in all respects, but still gets no love from the TTAC administration.
     
    Mentioning this brings up another point that needs to be made– We really don’t like it when you call us fools for making our own decisions. We know you know better than us, but for the time being– we’re allowed to make vehicular mistakes without answering to a Niedermeyer.
     
    I think.

  • avatar
    calvin1234

    I had a friend who bought one of the first ones. What I couldn’t believe was how many squeeks it had for a brand new car. Never drove it but I wasn’t impressed with it and when he went to sell it a few years later I passed on it, unlike my other friend who when it was time to sell his 7 year old ’79 Malibu I was pleased to become it’s second owner.

  • avatar
    VespaFitz

    Two things drive me absolutely nuts:

    No matter what General Motors produces, from now until the end of time, this will be the car that anyone references when they decide to walk to an imported brand. They haven’t built that car in 25 years, but any time you suggest to anyone that a Malibu or a Cruze is perhaps a better alternative to a Japanese car, their response always starts “My aunt Tilly had a Citation and it sucked!” Hyundai sold those horribly built Excels a full decade after the last Citation rolled off the line, but we’ll buy a Sonata without a second thought.
    Name me ONE car in the Citation’s price range that didn’t have a hard and cheap plastic interior.

    • 0 avatar
      MoppyMop

      Most economy cars then used hard plastics in the interior, but the interior trim in a Honda or Toyota of the time was far more solidly put together and better designed than what GM put in these things.  Hell, even the J-bodies had nicer interiors than this.
      And the difference with Hyundai is that they actually bothered to learn from their mistakes – GM was still producing interiors with the same lowest-bidder materials and Happy Meal-grade assembly quality right up until the bailout.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Yeah, the Citation interior looked like they actually designed it to look as cheap as possible.  Words cannot describe how cheap it felt.  Which is too bad, because the car’s concept–light and small on the outside, roomy on the inside–was brilliant.  The bean counters really killed what could have been a great car.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

       
      Hyundai put their money where their mouth is, and improved the product line and offered warranty coverage to back it up.  The last GM I had, lets just say I was less than impressed with my new car warranty experience.  I will agree, though, that Malibu is a nice car, but I think we’ll wait on a while on the Cruze.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      No matter what General Motors produces, from now until the end of time, this will be the car that anyone references when they decide to walk to an imported brand

      I said this above but it bears repeating: you cannot screw entry-level buyers and expect forgiveness.  Luxury buyers will put up with all sorts of crap, but the buyer of an economy car wants a low cost of ownership and trouble-free operation, even if they slack on maintenance a little.  This is why Porsche can screw it’s customer base six ways from Sunday while, say, Toyota, GM or whomever cannot.

      Hyundai realized this and made some almost obsequious attempts to prove itself and woo buyers.  GM, out of sheer arrogance, never really accepted that it was at fault and wouldn’t (and, if I recall, still hasn’t) made the kind of efforts that Hyundai did.**   It will be interesting to see if Mr. Ewanick can convince them to do otherwise.

      ** Hyundai also didn’t sell nearly as many cars as GM.  I’m sure that if Hyundai had managed to sell millions of Excels for twenty years they’d have a rougher path to redemption, too.

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      It’s a mistake to assume that customers abandoned GM after one bad experience with the Citation.  The reality for most consumers was that the X-car (or the J-car, or the early FWD A-body, or really just about anything GM produced from 1978 on) merely was the last straw in a series of lousy GM purchases.
       
      My old man was a GM devotee for years, but a rattletastic ’79 Malibu and two truly terrible X-cars put an end to that. And decades worth of Grand Ams, Impalas and HHRs at the rental counter haven’t changed his mind.
       
      Also,  RE:  the Citation’s interior.  Ford and Chrysler were every bit as bad in this era.  If anything, GMs traditionally had better interiors than the Detroit competition.  But look at the door panels.  The dash.  That stupid bench seat:  Why make it a bench when you’re going to put a tray in the middle so no one can sit there?  It wasn’t necessarily the worst, but the interior was a joke nevertheless.

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      No sorrow here.  GM had the benefit of the flip side of that argument for a long time.  In my Mopar fanatic years of the 70s, all I ever heard was “my aunt had a 58 Desoto that was a piece of crap and all Chryslers cause nothing but trouble.”  GM, however, was God’s gift to the automotive world, to hear these people tell it.  This attitude continued well into the 80s, after it was plain that GM had jumped the shark.  Somewhere during the 80s, Toyota and Honda picked up the “presumed excellent and if you have a bad car it’s because you are an idiot” halo that had formerly rested firmly on GM’s head for 40 years.
      GM has a chance to get the halo back but has a lot of work to do, and has to get past Ford first.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      People bought American cars for as long as they could stand it. There were all sorts of reasons why people bought them, from patriotism, a dealer on every corner, to local advantages in knowing the market. When we finally gave up and tried Japanese cars, it was generally revelatory that cars could be finished so well and work so reliably. For those of us who get our hands dirty, it was even more of a wonder to see how much better something could be engineered and assembled. I’ve talked to quite a few people who are just learning how good cars can be today as a result of the bailout. Chances are people who are going the other way for political reasons won’t be ‘big-3′ victims for long.

    • 0 avatar
      carve

      A decade later, my ’91 S-10 had an equally awful interior.  The door panels look almost identical- hard plastic with a cheap-uphulstry quilting and fake-stitching molded in to it..  It had water leaks, that would get under the floor rubber and mildew and smell god-awful.  The vinyl bench developed cracks at 60k miles.  Worse is plastic bits would just break off in your hand…glove box door…door handle…lock….hood release…headlight switch, etc.

      It had the same Iron Duke 2.5.  Very coarse, although it got decent mpg and was at least reliable until developing major leaks at 90k.

  • avatar
    segar925

    These cars were real pieces of chit, just like everything else GM made in the 80s, only worse.  It’s no wonder GM went broke.

  • avatar
    c5karl

    This was the car that caused my Dad to give up on GM.  Ours was a 1980 Phoenix 4-cyl hatchback.  At first it seemed to be a decent car for the price.  Despite its compact exterior dimensions, our family of five fit into it almost as well as in our larger-but-RWD ’79 Cutlass.  The front buckets were actually pretty comfortable for that time and price category.  And the hatchback and fold-down rear seat made it pretty versatile.  There’s a reason these things sold so well at first.

    But from almost the first day, the car had electrical issues.  I don’t remember all the defects (there were many), but I do remember that the car would predictably blow a fuse if you used the left turn signal with both the radio and cruise control turned on.  Right turn signal, no problem.  Left turn signal, blown fuse.  I also remember being pulled over by a cop to let me know the brake lights weren’t working.  On a car that was only a few months old.

    Less than a year after purchase, the car stalled on a freeway and wouldn’t restart.  Dad decided it wasn’t safe to drive.  He traded it in for a Toyota, and never bought another American car.

    That ’79 Cutlass remained in our driveway for a decade.  But its reliability wasn’t enough to make Dad forget that stinkin’ Phoenix.  Deadliest sin, indeed.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    I remember Car & Driver comparing the X-11 to a Impala SS 427.  Such drivel.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    If cheap interiors were the only problem, I would’ve really liked the car. Most everything built that I could afford before then had painted steel and minimal padding on the inside, but they ran well and were relatively easy to repair.
    The X-body cars were just awful on all fronts, and not much changed in 25 years with the LeSabre–and it was supposed to be a mid-level sedan- so it’s now my new point of reference, last one being built in 2005, with its shrinking dash pad, marginal brakes and insatiable appetite for (7) window regulators in less than 4 years. In fairness, the 3800 engine was torquey and fun to drive, but the total package still lacked any sense of permanence. Not to mention the seats (marketed as “catcher’s mitts”, {have no idea what that meant}) were hands down the least comfortable I have ever experienced.
    Lessons learned? when a car company can’t seem to learn from its mistakes, and keeps churning out  junk in which even basic items like window regulators aren’t dialed in, why show them any future loyalty?
     

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      Mom and dad had a 1992 LeSabre that was a turd under warranty, but the minute it got out of warranty it was Toyota reliable. When the time came in 2004 to replace it, they looked at the LeSabre again and we were all disappointed in it. It was cramped and not as well built as the 92-00? models.
       
      I had a FWD A-body ’86 Pontiac 6000-STE that was a blast to drive, but it was also 13 years old when I got it. It did suffer from some of the same problems the X-bodies had, but the worst one was the cooling fan not kicking on till the temp gauge was about to trigger the warning light (digital dash) unless the A/C was on. Otherwise it was pretty reliable other than usual wear items. It was the last GM product and the so far the newest GM product I’ve owned, other than my recent purchase of a 77 Chevy Malibu Classic.

  • avatar
    Emro

    never owned one, only got to “enjoy” riding in a friends mothers example… the glovebox would only open with a whack on the side of the radio/hvac dash edge, very amusing.

  • avatar
    nikita

    The Chevy Crustacean

    • 0 avatar
      thebeelzebubtrigger

      For some reason that strikes me as completely hilarious. Now I want a Citation just so I can replace the badges with new ones that read “Crustacean”, LOL!

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Boy, my dad just missed the GM trifecta.  First car I remember him buying new was a Corvair van.  We didn’t have it long.  He took me with him to test drive a Vega, got a Pinto instead.  And in 1980 he bought a Citation.  The car held so much promise: FWD, stupid light curb weight, roomy interior, and GM pissed it away through cost shaving.  The fact that they doctored their press cars so heavily shows they know exactly what they were doing.  I wonder if those were the cars the let the GM big wigs test drive.  Truly an epic deadly sin.

  • avatar
    Acubra

    Reading all this I have a strange feeling that if I erase the car’s name, I would be reading about the Moskvich-2141, a Soviet disaster of 7 years later than Citation. It too seemed very nice on paper and if done right, could have certainly been counted as a real leap forward for the stagnant Sovetico auto industry. Heck, it even looked similar to the Chevy.
    Never happened. It was amazing how many things could break down on something so simple. My fav was that if you reversed too quickly into a curb (any speed higher than a tectonic shift would be counted as such), you would bend the rear suspension trailing arms.

  • avatar
    Beta Blocker

    I had one of these MPOS (Major Piece of Sh*t) for a year before trading it for a 1981 Pontiac Firebird — which turned out to be an SMPOS  (a Semi-major Piece of Sh*t.)

    Going through the various citations cited in the Karesh Citation List:

    – Not very reliable, the carburetor was awful  – CHECK!
    – Awful build quality – had to slam the doors to get them to shut – CHECK!
    – Ultra-cheap interior materials, with obviously fake stitching molding into the single-piece door panels CHECK
    – Awful ride quality from the “sport suspension” — CHECK!
    – Clunky shifter operating only four widely-spaced ratios — CHECK!
    – Massive torque steer  — CHECK!
    – Hit the brakes mid turn and you were almost guaranteed to spin — CHECK!

