By on December 29, 2011

By the end of the 1970s, it was clear that GM needed a front-wheel-drive compact that would fit as many passengers as a Nova but sip gas like a Rabbit. The General’s forces labored mightily, and they produced the Citation.
The Citation did indeed have the interior space of the old rear-drive compacts, but buyers soon discovered its cost-cutting design compromises and bad-even-by-Malaise-Era-GM-standards build quality and soured on GM forever. Meanwhile, Chrysler’s (arguably) far superior K cars won over the big chunk of ex-GM loyalists that didn’t defect to Datsun and Toyota.
For that reason, this Citation I’ve found in a Denver self-service yard is an important, vanishing piece of history. Citations once roamed the land in huge numbers, but most were long gone by the early 1990s. The Iron Duke engine under the hood, though reliable (GM always did have a gift for engines, even in its darkest Malaise days), was primitive, noisy, and weak.


Feel the optimism!
Why is there an idiot light labeled “CHOKE” on an EFI-equipped car? And what does it have to do with oil? Is this a light that comes on to indicate that the engine is too cold for full-on valve-floating revs? Another indicator of a once-omnipotent corporation turned into a blundering, crippled giant whose lunch would soon be eaten by ravenous Japanese salarymen.

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86 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1982 Chevrolet Citation...”


  • avatar
    maddog

    I saw an Iron Duke-equipped Citation II on I-35 on tuesday. It’s not too surprising that it’s still running, I just can’t imagine why anyone would want to keep it running.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Ah, the two-door – the Hyundai Veloster of the day, sans third door. If I could easily wrap the chassis, engine, and interior of an ’82 Accord – the whole car basically – into the Citation’s skin, still handsome after all these years, I would. Get past the horrible brown color, and it’s really not that bad looking a car at all…IMO.

  • avatar
    carbiz

    No doubt, the X-cars, more than any other, damaged GM’s reputation. I worked at Canada’s largest Buick/Cadillac/GMC dealer at the time. We car jockeys HATED driving these POS. Hated. I loved the Cimarron (it flew around corners!), the huge DeVilles, the downsized Eldorados – even the Chevette/Acadians were tolerable. But the Phoenix and the Citation? Absolute garbage. They stalled on corners! They were ugly inside and out. The Omega, in higher trim, was the least embarrassing of the family. The only ‘new’ car that came out at that time that gave any of us hope was the Pontiac 6000. With the ‘suede’ interior and the shuttlecraft dash, it was the closest thing to cool. Well, the Jimmy created quite a stir, too.
    As a 21 year old kid at the time, I was so depressed about the crap coming out of Detroit that I would have walked rather than buy any of those ugly cars. (Even then I would NEVER have even considered an import. The Datsuns, Toyotas, Civics of the day were too strange looking, tinny and only hippies or weirdos bought them.)
    My stepfather bought a Datsun (speaking of weirdos) 510 hatch with those ‘cool’ louvres on the back deck. Admittedly, it was a fun car to drive. I had it for 2 weeks while the family was in Florida. I grudgingly admitted that compared to the Chevettes, Escorts and Omnis of the day, the Datsun was a cool car.
    But just having read The Japanese Conspiracy by Marvin J Wolf, then Iaccoca’s first book, so began my decades long disdain for imported vehicles. No matter how bad the malaise era got, it was Detroit or transit for me.
    I mean, it’s not like the Japanese 5 fared any better. Ontario winters truly separate the men from the boys, which is why infatuation with Japanese vehicles took longer to take hold. Those first generation Civics, Tercels, Corollas, etc. literally dissolved up here. Up until a few years ago, you would still see a ton of GM A-bodies and Chrysler K-cars on the roads up here. Nary a Tercel or 1st or 2nd generation Civic in sight.
    Just saying.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      I drove one of these as a teen driver. It’s amazing I survived given the awful handling and the tendency to stall on left turns. And my dad’s next purchase was the Pontiac 6000STE with the digital dash. After the Citation that car was a huge step up. And yes my parents now own Hondas exclusively.

      My dad actually fell for the buff book BS and ordered his Citation sight unseen and waited six months for it. We all make mistakes.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        It’s amazing I survived given the awful handling and the tendency to stall on left turns.

        Xenu H. Cthulhu.. My ’77 Nova carbureted V8 used to do that too, it’s the BEST time to stall! Turned me off GM product for >20 years.. (Also wasn’t a fan of GM’s stupid keys and the full-size spare taking up half the trunk..)

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    I had one. A four door.
    It was given to me with seven miles on it.
    After the first road trip that week, I took it to a car wash and accidentially blasted the chrome paint off the grille. Within a month, the fleet purchased by the company with which I was employed, started taking a few of the cars back to the dealer.

