By on December 30, 2011

We give GM a hard time over the Citation, but at least the Citation was a big leap into the future compared to the primitive, rear-drive, Opel-designed Chevette. However, it tells us something that more Chevettes than Citations have survived long enough to make it into junkyards in 2011.
GM sold Chevettes in the United States through the 1987 model year— no, that’s not a typo— and in South America into the late 1990s. Chevette siblings and cousins roamed the world, with legions of Daewoo Maepsys and Aymesa Cóndors on just every gravel goat path and ring-road superhighway on the planet.
The Chevette was cramped, noisy, and slow, but it sipped fuel and didn’t have much to go wrong. Had GM released it in 1963, it would have been a stunning breakthrough on the order of the Hydramatic or small-block Chevrolet V8. As it was, the Chevette was just a retrograde profit-generator for a company under attack on many fronts.
The historical significance of such Malaise machinery is the reason I’m always glad to find a Chevette to contemplate at the junkyard; I spotted this ’80 at a Denver self-serve yard a few weeks back.

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57 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1980 Chevrolet Chevette...”


  • avatar
    JCraig

    My Aunt had one of these when I was a little kid. I only have good memories of it because she was the cool spunky early 20′s family member that always took us somewhere to have fun. It was her last American car too, causing her to abandon domestics along with my Granny and her Citation. The next car I remember her having was a blue Miata, but there must have been something in between.

    • 0 avatar
      Diesel Fuel Only

      My Aunt had one of these when I was a kid and between this car, her now ex-husband and my cousin Ryan, there’s no wonder why she was so pissed all the time!

      My mom had a less nice version (orange) without the tach even though it was a standard. My dad pay EXTRA for ANYTHING? (I told him the roof over the back room would leak if he just patched it, of course it decided to rain while he was on vacation!) The car was orange because it was a brick – it preferred scraping along the shoulder to driving in its lane around any kind of a curve.

  • avatar
    skor

    “GM sold Chevettes in the United States through the 1987 model year— no, that’s not a typo— and in South America into the late 1990s.”

    Ford sold the 1960 vintage Falcon model in South America until 1995.

    http://www.todofalcon.com.ar/Fotos/82_princ.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      JCraig

      Wow, interesting look with that 80′s front end on it.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        Yeah, it gets even more interesting. That Ford Falcon is closely associated with the Argentine “Guerra Sucia”….the Dirty War. The security forces of the Argentine right wing junta used Ford Falcons almost exclusively. For Argentinians, seeing a government Ford Falcon drive up and stop in front of their house would induce pants crapping terror.

        For a lot of Argentinians, the last ride they ever took was in the back seat of a Ford Falcon.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Y’know, MM, the Citation was a low blow, but this Chevette is really hitting below the belt! What did we do to deserve this?

    Actually, the Chevette, for what it was, wasn’t as bad in its later years as it was made out to be, it just wasn’t competitive with similar Asian vehicles that size.

    In all seriousness, when considering my first new vehicle purchase in fall, 1975 after I got my first career job, I actually considered one of these! The other suspects in my vehicle hunt? Nova, Vega (very briefly), Camaro, Jeep CJ5, short wheelbase Chevy van (really!) and a pick-up.

    What did I buy? A 3/4 ton Chevy pick-up! I’ve told that story here and over on “CC”. That was a wrong decision, too.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      Back about 1985 I was considering one of these, just as a cheap car I could run into the ground. I had sold off both of my gas hogs, because I was working and going to school 20 miles apart in different directions. I desperately needed something with good fuel mileage and was nearly disposable, due to the places I parked the car in the city.

      I ended up with a 1979 Pinto ESS instead, paid in cash for the car. It wasn’t the worst Ford I’d owned and it held up fairly well to my ~80 mile daily commutes. Until it didn’t.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        The seventies produced a bad crop of cars, the Pintos were not the worst of that bad crop. If not for the Pinto’s little detonation problems, they would not have ended up the butt of jokes like they did.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        @geozinger: The Pinto really wasn’t that bad, either. I especially liked the Pinto and Vega wagons for the style alone and the Pinto would have been the better choice.

        I rode in a Chevette only once. It wasn’t as bad as I thought – it was a hot day, I was in the back seat (it was a four-door) and the A/C worked beautifully!