    My own additional issues:

    — The front seats had an internal structural crossbar located just above the lumbar region that constantly dug into your back.
    — The transmission linkage failed twice, the clutch itself once.  (I was not abusing either of them.)
    — Significant fit and finish issues, plus the paint didn’t stay on the car.
    — Problems with the electrical system (burned out lights, failed circuits. etc)

    After the one-two punch of buying this General Motors MPOS and then a follow-on General Motors SMPOS, I decided I would never purchase another GM product again. 

    In this decade, I have inherited several other GM vehicles built in the mid to late 1990s, and they were all either POS or SMPOS as well, and so I got rid of them in short order.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I almost forgot about that brace in the seats! I can almost still feel it today! Maybe that’s the cause of all my back problems. Anybody know a good lawyer?

  • avatar
    gslippy

    just about every fwd GM car built since the first Citation torque-steered its way off the assembly line has X-chromosomes in it, to one degree or another
     
    Very true, and you can still see it there today.  No doubt this is GM’s deadliest sin.
     
    Around 1988, I became my neighbor’s mechanic for his 1980 Citation – carburetor rebuild on the V6, strut replacement, brakes, etc.  It seemed like a solid car.  But I distinctly remember watching him creep along his level, snow-covered driveway as the rear tires locked up every time he applied the brakes.  He was only going walking speed.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Memories, all bad. I really don’t want to have to recount them.

    I will say that you could get a TON of stuff in the hatch with the rear seat folded up (yes, up). Also, the “1980” Citation went on sale in April 1979, so that 811k is about 18 months’ worth of crap.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @bumpy: Yes, looking at the pix of the coupe/hatchback X-11 again, it reminds me of the lack of decent hatchbacks we have today. Something like that would be darn near perfect for what I need to haul around these days; I really don’t want a repro 1938 Ford (PT Cruiser) or weirdo spacemobile (Toyota Matrix).
       
      Oh well…

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    I knew of a big-mouthed, small-brained preacher who once headed a rather disreputable cult. After allegedly buying large quantities of GM stock in the early 80’s, he impressed upon his parishioners the Godly design and spirtual principles that went into those cars. Buying one was proof that you had achieved an appropriate inner spiritual domain.
    The cult pretty much fizzled out about 1986. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

  • avatar
    Tommy Boy

    In the early 80’s I worked in a dealer service department (Chrysler; AMC-Jeep).  For a while Jeep put “Iron Duke” engines in CJ’s.  Numerous customers began complaining about noisy engines at start up.  AMC provided us a copy of the GM service bulletin on this issue.  It said something along the lines of “piston slap at startup is considered normal for this engine” (so no warranty repair).

    After that, I avoided GM like the plague, until …

    Through an in-law I was eligible for the GM employee discount.  I took a chance and leased a 2003 SAAB 9-3  (which is GM through and through). Worst car I’ve owned / leased in almost 40 years of driving.  Numerous squeeks and rattles, electrical issues, and the worst stereo I’ve ever heard in a car, which was highlighted when I looked under the rear speaker covers and discovered that the full-size grilles only had clock-radio sized speakers underneath.  The notorious GM beancounters struck again!

    Now I’m forced to pay taxes to bailout GM.

    GM sux, and I hope it goes out of business sooner rather than later, so it’ll finally get off of the taxpayer teat.

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      ’03 SAAB 9-3s were totally gross, fully repeating the 9-5 life cycle. They only fixed it more or less by MY06-07…

    • 0 avatar
      snabster

      Couldn’t agree more.  Cheap and stupid.
       
      And you’re quite right the 9-3 problems weren’t “fixed” until 06.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      GM sux, and I hope it goes out of business sooner rather than later, so it’ll finally get off of the taxpayer teat.
       
      I may be channelling psarhjinian here, but that ship has sailed.  GM’s demise, however likely in the future, would inevitably cost the taxpayer again in some fashion.  Their IPO is a step towards being weaned.

    • 0 avatar
      Tommy Boy

      >>I may be channelling psarhjinian here, but that ship has sailed.  GM’s demise, however likely in the future, would inevitably cost the taxpayer again in some fashion.  Their IPO is a step towards being weaned.

      GM will never pay back the $45 billion in tax loss carry forwards that it was allowed to keep by the Obama administration; so this will be on top of whatever other losses the taxpayer incur from the bailout of the UAW / GM.
      When it goes down in the future — it’s the same company with the same mentality and the same UAW monkey on its back, so the cycle will repeat — if allowed to go into a “regular” Chapter 11 reorganization or Chapter 7 dissolution, it won’t cost the taxpayers a dime.
       

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    Oh God, does this bring back memories-and not good ones.  By 1980 I had owned two GM vehicles: A Vega and an Opel, both were junk requiring constant maintenance. So why did I get suckered into an X-car?  My only excuse is that mydad had worked for GM for 27 years and I had absorbed at lot of the GM koolaid by osmosis and the press reviews in the automotive magazines at the time was positively gushingly favorable.
    This leads me to two conclusions: 1) the journalists writing for the magazines were being less than forthright on the vehicles or 2) GM was slipping them ringers.  I had a ’80 Skylark, it ran fairly well until the warranty expired and then everything started falling apart.  This was the only vehicle I ever owned that had the bolts attaching the starter to the block break four(4)times; the vehicle had so many malfunctions and breakdowns it’s not much of an exaggeration to say it spent more time in the shop than on the road.  By the time I had it for two years if anybody asked me about it I told them it was a POS.  I’m sure lots of other owners were doing the same thing.  I finally got rid of it in 1984, it did  at least accomplish one valuable thing, it purged the last of the GM koolaid out of my system. I haven’t owned another GM vehicle since, and for that I am eternally grateful.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought a 1971 Opel Manta Rally. It was one the of the best most reliable cars I ever owned. I entered it in 41 Autocrosses and got 28 first places. It of course made the Vega look like the POS it was.

      If your Opel was the erlier Kadett I can understand, but the Manta was an awesome car.

  • avatar
    windswords

    Interesting.. Citation sales fell by 50% in 1981 and by 60% more in 1982. Not only did this fall from grace help the new for 1983 Camry, but the Chrysler K car as well, which came out in 1981. You can knock the K car, but compared to the Citation and it’s siblings it was very reliable. Since it was the K car that saved Chrysler (it was the Minivans that made them wildly profitable, although they were K car based), you can say that GM had a hand in helping Chrysler survive.

    • 0 avatar
      zenith

      Back when K-cars and X-cars were the predominant rental cars, I had exensive experience with the K.

      Once, I had to accept a Citation. It felt like a $5000-cheaper version of the K.

  • avatar
    MarkySparky

    My newlywed parents purchased a 1982 Skylark (blue) new.  I was born in 1984, and the car survived until my second birthday.  My dad still uses it as his standard for awful cars, and this is after driving a 1995 Astro for over 200K (still going, amazingly).

    • 0 avatar
      zenith

      My ’85 Skylark, bought in ’95 for $500 was my 5-5-5 car. Bought it for $500, spent $500 on repairs over a 5-year period. It was the first year for TBI on the Iron Duke and the system was flawless-no driveabilty problems at all.

      However, the car ran out of breath at about 60. 60-70 could be measured in miles instead of seconds.
      Since a teenage boy was to be its primary user, this was actually a plus.

      The interior was nasty-cheap compared with a Dodge Aries. The car had the square body style that mimicked an Aries, but an Aries didn’t feel as though the crank was coming off whenever you rolled the windows and had a better radio.

      A cost-efficient car-didn’t eat tires, used less than 1qt oil  between changes, transmission worked well all 5 years.Fairly quiet with few squeaks and rattles. Backache-inducing seats.

      We need underpowered stuff like this for kids to learn to drive in. Yes, I know there are “smart keys” that reprogram acceleration & top speed, but these kids are all tech savvy and can defeat them. You can’t defeat underpower as cheaply or easily as a smart key.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Absolutely revolting from every angle.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Oh yeah, there’s more.
    The 2.8L shipped from the factory without exhaust manifold gaskets!
    so—when the bolts loosened up, the resultant flame front sawed thru the bolts on the forward bank. At least i could pull the radiator and AC condenser to easy-out the remains. Why they didn’t fail in the rear bank is beyond me, but I’m sure glad they didn’t.
     
    This is SO cathartic.
     
     

  • avatar
    GrandCharles

    The biggest flaw for me is the right back brake from the x-car used in the a-car; ask anyone who drove them in winter about sudden jamming…once i did a 180 degree turn while slowing gently to a red light (1982 celebrity, 2.5), once it destroyed my suspension link(1989 pontiac 6000, 2.8) ! (driving 50 km/h in summer, sudden braking)…I had get rid of the car, even repaired i could not forgot that if that had happened while speeding it might be dead…And that Iron duke sounded like a diesel, that engine was gutless i cry softly for those who had to drive those 4 cyl. auto camaro (and laugh for those who humiliated them a the green light!)

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      The biggest flaw for me is the right back brake from the x-car used in the a-car; ask anyone who drove them in winter about sudden jamming…once i did a 180 degree turn while slowing gently to a red light (1982 celebrity, 2.5)
       
      Wow same thing happened to my mother in a snow storm right in front of the Ottawa, OH water treatment plant.  I always (in my head) blamed it on poor driving of my mother and not knowing how to handle an emergency situation.  After reading that I’m glad I was always too respectful to say it to her face.
       
      BTW after driving an Iron Duke equipped Chevy Celebrity a Pontiac Vibe with a Toyota 1.8 feels like a sports/luxury tourer huh?  (I speak from experience driving my fiance’s Vibe at least 3 times a week.)

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      As I recall, the bad brakes on these cars was at least partially due to the parking brake.  The X-car was supposed to originally have bucket seats and a floor-mounted parking brake.  But once GM learned that the K-car was going to (theoretically) offer seating for six, they ordered a last minute design change and foot brake and column shifter was installed.  The new E-brake design couldn’t hold the car on a hill, so GM beefed up the back brake linings as a cheap, quick fix.  The tradeoff was that the redesigned rear drums would overheat and lock up.
       
      Not good.  The NHTSA agreed and sued them.

    • 0 avatar

      I guess that explains an odd quirk in my mother’s 86 6000LE.  When it first started up in the morning, one would always be careful not to brake hard, otherwise the rear drum brakes locked up like clockwork, causing the whole rear end of the 6000 to hunker downward like a dog taking a crap.  It was usually worse after it rained.
      Thankfully, this particular 6000 didn’t come with the Iron Lung 4-cylinder.  The 2.8L was limp-wristed, but at least it was relatively smooth and got good fuel mileage.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    My grandfather went through two of these. Both were 4-door hatches with the V6. The first one was an ’81 he bought used to replace his ’80 Sunbird. He put about 180k miles on it making cross-country trips for fun (he spent his retirement crossing the country to visit the family) before he passed it on to my aunt. It spun a rod bearing soon after. I remember trying to work on it in Auto Shop. I also remember the funky vertical mounted radio.
     