    The four cylinder struggled in the mountains, so when I floored the accelerator, a horrific pinging and knocking would be heard under the hood. The dealer told us that this was intentional because the engine was tuned for maximum gas mileage. Brand new, this car sounded like a vacuum cleaner with marbles in it on inclines.

    The brakes failed. This is a problem in the mountains. I learned not to assume that the car will stop. My car was at the dealership garage more than once for an entire brake replacement.

    The driver’s door sprung. It no longer closed completely. I could stick my forefinger through the gap in the front door.

    The engine mounts broke, perhaps during heavy mountain driving. With all the pinging and knocking, I didn’t hear that some of the knocks was from the engine bashing into the water pump, which in turned smashed the plastic housing, causing the engine to overheat.

    A few months later, the car would stall after being driven an hour west of Denver. After I restarted it, the car ran very badly, so you could add that the engine stumbled and ran rough as it pinged and knocked on the road. After being towed several times, the dealer discovered that this was caused by a cracked distributor cap. When the engine warmed, the crack opened and shut down the engine.

    On a very cold morning, after starting the car, I noticed that all the knob identification sticker which were glued onto the faux vinyl instrument panel knobs – fell off. From that point on, the dashboard was nothing but identical black knobs for radio, lights, lighter, etc.

    During this time, the fleet was slowly replaced by Sunbirds and Cavaliers. My Citation was the last to go since it was under another rental contract since I put so many miles on it. So – after a year – this car was returned.

    Until I was given a brand new Suburban several years later, this was the worse car I ever drove. The Suburban topped it a decade later.

    I’m not big on Chevy as a result.

    Driving cars in this era was different from today. We expected problems. We held low expectations. Yet, this car fell below even those low expectations. When Japanese cars showed up, they looked like a miracle – yet they weren’t really all that great. They just looked great by comparison to these superbad road machines. I grew up in a Mopar family and I know that the Valiants, Darts, Dusters and other products were as dependable and good as anything off the boat from Toyko. But in 1981, these cars were no longer being made. Citations were. Detroit cars got worse during this era. This justified to millions of folks who always strove to display their global tastes into buying foreign cars.

    The Citation came after I spent a year in a Ford Fairmont. Then a year with a Mercury Cougar. Both of those cars were lightyears better than the Citation. So Americans could get good quality cars from American brands. Just not GM.

    The car that replaced the Citation was an Escort. That was a fantastic car.

  • avatar
    JCraig

    This was my Granny’s last American car. I was very young when she bought a new dark blue Citation. It must have been the last straw, because the car that replaced it was a Honda Accord, which looked like it came from another century. Flip up headlights and an interior that wowed me even as a little kid.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    X cars were the number one reason why American buyers flocked to the Japanese makers for their next purchase, the ones that followed up these POS were a lot better, by comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      +1. GM’s greatest Deadly Sin, indeed. While there were plenty of others (including the Vega), the X-car trumps all the other crapmobiles because it held so much promise, was so mainstream, and sold in such huge numbers (initially, anyway).

      The Citation exemplified GM leadership’s willingness to piss away the company’s solid reputation, hard-earned over a period of decades, in pursuit of short-term profits, literally driving their customer base into the waiting arms of the Japanese, most of whom vowing never to return to a domestic vehicle (and they kept their word, too). Shakespeare himself couldn’t have written a better tragedy.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I never could understand the cheapness of the American cars then. On one hand they were supposed to be the pentacle of engineering but yet when you finally got into one and drove it they were so darn basic and cheap.

      Idiot lights everywhere that told you everything was okay until all of a sudden it wasn’t and it might be catastrophically too late. This might not be a problem in a reliable car but in something like the Detroit products of the time you needed a little warning that this car was running 30% hotter than it did last week or that the oil pressure which was good when the car was good is now marginal.

      Then there were all the creature comforts that really weren’t there. AM radio or AM/Fm radio that sounded terrible through a single speaker or two very, very poor speakers. A Honda or Toyota might come with an AM/FM/Cassette… My ’81 Mustang vs my father’s Celica of the same vintage. The Celica was hands down SO much nicer. No big deal, I was a kid. It went 150,000 miles or so without a problem. My Mustang needed all sorts of help along the way – carb replacement, trans rebuild, heater core (all day job right there), etc. The Celica was faster with the little 22R (?) four cylinder and got better mileage. The Mustang had 90HP from a 3.3L six and was out of breath pretty quickly after 65 mph and guzzling gas beyond 55 mph.

      The Ford might not even have an ashtray or cigarette lighter. Or that hand stitched leather covered dashboard in the Citation that was actually one big piece of plastic and the stitching just molded in. It was all so fake and superficial.

