By on June 8, 2008

cav.jpgAlso in today's Washington Post: an profile of Chevrolet Cavalier fans. Yes, fans of a car that would have made TTAC's Ten Worst (had the award existed then). The article starts with the sad fate of the last production Cav (MIA) and quotes from Edmunds such as "the worst [drive] we've experienced in recent memory", "homely," "[engine vibration] like a caffeine addict going through withdrawal," and "seats are uncomfortable for any length of time."  WaPo then heads to the flat trailing end of the automotive bell curve with fan testimonials, pimped rides, and the disturbing fact that the Cav is #2 (after Camaro) on CarDomain's directory of vehicles with >9000 entries.  The print edition managed to devote just about a whole page to this article, and it shows: serious padding about the apartment complex where a Cav tuner and his family live, the dozens of mods and hundreds of related pictures on his iPod. Click here, if you dare.

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39 Comments on “WashPost Loves the Cavalier. Well Cavalier Lovers....”

  • avatar

    People have a tendency to romanticize the past, and with gas prices at $4.00+ per gallon, even the POS Cavalier may be “fondly” remembered – God help us.

    I tend to see lots of older Cavaliers and Pontiac Sunfires driving around Farmington, NM, a blue collar oil field and rez border town. Most people bought them for the very low monthly payments and just needed wheels no matter how bad they were.

    With as many of these things that I see broken down and abandoned on the side of the road, I almost think of them as disposable cars. Apparently many of the owners do as well, although I can’t blame them if the paint’s peeling off and it burns oil at 50k miles.

  • avatar

    “seats are uncomfortable for any length of time.”

    That’s the understatement of the decade. I wonder if the Cavalier’s ergonomic engineers took kick-backs from a Michigan Chiropractor group.

    The unfortunate experience of driving a family member’s MT Cavalier on an extended highway trip still gives me lower back pain flashbacks. I actually stopped at Target to get two of those micro-bead pillows for support.

    What’s even more criminal is the GM trucks of the same era had pretty good seats.

    Although, I must say, that Cavalier did go 180K miles without any glitches.

  • avatar

    I’d rather own a 1982 Cavalier in excellent condition than a like-new 2005 model.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Other than the name, what is the difference between the Cav and the Cobalt?

  • avatar

    It ain’t always all about the iron. Sometimes it’s about the people too.

  • avatar

    Cobalt is just a Cavalier with new skin. Same engine / drivetrain / chassis, etc.

  • avatar

    No, it’s not? the Cobalt is on the same platform as the Ion, it’s not related to the Cavalier which was a J-Body. Admittedly, it’s still awful… but not Cavalier awful.

  • avatar

    Hey, it’s Sunday; time for another long, amusing and condescending article in the Washington Post about rubes who don’t share the refined tastes of the Post’s core circulation. Next week: “Yugos and the People Who Love Them”

  • avatar

    Original Cavalier marketing slogan:

    “Hey, it’s better than a Chevette. Sort of.”

  • avatar

    As Mrb00st said, the Cobalt and Cavalier are not the same. The Cobalt is built on the Delta platform, and it’s not even really accurate to say that they have the same engine and drivetrain. The Cavalier used a couple different Ecotec engines (like the Cobalt) for its last few years, but it used a lot of different engines before that. And I’m not sure about transmissions, but I’d guess that they were different too.

  • avatar

    The Cavalier & Cobalt having different architecture underneath actually makes me sadder. Why, if you have a whole new platform to start with, would you make the new model look almost like the old model??

  • avatar

    My experience with the Cavalier was not too good, anytime I took my Honda Civic in for service and the Car needed to stay for a period, I was offered a Cavalier for the four hrs needed, it was not a joy to drive any where!
    A lady that used to work for me here drove one for a number of year until she had a very bad accident ie she ran into another vehicle which was standing on the roadway in the wrong place, she was deemed not at fault, her Cavalier was a write off, apparently they did not have a frame under them, anyway my ex employee was injured her right knee was split right open and her left leg was severly factured, she spent six months in Hospital and a recovery unit.
    When she was able to drive again, I told her to purchase a Honda Accord, instead she went for a Chev. Epica as it was reduced by $7,000 dollars, today its an orphan, some days its better to keep ones opinion to ones self!

