By on July 4, 2011


The ’79 Monza wagon we saw last week was a choice specimen of Malaise Era misery, to be sure, but how did the Vega Monza compare to the Chevette?

Let’s say it’s 1977, you’re a Chevrolet shopper, and you want something that doesn’t gulp the fuel like a Caprice or Chevelle. The Chevette Scooter listed for a staggeringly cheap $2,999, while the cheapest possible Vega sold for $3,249. The Chevette had a 57 (!) horsepower engine, while the four-cylinder Vega/Monza packed a somewhat mightier 84 horses under the hood.

The Vega handled better, the Chevette got better fuel economy, and both looked most appropriate in 70s brown paint.

I’m just shocked that an early Chevette stayed on the street long enough to see the second decade of the 21st century before getting crushed.

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54 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1977 Chevrolet Chevette...”


  • avatar
    obbop

    Where is the oh-so-desirable lusted-after SS version?

  • avatar
    fiasco

    Anybody done a Chevette Summer LeMons car yet?

  • avatar
    MikeInCanada

    Now that’s quality ‘malaise era’ Chevy!

    BTW, has anyone seen a Chevy Monza lately? My mom almost bought one back in the 70′s…..

    • 0 avatar
      GeneralMalaise

      I remember a co-worker buying a new Chevette ( I think it was a sandy tan color) after he rolled and totaled his Trans-Am in 1979. He immediately put wide tires and mag wheels on it and man… did he take some scheiss for several months thereafter.

  • avatar
    M 1

    One of the few 70s cars whose insipid jingle I can still recall…

    “Chevy Chevette, it’ll drive you happy!”

    Do we really have to re-live that era?

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      My wife’s response to nostalgia from that era is to say that the 70s sucked the first time.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Remember the jingle “…its the first Chevy of the 80′s; it’s the first Chevy of it’s kind…Chevy Citation”….the younger posters here really have no idea how bad autodom was in the late 70′s/early 80′s…yeah, you can read about it or be told about it, but like tripping, if you haven’t done it, words don’t even scratch the surface…

  • avatar
    thats one fast cat

    When I was in college, I had one.

    I used to ask girls if they wanted to take a ride in my ‘Vette. Dark Blue, stickshift, all the go fast goodies. Hell, even a roof rack. What more could you ask?

    Surprisingly, no one took me up on the offer…

    • 0 avatar
      65corvair

      You should have had a Corvair convertible! Twice I had five women in it. Three in the front, bucket seats! Worked for me. These were in two different cities. I still have my Corvair.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    My parents had a 4 door version in tan with gold stripes, with the updated front end, probably an early 80′s version. Surprisingly capable hauler and not half bad in the snow (skinny tires make all the difference). It would diesel all the time after you shut it off. It was in the shop often. What a pile.

  • avatar
    Forty2

    Shudder. I learned to drive in one of those. Automatic trans, and governed to 15mph while in the parking lot driving track at my high school. It barely did better on the street with the governor off. They did have a single manual car, a ’77 Honda Civic, but you already had to know how to drive a stick, and I didn’t. Had to learn that on the job, crunch grrr stall slip.

  • avatar

    my best friend’s family bought one just like this one in baby blue the year they were introduced. they were buick people but it was supposed to be a temporary measure until their economic situation improved. well, their situation improved long before the car died. the little chevette survived a cross country move, three teenage boys hooning the hell out of it and being used on weekends to tow a small trailer to swap meets. i think they got something like 15 years out of the thing without any serious problems.

    it was known as the family go-cart. something about the car’s honesty appealed to me; the grill was just two holes cut into the hood. it was just a simple reliable tool that didn’t have any higher aspirations.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    This rig is just begging for a 500ci swap!

  • avatar
    Zackman

    With all the talk about the “malaise era” since I’ve become a member of the TTAC and Curbside Classic family, in thinking about the cars back then and how far they fell from the “glory days” of the 50′s and 60′s, up to the 1972 models, the only conclusion I come up with is that the badging and emblems were still mostly made of chromed metal and the holes were still punched into the body panels where they were affixed with real nuts or fasteners. The result? ALL EMBLEMES WERE ON STRAIGHT!