      At least with some of the other brands you knew you were getting a cheap car that claimed to at least last a long time even if it didn’t come with any creature comforts – see the original Beetle. Some of the American cars that my parents bought back then seemed to demonstrate that the manufacturer lied to them about quality and features which were either not there or didn’t work very long. Maybe the marketing department was working too hard to sell these cars while the bean counters were making sure no excess quality or comfort was added along the way.

      Faux luxury or luxury based on cheap ingredients are a turn off… ;)

  • avatar
    Zackman

    It is articles like this that made me PROUD to be a Chrysler fan and drive Chrysler products exclusively for 20 years!

    Looking back, however, I coulda had a GM B body!

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      Uh – this was 30 years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      carbiz

      My father was a Mopar fan, having driven them exclusively in the ’60s, before their engineering division want all to sh…., never mind! But even Chrysler succumbed to the rust problems brought on by trying to shave every ounce out of a vehicle by the early 1970s.
      Chrysler has very little to be proud of during the malaise era either. In fact, if you look at a lot of GM’s troubles, it was more to do with the fact that GM had TOO MUCH money. That made them a target for the UAW, plus GM had the notion (not entirely unfounded) that if you threw enough cash at something, you could resolve it.
      Chrysler, being the poorest of the bunch (okay, after AMC imploded) simply had to cut corners because it had no choice. When GM did cut corners, their sin was that much more egregious because they had the resources, they just ‘misallocated’ them.
      Like Joan Rivers said, “If you’re poor and you look like sh$t, it’s not your fault. If you’re rich and you look like sh$t – shame on you!”
      Having my father’s DNA, I became a Mopar fan when I got my first decent job. Great: I suffered bell bottoms, lapels to land a 747 on AND platform shoes in high school, then I have the money to buy a car and it’s 1983. Just kill me!
      So, a 1982 Rampage and a 1987 Shadow ES (the only thing on that car that was reliable was the turbo, surprisingly) and 4 head gaskets later, I swore off Chrysler forever. (Although having been in the industry for 10 years I realized that was foolish and now would consider a Chrysler, except now that they are ‘foreign owned’ (again) that doesn’t sit well with my current sensibilities.
      To be fair, the Shadow looked great behind a tow truck and didn’t have a speck of rust on it after 4 years and 160k km. But I was glad to see the back of her, as my sister picked me up at the local Dodge dealer and dropped me off at the GM dealer to receive my factory ordered, loaded to the gills ’91 Caprice wagon.
      (Yeah, but after blacking out the windows, putting American Racing wheels on it and a 220W Panasonic stereo with cross-overs, Alpine speakers and 6″ bazookas under the 3rd row footwell, I had one helluva shaggin’ wagon!)

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    I remember having to go on errands and using the bosses company car. An Omega with the 2.8. Moved like a SOB. Loved flooring it and feeling the torque steer from that baby. Strange, a zippy drivetrain and you could tell just by sitting in it that the rest was a real POS. Wouldn’t have it if they gave it away.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    What’s funny is that GM’s competitors in the US market – both domestic and foreign – were sweating cannonballs in the late-’70s run-up to the X-car introduction. After all, GM was still the 800-pound gorilla of the auto industry and here they were about to enter the modern compact FWD market with guns blazing. Even in Europe, the X-car was seen as a possible Trojan Horse for the return of US cars as real competitors to the established local brands.

    • 0 avatar
      JCraig

      So would you say this car is the reason no one pays attention anymore when GM announces an all new vehicle? It’s hard for me to imagine anything GM comes out with creating any kind of stir. Ford and Chrysler have at least managed to hold onto their mojo.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        Really! I suppose that is why the Cruze and Silverado are on the top ten seller list for November 2011. What does Chrysler have that is even on the top ten selling list? The 200/Avenger? The 500? The craptastic Calibre? Please. The only Chrysler vehicles that I would even look at would be the Charger/300 and Ram. Chevy’s current lineup is selling quite well, even the old Impala. When the new 2013 Malibu goes full bore I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on the 10 ten list in the future.

