By on December 19, 2013

15 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinDid you know that the Chevrolet Chevette was manufactured in the United States through the 1987 model year? It’s true! Serious fans of Chevette trivia also know that American car shoppers could buy a new Chevette with an Isuzu diesel engine; Chevette Diesel owners could eke out tremendous range in their oil-stinking, cramped, rear-drive econoboxes, and isn’t that really what car ownership was all about in the middle 1980s? I see the occasional Chevette in my travels (not to mention on the race track), but this California find is the first diesel Chevette in this series.
07 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWith all the San Francisco Bay Area veggie-oil-diesel freaks snapping up Peugeot 504 and Mercedes-Benz W123 diesels for conversion to never-to-be-finished french-fry-grease-burners to take to Nevada, you’d think that this Chevette would have been worth enough to evade The Crusher. Guess not.
10 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAt least it has a manual transmission, so the 51-horse engine would have been just miserable instead of completely intolerable.
01 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinDon’t use starting fluid!
02 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Isuzu engine in these things was a very reliable, if gutless, powerplant.
11 - 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHow many GM products got this exact HVAC-control panel?
20-Chevette-1The most famous Chevette Diesel in the world is, of course, the Zero Budget Racing car, which has done very well in 24 Hours of LeMons racing.


OK, let’s watch some Chevette ads from around the world! Here’s Brazil.

The Chevette Amigo was just the car for picking up streetwalkers in Venezuela.

The Daewoo Maepsy was the Korean Chevette.

In Canada, they ice-race Chevettes aka Pontiac Acadians.

Canadian Chevettes were badged as Chevrolets, too.

To get a sense of the incredible slowness of the Chevette Diesel, here’s some rear-facing video from the Zero Budget Chevette Diesel at Gingerman earlier this year.

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148 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1984 Chevrolet Chevette CS Diesel...”


  • avatar
    jz78817

    “Maepsy” sounds like an archaic name for a pulmonary disease.

  • avatar
    musicalmcs8706

    My parents had an 81 diesel in that same color with five doors. The only reason they got rid of it was we were in an accident with it in 1995. Since I was younger, I don’t remember, but theirs might have only been a 4 speed, not the 5 speed seen here. They loved that car and would have driven it until there was nothing left.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Block must be cracked. That’s the only reason why the engine would still be intact, and the only reason the car would have been junked in the first place.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      There’s at least one of these still running around my area. You can tell by the black smoke coming out of the tail pipe.

      This one has a unique paint job on it as well; all-white with three huge green stripes in different hues, on each side, wrapped around the rear side windows from the rear quarter panel coming together to a tip at the top of the front fenders.

      Maybe if this person follows ttac we can all learn more about his ownership experience.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Why the hell would anyone want it to say diesel on the dash!? I’ve never seen that before, ever.

    And what a brave first owner who plonked down the cash for it back then. I wonder how the salesman put a spin on those 51 horsepowers.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      40+ mpg with an American badge, that’s how.

      As for the badging, diesels were still novelties at the time, and it’s possible someone might put gasoline in the thing.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I suppose that was rare – but didn’t things like the Corolla-Nova exist which would get near 40?

        Or a Fiesta.

        • 0 avatar
          AlienProbe

          Did you notice the Corolla-Nova in the background? This ‘vette is also parked next to a Geo Metro/Suzuki Swift. I like this junkyard!

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            I wonder where my Corolla-Nova ended up…

            Hope some of its parts were used to keep other Corolla-Novas going. The engine still ran despite the transmission implosion, the interior was in good shape, and there were viable doors, fenders, and quarter panels for patching up other Corolla-Novas.

            If it had been my decision, I’d have tried selling it for parts before sending it to the junkyard.

        • 0 avatar

          the original owner of my ’77 Corolla got 50 on the highway until his brother pulled a trailer with it.

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        Ha! That would have been a disaster :-)

      • 0 avatar
        CanuckGreg

        My mother had one of these back in the day – with a freaking automatic, so it was “get passed by a glacier on the highway” slow. On the rare occasion it needed to be re-fueled, there was always at least one well meaning bystander who tried to convince her she was putting the wrong fuel in.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      early 1980s W123 Diesel Mercedes were much bigger cars with engines not much more powerful, ranging from 54-87. Compared to that, 51 in a Chevette doesn’t seem too underpowered.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I would have thought they had more power with their size. I’m so spoiled by POWAH. I need at LEAST 190hp! Preferably 300+.

        Murica.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Yup. If memory serves, the 4-cylinder diesel in the 240D generated 60 hp. I had an ’80 Audi 5000 diesel that generated about 65 hp. Neither car would exceed 65 mph on level ground. At least the Audi had a 5-speed, if memory serves, whereas the Benz had a 4-speed (manual in both cases).

        The 5-cylinder, 3-liter turbodiesel in the W123 was a much nicer drive than the 4, cylinder 2.4 liter, also much more expensive to buy.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          And also not available at the same time!

          They ended US sales of the 240D the same year they brought in the (OM617.950) Turbo 300D.

          I guess in 1982 they finally figured out that the 240D was no longer competitive – especially in a car about 1,500 pounds heavier than that Chevette.

          (My W115 300D weighed about the same, but had a whole 77 horsepower – and still took 19 seconds to 60, topping out at 90mph after approximately Forever.

          At Mercedes prices that just wasn’t competitive after the worst of the Oil Crisis ended.)

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            I always found 80s M-B diesel badging confusing.

            You’ve got 300Ds, both non-turbo and turbodiesel…but then what the hell is a 300SD? And why wasn’t the turbo 300D a 300TD?

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            240D and 300D were the E-class of their day, while the 300SD was the S-class (and the 300CD was the E-class coupe). The T was for the wagon version (Transporter).