        Amazing what cars were built back then and people actually bought! We look back and laugh now, but those days were truly years of transition.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    These were certainly cheap and primitive but I never had much of a problem with these cars, except they kept producing them without any significant improvements the way a competent auto maker should.

    But the people who bought these things were looking for cheap and reasonably durable transportation and that’s what they got. Yeah, it was primitive compared to the imports but these weren’t the catastrophes the Vegas and Citations were.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    I had a 1979 manual transmission in high school. With studded snow tires and rear wheel drive we had allot of fun popping drifts. That was until the engine bay was snow packed and started to melt fouling the spark plugs. :)

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I’ve ridden in one with a V-8 swapped in. Forget everything else and imagine the acceleration. The engine bulged into the cockpit and the front suspension was fabricated from another car.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    “and didn’t have much to go wrong.”

    I have to disagree. I owned an ’80 Chevette and everything did go wrong. It was a complete piece of $h!t, there is no other way to describe it.

    BTW, the tachometer was an option, you had to pay extra for it.

    • 0 avatar
      mallthus

      Actually, maybe you were just unlucky. I had an ’82 Chevette (admittedly newer) from 1985 to 1990. I put 125,000 miles on that car (on top of the 35k it had when I got it) and in that time I needed only a new starter and a new master cylinder besides consumables like brakes, tires and belts. Oh, and the something in the emissions system failed, but it was replaced under warranty (10 years on that stuff) with something that actually resulted in more HP.

      I used that car like a 3rd world goat too, driving on mountain fire roads like it was some sort of Jeep.

      Of course, mine didn’t have crazy options like a tach or AC…

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    What makes them such crappy cars…? The lack of on center steering feel? Slow transistions through turn 9 at Nurburging? The great fuel economy? The not-even-related-to-the-Vega improvement in reliability?
    The vast majority of people just want to turn the key, and go.This car served the buying public well…Might not have been a “panty droppa” like a BMW 633csi, but it got you from point a to point b.
    I always wanted a pinto or chevette to turn into a little road burner, but the supply dried up by the time i was making any money.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    Don’t forget the diesel version.

    http://www.dieselpowermag.com/features/0902dp_1982_chevy_chevette/viewall.html

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Do I have to remember?

    • 0 avatar
      Geekcarlover

      70′s-80′s GM diesels, the horror THE HORROR! Great, now I’m going to be waking up in the middle of the night screaming.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        Um, the diesel engine in the Chevette was from Isuzu and it will outlast everything else in the car. Nothing in common with the Olds 350 diesel that was value-engineered from a 350 gas motor design (stupid, stupid . . .).

      • 0 avatar
        Geekcarlover

        OK. Reflexive reactions. My sister owned an Isuzu for a while, other than trying to merge into highway traffic, it wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately my mom owned a diesel Cutlass, a friend’s grandfather had one in his Cadillac. It would take two or three columns to describe all of their problems.

  • avatar
    nickeled&dimed

    There’s a guy down the street from me who keeps one of these things running & driving. I see him all the time parked on the street, hood up, tinkering in the engine bay.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I rented one of these once in ’86 or ’87. I could live with the fact that it was horrid – it was a rental, after all – but then I noticed that the steering column was tilted slightly to one side, which made it so that the steering wheel wasn’t straight with the driver. The wheel was an inch or so further away from one hand than it was from the other. I figured they’d rented me a car that was defective, or had been in some kind of catastrophic accident, so I took it back. They showed me another Chevette on the lot…same thing. They all were made that way.

    I whined anyway, and they let me trade it in for a Cavalier.

    Horrid, horrid, horrid little car.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      +1, Freed.

      I worked at a post office that bought a whole fleet of Chevette Scooters, the base model that was mechanically identical to other Chevettes but so stripped that the door panels were bare fiberboard. (And yes, they did sell them to consumers this way, too.)

      They were treacherous little beasts. Up to about 30 mph, they seemed like nimble little things. Get much above that speed, and you quickly became aware that they behaved asymmetrically somehow and liked way too much to get sideways.

      Bizarrely, our office’s fleet also included a Monte Carlo, the giant bloated mid-70s version before the downsize (the post office had a sweetheart deal with the Chevy dealer in town). Even more bizarrely, the Monte handled much, much better. By the standards of the time, it had good roll control and was almost sporty in its behavior.