      • 0 avatar
        JCraig

        I’m not referring to sales, even the X-cars sold extremely well initially and the Cavalier remained a strong seller till the end. I’m talking about buzz. The Camry is the best selling car but people are talking about the FT86, that’s buzz. People are excited about it. Chrysler manages to get people excited about models from time to time. The cloud cars, the Magnum, 300 etc all created a lot of buzz. Even the PT Cruiser got people pumped even if it faded fast. Ford made a splash with the Taurus, then the new Mustang. If these X cars were a huge deal upon release I’m wondering, have they ever had that kind of buzz since? Did this car kill their mojo?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        The 1980 Citation sold about 800,000 units. One extended model year, one attrocious car: 800,000 vicitims. That’s the marketing power that GM once had. There were plenty of other buyers for the badge engineered Olds, Buick, and Pontiac versions too, and this was in spite of the Citation coming after the Vegas and Monzas of nightmares. If anyone thinks the absurdly positive press for the latest overweight Korean refugees from GM is unprecedented, they should learn to use Googlebooks to find period articles on the X-cars’ introduction. Car and Driver said it was the best small sedan in the world, having leap frogged Honda, VW, and BMW in one bound. All it needed was a reclining driver’s seat and it would have been perfect. Maybe todays automotive journalists aren’t that different from how they were in the glory days of the print magazines, despite all the nostalgia that says that they’re worse.

    • 0 avatar
      carbiz

      The trouble with revisionist history is that one has the benefit of hindsight to criticize. You had to live through it to be able remember it without the editorializing.
      Car magazines praised the Cimarron, too!
      Although I suspect that at the time many enthusiasts were concerned with the way Detroit was heading by the mid-70s, I don’t think it is a stretch to say that between Watergate/Vietnam and the rising ‘threat’ of the Middle East, Americans (and their supporters) felt like the world was coming unglued. At the time, nobody really knew where OPEC was going with their newfound power. I suspect there was a real fear in the executive offices of Detroit.
      Japan Inc had the very good fortune of being able to build an empire without any baggage, at a time when the auto industry in North America was undergoing a perfect storm of changes. The irony is that in many ways, Ford and GM financed Japan Inc’s arrival. (Just how many cash-laden Chevy, Olds and Ford franchisees lined up to buy a Toyopet, Datsun or Honda franchise for a song, then hand over billions of dollars worth of know-how, real estate and trained personnel?)
      I blame the franchise rules that the Big Three set up. They were stuck with those conditions. Detroit knew it could not alienate its core customers who wanted big, heavy cars with lots of toys AND great gas mileage. But with 5 divisions, would it not have made sense for GM to take Pontiac, for example, and turn it into a small car division, post haste? I guess Saturn, a decade later, was supposed to be the answer. Too little, too late.
      In 1980, nobody could foretell that the X-cars were going to be the abominations that they proved to be. By today’s standards we can arrogantly declare that they were ‘ugly,’ but at the time there were darned few good looking cars.
      Seriously, as a 19 year old that haunted car dealerships for brochures, I already longed for the return of the ’60s.

  • avatar
    Stig Underwood

    I worked at the old Met Stadium in Minnesota in 1980, now under the Mall of America. One of the local dealers did a promotion where they slowly drove around the warming track in a Chevy Citation during the seventh inning stretch. The first two games of the series as the car was driven past the opposing team dugout the players showered the car with trash. The third game a guy hid in the backseat of the Citation with a fire extinguisher. The team got a doused as the car passed by the dugout.
    Good times.

  • avatar
    Toad

    I can’t believe this car has not been crushed; it’s not like there are other Citation owners looking for used parts. Shred this thing and hope some company makes a decent washing machine from the scrap.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    One of the other delights of the Citation was that there was no front-rear brake proportioning valve (or if there was one, it failed to work effectively). With a large percentage of the car’s weight on the front wheels, the rear wheels would lock up easily. Instant spin.

    Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!

    • 0 avatar
      BigDuke6

      +1
      That’s exactly what I remember about driving one back when they came out. Years later, I drove my grandmother’s 90’s Olds Cutlass FWD and it did exactly the same. Did GM EVER figure out front/rear brake bias…..?

    • 0 avatar
      Diesel Fuel Only

      Just the other day I was trying to think of what car was it that didn’t have that valve – I was sure it was the Pinto or the Vega or the Gremlin or something. I was off by a whole generation!

      A friend of mine’s folks had one of the later versions in a higher trim level when he was a teenager – apparently some of the deficiencies of the earlier cars were rectified in later model years – and he thought it was a pretty good car. Unfortunately by then the cars had gained their reputation and it was too late – car came out five years after the Golfs and Civic’s of the world hit our shores and made their reputations. By the time the better Citations came out, that five years had become ten, then became fifteen, etc. and the notion that, trust us, the next model would be the one that finally got GM caught-up became too laughable to maintain.

      We had a neighbor who had a Beretta – wasn’t that the Gen. that came behind the Citation? Expensive compared to the other cars on that chassis and the door trim started falling off within a year of purchase.

  • avatar
    turbobrick

    Why, it means that the blowby is getting so bad that the car is choking on all of that oil, duh.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I was pumping gas in high school when these came out in 1980. They were certainly a novelty, but the underhood packaging was poorly done. I recall having to reach down and behind the hot engine just to check the power steering.