          • 0 avatar
            emcourtney

            The OM617 with turbo @110 HP was available in a W116 chassis as the 300SD in 78 & 79. I drove one in the mid nineties, it rode like a train, like it was on rails, and accelerated about as fast.
            By the way, according to Mercedes terminology of the day SD stood for “Sport Diesel”

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      “I wonder how the salesman put a spin on those 51 horsepowers.”

      the VW Rabbit sold in the same time period got 49 hp out of its diesel.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        The Rabbit was smaller, yes? And lighter, surely.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          Slightly, but not enough lighter or smaller to make any meaningful difference.

          Just about everybody had small diesel cars like this in the early ’80s, though they generally sold in trivial numbers. The Rabbit and the various MB diesels were the main exceptions.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            Well, sure, with gas up to a dollar per gallon, people were looking for economy wherever they could find it. The 16-18 mpg of Darts and Valiants just 15 years before just wasn’t good enough anymore.

      • 0 avatar

        I took my driver training class, early 1982, in a Rabbit Diesel with dual brake pedals. The instructor made us take the 16th Ave onramp onto the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland in that car. One of the most terrifying driving experiences of my life.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          In college one of the motor pool vehicles was a diesel Vanagon automatic. On several occasions I drove that thing to Boston, down Rt1 over the Tobin Bridge with the suicide dash across 3-4 lanes of 70mph I-93 traffic in ~1/4 mile to get off and go down Storrow Dr. With 7 big college guys inside and bikes on the roof. Same 52hp engine as a Rabbit… Nothing scares me anymore after that.

          A friend in high school had a diesel T1000 until he spun it into the trees on some black ice. Another diesel rarity – I worked for a bank courier service in college that had a fleet of diesel Escorts. They were actually much NICER to drive than the gas ones.

        • 0 avatar
          Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

          First time I ever rode my R1150GS (or any motorcycle larger than a 250cc, or any motorcycle on a highway) was to take it home from the BMW dealer on the West Side Highway thru the Battery Tunnel, down the Gowanus, then across the Verrazano-Narrows bridge to Staten Island.

          During rush hour.

          I’ve never been more terrified/thrilled in my life.

    • 0 avatar
      EquipmentJunkie

      That “diesel” badge on the dash was to remind the driver of the 51-hp under the hood BEFORE pulling out in front of another faster-moving vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        jz78817

        “That “diesel” badge on the dash was to remind the driver of the 51-hp under the hood BEFORE pulling out in front of another faster-moving vehicle.”

        which the driver inevitably did anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      “Why the hell would anyone want it to say diesel on the dash!?”
      Because GM wanted to explain to whomever was unfortunate enough to sit in the passenger seat why this particular Chevette was shaking like a 1 lb Chihuahua and farting noxious fumes like your Grandfather after a hard night with the EggNog.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My parents were given a Chevette diesel with only 40k miles on it (during some tough economic times for our family), but the owner warned us that its oil had never been changed. When my dad and I drained it, the oil came out like molasses.

    The car had previously been rolled (maybe tipped), so its roof had a deep permanent crease.

    Worse, it had an AUTOMATIC. So its 0-60 time was well over 20 seconds, and its top speed was 75 mph. You operated the accelerator like an on-off switch. (GM should have had Isuzu supply diesels for its large cars instead of those dreadful 350 diesels.)

    But that car ran reliably and cheaply until it rusted out many years later, and we have fond memories of it.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      So remember my aunt having one of these with the 3spd auto. Terrifying to merge onto highways in Maryland. You had to give it the full Whelly and pray that someone will let you in as the little tin motor banged away like a demonic dishwasher, screaming at 4000 rpms in second gear straining to break the air friction to get to 45 mph, 46 mph, 47 mph….Come on you POS!!!!!!!!!

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        If you immediately floor it, it’ll kick down to first and stay there, adding transmission whine to the the racket, though it didn’t go any faster. Well, that worked on the 3-cylinder GEO that my company bought, but overall, it was the same experience. I had a supervisor once who grabbed the door handle and contemplated jumping out, but thought better of it, since he was wearing a new suit. If you’re a passenger in those ramp experiences, it’s best to just close your eyes and concentrate on sphincter control.

        • 0 avatar
          Synchromesh

          Lol. :)

          My uncle used to own a mighty ’83 non-diesel auto iirc. At one point it had some issues where it wouldn’t go over 55. He still drove it for a while, then parked it and let it sit before selling it. I remember the single speaker it had in the center arm rest.

          • 0 avatar
            NormSV650

            My Dad had a 1976, fikrst year I think, for the Opel Americana. His was a single barrel carb with manual trans. In high shcool I picked a 1979 for $600 dollars with the nice egg crate grill. It had blown head gasket and and the floor boards were already replaced. With manual trans and 3 two other guys on a slight down hill I did see 80+ mph so they were all slow. But when in the heart of winter and snowing guess was voted to drive? With studded snows and 100 lbs chunk of iron in the trunk it never got stuck, not even popping drifts to get out of our 1/4 mile long drive. But 3 miles later when the engine warmed it stalled with my Dad in the car. We popped the hood and it was packed with snow. Sat for a momment to let it thaw and then we were on our way.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        Lol, I’m trying not to crack up at my desk.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr Imperial

      This one comedian mocked this car so hard-

      “This one time, I got pulled over for speeding in my Diesel Chevette-

      -the cop wanted to know HOW I DID IT” :)

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      My dad has a thing for really awful cars, and the gas-powered 1982 Chevette Scooter was among them. It had AC and an automatic, and the shittiest brakes I’d ever attempted to use. He followed that up with a Ford Tempo with its chrome decklid luggage rack and a manual trans that I learned on (mom having sold the Mustang II with a rust hole in the floor under the brake pedal she used to throw gum wrappers out of). The ’77 Nova I had had a problem with stalling on left-hand turns (presumably fuel delivery?).