    The second Citation was bought new in 1985. I can’t remember how many miles he put on that car before trading it in for his final car, a ’91 Saturn SL1 with a stick (he drove stick until he couldn’t drive anymore, bless his heart. That car still exists today), but it did survive running over a transmission that dropped off a truck in front of him on the highway during one of his trips.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    “Shifting the manual transmission was like sending messages to a distant cohort in secret code via carrier pigeon.”

    I was thinking ‘via semaphore’ before I finished your sentence. The only shifter that was worse, was the stick in my dad’s Dodge 600. I’ve shifted non-synchro tractors with more ease of operation. It was like you being punished for having the audacity to by a car with a manual trans.

  • avatar
    pleiter

    A former boss bought new a white 1980. White is normally the ‘iron’ color, as in it is the most durable color paint (lack of metal flake, etc.) given everything else is equal. Well, within the first year his Citation turned an Orangy shade of white, it literally rusted underneath the paint. Evidently no galvanizing, and Angstrom level primer.

  • avatar
    Joss

    The Citation hatch was a cleanly designed car for its time. I recall it looked quite decent in two tone.
    I interpret Citation as: GM does the Renault 16 a decade or more later and then Japan comes along and beats them both at it. Maybe GM should have left the iron duke longitudinal as the Renault 16. It could have reduced torque steer and noise input to the cabin.  Remember at the time the whole idea behind these X-platforms was fuel savings.

  • avatar
    mistrernee

    I had a 1974 3/4 ton Chevy C Truck when I was in my late teens.  Thing ate gas and even more irritatingly fell out of 3rd gear all the time.
    I spent a weekend (with some help) swapping out the transmission for another one I found.. somewhere.  Anyways, it was the first big mechanic type job I ever did back when I could still do them (Parents garage was huge).
     
    Truck fired up after and the clutch and everything worked and the gears all seemed to work.  I got really excited and put in reverse and floored it out of the garage without bothering to see if anything was there.

    The rear bumper of the truck and front bumper of my sister’s 82 Citation were lined up well enough (try that in a new car/truck). Despite the speed it only left a little dent in the Citations bumper not that I could have gotten going that fast in reverse out of the garage.  I pushed it back a good 5 feet though.
     
    No one, including my sister, was overly worried about it.  Her boyfriend of the time (he helped me with the transmission) thought it was hilarious.
     
    I was borrowing that very same car and had to be somewhere in a hurry and the clutch pedal  mechanism under the dash exploded all over the floor.  Nothing broke, it just decided to come apart for some reason.  After being reassembled it kept working just as well as before.
     
    It was a horrible car to drive, FWD with no power steering (what a workout that is) or any options really which might be why it was still alive into the mid nineties.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    Bedard wrote a column a couple years back on his Citation experience. Not a mea culpa, but an ok read.
    http://www.caranddriver.com/features/08q2/the_skeptic_has_a_malibu_moment-column
     

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Bedard wrote about being derided for being a cynic by D.E.D Jr. in remembering that he’d already witnessed ‘this time its different’ proclamations in 1959 and 1969! What does it tell you that today the CW is that 1979’s intro was worse than the previous two? The Pontiac G6 has disappeared into history with zero fanfare, and all the Malibu that is supposed to take on the Japanese offers is a new veneer. Damn, I wish I didn’t have to own this company.

  • avatar
    jackc10

    Where are the GM defenders and retirees on this one?

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      I think we all got a bad case of “Reality Check” on this “CC”! Wow, this was a CC to write home about. What an enjoyable time! It appears, to quote Sgt. Pepper (kind of): “A Splendid Time Was Had By All”!

      Goodnight, now!

      Paul – you ain’t gonna be able to top this one, I’m afraid!

  • avatar
    NewLookFan

    Nope, the X cars had their problems, but the all-time lousy GM car still has to be the Vega.  We had both of these at work, my g/f had a new 72 Vega; NOTHING (not even the Omni/Horizon, my 79 Accord or my 82 Camaro) comes close to the deplorable service of the Vega.

    While GM vehicles have improved, and I’ve owned (stii do) a few, there’s still a long ways to go.

    Mr. Ackerson takes pot-shots at the Prius and claims the Cruze has more gizmos in more models than Civic or Corolla.  He obviously doesn’t understand that the gems like the X cars and the Vega are the real reasons that we’re not buying GM cars.  

  • avatar
    Shovel-ready project

    This brings up some bad memories. I had Pontiac’s version of the X, the Phoenix. I remember that C/D wrote the Phoenix compared favorably to a 2002. Wow! They must have been on the payroll to print that.
    I kept it less than one year. It was such a POS that I vowed it was the last American car I would ever buy. I wonder how many other folks changed their car-buying habits over that model like I did.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    My dad always drove GMs.  Growing up, his mother always had a used Biscayne or Bel Air wagon, but always wished his parents would spring for a six-tailight Impala-and you were really something if your old man drove a Ninety Eight or an Electra 225, let alone even the cheapest Cadillac Series 62.  He took his got his driver’s license in his grandmother’s ’57 Chevy, which was already an icon in 1969.  He drove a ’67 Firebird 326 ragtop in high school.  And when he started getting company cars in the ’70s, they were always GM if he had the choice.
     
    It wasn’t that my dad was a brand loyalist.  He lusted after the original Torino GT and inexplicably sold girlfriends on the Pinto, while my grandfather was always secretly a Ford man with a penchant for buying old Fairlanes as second cars and driving them until the engine fell out.  It’s just that GM’s were “better.”  They were styled better.  The engines were better.  Ford’s had cheaper interiors, and the old man still rants about what tinny hunks of junk the Mustang II and Fairmont were 35 years later.  And even back then, you just simply didn’t buy a Chrysler.
     
    So my dad always tried to score the best Buick his company would pay for, because Buicks were the best GM a regular guy could realistically hope for.  Unfortunately, thanks to stagflation, by 1980 that meant the new X-body Skylark sedan with an Iron Duke.  And that car sucked.  Hard.  Sucked so hard it started shedding major suspension components on the highway after a year.  So it was replaced by another company-issued ’81 Skylark, which lasted a whopping two years.
     
    The unreliability, the torque steer and the brakes that constantly tried to kill you were bad enough.  What made it even worse was that even the most reliable X-cars felt like a 5 year old bucket of bolts the moment they rolled off the line.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t this wasn’t restricted to the X-car or just GM; the slide in Detroit quality after 1970 was hard to ignore.  And when my mom came home with a new Corona in the summer of ’80, my dad’s nominally “premium” Buick looked like a cheap piece of junk by comparison.  Unlike the Buick, the Toyota didn’t rattle, didn’t handle unpredictably, and its 22-R started every morning and didn’t feel like it would shake off its motor mounts.  In retrospect, it was a pretty unremarkable car, but it was a jewel compared to anything Detroit offered at the time.  All of which is why my dad didn’t shed too many tears when his company stopped proving cars in ’83 and why my parents have since owned three more Toyotas and five Hondas.
     

    The X-car was hand-down the worst car GM ever built.  The Vega may have been “worse” in terms of design flaws and shoddy assembly, but it was just a cheap car for kids.  The Olds Diesel and the Cadillac V8-6-4 may have been more problematic, but they were novelties; new technology sold mostly to well-heeled buyers that should have known what they were getting into.
     
    But the X-car?  It struck right at the heart of the market.  These cars were roomy and versatile enough to appeal to families.  They offered enough economy to appeal to first-time new car buyers.  Because Buick and Oldsmobile still meant something, they appealed to both status-conscious and older buyers looking to downsize.  And the platform was advanced enough that it demanded a look from buyers who’d otherwise a VW Dasher/Audi 4000 or the Honda Accord that everyone was raving about.  On paper, the X-car embarrassed Ford’s new Fairmont/Zephyr, made Chrysler’s last hope K-car look like a lost cause, and forced Toyota to abandon its successful Corona to develop an “Americanized” front-drive competitor.
     
    But instead of pushing back the imports, the Citation was the car that pushed them into the mainstream.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      +1 And because of the “trickle down” effect of the technology from the x-cars finding their way into the FWD A-body and J-body it slowly poisoned the entire “affordable family car” lineup for GM.  Suddenly the B-bodies were the only cars that GM produced that were worth a damn.
       
      Would I buy a well kept early 80s Chevy Caprice Classic, RWD Buick LeSabare, or Olds Delta 88?  In a heartbeat.  Would I buy a well kept Citation (or it’s siblings), J-car, or A-body?  I wouldn’t drive it if you gave it to me.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    There are none.

  • avatar
    ajla

    The Citation might be the worst car GM ever made, but, IMO, the Cimmaron is still the ultimate GM “deadly sin” hubris-mobile.
     
    ( I still wish you would take the “deadly sin” label off the ’90 Corvette and ’77 Seville.)

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    I have never had the pleasure of driving an X-car, but when my 1989 Civic is in the shop I will occasionally get a loaner — typically a GM subcompact from the late 80s and early 90s.
     
    My Civic might be the entry-level white underwear model, but everything works and works well.  It feels solid.  The GM cars are the opposite — a nightmare of craptastic, ticky-tacky, plastic overdesign.  I find myself fuming the whole time I’m in one of these cars.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    There were more factors in the Citation sales decline than the recalls, I think.  The flaw in looking at those Citation sales stats in a vacuum is that in 1982, the Celebrity appeared.  In typical fashion, GM was now competing with itself with two cars aiming for overlapping market niches.  Also in ’82 the Cavalier was introduced, so with the three cars to choose from, the Citation sat in the uncomfortable position of being bigger than the new compact and smaller than the new midsize.  The Cavalier sold over 200,000 units in its first year and the Celebrity about 90,000.  The Citation was suddenly quite irrelevant and GM was obviously doing nothing to develop it, signaling they were just amortizing the tooling for a couple years until the fleet buyers switched over to Cavaliers.  Celebrity took even more of the sales in ’84 when its wagon was added to the lineup.

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      That was something I never understood.  Why did GM introduce two more car lines that were so similar in size and mechanicals?  Hell, the A-car was just an X-car with a bigger trunk.  Even if the Citation hadn’t been garbage, it would have been heavily pressured from above and below after just a few years of production.
       
      What in the world were they thinking?

  • avatar

    My father bought a Skylark in 1980.  It made one run at the drag strip with me at the wheel: 18.32 seconds @ 75 mph.  I experienced the extremely easy rear brake lockup one cold February night and put the car into a spin that had me touch both gravel shoulders on a two-lane road.  How I managed to keep the car out of the ditch, I’ll never know.
    Dad traded-in the Skylark for an ’86 Camry and has been buying Toyotas ever since.