    Can’t say that now, can we?

    Sorry, ladies and gents, that’s all I have to say about this!

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Dang! No edit feature! “EMBLEMS”!

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      ‘cept that all those drilled holes were fertile breeding grounds for rust…In 1982 a college friend had a ’78 (IIRC) Plymouth wagon and where all the letters were supposed to be on the tailgate, there were nothing but odd shaped holes where the letters once were…of course the car lived in Syracuse salt…

    • 0 avatar

      I’m pretty sure the emblem-hole issue was the reason that Chrysler went with a 5-letter name (Fargo) for their Canadian Dodge trucks. That way they could use the same five holes for emblems destined for either side of the border.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        In my childhood I remember many Fords dropping a letter, which almost always seemed to be one of the middle two. Lot’s of FOD and FRD in my area.

  • avatar
    sfdennis1

    Had a used ’84 4dr hatch back in he late 80′s after high school, black w/ charcoal gray int….God, what a penalty box, truly the worst car I’ve ever owned. Slooooow, noisy, cramped, tin can doors, etc etc.

    The ONLY fun to be had was after a fresh snowfall, sliding the back end around on the skinny tires. Often, theses junkyard posts make me sad to see cars on the way to the crusher, but not this time.

    Kill it with fire.

  • avatar
    red60r

    Vega had more horses, but some dimwit decided it would be cheaper to have an iron head on an aluminum block. The suits definitely outvoted the pocket-protectors in those days.

  • avatar
    DougD

    Having had driving experience in Vega, Monza and Chevette in my youth, I give the nod to the Vette.
    Sure they were slow noisy and tinny, but at least they were half reliable and easy to work on. The engine was so gutless it couldn’t hurt itself, particularly with the autobox. With the hatchback and the back seats folded down it could also swallow furniture, rock band equipment and replacement transmissions for other, higher powered cars.
    Not the sort of thing auto blog enthusiasts like to hear, but behold the Chevette, all you really need for transportation.

  • avatar
    Derby129

    I think it is remarkable that these things were manufactured essentially unchanged right up until 1987. Consider the choice of small cars in ’87: 3rd gen Civic, E80 Corolla, facelifted Escort.

    Heck, one only had to look across the Chevy dealership lot to find a Cavalier which, while horrible by today’s standards, seemed to be a more informed choice at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      BoredOOMM

      The Cavalier was based on the Chevette for a large part with exception of the wheels driven. FWD instead of RWD. I traded our 2 Door vette for a Cavalier in 1993 and was back to the dealer weekly for the next year. I bought a used Chevette to drive to work for $400 drove in New England winters for 3 years and sold it for the same price.

      The 97572 on this specimen odometer shows it MUST have been garaged for part of it’s fairly rust-free live.

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        Not the way I remember it. The Chevette (T-body) was derived from Opel designs, a longitudinal engine rwd chassis. The Cavalier (J-body) was derived from the X-body, transverse fwd.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    Actually, i always thought the Chevette was kinda cute.

    • 0 avatar
      AKADriver

      The early ones were really attractive little cars, when they still retained some of their Opel-ness before being squared off in a horrible attempt to modernize what was essentially a late-sixties design.

      Though any time I catch myself in a bout of Chevette nostalgia I have to remind myself that whatever I expect the car to be in my head, it isn’t, and that what I really want is a Toyota Starlet.

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    The Chevette always struck me as an attempt to build an American version of the early VW Beetle (sans build quality). Yes, it was slow and boring, but it put a lot of people of modest income in a car. Could you build a car for the same target market today?