      All these things definitely turned me off of American cars for the better part of 2 decades.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Serious fans of Chevette trivia”

    All three of them.

  • avatar
    EquipmentJunkie

    An ’81 Chevette diesel in that same color was my vehicle to drive when I was 16. I never had another vehicle that I could drive at 10/10ths more often than that car. I envied my friends who had Rabbit diesels to drive. I beat the living poo out of that Chevette…mainly fueled by loathing. I was able to flat-shift from first to second and get two little 9-inch patches of snow tire dust. How I never blew out a U-joint, I’ll never know.

    My father said around the time he owned that car that every car, no matter how bad, had at least one redeeming quality. Perhaps it was a nice seat, a nicely functioning door latch, or styling. He was able to compliment the nice shifting of the Chevette’s 5-speed transmission. I agreed with him. He also said that the Chevette was a modern day Model T…no frills at all.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      The Chevette diesel might be the perfect car for a teenager in the 1980’s: cheap + slow + almost impossible to hoon = survival on a budget.

      If you care more about safety a Volvo 240D would be a small improvement.

  • avatar
    mikey

    We had them in Canada, though vary rare. As I recall, the issues was cold starts. If you could plug them in, no problem. The dreaded reworked Olds V8 had glow plugs and two batterys. I don’t know if the Chevette was glow plug equipped or not.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      it was, but indirect-injection engines were miserable on cold starts almost across the board unless you used the block heater. Even with all new glow plugs my old 6.9 liter F-250 was a bear to get started below freezing.

      • 0 avatar
        BigOldChryslers

        My 84 Rabbit and my GMC van with the 6.2L diesel didn’t have an exceptionally hard time starting in the winter, as diesels go, and they both used pre-chambers in the cylinder head.

        • 0 avatar
          jz78817

          they’ve got nothing on modern diesels, though. last winter I had a 6.7 liter F350 for a weekend, and even though overnight temps were in the teens the engine fired right up after like 3 seconds of glow plug heat.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        My Audi 5000 diesel started willingly enough below freezing, but enveloped the car in a cloud of blue smoke for the first 10s of seconds after starting until the engine got warm enough to actually burn all of the fuel that was being injected.

        Oddly enough, at the time I had a 30-ft. sailboat with a 15 hp. one cylinder Yanmar diesel that did not have glow plugs. While I did not run it in freezing temperatures, even with temperatures in the 40s, it started right up with no smoking or other misbehavior.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      Yes the Isuzu diesel in the Chevette used glow plugs.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      I had an 82 MB W123 with the 3L 5 cyl tubrodiesel. I think it was rated at 125 hp but had a lot of torque at low rpms. I bought it as a disposable commuter car in 2002. Despite having glow plugs it was brutal to start in the cold weather until I had the valves adjusted. Cold starting improved so much that it never failed to start on the first try in the coldest weather after that. Mileage also improved by 20% too thanks to having the full 22:1 compression ratio restored.

  • avatar
    mcarr

    We had an ’81 Chevette when I was little. Ours was the 4 speed gas edition. Didn’t the 1.6L gas engine only have 60hp? Comparatively, the diesels 51hp was not much of a drop. We only kept it 2 years replacing it with an ’83 Citation.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      My parents went a very similiar route, instead rolling from a wretched ’75 Vega Wagon to a disappointing ’78 Chevy Nova to an ’83 Dodge Aries K.

    • 0 avatar
      rpol35

      I don’t know about ’81 but in 1980, there were two different 1.6 litre engines available. The standard one had 70 net horsepower and the “HO” had 74 thanks to its progressively linked two barrel carburetor. I believe ’80 was the last year for the HO.

      I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I owned an ’80 that had the HO motor. I honestly can’t say anything good about the car, it was three years of misery. I lived in a cold weather state at the time and to add insult to injury, this stinkin’ H.O.S. delivered average MPG of about 20 in winter weather. The car had zero redeeming value.

  • avatar
    cargogh

    My friend in high school drove her parent’s screaming yellow 4-door with black vinyl. It was an automatic. We’d all pile in to see if it would actually make it up steep hills. I don’t know what the gas mileage was, but mom had a Plymouth Horizon 4-door. It was the Mizer with a manual and twice as fast as the Chevette and usually got over 50 mpg, so I doubt the Chevette could beat it any manner.

  • avatar
    mankyman

    I learned to drive on a gas-powered version of one of these in the 80s and the acceleration was abyssmal. Can’t imagine what the diesel version must have been like. Try as I might I could never get the back end out going around corners. It must have been the automatic transmission, because the other RWD sh*tbox I drove, a Fiat 128(?), known colloquially in Turkey as the Shaheen, was easy to get the back end out.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Alejandro was of short stature.

    Alejandro started his morning as it often did, by yelling at his fellow housemates. The children had still not cleaned the mess in the kitchen, and it was impairing their tasks to get ready for work. “Where es the pepper?”, he grumbled. He had purchased ten nice, shiny chili negros just the day before, now there were none to be found. “Ayewayyy!” He finally found three of them after moving the wooden bowl on the cluttered table. “These children!”, he yelled, tossing the peppers in his Igloo cooler. Al’s day was not off to a good start. He swiped his button shirt off the clothesline in the living room. He was running late. “Endele brother!”