    My neighbor owned one. The rear tires would lock up on gravel just pulling out of his driveway at 3 mph – very unsafe.

    On a good note, I later changed the front struts on his Citation and found the front end to be very robustly built – no Chevette, to be sure.

    The Citation really is the father of all GM front drive cars (older ones, like the Toronado, seemed to live/die separately).

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    My grandmother had one of those bought new in 1980, I remember the radio being placed in very strange configuration in that car. I remember driving it in the early 90s, the car did not go down the road straight, it felt as if it weren’t exactly square, the car was never wrecked and was the definition of little old lady car as when she died in 1995 it only had 25,000 miles on it and was only worth $900.00 according to the garage that serviced it fr the last 15 years, so it was just that bad of car.

  • avatar
    340-4

    There’s a burnt orange X-11 two door running around my town that appears to be in excellent and original condition and I think to myself, what would that be like… and then I do some reading…

    Shudder.

  • avatar
    abgwin

    My uncle had an X body Skylark and loved it. It was remarkably reliable for what it was, but the funny part was all the ranting he did about the Citation and Phoenix. He just would not believe his beloved Buick was the same car under the skin.

    P.S. Murilee, why no pics of the fabled vertical radio? One of the weirdest compromises of the Citation, IMHO.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      A friend of mine had a near-new Skylark with leather seats and tinted windows in highschool. I think he liked it. He claimed the young women loved the leather seats, which may even be true. His previous car was a Chevette with a 56 mph top speed though. You could tuck the gas pedal under the floor mat and still be the slowest car on the road.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “The horror, the horror.”

    Yes, these things were flatly awful, and the biggest reason why Detroit in general and GM in particular earned a reputation as the Keystone Kops of the auto industry.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    So why is what seems to be a french flag on the logo? French cars are not exactly paragons of reliability, but the Citation seem to have them all beat. And GM wonder why their current small cars don’t sell as well as competitor’s? Karma’s a bitch!

    • 0 avatar
      dvp cars

      ….”french flag”…….good question, wonder if there is anybody out there still alive who sat on the “emblem committee” at late 70’s GM. Failing any first hand information, I’d have to guess it had something to do with Louis Chevrolet’s French (Swiss-French) origins. Also,”Citation” sounds like a French word, and the emblem pictured does resemble a WW1 era war medal, or citation. The fact that both countries use red, white and blue in their flags may be coincidental, but Chevrolet Division has used a fleur-de-lis on other emblems from time to time.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    These are the cars that I got the idea for the “cockroach of the road” nickname. You can kind of see the cockroach profile when looking at this two door, but the four door really has it going on.

    A kind of corollary to the Corvair, excellent car on paper, not so much in metal. By 1985, GM had fixed (I think) all that was wrong with the FWD X car, but by then, no one really cared.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    I drove one, a 1980 Buick Skylark, it was without a doubt the worst car I ever owned. Throughout its history, GM has never liked small cars and has always regarded them as toys to keep the natives happy while the company proceeded with its grandiose plans to put a Cadillac(or an SUV)in every garage. Obviously it was designed grudgingly with as many shortcuts and cost cutting measures taken as possible.
    By the time I had owned this POS for about 3 years if anybody asked me about it, I told them in no polite terms what I thought of it. I’m sure a lot of other people did the same thing.
    In retrospect, what amazes me is all the positive spin and praise the automotive press gave these things; it makes me wonder if there wasn’t some kind of under the table shenanigans going on between GM and the car magazines. After my X-car experiences, I never viewed the car mags in the same light.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      It was the confluence of two things: GM (and the industry as a whole) would always send hand-prepped ringers out for evaluation by the car rags, company executives, etc. In this case, the quality gap between prep and production was vast enough to venture into outright fraud. The other thing was the car rags (and a not-insignificant part of the carbuying public) desperately wanted the Citation to flog the scrawny riceburners back across the Pacific. The magazines had been cheerleading the X-body project from day 1, and expected GM to lead the charge in kicking Japan’s ass a second time.

  • avatar

    That first photo is stunning.

    My parents had a 1980. POS. they traded it in ’87, with about 100k.

  • avatar
    peteinsonj

    Owned one of these, V6 engine, which was pretty nice. Driving dynamics were pretty good for the day, interior with hatch was huge.

    But key things, very quickly, went south. The automatic shifter cable (dealer fixed), it leaked water like crazy (which the dealer never could fix, I eventually tore the panel off under the wipers, siliconed everything, which did the trick), and the a/c had a perpetual whistling sound (which it was in the shop for 6 or more times, dealer hadn’t a clue).