  • avatar
    Mike the Dog

    I recall the Chevette as a decent low-cost pizza beater. I never owned one myself, but I delivered a lot of pies in the one owned by the shop I worked at.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Amazingly enough, I’m feeling pity for this horrid little car…

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    That’s odd. Last week I saw a Chevette *DIESEL* of this vintage in the junkyard.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      My dad owned an 81 Chevette diesel 2dr 5 spd as his commuter car. GM’s partnership w/Isuzu breeded this since it was based on Opel and Isuzu Gemeni. The 1.8 diesel w/ 5spd got 50+ MPG which was near the top of the EPA ratings w/ Civic and VW Rabbit diesel. It was reliable power was miserable up hills but highway cruising was fine. The front strut towers mounts broke away and new JC Whitney replacements has to be welded in. The interior pkg was a bit cramped with the large rwd transmission tunnel. Today’s Mini has more room.

  • avatar
    WRohrl

    The best Chevettes are the ones with the “Vette” novelty plate on the front…

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    I have a plastic toy version of this exact car. I always thought the styling was good for what it was.

    One of my uncles in Tennessee had one of these, a 1979 model that he bought off the showroom floor for my aunt. It was a base model, didn’t even have a glovebox door. They drove it for a long time, well, till they replaced it with a brand new 1988 Cavalier coupe, that my uncle STILL drives every day!

    In 1986 another uncle of mine, also in TN, bought a brand-new Chevette S coupe. He was quite proud of that car, and liked telling his co-workers that he had purchased a new Vette! Right after they bought it they packed it up, and my aunt, uncle, cousin and grandmother traveled in it up to Michigan. They were rather cramped for space, but the car made it just fine.

    Two years later my uncle traded it for a well used 1981 Ford conversion van. It was plush, but a bit extreme after the Vette…

  • avatar
    Bryce

    Horrible cars we got em in Holden/Isuzu and Vauxhall flavours yhe Vauxhall with 2.3litre Bedford van engine was a rocket but rare and expensive the isuzu version reliable but japanese they were all crap

  • avatar
    amca

    I once drove one of these – a four-door – from Chicago to Montana with two friends. There was nowhere in the entire car a six-footer could straighten out his left leg. Cramps follow. Dreadful little machine.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    We used these (and the twin stick Dodge Colts) as our cars when we would “field” engineering jobs. You had to be quick and on your toes first thing in the morning to make sure you had a Colt and not a Chevette.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    In the fall of 1983 I was going to a commuter college, and it seemed like half the student parking lot was filled with Chevettes. I was driving a 1983 Nissan Sentra XE Hatchback (5-speed), and it was like a Porsche compared to the Chevettes. My 1.6 liter engine had 72 horsepower. They only had 57.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    GM’s Rabbit perhaps?
    i wish I had either one right about now. Funny, my lawn tractor has about 1/4 the HP pf the chevette.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I owned one of these and it never broke down, I traded up for an old Beetle so I did not mind its low HP. But it had no A/C so I traded it in fr a Citation, oh boy! my automotive know-how was pathetic back then.

  • avatar
    SteveMar

    I remember renting one of this when I was in college in the mid-80′s. It was the cheapest thing available and carried 4 people and luggage on a road trip to Boston. You can’t imagine what it was like driving around Boston streets and in traffic — I saw my life flash before my eyes about a dozen times, usually as I tried to merge into faster traffic. It might have been a decent try at an economy car in 1976/77, but, by the mid-80′s, it was long past it’s prime. Driving one now would be another exercise in terror.

  • avatar
    The CHZA

    My mom had one of these – it was red, and she bought it for close to cash, and that’s about all I remember. It was gone and replaced by my grandma’s 1980 Citation before I could form any real memories of it (I remember noticing the “two brake pedals” but never noticing the gear lever – toddler minds work strangely)

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    The front driver and passenger foot room is much more spacious on this manual transmission model than what I remember. My mom bought an automatic version in metallic pinkish grey and the transmission hump intruding into the cabin was very large — almost like the doghouse on a full sized van. In addition, it got burning hot, and you had to be very careful not to rest your leg against it.