  • avatar
    brettc

    We had a neighbour when I was growing up that owned a red Pontiac Acadian. It had round headlights, so I think it was probably a ’79 model. He took pretty good care of it and it still looked newish when it disappeared from his driveway. I think one of his family members drove the Acadian into the early 90s.

    The guy also owned a yellow Travelall (he worked for International Harvester/Navistar) and a giant Pontiac Parisienne wagon at one time.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      If it had round headlights, it would have been a ’78 or earlier. The Chevette got new front styling and rectangular lights for ’79.
      http://www.mclellansautomotive.com/photos/B25417.jpg

  • avatar
    Maymar

    They were cheap, uncivilized little rattleboxes, but they weren’t without merit. I spent a winter behind the wheel of a couple, all of which were on balding tires, and had spent the better part of 20 years facing daily abuse and indifferent maintenance(they all also had odometers which crapped out around 260k kms). So slow you begin to question the very concept of time, but immensely chuckable, and a great way to learn RWD dynamics in the winter while being virtually impossible to spin out.

    I’d love to see a modern-day RWD subcompact, but I know that generally, RWD buyers and subcompact buyers have very different goals.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Problem with RWD subcompacts is that RWD + subcompact size = no interior room. The drivetrain takes up way too much space. The Chevette was cramped inside, and so were all of its RWD contemporaries. That’s why all subcompacts are now FWD.

      But if you DO want a RWD compact, there is one – BMW 1 series. Zero back seat room.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        Oh, I know I want something that almost no one else wants.

        I’d be interested in the 1-series, but it’s about 1000lbs too heavy. The Miata and even the Scion FR-S are much closer to what I’d be interested in, but still purpose-built sports cars. I’d want something frugal that’s almost accidentally enjoyable to drive (which I realize is never going to happen).

      • 0 avatar
        fincar1

        Everything’s too heavy these days. You make the roof stronger so it will meet the new rollover standards and theoretically won’t crush you when you roll the car, that causes thicker pillars, smaller windows, and more weight. Every added electric motor and every air bag weighs a little something.

  • avatar
    sfbiker

    http://sfbay.craigslist.org/sfc/ctd/2774992679.html

    Here’s a 1978 Chevette with 90,000 miles and it looks like it’s in pretty good shape.

    My first car was a 1985 Chevette. It ran like a top, but I got broadsided by a pickup. So much for the little Chevette.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    My mom had an 85 Chevette and I recall that it was quite reliable. Bog slow, of course, but a lot of fun to drive in the snow. I don’t ever recall getting stuck, and mucho fun hand-brake turns. The brakes however, were beyond bad, I think the pads must have been the size dimes. Also, the pedal was positioned about 3-inches higher than the gas pedal (no unintended acceleration here!).

  • avatar
    claytori

    I still occasionally see these on the road in Toronto. They do what they are intended to do – provide cheap transportation. I am reminded of a now-deceased co-worker who used to drive one of these things. I rode with him once, and he lectured me on how spending on fancy cars can leave you poor. He also owned several houses that he rented. He did manage to get rich this way, built his own sailboat and sailed it around the world with his family. He ended up retiring to Vancouver Island.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Post 83 the automatic choke was a fugger.. the sensor that operated the EGR valve flap off the heat stove would jam and leave you on the hwy with a strangled carb/power loss. Brake too hard on the ice and the snow and Chevette would do a 360 or two no sweat. Useless things were standard like pinstripe or chromed wheel rings. While power brakes, passenger door mirror, radio & rear defogger were too often on the options list.

    Chevette a malaise-era masochistic delight. Thanks Opel & Vauxhall.

  • avatar
    Joss

    I should add, the only thing the Chevette did was prove how awful the Hyundai Pony was…

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I went from one of these to an X-car, no wonder I won’t touch anything American. Actually this was better than the X car, except on the highway.

  • avatar
    dvp cars

    …….handled dozens of these back in the day. They were one of GM’s first “World Cars”. The motor was always referred to as “the Brazilian motor”, an aluminum sohc 1.8 liter hand me down of Opel design, as I remember. Never gave any problems that a corner garage didn’t quickly learn to handle. Tough little bread and butter cars.