    I traded it within 14 months and with one 22k miles on a Nissan Stanza. (which ironically, was also a POS).

    Other than a beater car for my daughter when she first learned to drive, never bought American since.

    • 0 avatar
      Diesel Fuel Only

      Our Chevette leaked water into the footwells from some indeterminable source. The windshield was replaced, the seals were looked at more than once, nothing worked. I suspect that the dealer didn’t look all that hard, however, as when we sold it to a local farmer’s kid, he stripped it down and replaced all the rubber and maybe caulked it like you said and it stopped. He also ripped all the rotted carpet out and drove it to college with bare metal floors.

      But my memories of that car – I was in elementary school – in the heat and humidity of south Louisiana after a good week of rain were of a mouldy, musty, stinking fetid Gitmo-mobile. The insides of the windows were always fogged up or covered in condensation by mid-morning. I can still smell the thing – it just smelled an old sock drawer…on a good day with the windows rolled down.

  • avatar
    gator marco

    Had a white 1980 4-door Citation. Sure, it was a POS, but I had no concerns about damaging the interior when I used it to haul lumber when we were working on a house. The hatchback was very handy.

    The car had lots of issues with interior bits just breaking; I took some of the hardware from the left rear door to repair the driver’s door, so it became a 3-door car. Both rear doors filled up with rain water, so I had to drill a couple holes to allow the water to get out.

    This is car became a weekend driver only, because this is the car that persuaded me to take the bus to work.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    I owned oneof these – 1980 sedan, and it experienced all of its greatest hits. World class torque steer, rear wheel lockup, shockingly dangerous handling at anywhere near the limit of grip, and the legendary reliability issues well documented elsewhere.

    Haven’t owned a GM car since. Well, except for a ’69 Cutlass, which was so far superior in every way I still shake my head at a how a car company could descend so far so fast.

  • avatar
    PaulVincent

    This was the perfect car for an @$$hole, and I not only know one who bought a Citation, but he was bragging about what a great car he bought. GM could not have done it better (selling this POS to my @$$hole associate). He was a social studies teacher who would cheat any gifted student out of the grade earned/deserved – an “A” became a “C” for these unfortunate students. Naturally, Mr. @$$hole went on to become an administrator.

  • avatar
    pb35

    I think everyone had one of these. Mine was an ’83 Omega, aka “Slomega.” I purchased it for $300 back in ’93 from one of my wife’s grad student friends upon my arrival in Ann Arbor. He finished his PhD and was off to hid first academic job. No self respecting professor would be caught dead driving a 10-year old X-car! It was a faded rose color that was pretty close to pink now that I think about it.

    Anyway, it needed a windshield so I had that replaced. It was a 2.8 and every so often the Check Engine light would come on. I have no idea why, I think it was emissions related. It started every day and got me to work and to the Joe for the occasional Wings game. It had a hole in the floor right where your heel goes by the gas pedal. I could lock the rear brakes up on command and after a while I knew where the “threshold” was so I wouldn’t spin out. It was an ok car but I didn’t keep it long and traded it for a new ’93 Escort GT.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    The Project Manager of the X-Car program was none other than Robert Eaton, the same guy who wrecked Chrysler by selling it to Daimler.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      To anyone wondering whatever happened to the GM execs responsible for the X-car and how they could live with themselves for what they did to the company, I guess we now know.

      Even more amazing is how Chrysler could have thought Eaton would be a better choice than Lutz to replace Iacocca.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        That would be an excellent series of articles – profiling the car executives and which projects they were in charge of and where their careers took them. Like this Eaton fellow – we’d get to see the flight of an executive.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    Re: The vertical radio. I SEEM to recall that America was in a real car-stereo craze. The story at the time I believe, was that people were ordering too many cars with the radio deleted and that GM was losing money on a lucrative option. The corporate answer then was to mke the openings in the dash non-standard (non-standard connectors were too easy to overcome). This may be miss-remembered though or just the story seen through the lense of reference of me and my young friends of the time. Anybody know?

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I remember hunting the junkyards for an AM/FM radio to replace the solely AM radio my mother’s Citation came with. Found one eventually for a fair price.

      The Citation, like my sister’s Dodge 400 convertible, did not excite me in any way at all – but both cars delivered good mileage, stayed fixed – mostly – and lasted for years. Mom’s Citation lasted 140,000 miles before she replaced it – and it had alot of miles left in it. I disliked the sounds of the starter, the engine sounds, the column shifter, the upholstery and the fake sewn plastic interior panels. I loved the four door hatchback design b/c it was very, very versatile.