  • avatar
    mburm201

    When my dad was looking for a compact, fuel-efficient work car in 1980, he looked at the Chevette. Thankfully the rear drive, stripped base models, and out-dated design turned him off. He ended up buying a Plymouth Champ made by Mitsubishi, and as basic as it was, the features and quality were light years ahead of the Chevette. I remember reading the dealer brochures in the 80s where they would brag about the standard features of each car. For the Chevette they boasted about a flush-mounted windshield, AM-radio, and sporty steel wheels. As much as I love domestic cars, the big three did not care about small cars, and it showed.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    This was a Chevy Yugo.

    After Corvair, Chevy put out the Chevy II. GM learned that doing what it knew how to do was good enough for a cheap ride. The Chevy II was pimped into a Nova. The Nova was pimped into the Concours, leaving the Chevy II mantel empty in it’s line up.

    But you know egos. The Chevy II never satisfied. There was nothing edgy about it. People who bought them were normal people, not attractive models with college educations in designer clothes. What are engineers supposed to do but engineer new auto marvels and watch them come to life in Sears parking lots across America? The Chevy II was wifey when GM wanted Barbarella.

    So, they did the Vega. The did it up big. It was one hot looking little piece. It was an absolute disaster. Instead of spicing up their lives, engineers were heckled and cursed at when their little Barbarellas leaked and rusted in Sears parking lots across America.

    They had to patch up their little rolling messes and do so publically. The Vega became the Monza and by the mid-1970s, GM decided it needed to do a mea culpa vehicle and snatch victory from the jaws of complete auto humiliation with a Chevy II like vehicle.

    The even called it something similar to Chevy II – Chevette.

    Lightning didn’t strike twice this time. Instead of a simple solid dull car which found success among simple solid dull people by the hundreds of thousands, the Chevette was a cheap dull toy car.

    You have to wonder how GM could have screwed up something you though they did everyday for fifty years – building a freaking rear drive, front engine car. With Chevette, GM wasn’t even trying to hit one out of the park. It was just trying to get a base hit. Chevette revealed that GM couldn’t even do that anymore.

    The car was too narrow. Someone around GM mistook the overly narrow cars coming out of Japan as some kind of winning formulation and replicated the claustrophobic narrowness of a small Japanese car. The Chevette forced full sized males to roll down their side windows in order to avoid cramping their left shoulders and arms. You wore a Chevette like a tin suit.

    Everything else about the Chevette was right out of Matchbox. Miniaturized versions of larger designs were assembled out of recycled Folgers Coffee cans, plastic and looked more at home on a European bicycle, than an American road. The overall effect of the Chevette was disposable, like a Bic lighter on wheels.

    With the Chevette, GM somehow combined the worse of Japanese designs with a 1951 Crosley. The Chevette was Malaise canned fresh from Detroit.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Vanilla Dude: Bull. Car and Driver said it was “The Most Important Car Detroit Ever Built”…..

    Well they DID !!!

    • 0 avatar
      JustPassinThru

      It WAS an important car. It showed how GM faced the challenge of the Asians…with their efficient FWD layouts, cost-effective and fun all at once.

      They faced it…by punting. Brought out a car about the size and the same dimensions as the FWD units, but with none of the features. Not space, not quality, not traction.

      I had one of these. A sad-sack POS…cramped and slow and delivered 23 mpg with a manual. Bought it as a kid, and bought it and not a Civic as Hondas were all sold out.

      As an example of how pitiful was this car…my 2007 Town & Country minivan did better with twice the power and five times the space.

      But questions of why was there even a Chevette, ended for me when the #3 rod let loose at 35,000 miles. That great GM feeling…of holding a payment book with no car attached.

      NEVER AGAIN…so long as I live…

  • avatar

    I about fainted recently when I was in the local auto parts store and a guy walked in wanting a part for his Chevette. “300000 miles and it still runs.” Are you kidding me?

    John

  • avatar
    AndyGee

    The Chevette is european in origin as early as ’72 IIRC.
    Vauxhall had their own hot hatch versions that were quite the rally beast the HSR and HS. I’ve also owned about half a dozen chevettes over the years as winter beaters.

  • avatar
    GinoXB

    Why can’t any of the junkyard near me have anything like this? Where are these junkyards?!


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