  • avatar
    MattPete


    I remember ‘driving’ one of these when I was 15 (or was it 14? 1984-1985).  My parents worked for a state university, and Citations were part of their pool of vehicles (always in Government baby-blue or beige). To give a little background, universities often have a pool of cars that employees can drive to conferences and other meetings instead of flying.  Don’t have a large car (or don’t want to put the mileage on your own car), but need to travel with 3 other colleagues to a meeting in another state?  Borrow a car from the motor pool.
     
    My mother, thinking that she was doing me a favor, asked me to move the car from the side of our house to behind our garage.  Our driveway was about 200 ft long and had a circular turn around out back, so it allowed me to have some low speed (10-15mph) motoring.  The first thing I remember is that I could not find Drive.  Oh, I eventually found Drive, but the needle on the column indicator for the column shifter didn’t align with any of the marking, but instead fell half-way between.  It all went down hill from their.  I was shocked at how craptacular the car was, and my parents’ 1984 Honda Accord seemed like a Swiss timepiece in comparison.
     

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    Wow! I knew these cars had issues, but….wow!!!
    My first car was a 1985 Skylark sedan that my parents bought new when I was nine. They traded a K-car in on it after only eight months. The Buick had the awful Iron Duke in it. At 14000 miles the head gasket blew, and after it was fixed the car never ran right again.
     
    But….In the car’s defense, I found that it was very solid and comfortable. The doors always shut with a satisfying ka-thunk. The interior was extremely roomy. The stereo sounded good. Oh, and it had these little flood lights on the dash that illuminated the controls on the dash.
     
    We had the car till 1993 when my dad said it was time for it to go and he replaced it with a new Corolla. I was sad, I didn’t want to get rid of it. Maybe it was because it was my first car, but I truly loved that thing! Fast-forward to 1998, I found it in a junk yard. After recovering from the shock of finding my beloved little car destroyed and sitting there, I tried opening the doors, and sure enough, they still had that solid feel, it made me smile.
    You know, I still have dreams where I am driving that car!
     
    Maybe it was because it was made several years after they were introduced is why it wasn’t a bad car.
     
    I always found the X’s to be kind of attractive, but after reading all these horror stories, I have this feeling that whenever I see one now (which isn’t all that often these days) I’m going to shudder just a bit…
     

  • avatar
    1600 MKII

    Yow, Paul…great response!

    My memories of these cars will never disappear…I was giving a demo ride in the first 1980 Firenza we had in the dealership. At one point I had to floor it to get around a strange truck maneuver and got torque-steered directly into a rather unforgiving light pole…possibly the first J-car total.

    I left the biz for a few years but, after a “disagreement” with the IRS, went back in ’86 for a short stint and took a loaded up Cimarron “sport” version (forget the GM Moniker for it) as a demo – no one else had the nerve – to see how it worked (my own car was a 5 series).

    The second day I was dropping off a friend’s daughter at a girlfriend’s and HER deaf and blind grandmother backed her sixties Buick out of the driveway into us as the girl was climbing out. Not good. Hysterically I jumped out to find that her leg had been partly out with the door open…Really not good.

    BUT! The car was so cheaply built that the door had simply bent around her leg like a piece of lasagna. A bruise – just a friggin bruise!

    I suppose GM would have called that a safety feature.

    I went back to a Seville although I’m not sure it was that much less tinny, as I think about it…

  • avatar
    getacargetacheck

    Paul, your sales numbers need a little context.  The 1980 Citation’s spectacular sales numbers were helped hugely by an April 1979 introduction.  That’s a full six months of extra sales.  Extrapolate and the difference between 1980 and 81 doesn’t look all that bad considering the negative publicity.  Further, there was a 6% industry drop in sales from 1980 to 1981.  Of course, in 1982 Chevrolet had two more new FWD cars in showrooms to cannibalize Citation sales: the Celebrity and the Cavalier.  There were just too many of these cars being sold to accept the conclusion that American buyers swore them off after only one model year.

  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    “with more than 6400 real world miles on it’s clock, the jury is back and the verdict is in. Yes, the Chevrolet Citation X-car is just as good as those early technical reports indicated. General Motors has indeed produced a true world class small car, designed and constructed in the only the proper manner-from the ground up-…..  “Compared to imported compacts of it’s size and price range,the six-cylinder X-11 is practically a modern-day musclecar”….Hot Rod Magazine, August 1979

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    One of the biggest themes in General Motors’ history is that it doesn’t do innovation very well.  Almost all of its attempts to take a great leap forward in engineering have had serious flaws in execution.  Given that sorry track record you’d think they’d have doubled down on the quality control side when the X-cars were being prepared.  This was particularly important given how much of a break with past practices the X-car represented.
     
    Not that GM was alone.  For years Consumer Reports tended to recommend that you not buy a car that was in its first year of production in order to avoid early teething problems.  That’s not bad advice given Detroit’s relatively shaky track record.  If GM ended up in the dog house more than Ford, Chrysler or AMC, that was mainly because GM tended to take more engineering risks.
     
    The paradox of GM is that it would have been better off playing follow the leader on engineering advances.  Yet if GM hadn’t attempted to show leadership then the American auto industry would have been even slower to respond to the import challenge.  It’s important to remember how big of a positive step forward it was for GM to finally embrace FWD after being the biggest champion of bloated mansions of glory for so many years.
     
    Yeah, GM could have dished out a Fox-platform competitor instead of the X-car.  It likely would have been much more reliable.  It certainly would have been more comfortable to the traditional GM buyer than that new-fangled FWD.  So that presumably would have translated into more sustained sales.  But then we’d now be complaining that GM was too slow to switch over the FWD.

  • avatar
    Dieseldude

    Reading through this, I keep hearing in the back of my mind (I am about to date myself) a chorus of enthusiastic singers coming from the old man’s curtis mathis 24″ console “Chevy Citaaaaaaaation” I’ll pour another drink and try to burn the certain set of brain cells that is keeping that stuck in my head…seriously, that ad was on at every commercial break for six months before the car came out.
    A couple of years later I flogged a later model rental one weekend. It drove poorly but didn’t strand me so I guess we are even. OK I’m off to the bottle.

  • avatar
    Beta Blocker

    Paul Niedermeyer: I almost forgot about that brace in the seats! I can almost still feel it today! Maybe that’s the cause of all my back problems. Anybody know a good lawyer?

    I turned mine in with 14,000 miles on it.   While I had it though, my boss was looking for a car to get himself back and forth every month between our office in Boise and a project we were doing in San Francisco.

    He had spotted a near-new used Citation on a dealer’s lot for a more than reasonable price.  He wanted it for the cargo capacity and because it was cheap for a near-new vehicle — a good selling point for someone who was as tight as the bark on a tree.

    But he also suffered from back problems and I warned him specifically against buying this car because of the problem with the seat’s internal brace being located directly beneath the surface of the seat cloth.  (By that point I had taken to referring to my own Citation as the “Disaster Mobile.” )

    He bought it anyway and put 40,000 miles on it between Boise and San Francisco before turning it in a year later.  His nominal reason for getting rid of it was that the floor pan beneath the rear cargo platform had rusted out.

    I had already turned in my own Citation by that time, and was quite vocal in celebrating its departure.  But when the boss got rid of his own POS Citation, I chose not to say the words, “I told you so.”

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    Why is this the worse GM car ever? Look at the passions this bomb on wheels still ignites after almost thirty years!

    The Citation was so bad, folks like me who had one still get completely upset and start telling stories like the ones above. We simply cannot believe how betrayed we felt by a car company we thought we knew. After the Corvair. After the Vega. After all the years of overlooking and excusing previous GM cars before the Citation, and since, (if we ever bought another).

    The Citation was such a disaster it is still smoldering decades later. That is quite a feat.

    When the Japanese cars showed up, they weren’t the kind of cars Americans drove. The cars we were raised in were just different, and we overlooked a lot of their shortcomings because they were different. Until the X-cars came along, we couldn’t do an apple-to-apple comparison with Toyota or Nissan, Honda or Mitsubishi.

    What the Citation did was make a grand announcement that at last one of our own car companies was going to finally beat the Japanese at their own game. The Citation was presented as the NASA project of the 1970s and 1980s by GM and the Detroit auto press.

    But when it arrived, the Citation did not only fail to beat the Japanese, it failed in every way possible, and then exposed new ways for a car to fail. The X-cars reminded us of all the shortcomings Detroit passed off on us as accidents over the years, then humiliated us with it’s “beat the Japs” media campaign.

    The Citation was Jimmy Carter’s administration on wheels.

    Not only couldn’t we beat inflation, we couldn’t beat Iran. We couldn’t save hostages, a-la-Israel. We couldn’t keep up our wages to meet the costs of gasoline or food or mortages. Can you imagine a 23% mortgage? In the early 1980s – you did and suffered for it. The Citation was just another piece of Jimmy Carter Malaise that sat leaking in your driveway.

    So, not only do we remember how much these cars suck – we remember how much we all sucked when these GM bombs were lobbed at us. It was an awful time. Punk rock just fit the angst of the era. We all felt hopeless and unable to do anything right.

    These are reasons why the Citation was the worse GM car ever. It was the worse car, at the worse time in our recent history.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Thankfully, now GM seems to realize that if you’re going to be in the business of making cars, make goddamn cars, not pieces of junk that look okay at first, but disintegrate in short order, possibly kill people, and ruin your reputation, turning millions off of you in perpetuity.

    I’ll submit that pinching pennies never turns out well for automakers. Any quick profits made by doing so are inevitably canceled out by the resulting damage done to the brand. You can sell 1m buckets of crap any year and make a quick $1b, but if those buckets are so bad, you only sell 10k and lose $10b next year, what exactly was the point?

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    First year Camrys are considered as utterly solid and fool-proof as this year’s, if not more so.
     
    If I recall correctly, ’84 and maybe ’84 Camys made it to Consumers “Used car models to avoid”.  They stated it was a “rare place to find a Toyota”…
     
    As for the Xs, well, great idea, bungled execution.
     
     

  • avatar
    west-coaster

    I actually had an ’83 X-11 just out of college, in white, pretty much like the one in the images. For whatever reason, those things seemed to be screwed together better than the regular Citations. Two other friends of mine had ’81 X-11s at times, and all of us got lots of miles out of them.

    Was there torque steer? Yep. Would the rear brakes lock up if you stabbed the pedal hard? Sort of. The X-11s had the stickier Goodyear Eagle GTs which didn’t seem as suceptible to locking as the puny tires on the base cars. Was the interior plasticky? Absolutely.