  • avatar

    The later models weren’t as bad and some remained on the streets longer. The early eighties was the worst period for GM cars. FWD A bodies weren’t much better either… They mostly had the same 2.5 and 2.8 engines as the X bodies (except a few Centurys with the 3.0 and 3.8), rusted quickly and had quality issues.
    And while am not interested in getting any FWD vehicle. I have to admit that I like the styling of the Citation hatchback.

    Still, not enough to own one! My great uncle wanted to give me his 1984 Citation V6 hatchback in the late nineties and I declined his offer! The car was running well and it had some surface rust as well as driver side floor rust but nothing I couldn’t have repaired if I wanted!

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Around the same time, my uncle from L.A. Thought to give me his 65 or 66 Impala SS, but my dad told him that I’d just bought a ’69 XR-7 (which I still have); I only learned of this shortly after he sold it to some dude from the barrio who wanted to turn it into a low-rider (these guys were always approaching him with wads of cash trying to buy the car.)

  • avatar
    DenverInfidel

    One of my girlfriends in HS drove an early 80’s citation. It seems like several kids I knew had them handed down from parents, and they were always hard to start in the cold.

    I remember it being very slow and lumbering. It finally got totaled one day when she decided to try and pull out quickly from the school parking lot across traffic. As others have mentioned, it liked to skip and hiccup, and this was the worst time imaginable. I was in the passenger seat and saw the car coming to t-bone us. I had crawled into her lap by the time it hit us. We were all unhurt, but it scared the holy hell out of me.

  • avatar
    miles solo

    Well – the truth about this car is I had a 1981 Buick Skylark Limited that I bought new in 81. It had the V6. It was probably the best car I’ve owned. I sold it 16 years later with 216,000 miles on it. It never needed anything major in repairs, was very cushy and comfortable, got about 30 mpg on the highway,and looked great. I had it painted once. Not too bad . . .

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I worked at our local GM dealer when these came out. The first one we got, on its first test-drive, flipped over. I don’t know if it was the locking rear brakes or the terrible torque-steer, or a combination of both. When my boss gave me his car to drive in cool weather I had to stick a pen in the carb butterfly to get it to start. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if GM had designed and built these as well as a contemporary Toyota, because the concept was good. BTW, I remember the Car and Driver article that praised the X-11 model to the heavens, I am glad I bought a 78 Malibu coupe with V8 and 4-speed instead.

  • avatar
    Diesel Fuel Only

    I love how in the commercial it’s being driven around the cones with its parking lights on! A little unintended honesty there?

    I guess it’s supposed to make it look a little less dull – more bright and shiny, but I mean, really, how stupid. Just dumb. Parking lights are for parking, not for the slalom. American drivers still don’t get this and I’m beginning to understand why. BTW, a modern European car’s parking lights will not illuminate unless the parking brake is engaged – like, when the car is PARKED.

  • avatar
    ern35

    Heck, I still have the first brochure—on the title page reads: “The most thoroughly tested new car in Chevy history.”
    On the back page—among 8 reasons for buying one is: “Quality engineered and designed for value.”
    Was informed by the head of the dealer’s service department that General Motors looked at all the front-wheel desigs from Europe and Japan and took the best from each. Had a ’76 Malibu at the time, test-drove a 4-cylinder model, never bought one and happily joined a legion of former GM customers swearing to never ever buy another one of their products. For 20 years or so I often wondered what really went on in GM’s impressive Technical Center!!!

  • avatar
    LectroByte

    “I could have been a contender”. They were so close, great styling, roomy, practical. My girlfriend had one of these, and it seemed decent enough except for the spooky brakes in the rain.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Singlehandedly defined crap at GM.
    A friend towed a trailer from CA to Florida with one of these. The V6 model. He had to floor it to go over flyovers. Took 5 minutes to get to 60. The distributor cap broke in Ark and he had to tape it back together to get off the road. Lost the transmission soon after arriving.

    The trailer was one of those tiny uhaul models that you could barely fit a bicycle into.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    When I got mine in 1980, my uncle, who had a 79 Malibu, laughed at my choice and told me what a piece of crap I had just purchased, well of course I got pissed off at him, But of course he was right, while I had to get rid of the cruddy car after only 3 yrs and took a big hit on it, his Malibu, just kept rolling along for a dozen years without any major issues.

  • avatar
    rustyra24

    My dad drove one of these, I believe that it was the same color as the car pictured. I do not think he paid more than 500 dollars for it. We drove it around doing general farm work but mostly changing pipes. I remember that it died in the dead of winter and we left it in a barn. He eventually went and fixed it but I never know what happened to that car.

  • avatar

    Hopes were high for the X cars because GM had done such a good job in ’77 with the downsized fullsize cars. The late ’70s fullsize cars from GM were very well done. On paper the X cars were good, in execution not so much. It was as though GM figured out how to design it and market it, but for everything else they phoned it in.