    The heavily sprung aluminum door slammed as the brothers exited the house. “Aye, es frio.”, Javier stated to his brother. “El Chupaaceite” waited for them out on the street. Frost, a rarity for the Bay Area, covered the grass. The two small men climbed into the Chebby. The little car rocked side to side from the moving mass of it’s doors being closed. Alejandro twisted the key, and waited. The cheap sounding buzz of the Chevette’s klaxon filled the cabin. The radio powered up, and 93.3 LaRaza contributed it’s static-impaired sound to the cacophony. Al twisted the key to light some diesel, shutting off the buzzer and radio. The two brothers looked at each other with concern after ten seconds of cranking, and no result. Finally, the Isuzu mill sprang to life, awakening from it’s slumber, and voicing it’s displeasure like a borracho. One or two cylinders banged steadily, and as the engine warmed, the crescendo formed into the traditional diesel clatter of a small refrigeration unit. Grey smoke filled the calle. Al forced the stiff shift linkage into first gear, and the two started their commute, concerned about the car’s reliability.

    LaRaza was employed at a high volume in order to drown out the drone of extreme efficiency. The static was severe. Al and Jav could barely hear the advertisement for the local supermercado through it all, but the shortcomings of the cheap deck and deficient antenna had little effect on their enjoyment of their favorite radio station. “Maybe we need to get something for the gas?”, Javier commented, almost at a shout over the din. “Yeah, maybe.”, his brother replied.

    At work, they were having similar luck in getting the mowing equipment started. The foreman toted a jumper pack out to the dead Toro 580D. It still was having trouble. He went back into the building, and grabbed a bottle of diesel anti-gel and starting fluid spray. The two brothers, of course, watched all that was transpiring intently. The foreman removed the air filter, and gave the 580D a healthy shot of ether spray. When the key was turned, the Toro started effortlessly, belching a grey plume. Alejandro and Javier looked at each other. They needed to get their hands on that stuff, just in case.

    When punch-out time rolled along, there was the usually flurry of activity near the clock. Now was the time. The brothers went into the store room. Inside, a wide array of products littered the shelves. “No, that’s brake fluid.”
    They examined several products that resembled what had been used that morning. The starting fluid was obvious, and a can found it’s way inside Alejandro’s jacket. The diesel anti-gel additive, on the other hand, was elusive. “This has got to be it.”, said Javier, pocketing the bottle of radiator stop leak.

    The Chebby left the supermercado, and Alejandro commented on the car’s performance. The stop leak-infused fuel really made a false impression on him. “Oh man, it feels like new.” The drive home was uneventful, and the two had little concern about not making it to work the next day.

    The battery was nearly spent. Javier opened the Chevette’s maw, and sprayed in a hearty dose of medicine. “Okay.” Alejandro cranked the diesel once again. It coughed, and spun a few revolutions, but died. Javier gave the intake a long burst of ether. “Okay.”, he told his brother, warming his hands with his breath. The starter cranked the Isuzu once more. “Come onnn.” There was suddenly a sharp pop, followed by the sound of crunching metal components. Then, the motor was locked.

    Alejandro and Javier climbed into their new, battered Dodge Stratus. They watched the tow truck pull away with the muerte Chebby. Al looked at the check again, almost in disbelief, a whole $180.
    “We should have sold to the junk a long time ago.”

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Two thumbs up. I wonder if he knew the other Bay Area gentlemen who had the custom Geo Metro trucklet?

      “He was running late. “Endele brother!””

      I love Al’s thought process and dialogue when he’s driving the 50hp diesel.

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      TTAC, hire this guy.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Si se puede!

      + uno

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        Necesita más clases de Español, and no, using Google translator is not the best idea. As a first try it wasn’t bad for a gringo.

        Instead of “these children” I’d have said “estos carajitos” “estos pelaos”…

        Reading about starter liquid reminds me the concoctions we used to start diesel engines that were sitting for months. The most epic one included a tow for ~1km to free the rings.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Here’s a prequel to Al’s story:

      Justin was cock of the walk.

      “Sure, right this way Mr. Kovacs” Justin said as he held the door to dealership’s trailer open. Justin sat down on his faux leather office chair as Mr. Kovacs sat in the dated customer chair complete with puke green cloth.

      “I’d like to make a cash offer on the ’95 F150″
      “You do realize its only two wheel drive Mr Kovacs?” Justin said as he leaned back in his chair.
      “I do. I can offer cash and an ’84 Chevette on trade.” Mr Kovacs replied. Justin leaned over to his right and opened a crack in his venetian blinds to look at the Chevette parked near the street entrance.
      “I can’t give you much for a Chevette. How many miles?”
      “Just under forty thousand. Its a stick too not an automatic”
      “You’re not helping your case Mr. Kovacs” Justin wryly replied.
      “I offer the car and three thousand cash” Mr. Kovacs asserted.
      “We’re asking $4,200 Mr. Kovacs-“.
      “and I am offering three thousand” Mr Kovacs replied. Justin took a deep breath and held his fingers together as he thought for a moment.
      “Thirty four hundred with the Chevette plus tags and tax, Mr Kovacs. My final offer” Justin said confidently.
      “Deal” Mr. Kovacs replied as he laid fresh hundred dollar notes on the faux wood desk surface along with the Chevette title turned over. Justin helped him fill out the paperwork and he and Mr. Kovacs shook hands. After eating lunch at his desk he left the trailer to go out and move the newly acquired Chevette and was horrified when he noticed the dash placard when he first sat down.
      “Diesel? What the hell?” he thought. Just as he fired it up his boss Murray’s Legend pulled into the lot.
      “Sh**.”

      • 0 avatar
        Crabspirits

        I wish Lang would tell us more real life stories along these lines. It would help me really explore the space in the future.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I always like to hear the real “dealer” stories too, its the thing I miss most about that world. Also did you happen to notice this car was the “CS Diesel” edition, perhaps CS stood for the CrabSpirits edition :)

          • 0 avatar
            Crabspirits

            The Crab Spirits edition is a little different than this car. It’s very rare, and can only be identified by the crab logo.