  • avatar
    Cyril Sneer

    My parents had an 88 Cav wagon back in the day, and while it was a POS, it also would not die. It was abused by several teenage drivers, driven off-road, overloaded, repainted with a brush, and not maintained, yet as much as we wanted it too, it absolutely refused to die. I almost ended up respecting it for that.

  • avatar

    While I agree with your opinion of the Cavalier, I disagree entirely with your assessment of the story. First, it’s not done by “an unnamed writer in the Style section,” but by Neely Tucker. Says so at the top of the story.

    And the author didn’t really go looking for fans of the Cavalier. Apparently she was as surprised as we are to hear that the car does have fans, and wanted to find out more.

    It’s a very well written story that I’m glad to have “dared” to read. I wish I had the print edition so I could see the photos you refer to as “serious padding.”

    To have an entire page in a newspaper devoted to a well-written story about cars, any car, is a freakin’ miracle in this day of squeezed editorial hole and budget cuts. TTAC should be celebrating this anomaly, not berating the paper because you have some 20-year-old grudge against one of the worst cars ever made by GM.

  • avatar

    While I agree with your opinion of the Cavalier, I disagree entirely with your assessment of the story. First, it’s not done by “an unnamed writer in the Style section,” but by Neely Tucker. Says so at the top of the story.

    And the author didn’t really go looking for fans of the Cavalier. Apparently she was as surprised as we are to hear that the car does have fans, and wanted to find out more.

    It’s a well written story that I’m glad to have “dared” to read. I wish I had the print edition so I could see the photos you refer to as “serious padding.”

    To have an entire page in a newspaper devoted to a well-written story about cars, any car, is a freakin’ miracle in this day of squeezed editorial hole and budget cuts. TTAC should be celebrating this anomaly, not berating the paper because you have some 20-year-old grudge against one of the worst cars ever made by GM.

    Oh, almost forgot to point out that the WP never once expresses love for the Cavalier or Cavalier lovers. In fact, after reading the entire article, I came away with the impression that the writer is still a bit confused (as am I) about why anyone would own one, much less take one to car shows and form clubs around them.

    So the truth about the TTAC post’s headline is that it’s not true. How about a correction?

  • avatar

    The first thought that came to mind was a comment that Karen made in an episode of Will&Grace- “It’s funny ’cause it’s sad.”

  • avatar

    They’re definitely junk for sure. It’s a strange personal interest but whatever I like em’, yay Cavies :).

  • avatar

    I thought the article was great. Well written and funny, too.

    “The Cavalier was once the best-selling car in America, and that alone makes you wonder whatever happened to this country.”

  • avatar
    Scorched Earth

    I think it’s a cool article…I love people who love their POS cars unconditionally.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Just checking in from vacation…

    The Cavalier is actually a very good vehicle for the ‘buy here – pay here’ used car lots.

    From the late 90’s onwards, this vehicle doesn’t have many weak points in terms of maintenance. You just keep the Dex-Cool out of it and you’re pretty much fine.

    In practice they are MUCH better than the Hyundais, Kias, and Neons of that era. The engines usually last past the 200k mark and the automatic isn’t seriously tested given the weight of the powertrain.

    The interiors are schlock. But most folks who get one simply get it to go from Point A to Point B. If you look at the car as an economic proposition, rather than an ‘enthusiasts’ car, it’s actually a pretty good value. The Sunfire is far better looking overall, but they also tend to be a bit more abused in the used car market.