    But for the time, it was a pretty good performer. The hood had an honest-to-goodness cowl induction set-up that made cool noises, as did the low-restriction exhaust system. Chevy hot-rodded the engine enough so that it would spin nicely to its 6500 rpm redline. And like other GM vehicles at the time, the air conditioner would freeze you out of the car, even on a 100 degree day. The stock shifter was pretty bad, but GM changed them for ’84 and I picked one of those up from a boneyard for something like $10 and it made a big difference.

    But the non-X11s? Yep, they were pretty sucky. I had a dealer loaner in late 1983 that was a former demo car (an ’82, I think, with the 2.5 liter and automatic) thanks to an oil leak on mine that they never were able to fix. (Mulitple replacements of the fuel pump — I think the mating surface of the block was just messed up.) The thing I remember about the loaner was that the engine shook REALLY violently whenever you started it, almost as if the motor mounts were made of Pla-Doh. It also had that awful bench-seat-with-plasti-console-thing with no lumbar or lateral support. At least the uplevel fabric buckets in my X-11 were somewhat grippy and pretty comfortable, and by ’83 they’d added recliners.

    I finally sold it to a young guy in 1990 with almost 80,000 miles on it, and it was still in pretty nice shape, aside from the plastic bumper trim being kind of wavy. I think the biggest repair it ever needed was an a/c compressor replacement, which was handled under warranty. My buddy drove his ’81 until well past the 100k mark until the clutch gave out and it ended up rotting in his driveway; he eventually donated it to one of those charity car auctions.

  • avatar
    brettc

    Growing up, we had a neighbour that owned a two-tone Beige and burgundy Citation. I don’t remember a whole lot about it since I was young, but needless to say I don’t think they kept it long because they ended up replacing it with a brand new ’86 Sable wagon. My wife owned an ’84 Omega in high school, it was her first car. She said it was an okay car, but I don’t think she had it long enough to witness the X-body atrocities that some of the B&B had to deal with.
    And thanks for the “Angstrom level primer” line. I had to look up Angstrom. Then it became much funnier!

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      And thanks for the “Angstrom level primer” line. I had to look up Angstrom. Then it became much funnier!
       
      There are few places that I go online to be both entertained and educated at the same time.  This is one of them.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    I was sixteen when the Citation was introduced and I had been taught all my life that GM was the greatest car company in the world, etc. The shock and disappointment of this car was so bad that millions of GM customers never went back. The car was simply soooo bad, so obviously cheapened to the limit in an attempt to cash in on brand loyalty.
     
    I also remember the automotive press fawning over this POS. GM must have forked out five star hotels and cognac,  because the reviews were something on the order of the second coming of Christ. For this reason I always take first reviews with a huge grain of salt, especially from Car and Driver. Incidentally, one of the main reasons that Toyota products get mediocre reviews when they are introduced is they put said “journalists” into Motel 6 and actually try to get them to write about the car, not the booze and beef. I would wager last year’s media created disaster for Toyota had a lot to do with Toyota’s poor “hospitality.”

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Back then, these things were everywhere. It was mandatory that there would be at least 1 on every block.
    I remember being a kid during this time and playing in the playground in the middle of the neighborhood, surrounded by all these Citations. The Vega was there too. Then one day, they were all gone.
    I could never figure out at the time that if the car was so crappy, it would usually be replaced by another GM such as a Caprice or Celebrity.

  • avatar
    Beta Blocker

    VanillaDude: …..These are reasons why the Citation was the worse GM car ever. It was the worse car, at the worse time in our recent history.
     
    What I saw happening in the late 1970s and early 1980s in American business was that an army of young MBAs was moving up through the ranks of the corporate management hierarchy, MBAs who played the game of doing creative number crunching to justify management decisions which had already been made.

    These MBAs had no real interest in understanding the details of how their industries operated, what kinds of work actually happened on the factory floor, or in how an industrial team and a marketing team within the same organization could work as teamwork partners in pursuing a better product at an affordable price.
     
    They had no interest in any of that. Instead, these MBAs made their money and their careers by telling corporate executives just what they wanted to hear, as opposed to what those executives actually needed to hear.  These MBAs were hired to serve that very purpose, of course.
     
    I have been criticized by relatives, some of them veterans of WWII, who think of me as a traitor to American values for recently buying a Mazda 6 as opposed to something like a Ford Fusion.  Their opinion is that if I wouldn’t ever consider a GM product, I should at least consider something that’s totally American.
     
    My response was that: (1) The Mazda 6 is assembled in Flat Rock, Michigan; (2) Few of the vehicles assembled in America use all American parts; and (3) I will buy my cars from people who have demonstrated their commitment to a quality product at a reasonable price, a product that meets my own expectations and desires.
     
    If the team that produces the product I want at a price I can afford happens to be composed of both Americans and Japanese (and Koreans and Malaysians and Mexicans–whatever) then so be it.  They get my business, and to some extent also my personal loyalty.
     
    And, to all those American MBAs who were so greatly instrumental in running GM and the other American car companies into the ground, I can only say, “Stick it!”

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Well deserved as Deadly Sin #1….while it didn’t start the GM roll downhill (the Vega, the cheapening of the Caddys et al in ’71, the corporate engine scandal of ’77, the misstep of the A body downsizing all contributed….), with 800k+ customers pissed off with their over-marketed X-cars confirmed the giant not only stumbled but fell flat.

    Sadly, the brillance of their light duty truck line, the Impala/El Dorado downsize success, and their huge market for the Camaro/Trans Am, as well the continuing glow from perenially popular Cutlass got pushed aside.

    They never regained the old confidence – the hideous Corsica, finally-matching-the-Taurus-but-way-late Lumina, the Quad-4, the disasterous Caddy/Olds/Buick downsize in ’86 kept the slide going.

    Around 1987 the old timers surely wanted to press the ‘do-over’ button to 1965….. 

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I never had anything to do with one of these cars …lucky me. My main purpose in commenting is to make it clear that even the vertical-format radio wasn’t original; the 1948 – 1950 Packards had that.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    Did all GM “sporty” cars of this era have black ribbed B-pillars or just the X-11 and the Cavalier RS and Z-24?

  • avatar
    jplane

    Amen!  We had a company car and the belts would break like rubber bands.  And you had to partially pull the engine to replace freaking belts!!!!  It was $120 back then to replace the belts and it was worth every penny.  The transmission was truly awful.  Nothing good about the car at all.  At least the Vega worked for a few miles.

  • avatar

    I still remember the Car & Driver cover story about the new X-cars. The headline read, “GM Blows the Competition into the Weeds.” At least they got two words right.

  • avatar
    xyzzy

    My father bought one of these in 1979. Well he ordered it then, as the article said there were long waits and after several months he settled for one off the lot instead of the one he had lovingly configured.

    This was the first car I drove as a newly licensed driver. The thing that really stands out about this car in my memory is its unfailing tendency to stall during left turns — I assume an artifact of the carb design. I’m surprised this hasn’t been mentioned more already. Imagine making a left turn into traffic and then having your car cough and stall just as you get into traffic.  Now imagine that scenario using 16 year old male judgement on how much room you should leave when pulling into traffic.  I’m lucky to be alive.

    My father didn’t learn his lesson for a couple more cars. His next car was a Pontiac 6000STE. ’nuff said. Now my parents only buy Hondas.

  • avatar
    kreytec

    I drank the Car and Driver Kool Aid and almost bought an ’83 X-11 when they first came out. Luckily, I think the next issue of C & D came out before I pulled the trigger – it featured the 83 GTI, which I bought instead.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    There is a small but dedicated group of Citation lovers out there.
    http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/chevycitationsforever/

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Great piece Paul, thanks!  And I loved the comments it generated!  Brought back memories….the May 1979 C/D cover “GM blows the imports into the weeds”….the gas shortage and doubling of the price.  We were still a one-car family, but we really needed two.  So in Feb 1980, my dad decided to augment our ’75 Pontiac Ventura with a new car.  He really preferred GM to Ford, and Chrysler or imports were NOT an option.  Giles Chevrolet in Port Jefferson NY would sell us a Citation for sticker, and that was the best deal we could find.  It was easier to get a “midsize” GM car, like a LeMans or Malibu, but still too pricey for my dad, and he preferred a 4-cylinder for the gas mileage.  We wound up special-ordering a Ford Fairmont with the 2.3 liter Pinto engine, 4-speed, power steering and brakes, and I persuaded him to get the exterior “accent” group (had to have the Mercedes-like windswept mirror), and….the optional “handling suspension.”   I think it stickered for $5500 or so, I think we paid $5300 with tax, title, rebate, etc.  The car prices were rising every few months in 79-80.   Well, the Fairmont’s build quality was poor, nice big gaps, the paint job had a ‘gash’ 2 inches long, the rear axle had to be replaced under warranty because the dealer couldn’t remove the wheels to put snow tires, it occasionally had driveabiltiy problems, the original clutch lasted less than 40k miles.  But it handled nicely, kept up with traffic, and a pretty slick shifter, and had lots of room, and got 20-22 mpg in suburban driving, 28-33 on the highway doing low 50s to 65.  The “tin can”, as my dad derisively called it, was a pretty decent car for the day.  It stayed in the family for 6 years, 80k miles and became my first car.  Besides routine maintenance, during our time with it the water pump leaked and had to be replaced, and the electronic ignition module was replaced.  Not great, but not too bad–no $500-1000 repairs like other people were having with their similar vintage cars–domestic and european.  It still looked good after 6.5 year and 80k, when I sold it and bought an “American-made” VW GTI.  Still, I fondly remember the Fairmont.  Thanks for bringing back some good car memories.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @tom: My brother had a 1978 Mercury Zephyr ES 2 door sedan with the Pinto 2.3 and a 4 speed. The only other option on the car was a factory AM/FM with cassette player. The ES package was mostly blackout trim where the regular Fairmont/Zephyr had chrome, and some optional wheels/tires he didn’t spring for. It also had a system of vents in the back of the car so you could have flow-through ventilation, as the huge rear windows didn’t roll down.  In 1978 this was one of the cheaper models, it still rang up close to $4500, about $300 more than my folks 1974 Mercury Montego MX did. The MX was much nicer.
       
      Your post about the cheap Fairmont is pretty much as I remember it, but my brother’s Zephyr suffered from some kind of smog equipment induced carburetor malady. It ran fine for about a year or so, after that, it never ran right. The carb was first rebuilt (by a friend who built carbs for racing, he knew what he was doing) and then later replaced, still no relief. There were other problems, also, with leaks around the windshield and a bad catalytic converter. He kept the car until 1986 and about 80,000 miles, but by then it was pretty much toast.
       