    I think the worst part (I had a hand me down Phoenix for a short while) was that they just didn’t run well.

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      I beg to differ with your opinion on the GM “full-size” FWD entries, the Caddy DeVille did not deserve to even be called Cadillac, it was basically the same as the Buick and Olds with a V8 air suspension and auto temp control as standard, but not even a cassette player, had all sorts of mechanical problems but my in-laws kept it running and wasting money on it.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      On paper the X cars were good, in execution not so much.

      Part of the execution issue with the X was that production numbers were everything. It seemed that if it could be driven out of final, it shipped. The attitude was that the dealer would catch the problems and fix them.

  • avatar
    AlienProbe

    A Citation was my hero once.

    When I was a teen my ’76 Toyota Corona broke down near the Dealership that my dad worked at. Unfortunately, he was not working that day… but the owner of the place told me to leave my car on the lot and just handed over the keys to a Citation to take me safely home.

    I rather enjoyed driving the car… because it was so different from my Corona.

    Looking back on it, I guess he loaned me the Citation because he didn’t care if it got wrecked or something… hmmmmm.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    I stand corrected the FWD did not come until 1984 I believe, the RWD GM’s were the best of that time period. Ford and Chrysler were crap, just look how successful the GM mid-size two doors were, Cutlass, Monte Carlo, Regal and Grand Prix, basically the same car but different enough to have their own identity.

  • avatar
    Pete Kohalmi

    I had a 1980 Pontiac Phoenix with the 2.8L V-6 in high school. Problem after problem. Finally I brought it to a mechanic at about 108000 miles and he said the car was hopeless and to start looking for another one. About a week later I was rear-ended by an older gentleman in a Town Car. I used the $500 from the insurance company to buy an Omni–a much better car that got me through college.

  • avatar

    Damn it Murilee! I already have one horrible malaise era Lemons race car, but this is making me want to get an X-11 and prove they can survive a weekend of being driven in anger.

    I briefly drove my sister’s 1980 Skylark with the V6 and F41 heavy duty suspension when I first got my license.

  • avatar
    87CE 95PV Type Я

    What a horrendous shit can! I have not seen a Phoenix/Citation in close to two years and save a few if you wish, it will be an example of what not to do. I did not know there was a 3 door version and yes, the hatchback is a door.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      An engineer friend bought a Phoenix new in 1980 or so. I was just a kid but even I knew that the oil light was supposed to stay off. It would come on during even fairly mild right hand turns. I think that car really bugged him b/c it represented a big advance in design for GM, he bought it and then it was so disappointing compared to some of the other vehicles on the road. Besides he was a GM man through and through. He followed up his GMs with a Ford (good), VW (good) and a long line of Toyotas and Hondas (all) good.

  • avatar
    Joss

    A poorer, more belated GM knock-off of the 67 Renault 16. Come on now – lets not be all-cruel. It was FWD which helped in the snow belt. And not all defected GM to Datsun and Toyota. There was such a thing as rear drive defection within GM – in this case to a 79 Le Mans. The X-cars helped keep an ‘X’ in the box by FWD for most domestic buyers – avoid at all costs – kept Chevette sales going.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    My dad, a longtime GM loyalist, had two Iron Duke X-body Skylarks as company cars. Thirty years later, he still hasn’t forgiven GM and is currently on his third Camry.

  • avatar
    SoylentGreen

    I live in a small town, and I see one of these all the time in the employee’s section of the Walmart parking lot – still functioning as a daily driver. The interesting thing is that, despite all the hate the Citation gets, there isn’t an older car, trucks and SUVs excluded, still running as a daily driver around here.

  • avatar
    jrocco001

    My parents had one of these. I remember riding with my Mom (in her AMC Gremlin, no less) leading my Dad down the road as he drove it in reverse for 5 miles to the service station – I think the shifter linkage broke and reverse was the only gear he could get it in.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Tow truck??? I know – my Dad had an S-10 with a defective B/W five speed and he was stubborn enough to drive it across the city in 2nd gear b/c he was mad at Chevrolet and I think the dealer who wouldn’t send a free tow truck after they rebuilt it already once a few days prior. I wonder if he wasn’t hoping the transmission would grenade along the way necessitating a whole new transmission. They finally fixed it the right way and they kept it another decade. It was perfect the day they sold it and the guy that bought it spun it around and centered a pole or tree in the tailgate – wrinkled the roof, the floor and everything else. Off it went to the junkyard I suspect. Again the truck had alot of years on it, and around 115K miles but no resale value according to Kelly Blue book.


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