            Other features are the entire suspension from a 240sx, and a SOHC VG30 lightly tuned to 350hp.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Nice.

    • 0 avatar
      Shamwow

      Sweet! What a gem

  • avatar

    the HVAC panel was unique to the T-cars. Grandma had a 79 ‘vette and the temperature lever was broken in the dash, so twice a year when it got an oil change, Dad would manually move the door under the hood to cold or hot.

    Her’s was a gasser 4 speed, with A/C! I recall riding in it but since we never went more than a mile or two in it, never recall its performance. Dad would take it out every now and then and do an Italian tuneup on it.

  • avatar
    mars3941

    Only general Motors could have at the time survived selling crap like this back in the 80’s.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      They had the B, G, and F-bodies, as well as trucks selling well throughout the decade. Not hard to survive mistakes like this when you’re selling a bazillion Caprices and Cutlasses.

      • 0 avatar
        jz78817

        nearly EVERYTHING was crap back then to some degree. but yeah, NoGoYo’s correct. It’s easy to take a myopic look at specific GM stinkers, but you end up missing the forest for the trees. An occasional bad product won’t kill a big company (how much money did Honda waste on the Crosstour/ZDX?) GM’s downfall wasn’t because of the Vega or Chevette, or Olds diesel. It was 40 years of bad decisions in all areas of the company thanks to loss of focus and purpose. GM didn’t go bankrupt because nobody was buying their cars and trucks; even in miserable CY2008 they sold three million vehicles in the US. They went bankrupt because 40 years of idiocy made them unable to sell those vehicles profitably.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          It all goes back to Thomas Murphy, CEO of GM in the 1970s, with his infamous statement of “General Motors is not in the business of making cars. It is in the business of making money.”

          • 0 avatar
            jz78817

            a mentality which stuck around for a long time, if you believe Bob Lutz. One of the things he railed on when he arrived at GM was how their “Mission Statement” was something like a 6×6 matrix of things like “leveraging synergies” and “synergize leverages” and the only one that even mentioned “cars and trucks” was off in one corner.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            Didn’t Alfred Sloan say essentially the same thing a few decades earlier? Murphy may just have voiced the truth of what Sloan had created.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      mars3941 – – –

      Hey. Why is everyone so down on the poor Chevette. I knew a pastor in SF who loved hers, and had it for years. Imagine that. Then she moved to WI….

      —————–

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    I also give it a +1
    Made my morning.

    Although you forgot to mention that the kitchen table was filled with empty Corona bottles.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Alejandro and Javier don’t seem like they’re pulling in Corona money.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Okay, empty Tecate cans.

        • 0 avatar
          bill mcgee

          All the undocumented workers we had at a former employers drank Bud Lite morning noon and night . I always bought Tecate as it has always been consistently $1 less than any other Mexican beer at the supermarket . IIRC the “Day without Mexicans ” protest a few years back ( the boss preemptively gave all Hispanics the day off ) was the first day I didn’t find Bud Lite empties under the seats in the company van .

  • avatar
    jmo

    Ah, the s*itbox. There’s a term I haven’t heard in a while.

    • 0 avatar
      mankyman

      Yes. I’ve driven many an 80’s s*itbox. The olds cutlass supreme, the dodge aspen, the ford Pinto, the dodge aries (K-car with a 2.5(?) L hemi!), various chevrolet products, the early ford fiesta (surprisingly nimble for a 3-cylinder!), etc.

      Makes me appreciate all the more my Teutonic engineering marvels.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    @jz78817: Fortunately that strategy of “make god-awful cars and hope people continue to buy them” stopped working and now GM doesn’t make a single truly BAD car, as much as people rail on the Korean trio (Cruze, Sonic, Spark).

    Hell, I don’t think any automaker makes an outright BAD car in 2013. There are mediocre cars, there are flawed cars, but there is no 2013 equivalent of the Vega or Citation.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      This. Above all, this.

      In the B, C and D segments there isn’t a steaming pile of crap among them. You’ve nailed it – there are some mediocre cars like in the B Segment the Toyota Yaris and the Versa Note, in the C Segment there really isn’t anything that is just awful. The Avenger and Malibu could be called mediocre, but again, that’s about it.

      In the compact SUV the 1.6L Ecoboost Escape has failing heads resulting in a recall, that right now is about the only thing that has me thinking, “danger Will Robinson, stay far, far away!”

      We’re in a golden age of reliability, power, and efficiency. The youngins’ of the B&B who did not grow up driving or riding in hardcore malaise era iron don’t realize how good they have it.

      Today a 300HP+ car that can break 30 MPG on the highway, go 0 to 60 in high 5’s to mid-7’s, carry four in comfort, plus their luggage, go 150K to 200K miles with little more than oil changes and wear items, and cost around $20K to $25K with some cash on the hood – is so what, big deal, who cares.

      My first car was a 1985 Ford EXP. It had an 82 HP engine, a 5-speed manual. It had NOTHING for options. Not even a radio. NO AC. No power steering. Rear drum brakes. 13″ steel rims with 165/80 tires. Not even tinted glass. Heck, not even a rear window defroster, or a passenger side mirror. In inflation adjusted dollars, that car would cost $15,162 today!!! It was naturally aspirated with a crappy carburetor. In the winter you would have to pray to the gods that it would start in the frigid weather. You had to change the oil every 3K miles, it couldn’t hold alignment to save its life, and a tune up was required every 30K miles.