      The reason why I bring this up, is that for the folks who didn’t have the ‘benefit’ of living through the malaise years, lots of cars on the roads were crap. I’m not making an excuse for the Citation by any means, but any ray of hope back then was firmly clamped on to, as we had no idea if it was ever going to be fun again to be a motorhead. Thankfully, it turned out much better than we ever imagined.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    Well, I’m not trying to defend GM, at least with regards to the horrible cars they made, with the X cars being the worst, with the Vega and it’s clones right behind. I had great luck with GM trucks of the same period as the X car though. I had an 82 fullsized Blazer that once it got through some odd severe knocking when new, was amazing. In the 4 years I had it, I drove it across the country several times, and put about 70K miles on it. Total repairs were one headlight, a battery, and the rear window track broke when I forgot I had a 2×4 sticking out and I closed the window. That’s it, period. I traded it in for a Dodge Caravan, and it was ok, but was totally gutless, and had A/C and heat control problems (Fixed under warranty) the whole time I had it. I hate FWD vehicles and I ended up trading it in on an 88 S10 Blazer. That thing was almost as rock solid as the bigger one. I had it for almost 5 years, and all that went bad was the incredibly tiny starter that was fixed under warranty, a trim piece inside fell off, and a battery. I sold it to a friend of mine in late 92, and he drove it and drove it until 2008, when it finally rotted through above the windshield, and he scrapped it. It had over 400K on it when it went to the crusher. It had been stolen twice and trashed inside both times, and was sideswiped and cut open like a pop can by a guy who passed out and sideswiped it in his flatbed truck. At 6 years old, it still looked new inside the rear quarter panel. He put a couple batteries, 2 water pumps, a radiator, and a transmission in it. It actually looked good until about a year before the end.
    How GM could build trucks like these, and cars like a Citation at the same time is amazing to me.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    While Roger Smith gets the lion’s share of blame for the long-term fall of GM, it’s worth noting that it was his predecessor, Thomas Murphy, who was GM CEO from 1974-1980 during the development of the Citation.

    Murphy was the guy who said, “GM is not in the business of building cars. It is in the business of making money”. That would seem to sum up the company’s mission statement succinctly, certainly with the Citation.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Funny people mentioning the right rear wheel locking up on X cars in the snow. The ones I remember doing it all locked up the left wheel.  Our neighbor’s daughter bought a brand new 83 X11 and I still remember the left rear wheel locking up in the snow as she stopped in the driveway.

  • avatar
    MistaWaRe

    My parents had one of these before I was born. They went out and bough one in a pretty deep rust- red sort of color.  When they got back from the lot, Mom went inside the house and Dad started washing his new car.  After a couple of minutes, Dad ran inside and yelled for Mom to come look at the car.  Once the dust was off, it turned out the car was not a rust-red color, but a hideous shade of orange. This story is also the most complimentary thing Dad’s ever said about that car.

  • avatar
    Civarlo

    What a memory. When my father was employed by Oregon State University in the 1980’s, the passenger car side of the university motor pool in ’84 got a fleet of brand new ’84 Citation 4-doors, which bore the “Citation II” moniker by that time. They were all colored the same single shade of light blue as the top half of the 4-door model pictured here, and presumably 4-cylinder versions to save money. What made it amusing is that the Citations were considered a step up and downright luxurious compared to the fleet they replaced: identical early 80’s Chevy Chevette 4-doors in white and identical beige early 80’s AMC Concord sedans in beige! At least the Citations had power steering, automatic transmissions, air conditioning, etc….which the Chevettes and Concords lacked! I can just see that gravel lot full of blue slantbacks now: OSU “For official use only” white bumper stickers, and all.  

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    It still shocks me to this day what an incredible hit these cars were their first year, and how quickly they crashed and burned.  And that was just the beginning.  Then came the Celebrities, Cieras, Cimarrons, Cavaliers, Centurys, Corsicas (funny how ‘crap’ also starts with a C), the FWD 88/98’s, DeVilles…man, my stomach starts getting upset at the memories.  All the people responsible for festooning these pieces of garbage upon the public should have ended up in criminal tribunals.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      All the people responsible for festooning these pieces of garbage upon the public should have ended up in criminal tribunals.
       
      Well there should have at least been picketers in front of their respective houses from the Chevrolet, Cadillac, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick clubs around the country.

  • avatar
    MSerapis

    I just saw this CC, wow. I had a 1980 that was in great shape when I got it in about 1996. It was a great car and never gave me any trouble at all! I have fond memories of it. It was eventually hit by a pickup truck and then sold to a kid with no drivers license who immediately got it impounded. But it was a great car for me at the time, I must have gotten a good one.

  • avatar
    jjd241

    Santa brought me a new point and shoot for Christmas. I captured a few interesting cars today while out running errands. http://jjd241.imgur.com/seen_on_the_street_1311/OI7z6

  • avatar
    thatcarguy

    My mom had a 1980 Pontiac Phoenix, basicly the same car. I could never get over that the paint had the texture of fine grain sandpaper. The locks would freeze every winter and it always smelled like there was a bad gas leak.

  • avatar
    Steve65

    This is a test post. Please ignore.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Yet another legendary Motor Trend “Car Of The Year”.

    I had one that I bought well used with 80,000 miles on it. Pretty car: 84 Citation II Champagne and dark brown metallic lower body. Mag wheels, the not very common notch back.

    Loved this car: it was quiet,economical, good looking, roomy, the perfect size,rode well, but I cannot fairly say it was a POS because it had been badly abused along the way. It was my first decent “new” car [after having driven my 63 Valiant for 10 years ] and it still has a warm place in my heart.

    I feel bad I traded it for an 86 Olds Calais which I thought [which is still in the family but not without having an AC system, heater core, 3 sets of brakes, 3 alternators, etc etc etc before 50,000 miles....] was a “nicer” car. Should have stuck with the Citation.

    Wound up paying for a new trans in it when it was just as likely the torque converter switch that quit and made the car feel like a manual trans coming to a stop light while still in 5th gear…. Young and dumb. No more a serial fan boi.

    That Citation did steer me to a Cavalier as my first new car simply because the size shape and interior room of the 95-05 was so similar to that sad little Citation.

    It never gave a problem [except for the intermediate steering shaft, part of a GM car\'s DNA to this frigging day apparently...] in the 50,ooo miles I had it before it was destroyed in a rear ender.

    The 05 ION [5 ignition switches, strut bushings, weatherstripping problems locks already dying, 47,000 miles... wherever a corner could be cut, the corner was cut...] I bought to replace it was a step backward in quality, though the engine and trans will go on forever.

    I thought with all the lip service GM had been giving about building better cars in the 00’s that this new Delta platform would be even better than that modest Cavalier.

    They can’t even get an ignition switch right after 100 years and a 99 Cavalier is more reliable than a car 6 years newer ???

    That’s it for me, GM…… I’ll read about your cars….. cause they’re much better on paper than in reality.  

    And as you can tell, as an automotive minimalist: I cut these bungholes a ton of slack > Citation, Calais, Saturn S, Cavalier, ION……so please: let’s not hear any complaints about GM “bashing”…..they worked hard to go bankrupt. They’ve certainly earned my contempt.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Dweezil, you know how a manual tranny car acts if you come too close to stopping without pusing in the clutch? How it starts to shudder and then stalls?  The 80’s-90’s GM front wheel drive cars with automatics will act just like that when the lockup torque converter switch goes bad.  It was also common for the connector on the wires that hook to the switch to become dirty or corroded, causing the exact same symptom. My uncle had an 85 ciera that started doing it, I unplugged the connector and sprayed it with WD 40, popped it back on and it was fine.
    Were you buying remanufactuerd alternators?  If so that is pretty much a guarantee that it won’t last, when it comes to starters and alternators. They only repalce the parts that were bad in those. Rebuilt units come with all new normal wear parts and will usually last at least as long as factory stuff.
    I still remember the famous GM problem of the 80’s that became known as “morning sickness”, lol. When the rack and pinion started to fail you would lose power steering on and off before the car got warmed up, causing the wheel to jerk when making turns.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      LOL: Moparman426W: I learned that not pushing in the clutch feeling when I learned how to drive a manual on the Valiant [3 speeds and column shift]….

      Yes that TC switch nonsense happened with both the Oldsmobiles in the family. I never knew until years later that it was a common problem.The Motor Man on KABC in LA would get two or three calls every weekend from people freaking out about that jerking/stalling/shuddering special effect…..

      My poor Citation also had the steering rack morning sickness and the irritating torque steer…. with a 4. But after driving a very basic car for so long, I sort of liked the auto, working air, power steering, relative newness and the looks, so it was love….. for awhile….. so much for my minimalist bent, right ? And it rode well and the quiet was eerie. The packaging was brilliant….

      But even owning one I can’t add much to what has already been said by everyone already. I read all the posts and couldn’t find a thing to argue with. All true. Tragic. Think what GM could have done with 800,000 satisfied customers…… This has got to be the turning point for when it all went wrong for GM…. the Vega was just the beginning….

      And strangely: I’d still like another one. But I am weird like that. Even the unloved need affection….

      Think the bugs would be worked out by now ???

      Still have the Valiant BTW…..

      Another classic CC, Mr. N-1. This one was the ultimate sin, sadly.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    LOL…Dweezil, if the X were still around it may have all the bugs worked out by now. It only took Gm 32 years to redesign gaskets and seals on the small block chevy to stop oil leaks, and the same amount of time to redesign cams that wore out.
    I would be willing to bet money that your valiant has more of it’s original parts than any of your GM cars did?

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      That’s the truth. The head gaskets on the Iron Duke were nothing to brag about either. 3 went on Dad’s Olds Ciera and one on the Calais. I probably traded the Citation before it’s head gasket went. From what I heard these went between 90-100,000 miles before blowing… if you were lucky.

      Actually the Valiant still has the same alternator that came with the car when I bought it in 1980 and I only replaced the starter about 10 years ago. Lots of new parts because it had been around the odometer at least once before it ever rolled into my life. Any parts I replaced have been because the old ones were worn out, not because they were badly engineered in the first place. GM: meet clue.
      I only recently replaced that electronic resistor thing on the firewall last year.

      It has a lot of new parts but I never had to replace an ignition switch unless I lost the keys…… unlike one whose name will go unmentioned

  • avatar

    As much as I liked the styling of the Citation. I hate it (and other FWD X bodies) for being GM’s first FWD car with a transverse-mounted engine and because of it’s lack of reliability and durability…
     
    One of my uncles had a 1980 Citation and one of my aunts had a Pontiac Phoenix. Both cars had mechanical problems and early body cancer. My uncle who had already sold his unreliable Citation had to weld big patches on the floors on his sister’s Phoenix in 1985 and when she sent it to the junkyard in 1987, it was in really poor condition. The 2.8 v6 was smoking, the transmission sometimes refused to shift and made loud noises, the metallic blue paint was completely faded and gone on the roof and hood. The front cloth seat was often wet from water leaking from the rusted out windshield posts.
     