  • avatar

    Never owned one but years ago a pizza delivery co-worker had an 82 bog standard “Shoveit” and claimed to have never changed the oil in the 170000 km he had it, he simply added oil as needed.
    I suppose he could be lying but he showed no interest in taking care of that car and drove it like a career pizza delivery driver would, either way that car was crude but reliable.
    Unlike my crappy, worn out 76 Civic that was never up to the task of pizza delivery.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    Purchased a 1982 quite a few years ago with low mileage and a 4 speed. Used it for about 3 years to go back and forth to work. It was a simple car never gave me any trouble just 4 wheels and a motor. As long as it was the basic car it was an easy car to work on but if you had all the goodies (A/C, power brakes etc) it was a horror show to work on. Good gas mileage and easy to park. Sold it to a buddy of mine and he ran up over 100,000 miles before it headed to the junk yard. If i came across a low mileage one in clean shape i would buy it for a cheap run about. Insurance would be cheap.

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    Let the small-block 350 shoehorn begin!!!! Saw one of those at Raceway park a long time ago.

    On another not my friends and I in H.S. had just gone to a local comedian act. On the way there one of our friends was regailing us with stories of his behind the wheel experience. Which happened to be in a Chevy Chevette.

    His instructor kept telling him to slow down, or he would put on the speed control. My friend thinking he’s joking ignored him and stayed doing about 65-70 mph on the freeway. The instructor reached over and turned on the A/C. My friend spent the trip complaining about how slow the car was with the A/C and how it could barely do 50 mph on the freeway with it on. We had a good laugh at that.

    So back to the comedy club, we’re sitting there, listening to the guy’s performance. It was pretty funny, until he started in about the Chevy Chevette, the then goes on to say how turning on the A/C in the car was like kicking it in the balls.

    I literally fell out of my chair as our entire group broke into laughter, and the guy who had told the story was choking on his drink which made us laugh all the harder.

    So while my personal experiences with the car are pretty bad, for that memory I’ll always have a certain smile on my face talking about this car.

  • avatar
    El_Kabong

    My father, sorry to say, was one of the worst at picking cars ever, and after owning a succession of increasingly unreliable used vehicles (culminating in a Pontiac Catalina that blew its engine 3 months after we bought it) and being in a degree of financial trouble, Dad came home one day with a brand-new ’79 Chevette. One level of trim up from the Scooter, and bright yellow.

    I drove it occasionally and recall it being fairly innocuous, just deeply uncool and generally unloved (although I don’t suppose I should talk, as I was driving a ’78 Malibu Sta Wag at the time). I do recall taking it on a couple days’ trip in northern PA and getting out of the thing actually shaking from the hours of buzzing vibration I’d been subjected to each day.

    We didn’t have it long enough for any major unreliabilities to crop up, so it certainly wasn’t the worst car Dad ever selected (the ’67 Renault Dauphine gets that honor; don’t even ask.) Sometime in ’81, slightly more flush with cash, Dad traded the roly-poly little yellow machine in. On a Citation. Sigh.

  • avatar
    geo

    My dad rented a new Chevette, an automatic, in 1987 while his ’82 Rabbit Diesel was in the shop. I was learning how to drive at the time, and I remember it having even less power than the Rabbit. I did, however, like telling people about the “‘Vette” I was driving. As my teenaged sister drove by some friends she honked the Chevette horn, and was embarrassed by the “dorky” horn sound.

    I worked with a patriotic Canadian who who tried to avoid all things American, including music (he listened to Rush … the band, not the talk show host). And he proudly drove a 1978 Pontiac Acadian, the Chevette clone. Why? Because they didn’t sell it in the States, and it had a little maple leaf emblem above the logo, so he figured that it was somehow a Canadian car.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    From the mid-80′s to the early 90′s my dad owned a 82 Chevette Diesel 2 dr 5 spd and dealer installed A/C. It was his commuter car and it got 50 mpg highway which at the time was near the top of the EPA mileage list along with VW Rabbit, Nissan Sentra Diesel and Honda CRX HF. It was quite reliable with minimal maintenance occasional glow plug and one starter replacement. (Snap-on actually sells a special wrench for this since the Isuzu motor is crammed in). The body was quite solid on these but the only major issue was the front strut towers started to weaken from bad welds, not rust. J.C Whitney sold replacement upper towers. We tacked them in and they worked out fine. Pokey slow especially up hills and not great winter traction but with good snows it served him well till the clutch went out at 150k and he sold it.

  • avatar
    UnclePete

    I used to call it the Chevy Sh*tbox. I had a brand new one as an Alamo rental in the mid 80s once – it did not make it off the lot as there was no oil in it! The rental agency filled it up with oil and off we went.