  • avatar

    I’ve got to go with Steve on this one. My daughter has had a ’98 Sunfire with the 2.4 DOHC I bought used with 80,000 miles on it. It now has 154,000 on the odo and the thing will not die. As long as you change the oil and keep the damn Dex-Cool out of it, it’s really pretty mechanically sound. All the accessories still work (including the typically lousy power windows in those years….), but it does have a few door rattles. It certainly isn’t the most advanced piece of iron out there, but it runs, gets 34mpg on the road at 70mph, hasn’t stranded her anywhere, and generally goes about it’s business without drama. Perfect girl car.

  • avatar

    Ah, the old 91 Cavalier! Brings back memories. My wife drove one when we met. We kept it until 1998, when we sold it to a young single mom (classified ad in the local paper).

    Say what you want about it, but it was a good, basic, reliable car. Sure it was noisy, it rode like a tank, and the brakes left much to be desired. Other than replacing the tires, brake pads and the battery, we had no problems with that car. The last two GM cars we bought both had MAJOR mechanical issues.

  • avatar

    While the Cavalier was bad enough ‘on its own’. What made it worse was that it was GM’s competition to the Civic.

  • avatar

    My brother and I both drive a Cavy. Mine is an 04 and it shakes so much once it hits 45 mph that I feel like I’m going to die every time.

    I can’t wait to get a new car. This article made me giggle.

  • avatar

    On CarDomain, the Cavalier is second among Chevys with over 9 thousand rides, the article doesn’t take into account other brands. The Honda Civic has over 28,000 entries and the Ford Mustang has over 24,000.

  • avatar

    I actually like the older Cavaliers. My girlfriend has a mid-Nineties convertible model that, while rattly and plasticky and nasty, absolutely refuses to die. It’s like someone took a tough-as-nails car and designed a rattlebox around it; it does everything in its power to try and convince you it’s falling apart as you drive along without actually doing so.

  • avatar

    I helped an ex gal buy a new 2003 Cav… $10,700 out the door with air conditioning. Come the first oil change, I remember it took me awhile to get the oil filter off… I think the passenger front wheel was supposed to come off in addition to the inner-fender splash guard. Her and I didn’t make it to a second oil change.

  • avatar

    I once ended up with a rental one, as I needed to drive from Pittsburgh, PA to Boston, MA.
    I drove the little hard-riding, cramped, plastic-coated tractor 3 miles, unable to get the slightest bit comfortable in it, saying to myself that “I’ll be fine on the highway, once I set the cruise control”. So I looked at how to set the cruise — and discovered, to my horror, that a rental Cavalier (from Enterprise) was NOT equipped with it.
    I drove it back and demanded an upgrade; two hours later (on a Saturday around 12:30 PM) they got me an Impala – with cruise, of course.

  • avatar

    I bought a G5 (Cobalt clone) because

    a) I work for GM.
    b) I need the mpg because I commute.
    c) I refuse to drive an Aveo.

    I’ll let you know in 4 years how it works out.

  • avatar

    decrescendo – you probably just need a wheel alignment. For $50-$100 (depending where you are) will make your life a whole lot easier and safer.

    I had to see pictures of this abomination. Found them here:

    I wouldn’t let those “Team VI” jackasses within 20 feet of my car. They seem to turn everything they touch to carbage.

  • avatar

    Our 2001 Cavalier has performed well, has a current 110K miles without any major repairs needed. One of the lucky few? Maybe, but I’ll take it.

    Agree 100% with 50merc – I’m not too concerned with the opinions of a rag like the W-Post.

    I’m probably a (old) rube demographic marker for them as well, since I also own 2 crown vics and like them with no apology either.

    Would I buy from the 2.8 again? No, there’s nothing there I want especially with the dismal warranty service support. Our latest buy was an 08 Accord.

  • avatar


    The pic you linked to just looks like any other ricer car out there. This is the market the Cavalier, Focus, and the small import cars are in. The enthusiasts want to put big wheels, bodykits, and huge wings on them. Not my cup of tea but I not gonna get down on them for doing it. I seen the same treatment done to Neons of old. When you mix ’em up at a meet with other riced up import makes they all look the same to me. Little cars with all kinds of stuff tacked on.