    My only driving experience of a FWD X body was driving a friend’s low mileage and then 11 years old, 1984 Oldsmobile Omega that he got from his grandfather. I remember that the transmission acted strangely, the left rear door didn’t unlock and the 2.8 v6 with just 134,000 kms (about 83,000 miles) exploded while I was driving it at about 50 mph.
    We were getting back from a fishing trip and I was driving the car as we had my small tent trailer and he didn’t want to drive his own car with a trailer! When the motor started to knock and the oil light came on, I told my friend we should stop and call a towing because we wouldn’t make it back home. So I stopped in the next truck stop, turned off the engine and gave him the keys. He refused to call a towing and still refused to drive his own car! (we had another friend following us in his 1986 Nova and my 14′ boat).  So I took the keys and told him what would happen next and he didn’t mind. So less than an hour later (at 11;30pm), we heard BOOM and we were on the side of the road waiting for the towing that sent his car (with my tent trailer attached to it) to the junkyard!
    We got back home in my other friend’s Nova and we arrived early in the morning. I had to go back to the junkyard to get the stuff in the car and my tent trailer and we left the low mileage Omega there… The junkyard owner gave him 125$ for it but he deducted the amount for the towing so there was 64$ left! http://img820.imageshack.us/img820/6010/333lo.jpg

  • avatar
    Cowboy Bob

    I rented a brand new Citation when they first came out.  It had very low miles, less than 1k if I recall correctly.  I got in, adjusted the mirrors, turned on the engine (underpowered it turned out), and released the parking brake.  Or tried to.  The handle and the whole assembly (cable too) came off in my hand.  It was attached with a small metal clip to a half circle indentation in the underside of the dash at the left of the driver.  But the dash there was made of the same soft plastic used at the upper portions to limit head trauma (?) in case of a crash.  There was no way this connection could work beyond two or three pulls of the handle.  The plastic was just too soft.   A portent of things to come.

  • avatar
    1981X-11

    Thought you folks might get a kick out of these X-car links.    Despite their faults these cars do have a following still, especially the X-11 models.

    http://ccf.prevostdesignsolutions.com/index.jsp – Tons of info

    http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/chevycitationsforever/ – official group

    Brochure for these cars
    http://www.tocmp.com/brochures/Chev/1980/Citation/

    Supercharged and V8 Citations

    http://thebaron.110mb.com/

    Original article from 1978

    http://encyclopedia.classicoldsmobile.com/fwd-x-car.html

  • avatar
    1981X-11

    I’m 36 and I got my first Citation at age 16, a brown 83 V6 4dr CL model.   I’ve since had 7 Citations, including three X-11’s, and built a custom 4dr X-11 by combining a rusty ’81 X-11 and a rust free 83 Citation 4dr.

    I’ll be the first to admit there are goofy cars.   The automatic transmissions were junk, the base interiors were terribly cheap, the delay wipers had a mind of their own, they torque steer, the right rear wheels on the early models locked under braking in rain and the factory steering racks got sticky with age.  Also in salty climates, they rusted.

    So why have I had so many?   They’re SO cheap, both to buy and for parts, which are still stocked at all the chain parts stores.   They are easy to work on, with the hatchback can haul a ton of cargo, and they have a lot of room in them for such a small car.   The up-level cloth interiors are nice and comfy.   The 2.8 V6 is a very good engine, and with a manual stick, especially in an X-11, they scoot well for an 80’s car.  

    The later Celebrity, Ciera, Century, and 6000 were just an X-car in a pretty wrapper, and using parts from those an X-car can be made very reliable and fun to drive.   Tons of parts interchange.   

    The 80 model was junk, the 81 was much better, and the later the cars, the better they got.   The ones left on the road now tend to either be on their last legs, or in really nice shape.   Not much middle ground.   Skylarks are still common, and Citations can be found, but the Omega and Phoenix models are hard to find now.  

    So to sum up, if I’d bought one of these new for $10K and it fell apart, I’d have hated it too.   But buying a V6 4-spd X-11 for $800 today and having a quick, odd, fun sporty car for next to nothing makes me enjoy these goofy cars.   The ones left tend to have long since had the bugs worked out.   They are also super snow cars, nearly unstoppable in bad weather.    

    My 2-cents!

    -Mike   

  • avatar
    1981X-11

    Some pics of my X-cars.   ; )

    1981 X-11
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/81X-11Pics006.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/81X-11Pics022.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/81X-11Pics019.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/81X-11Pics013.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/81X-11Pics020.jpg

    1983 Citation converted to 4dr X-11
    before
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/BeforePic05.jpg
    during X-11 conversion
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/ComingAlong005.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/4drCitationBodywork002.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/4drCitationBodywork003.jpg
    after X-11 conversion
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/4drX-11HAHA001.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/4drX-11HAHA002.jpg

    1983 “beater” Citation with “bordello” Olds interior.  ; )
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/OrangeTationUpdate008.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/OrangeTationUpdate011.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/OrangeTationUpdate006.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/OrangeTationUpdate009.jpg

    X-cars in the driveway
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/X-cars/824cylTation011.jpg

    -Mike

  • avatar
    1981X-11

    X-car Commercials

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV_1QTNlQWA – I love the boat towing

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Su5BT3zK3BA – GM Mexico X-11 commercials
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAWjAH5Ipbs

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIlQlDbrsN0 – 83 Citation

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2Ea7acdOAU – Omega

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUmbwLDN7ew – Phoenix

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP2wrUMIVD8 – 84 Olds with Tim Allen!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u29BWVeNkiE – Skylark and Electra

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OFp49Rtkmo – 81 Skylark

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Love the pics and commercials. Good to see those 80s cars in good condition again for a moment. Makes me feel so old though. I was a teen during those years.
    Mom had a Citation – 4 cylinder automatic with a/c. Was her commuter car and frankly it was very good (reliable and cheap) for 130K miles. It needed some “detail adjustments” in my teen mind. Bumpers were too big, engine was not throaty enough – you get the idea. What was clear to me even then was that the car was light and the five door hatch could carry alot of stuff. I still appreciate those qualities today when I see a five door hatchback or small wagon.
    Her Citation was troublefree and looked as good when she sold it as the day she bought it. REALLY it was as good (reliable) as the Asian cars supposedly better. don’t know if it was because the dealer wasn’t involved, if my parents treated cars really well, or because we got a good one.
    Honestly I’d give serious though to another five door hatch like that – some updated version. We’ll be shopping wagons (what brand choices do we have but the imports?) and hatchbacks one of these days soon.

    • 0 avatar

      Unlike the Citation most of GM cars today are captive imports.

      Man, the Pacer really was the best compact of that era. Ok, it was a little before the Citation, but it was a much better car.

      I once had a 1984 camry. Good car with nice interior, but handling was mediocre, and probably not better than the Citation.

  • avatar
    1981X-11

    Funny you mention wagons.  My daily driver is the last of the big GM wagons, a 1996 Roadmaster Estate.   It’s got the LT1 under the hood, and I flat adore it.   It’s an awesome car.
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/Roadmaster%20Wagon/RoadmasterGS009.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/Roadmaster%20Wagon/Fishingroadtrip006.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/Saturdaynightcarmeet091.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/CorvetteRails002.jpg

    I was also a teenager in the 80’s…well late 80’s, and like cars from that era, even though most are gutless compared to todays cars.    My current toy is an ’88 Olds Cutlass Supreme Classic, the last year of the rear-drive Cutlass.   It has a t-tops, the 442 interior, and the little V8.
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/Custom%20Cruiser/CleanGP015.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/Custom%20Cruiser/CleanGP014.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/Custom%20Cruiser/CleanGP042.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/Custom%20Cruiser/CleanGP043.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/Custom%20Cruiser/CleanGP017.jpg

    I’m a GM guy through and through, and unlike others have had very good service out of all my GM cars.  My wife drives a still-gorgeous ’01 Grand Prix GT with the Nascar package and 136K miles on it.  That had been reliable as the sun.   We also have an ’03 Suburban with 169K miles on it, that’s been a wonderful truck.  GM has for sure made some duds in the past, but if you choose smartly you can find the gems out there too.   RIP Pontiac and Oldsmobile.   ; (
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/Custom%20Cruiser/CleanGP006.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/MasseyCars011.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/MasseyCars014.jpg
    http://i787.photobucket.com/albums/yy151/81X11/CleanGP025.jpg

    -Mike

  • avatar
    1981X-11

    Another X-car hatchback plus was the rear seat folded down flat, it was all carpeted back there.   It made a flat floor into the hatch area more than long enough for two adults to sleep in.   

    I have fond memories of “camping out” in my grey ’83 Citation X-11 at the beach back in high school.   ; )

    -Mike

      

  • avatar

    Bought a white X11 just like the one in the pix – bought at least in part due to glowing C&D review at the time.  Worst car I’ve ever owned of the 50+ since then and the last GM I ever bought.  Complete ash can – couldn’t clear fault codes, horrible gas mileage, brutal resale 2 years later.

  • avatar
    rajman

    I think  you’ve hit the nail on the head here. The 1980 Citation was the car that prompted my dad – a dyed in the wool GM guy if ever there was one – to throw in the towel and buy (gawd help him) a VOLVO. Desperate people do desperate things…. Losing him as a customer was truly a portent of catastrophe to come for GM. I don’t know what happened to Car and Driver, but I gotta hand it to the man – he ran screaming from this car.

  • avatar
    craiger

    Check this out.  1984 Citation, claimed 2,000 miles.  It does look new.
     
    http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/2000-ORIGINAL-MILES-1984-84-CHEVY-CHEVROLET-CITATION-/150567495387?pt=US_Cars_Trucks&hash=item230e85a6db

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Yep, it’s been in the shop since 1985… Just got it out… ;) Bet that was a rich bill.

    • 0 avatar

      Wow! If I’d be rich enough to buy a 10,000$ car, I’d buy this one!
      A few years ago, someone wanted to give me a 2 door 1984 Citation in good running condition with the same interior and exterior colors but it was a V6 automatic without the gauge package or A/C! And it had some mileage and a lot of surface rust (and floorboard rust).  So even for free, I passed!

  • avatar
    xyzzy

    That’s awesome. I bet that car has at least 10,000 trouble-filled miles left in it.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    I’m going to keep an eye on the ebay citation to see if some moron is actually dumb enough to pay 10k for an 80’s front wheel drive 4 cylinder. For that kind of coin one could get something half way decent and cool,,at least a V8 powered rear wheel drive car.