    My dad had a strippo model (not a Scooter though). It was silver with a black interior, no A/C. When he moved to Florida, I don’t think the windows were ever rolled up again. He got 200,000 miles out of that car before it rotted out. My dad bought his last new car then – a ’87 Subaru, which my stepbrother still drives.

    My sister had one of the diesel Chevettes. She got a good deal on it since IIRC it was one model year old when she purchased it. It went almost 300,000 miles before it was totaled by a drunk driver (luckily for my sister, the car was parked at the time.)

    Incidentally she bought a used X-body Buick Skylark after the Chevette. That car did not last as long; she had a minor fender bender with it when a delivery truck hit the rear end. The car was still drivable, so she continued to work, but people kept honking at her and pointing. Finally a guy cut her off, ran up and told her to get out of the car – the underside was on fire!

    • 0 avatar
      dvp cars

      ….if GM still has the molds, and could find a way to stuff some airbags in, a diesel 5 speed Chevette would sell in modest but sustainable numbers today…..50mpg? 300,000 mile lifespan? $i3,000 pricepoint?……what’s not to like? (add $98 for “Scooter” striping package)

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    At least these lowly Chevettes had brake pads installed, unlike its grandson the Sonic.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    While the Chevette garners plenty of (mostly deserved) scorn and derision, at least it’s not the object of outright hatred and loathing like the Vega and Citation. In fact, I always wondered how differently things might have turned out if GM had skipped the Vega altogether and began their subcompact adventure exclusively with the Chevette, instead.

    I guess that’s where the Chevette’s strength truly lies. It was nowhere near great, but it was okay for the time, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Vega turned out to be. If the Chevette had been introducted in 1971 rather than the Vega, GM’s consumer base exodus to the Japanese might not have been nearly as pronounced.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The Kadett C the Chevette was based on went into production during 1973. GM certainly could have avoided a lot of heartache by building a US version of the Ascona A in 1971 though. It probably still wouldn’t have been comparable in quality to the best Japanese cars, but all it really had to be was as good as what we’d been buying before. People defected because they noticed their new cars were far worse than their old ones more often than they did because of any real urge to cross shop Toyotas and Hondas.

      • 0 avatar
        rudiger

        Well, the Ascona A was being imported and sold through Buick dealers as the Opel 1900 in 1971, so it is puzzling why GM didn’t use it as the basis for a Chevrolet version instead of forking over all the development funds for the Vega. Maybe they felt a Chevy version of the Ascona A (Opel 1900) couldn’t be disguised enough and consumers would quickly see through the plan to charge a higher price/profit for the thinly-veiled, upscale Euro version being sold at Buick dealers.

        Or maybe Delorean had something to do with it. He was running Chevrolet by then and, despite his claims to the contrary of having no input on the Vega at all, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to think that Delorean would want his own sporty, domestic economy car to complete more directly with the new 1971 Opel Manta. A boxy, practical subcompact (like the Chevette) definitely wouldn’t have been his style.

        But, by 1973, Delorean was gone, and I’m sure that GM realized the Vega’s now surfacing quality problems meant it wasn’t going to cut it, so the Chevette was born.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    http://www.hotrod.com/eventcoverage/strange_sightings_2001_power_tour/photo_10.html

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    My parents had an ’82 version of one of these 4 door hatch with the automatic transmission. Fortunately we got rid of it before I got my drivers license so I didn’t have to suffer this cars many charms. I remember it being in the shop many times with my mother having to suffer through incompetent and rude dealer service at the local Chevy dealer. It used to diesel at shut down all the time and required a very specific ritual of gas pedal pumping in order to start and shut down correctly. It went to the crusher after it was handed over to my brother who had all 4 tires slashed while parked at his apartment. It wasn’t worth the new rubber.

  • avatar
    naterator

    I had a really funny anecdote about a Chevette I had in high school all typed up, and when I hit “Submit” I got an HTTP error 405 message. Oh well. Maybe next time. Or maybe this is the web’s way of telling me that my Chevette experience was not funny, it was sad.

  • avatar
    TAP

    I am still of the opinion that around half of them quit at 50k, and the other half at 150k. As I recall my rental- super-clunky, truck-like controls, even for the time.
    Honest machine- yes, automobile- not!


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