      $15K would just eek me into a Corolla if the dealer has cash on the hood, or an Elantra, or a Forte, or a Soul.

      We are so incredibly lucky today.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        “It had an 82 HP engine, a 5-speed manual. It had NOTHING for options. Not even a radio. NO AC. No power steering. Rear drum brakes. 13″ steel rims with 165/80 tires. Not even tinted glass. Heck, not even a rear window defroster, or a passenger side mirror”

        Toadster, that’s the sort of machinery a lot of people in the 3rd world got up until 5-10 yrs ago. Some still do. and those 80+HP are a generous number. At least there is EFI nowadays, even if it’s EuroII.

        But here in the first world, hell yes, we’re bloody fine.

        • 0 avatar

          Hah! THe first car I bought brand new in 89, a Fiat Uno Mille had about 55-60hp, an electronic carburetor, totally white wondows, no AC, no power anything. But it did have 4 doors, metallic paint, rear window defroster, cigarette lighter, rear window wiper, passenger side mirror. I put in a cassette player (with auto reverse!) for about 20 dollars. Cost me 9000 USD, in 89 dollars.

          Heck of a car, never broke down, left me stranded. The two most egregious problems it had was once, when it rained, water came though the windshield near the headliner. Easy fix though. Weirdly, I also had trouble keeping it aligned. After many tries it turned out to be its original Firestone tyre with a problem. Changed it, problem fixed.

          Fun car, fun times. Moved from my city to Brasilia in it. Reached its top speed once, then since we were going downhill put it in neutral and it maxed out the speedometer…

          Much better than cars of even 10 yrs before which would have only 4 speeds, non-reclining seats etc. and seemingly have endless problems. I saw the cars improve.

          Cars like it are still available here, though all have more stuff like fuel injection. The price, in dollar terms is still about the same. Luckily though, I now enjoy such things as AC and power windows, locks, steering. Even these cars will have abs and airbags by next year

    • 0 avatar

      I have some Chinese cars sold in Brazil I’d like to show you…

    • 0 avatar
      AllThumbs

      I think that’s right, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement in the US market. And all it would take is selling a few Euro and other models here. Example: A few years ago I lived in Portugal and had a 2008 Toyota Corolla Verso mini-minivan (same body as Mazda 5). It was turbodiesel, sat seven in a pinch, and had every option you could think of but heated/cooled seats. I got over 35 mpg if I drove 100 mph or faster, and 45 mpg or so if I kept it to 75 or 80. Oh, and the safety features are better than US specs.

      Why don’t we have that car here? Or any number of Euro-tuned Fords, VWs, and so on? Or the MANY cheaper but just as good Land Cruiser versions out there? Ridiculous.

  • avatar
    Pinzgauer

    It’s almost a manual diesel station wagon and I’m sure this was made in Brown at some point. Nice!

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      But it doesn’t have AWD

    • 0 avatar
      Madroc

      I ponder on this every time I see a Chevette on Junkyard find. If only GM would make a 2500-pound, RWD 5-door with a stick, available diesel, and no modern safety features or creature comforts. I’d buy six and so would everyone else on this site. What could go wrong?

      Oh, they did? And it sucked? Nevermind then.

  • avatar
    Firestorm 500

    I was selling new Chevrolets back in the early to mid 1980’s. The gas Chevette actually sold pretty good. Yes, they were rather slow. But the diesel Chevette with an automatic was embarrassingly weak.

    I remember going on a demo ride with a Hispanic family. At the time, Hispanics were rare in my region. I don’t speak Spanish, and they spoke little English. The two parents, two kids and myself piled in a diesel Chevette. It took 5 miles on the freeway to get to about 63 MPH. I was really sweating this sale, because they were finding out how slow it was. The throttle really is like a light switch, on or off.

    Anyway, when we got back I wrote them up at MSRP. That’s where my dealership started everyone. I turned the buyer’s order around, gave them a pen, and he signed. No trade in. They financed just fine.

    I think I made the $50.00 minimum commission on the sale. Chevettes only had about $230 mark-up in them, invoice to MSRP.

    Oh well, it was a unit.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Hell does exist. This car proves it.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    Sold in Australia as a Holden Gemini .Tghe engines are actaully very very good and if they had of been sold in Europe there is every chance that tuners would have supplied a turbo conversion. It’s also a very large engine so it always came as wonder to most mechanics when they saw one on the floor ..” how on earth does that fit in there? …” ha ha/
    There is a race series here for Geminis ;
    http://www.qldgeminiracing.com/
    So one of the above comments about how well a stock one handles is on the money . Perhaps a later diesel engine with some japanese mods,stretched tires etc could save this car…..?

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    I always wanted to restore an Acadian Scooter with a 3.8 and 5 speed out of a 4th gen Camaro.

    And still would.

    I am not really sure what this says about me.

  • avatar
    April

    They sure did cheapen the interior compared to my 1977 2-door hatchback. Mine had a very tasteful blue vinyl interior with good quality blue carpet which went well with the white exterior (plus some black racing stripes I got from J.C. Whitney). Pretty plain Jane, just automatic and AM radio but being my first car it was my ticket to teenage freedom. Less than a year old, bought from my local Chevrolet dealer (was a trade in on a new El Camino). The year before I saw my first new Chevette (2-door scooter-no back seat). It looked so tiny compared to even the Vega. I really pampered that car (shampooed the carpets regularly and always hand washed and waxed the exterior). Even learned to change the oil on it. A basic but good car.

    P.S. Worthless Chevette trivia. First American built car with a muti function (windshield wipers and washers) steering column stalk.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      To add to your trivia: It’s also the only car that I’m aware of from that era on which a cigarette lighter did not come standard! I think it was a $7 option.