  • avatar
    epedersen

    Wow, who would have thought so much could be written about this car.  I had a 1980 X-11, and yes it was all trim (mine was black and gold no less) and “fat tires.”  I do believe they were 205/70/13.  Big, heavy, and few choices for replacement.  The trim would have been fine if it had not include the stupid fake brake cooling ducts on the sides.  I SO wanted an ’81 or with the HO engine and the alloy wheels, but I was in high school and dad was buying.  Being in high school I of course needed more than the AM radio it came with.  Anyone ever try to replace that vertical radio?  Not only was it vertical (which lots of my friends thought was kind of cool) but it was tiny.  Alpine made one model that would fit, but I think the shop had it 9 hours to install.
    My dad’s friend owned the local Chevy/Olds/Pontiac dealership, he sold a lot of of X cars across all three makes.  The front wheel drive was a bid deal in Montana and there were not many, if any, Japanese nor VW dealerships yet in the area.
    They replaced it with the Beretta and Corsica – whoopee.
     

    • 0 avatar

      Is it really possible that 811,000 people purchased this infamous car!!. That is double of what the camry sells today. Maybe people where buying this car based on GM’s reputation from previous years. Remember, buying GM cars at that time was still a habit of many Americans.

      When GM was building some of their worse cars ever their marketshare was highest it had ever been.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I love that this article is still getting comments 5 months after publication.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Had a 1980 Skylark, I was so let down by Gm that I never purchased another GM product again, my particular problem was overheating to the point that I could not go anywhere for fear of getting stranded, after 5 yrs of putting up with this crap, I traded it in for a 1986 Camry and it was like day and night.

  • avatar
    epedersen

    Would you believe Mattel made I die cast of the X-11 in 1980? Cleaning the basement and found no less then two in an old Matchbox case.

  • avatar

    Yesterday while leaving church with my wife I saw the first Citation I’d seen in a decade or more. It had a new registration…in fact the car looked like it stepped straight out of 1981.

    Absolutely amazing.

    I have a co-worker who once owned an ’84 Citation II. He actually liked the car…said it always ran well and never let him down.

    My co-worker’s and the one I saw at church must be the only good ones ever to roll off a GM assembly line. Maybe they were built at exactly 11:26AM on a Wednesday. You remember what they used to say about never buying a car built on a Monday or Friday…

    OTOH, my business partner bought one of the last ones made – a Buick IIRC…it lasted just a few months. When the dealer refused to stand behind it, she immediately traded it for a Honda and not only has never looked back, but has made a point of sharing her story as a warning to anyone looking at a GM vehicle.

    The Honda – a 5-speed Civic – lasted 15 years. She still drives the CR-V that replaced it.

    As I left the church parking lot…I offered that many of the imports parked around us belong to people who once owned a GM X-Car.

    As bad as the Vega was, this was the icing on the cake. And as good as I hear many of GM’s products are today, it’s a shame that many will never pay attention precisely because of experiences like the ones outlined im this thread.

    I’m as big a Chevy guy as any you’ll find on TTAC, and I’ll be the first to say…I can’t blame them.

  • avatar
    PJ McCombs

    This CC brings back memories! As a young kid in the ’80s, I remember thinking the Citation was an unusually swoopy, modern-looking family car compared to the hordes of boxy Fairmonts, K-cars, and my parents’ aging brown Civic CVCC.

    They traded that Civic for an (equally-brown, and soon just as rust-ridden) ’84 Cavalier wagon, which followed the Citation formula in over-promising and under-delivering vs the Japanese. That car must have been built on a Monday when the boss was watching, though, because it ran like a tank until the family mechanic pronounced it unsafe to drive from structural rust, 20 years later.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Nobody mentioned that Robert Eaton (of let’s sell Chrysler to the Jerries fame) was the Program Manager for these abysmal pieces of excrement.

  • avatar
    kokomokid

    The sales numbers don’t really tell the story. Yeah, the Citation had problems, though my ’81 (2.5 4-speed) was mostly reliable for the 70K miles I had it.

    The biggest reason for the big sales drop in 1982 was all the internal competition, from the then-new J cars (Cavalier et. al.) and A cars (Celebrity, etc.) If GM had gone a few more years before these were released, the drop in X car sales would have been much slower.

    • 0 avatar
      1928tommygun

      The truth about the Chevy citation was it rarely saw the road. Mine was in the shop more days than Miles driven and mine was not alone. We purchased the car new in 1980 with a car of the year sticker on the rear window and <1000 miles later it broke down with a broken trans shaft. Just to keep it short it broke with the same issue over 15 times. In fact it once broke leaving the car dealership repair shop. Chevy dealership just keep on repairing it each time taking a little longer than the previous repair they were just buying time waiting for the warranty to expire. The car had huge amounts of power for a piece of junk. I've owned my share of muscle cars from 78 Z28 Camaro to 70 LT1 Corvette to mopars 1970 cuda challenger and a 1969 dodge superbee. I had a buddy that worked at P Y Chevy in Laredo it was a well known fact that the Chevy citation had this issue. After the warranty expired we just waited on the recalls to get the car fixed after the last recall repair we immediately sold it <7 days later the new owner contacted and threatened us with a lawsuit. We sold the car for 800.00 dollars it had less than 5,000 miles (3k of that was repair test miles) do the math 5,999.00 plus TTL – 800.00 when we sold it plus well over 5,000 USD for the 3 years we owned it in repairs not covered and tow truck fees equals I was better off giving the salesman 10K in 1980 not to sell me the car. The person that purchased it from us lived less than 2 miles from my home in Laredo and for over 3 years it didn't move an inch. Chevy later came out with a fix a bronze shaft would hold up for maybe 6 months before breaking. Chevy's Citation issue was not the cheap plastic interior and vinyl seats, speedometers that break and transmissions that leak fluid the main reason the citation failed and I lived it for over 3 years as did my best friend was the transmission broke all the time. We purchased this car so I can have a daily driver the dodge superbee with dual carbs tunnel ram 456 gears hemi 4 speed got 6 miles to the gallon downhill with a gust of wind behind it I'm not sure what beat me up more the price of gas which just passed 1.00 a gallon or the repairs of the citation so I wouldn't waste so much gas. I purchased two other American cars after that and learned my lesson once and for all, it all VW’s and Hondas from now on. To be fair most American vehicles where junk in the 80’s through the 90’s and that is why foreign cars sales passed American cars sales for the first time. The Chevy Citation didn’t die in the mid eighties as most thought, it continued into the nineties maybe longer they just change the body and called it something else like Chevy berretta. I dated a girl that owned a Chevy Berretta one day she asked me to check the oil for her and it was like a horrible nightmare when I opened the hood it was 1980 all over again and I’m waiting for the tow truck. My motto once was I’d rather push a Chevy than drive a Honda than soon changed after pushing my last Chevy’s in 20 below on my birthday. I was looking to see if the Citation made the worst 50 cars of all time and was very surprised to find out it didn’t. The citation’s problem was like every other American car issue it was arrogance stupidity and pride. American car manufactures would rather pay the penalties in lawsuits than fixed the problem for example Ford refused the solve the problem in the ford pinto it was cheaper to pay the 50 million dollar lawsuits than the 150 million it would taken to fix the cars from blowing up in the case of a severe rear end collision.

  • avatar
    rjb

    Oh my word. It took my years to get this car out of my psyche.

    Fall of 1984, I was a senior in high school and driving a 73 Olds Omega with a 350 V8, modified cam and 4 barrel carb. It was a chocolate brown sleeper on alloy wheels but would run like a scalded ape. It also got 8mpg no matter how you drove it.

    My dad, hoping to save me some gas money and tickets (which I had miraculously avoided for 2 years) made an offer I couldn’t refuse. If I allowed him to, he would trade the Olds for a newer car and pay the difference as a gift. The only catch was he got to pick the car.

    One day I got home from school to discover he had traded my hot rod Olds for a burnt orange 4 door 1980 Citation with black vinyl interior. I drove it to school the next day only to see another one just like it on the street, piloted by an old woman with blue hair.

    To it’s credit, it was cheap to drive and hauled a ton of stuff to college. Beyond that, it was awful. For some reason I had to replace the fuel filter every 10k miles. The engine sounded agricultural. The little donut tires had zero grip in any direction. The brakes were bad, but fortunately, high speed was out of the question.

    If anything, I learned to ask more questions when my dad was in a deal making mood.

  • avatar
    speedracer1021

    Great article!!! I remember my mother had one of these back in the day. I was only 8 or 9 years old back then but I clearly remember that car and how much of a POS it was. We used to call it the Grey Ghost because of the color and the fact that it stayed broke down in the driveway for most of the time we had it. My mother absolutely hated it and she ended up trading it in on an equally terrible 1980-something Pontiac Grand Am. Funny thing is, she kept that Grand Am for years, and even though it was a total POS as well, she purchased 2 more, one in 1992 when the new body came out and another in 1998. I’m almost positive that had Pontiac not replaced the Grand Am with the G6, she would have gotten another one. She now drives a Honda Accord, thankfully.

  • avatar
    Intruder196

    We owned one of these. It was an 81 model, 2 door hatchback with a 4 cylinder engine and 4 speed stick shift. I actually have some good memories of this car as it was one of two cars we owned that I learned to drive stick on. Our was tan with some sporty stripes that ran on both sides of the car. I never saw another one like ours on the road. We did have problems with it though. As mentioned about the interior, the plastic trim pieces that covered the seat mounts seemed to come off almost immediately. It didnt take much, just sit in the back seat and as soon as you brushed the plastic cover with your foot, it broke off. This would leave sharp edges that cut your feet if you were wearing sandals or flip flops. Not long after we got it there was a transmission problem. It would grind first gear from a stop. The dealer fixed that problem as it was under warranty still. We drove this car from Florida to California and back when it was about two years old. Dad had just had the AC recharged and it blew so cold that a frosty mist was coming out of the vents. That R12 refrigerant was way better than todays R134. We made the trip there and back with no problems.
    Not long after that trip the problems began. First was a check engine light that none of the dealers we took it to could figure out. The light was intermittant. When it came on you could feel a noticable slight drop in power. After a few months it refused to start. Finally one of the dealers figured out it had a bad o2 sensor. I dont recall the engine being all that noisey. It did ping on any fuel lower than 93 octane. There was a pipe, probably part of some sort of EGR system on the car that developed a hole in it. Until we fixed it there was a lawn mower sound the came from under the hood. This was the first car we owned that would not start if the clutch pedal was not depressed. This broke one day and left dad stranded at work.
    It actually survived my younger sister who also learned to drive stick on this car and drove it to high school. She never fixed a thing that went wrong with it and was actually proud of herself for having fugured out how to add power steering fluid when the pump got noisey (rather than fix the ruptured line)and add coolant when it overheated (rather than fix the leaky radiator). She got married and moved away and left the car behind. It was barely running then. I managed to fix most everything including the radiator, starter, head gasket, PS line, fuel pump. When it was sold in 1990 it had around 115k on the clock, but was still in working order except for a bad alternator. By then most of these had vanished from the roads.


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