      Meanwhile, Honda was loading up their cars with all kinds of goodies . . .

      • 0 avatar
        greaseyknight

        Toyota trucks of that era could be found without a cigarette lighter, my 83 Toyota was that way until I ripped out the stock HVAC/radio panel. Nothing but a block off for the hole, along with the radio.

  • avatar
    SixDucks

    It wasn’t much of a stretch for Chevy to offer the Chevette Diesel in the U.S.. After all, the Chevette was a T car, just like the Isuzu Gemini/I-Mark, and it seemed that most of those were diesel powered. Probably just a matter of using the Isuzu parts in the Chevy. I was in California at the time these things were on the market and I don’t believe they were offered for sale there, however I did see a lot of I-Mark diesels. Wonder why. It was rumored that with careful driving, the Chevette Diesel could best 60 (slow) miles per gallon.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    1983

    GMC Caballero

    5.7 Diesel

    Turbo

    Desert yellow exterior with orange racing stripes and plaid trim.

    Someday… I will find you…

    • 0 avatar
      jz78817

      the thought of strapping a turbo on the 5.7 diesel frightens me, as if the measly four head bolts around each cylinder need any more stress.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Maybe if you kept it under 6 atmospheres of pressure. I’d be more worried about the crank-bearing cap bolts at the bottom end. IIRC, the Olds 350D had 22.5-to-1 compression ratio.

        • 0 avatar
          NoGoYo

          The only use for an Olds 350 diesel is to convert it to gasoline and make a forced induction race motor. It sucks as a diesel, but it seems to be strong enough to accept normal gas compression and supercharger or turbocharger boost.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            I’ve heard that but never tried it myself.

            I did convert a Seville Diesel I bought at an estate sale to an Olds 350 Gasser from a wrecked junker, or actually I had it done in CA. It ran well and I sold it within weeks of having the conversion done, for more than I had in it.

            But several of my Elks brethern swear by the Ford Banks Turbodiesel to pull their travel trailers from one end of the country to the other.

            And I’ve noticed several Canadian travelers in my area who favored the Ford Banks Turbodiesel as well.

            So there is a market for diesel AND for Turbodiesel. But, man, the cost of one those diesels is staggering!

            After the 220D M-B I had in Europe, that was originally bought for my dad, I was not a fan of diesel anything.

            The fuel economy may be better than gassers, but I never cared about what gasoline costs. Still don’t. If I did I would not be driving a Tundra 5.7.

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            GM did put some extra stiffening ridges in the diesel block, and supposedly the castings had a higher nickel content, so they would be a good basis for a high-power gas build.

          • 0 avatar
            redmondjp

            Hot Rod Magazine (probably in 1984) did a full article on converting a 350 Olds diesel engine back into gas and it wasn’t that hard – pistons, heads, intake & cam from the gas engine – there was a bit of custom work required IIRC for a cam button to keep it from walking forward in the block, as the injection pump drive had to be removed so the cam chain could be put in.

            I drove my dad’s pickup truck over to the local Olds dealer with the high school auto shop teacher and we picked up three 350D long blocks and two short blocks in the back of a F100! That was one scary drive back home, never going over 40mph and taking the back roads.

            At that point GM had given up on repairing those engines at the dealers and were installing complete long blocks from the factory. The dealer had a mountain of dead 350s out back and said to take as many as we wanted.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      The engine that gave diesels in the US a bad rap. I owned one once. An 80 Toronado. Back in 1988 I bought it from someone in my neighborhood for a mere $500. Charcoal grey, maroon velor int. Every option except leather, fiberoptic pkg and vinyl roof. It even had the steel sunroof. He was the original owner and recently had a new Mr. Goodwrench motor installed under warranty along with a rebuilt trans, so I figured how could I go wrong. Ran great and 28 MPG on road trips. Econocar MPG in a luxobarge. I did look into installing a turbo or supercharger in it but there was no aftermarket ones available. Gale Banks only offered them for the much sturdier 6.2 truck diesel and for Fords. After several months I had to change the main controller for the glow plugs located in the intake. That solved the problem for a while till the batteries would get undercharged due to slipping belt. Glow plug changes too. By 1990 the engine started to make noises like it was ready for it’s end, a broken piston skirt. A local mechanic offered to install a Olds rocket V8 for $750 but I figured it was time for an upgrade and gave it to a local wrecking yard for $200. Off to GM diesel here after.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Notice in the Lemons video at 4:40, the intense battle with the Isuzu Gemini Diesel. (Also, a certain Metro at 5:10)

    Those Chevette guys are right on us if we have to stop for major repairs (2+hours).

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Chevette may have made it to the 1987 MY, but not the CY, production ended on December 23, 1986.

    Also, some love to rag on the ‘Shyt-vette, but Honda Civics of the same era rusted away, too. Just they ran better.

    And, people go on about how “GM should have brought Opel designs over in the 70’s”. But, ahem, they did such with the T-Car! If the Chevette came out in 1970, instead of Vega, who knows?

    The other ‘Car Guy’ irony [somenone mentioned above] is Chevettes were RWD, manual trans standard. And many were brown 4 door hatches!

  • avatar
    Joss

    Thanks Atlanta, Georgia. The automatic choke on my Chevette gas motor was a fugger. I replaced every light bulb at least twice. Remember those chunky un-throwaway sealed beams? I recall the automatic being about the only trouble-free spot. Power brakes were a must cause standard non-vacuum were heavy. Span round couple of times in the snow.

    I preferred my 80’s Sentra. Light bulbs were a breeze in her. There was even some schematic panel in the dash for working bulbs. Her sheetmetal dinged real easy though.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Never liked using quick start. WD-40 worked almost as well and it wouldn’t hurt your engine if you squirted too much in by mistake.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      I’ve seen idiots on YouTube firing up old diesels with a bunch of ether…that seems incredibly dangerous.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        The thing with ether is to A: use it sparingly (a few quick squirts) and B. make damn sure the glowplugs are completely cooled off before you do. Some larger heavy truck diesels have ether injection systems built into the intake for cold starting instead of glowplugs.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Never drove a Chevette diesel though I drove thousands of miles piloting Isuzu diesel box trucks at a former job . As they were rentals almost invariably they were automatics . Don’t know what similarities there would be to the earlier Chevette diesel mill , but they gave satisfactory and nearly peppy performance . Always preferred them to the Mitsubishi Fuso and Toyota Hino box trucks we also rented . The Hino , in particular sucked .

  • avatar
    doug-g

    This reminded me of an old Jalopnik (back when it mattered) post. I had a hard time finding it, but glad I did. I ROTFLMAO all over again.

    “PestiEstiWes Siler

    What’s the best way to prove you’re not a girly man? Buy a big, hulking SUV? 1/13/10 5:29pm
    ElhighPestiEsti

    @Pesti-Esti: No way. A manly man buys a diesel Chevette. And I’ll tell you why.

    It takes balls of solid uranium (and not any of that pansy-ass depleted stuff, these balls are their own cancer risk they’re so manly) to put the Chevette on the road. Utter confidence in your wrenching skills, because you know the damned thing is gonna break eventually…today. And eventually again…tomorrow. So what? You’re a man. Get out the Leatherman and Vise Grips and put entropy in its place.

    It takes a serious manly man to drive the Chevette down the road. A 0-60 time best measured by a calendar will separate the wheat from the chaff, my friends. Big SUV on your ass? Breathing down your neck? Grinding gears, popping the clutch (no, fuck that – SUV drivers don’t generally get a clutch. If it has a clutch, check also for actual mud), revving the engine and honking impatiently? Fuck him. He should’ve left earlier. God knows you did. It’s the only way to arrive on time. And if he wants to make something of it, he still won’t want to leave the warm, cock-propping embrace of his gigantic global statement. So forget him. He’s behind you, what do you care?

    And it runs on diesel. You leave a cloud of smoke wherever you go, but no fear! Pissing into the intake will fix that. Why? ‘Cause you’re a man. And the Chevette’s engine bay isn’t laid out for convenient intake urinating by women. So it’s a man’s job. And if you want to be all metro friendly and soft and fuzzy and tempt that hot hippie chick into the backseat, brew up a big-ass batch of biodiesel. Yeah, it’s cooking. So what? It’s manly enough. Man’s gotta eat, and biodiesel is cooking with shit that’ll blow your ass sky-high if you get it wrong. Spill the wrong chemicals and they eat a hole in your leg. It’s manly cooking!

    Chevette Diesel. Truck Nutz not required. 1/13/10 6:29pm”

  • avatar
    crtfour

    My only Chevette experince was carpooling in one to grade school in the 80’s. The thing would randomly just die in an intersection and I don’t think they could ever figure out why. Most of the time it would start back up, but occasionally it wouldn’t and we’d have to push the piece of s…t off the road which made us late to school. Every day, I dreaded seeing that piece of s…t pull up in my driveway b/c I never knew if we’d actually make it to school or not.

    I was thrilled the day she pulled up in a brand new Maxima b/c I knew the days of pushing that piece of s..t were over!

  • avatar
    AllThumbs

    I don’t remember the diesel Chevette AT ALL. Wow. I think of myself as something of a car guy but that one didn’t stick along with all the other cars of the era. And it really shouldn’t be forgettable, as all of the memories on here show. If nothing else, there is a delicious conceit about the marriage of an awful car with a technology that Americans shunned in the first place. It’s almost like taking a dare to produce a diesel Chevette. Wow.

  • avatar
    mars3941

    I was selling Oldsmobiles in the 80’s and the diesels were nothing but grief for the dealer’s and the consumers. The 350 converted V8, the 260 converted V8 and the 4.3 V6 were all troublesome poorly conceived diesel engines. The resale value on these dogs was pathetic and the salesman didn’t even want to get involved with a customer trying to trade out of one of these cars. In most cases because of the depreciation being so bad most people were seriously upside down in their car making it all but impossible to trade out of their diesel. This is the kind of thing that lead to G.M. losing so much market share along with numerous other quality issues.

  • avatar
    Marko

    Nice find! I only knew about the Chevette Diesel because my uncle likes to talk about the one he had back in the day. He bought it new with a paper lunch bag full of cash!

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    My dad owned a 81 Chevette diesel as his commuter car. 2dr 5 speed in dark blue. He bought it when it was a few years old and got several years of reliable service out of it. Normal maintenance kept it going the most difficult issue being a starter replacement where due to the tight fit needed a special bent wrench to remove it and the occasional glow plug plus 50+ mpg highway right up there with the top MPG cars of the day such as diesel Rabbit and Civic CVCC. The only issue was that it needed decent snows, even studded ones for adequate winter traction.The e-brake cable would occasionally freeze up when the temp was below freezing. Some teflon grease helped to free it.

    The car was equipped with dealer installed a/c which GM apparently did not offer as a factory option on diesel Chevettes. I guess they thought it would strain the 51 hp.

  • avatar
    CAMeyer

    This is one depressing car. It should have come with hair-shirt style seat covers.

  • avatar
    guy922

    In Salt Lake 2 nights ago I saw a 5 door Chevette hatchback rolling down the road. It was brown. Mid 80s. The car and it’s driver looked miserable….But I guess theres something to be said about a 2nd gen Chevette still running for daily use some 34-27 years after manufacture…..


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