  • avatar

    Hmmm – I guess I was misinformed. Should have done a search. I always thought I read that the Cobalt was skin deep and was simply the same old Cavalier (which I have family who has over 200k on one but it has no performance and the interior reminds me of the 1980 Olds Omega as everything was worn out, broken, hanging off, etc.). Maybe it was b/c the new car didn’t make much of an improvement over the old one with many reviews discusing Cheap rental car with a swoopy new wrapper to the Ecotec engine getting labled the Ecotractor since it’s NVH was still below average (ironically the Ecotec was designed to be smoother”. Also considering the Cobalt came out when GM still didn’t care about small cars but trucks/SUVs only (GM only just came to this conclusion recently). The base Cobalt uses the same 2.2 from the last gen Cavalier with minor updates – and same transmission.

  • avatar

    I owned a 1987 Cavalier Z24 during High-School and College.

    After installing an Eibach springs and Tokico shocks, a cold air intake and a reprogrammed ECU, the thing wasn’t terrible to drive.

    I also had to replace the HORRENDOUS factory seats with Recaros just to be comfortable.

    As much of a POS as that car was, there were only two things that continually failed.

    The water pump blew up on me three times (2.8 V6 water pumps were known for that) and the damn digital dash failed more times than I can count.

    I sold the thing with 145,000 miles and the next owner drove it for another 25,000 miles.

    Reliable? Sort of; would I buy another one? Hell no.


  • avatar

    Hey I actually own two of these…….a 03 no options stick commuter & a 05 automatic for my daughter. 2.2 ecotec/stick is decent performer, good mileage (have achieved 34 on trips). 50k miles with no dealer service or problems. Yes seats could be better, NVH could have been alot better but for $8300 for the 03 what do you want? The interior of the last generation cav was of course its biggest disappointment–cheap plastic heaven. I’ve owned a couple toyotas and while not as well screwed together, cavs are good enough, and reliable, for what they do. It ain’t no bmw, but i would rather drive this than a “smart” car. Oh, and yes the previous generation (which my wife had), especially the V6 Z24, was nice car for the time, definitely not a penalty box. Don’t really understand why the car was dumbed down inthe mid-90s. There are a couple great condition 90ish cavs running around here and they look great, the styling was equal to the cobalt/G5….

  • avatar

    Just came to this entry, so I’m late as always…

    I have two J-bodies, one is a Cavalier with 229,000+ miles on it, the second is a Sunfire with 140,000+ miles on it. The Cavalier is my daily schlepper to work car. If I drive like grandma, I get about 25+ MPG in town. On the freeway I get closer to 37+ MPG. The Sunfire has the 2.3 Quad 4 HO motor, with Isuzu 5 speed (junk, the later manuals were Getrags) with the lower final drive ratios I get about 22+ MPG in town and 33 on the highway.
    Dirt cheap (I bought both used) easy to fix, not hard on fuel, cheap for teenagers to insure and feed. The front seats suck, but most GM seats from the 1990’s did. The Cavalier rattles (but it’s been broken into twice, they trashed the entire dash the second time), but the Sunfire is relatively quiet.
    I can’t kill the OHV engine in the Cavalier, I think I will see 300K before the body rusts away around it. The Pontiac like an earlier poster noted is more abused, and I keep finding things that need attention. I can’t complain about either one that much, my other cars never treated me that well, (including the Honda Accord that ate my wallet) and I’ll drive that Cavy anywhere, has never let me down.

  • avatar

    Didn’t Toyota sell a rebadged Cavalier in Japan for a while, as part of the NUMMI deal? I’m pretty sure they did. What I would LOVE to read is a profile of Japanese Cavalier drivers. They must be a whacky bunch.

  • avatar

    Cavaliers are terribly unreliable they are just bloody awful with worse seats ever, uninspiring engine, etc.

  • avatar

    Waaaaay back in 1984, my first wife’s dad bought her a brand new 1984 Oldsmobile Firenza ES – loaded with every option and “euro-sport” styling feature GM could slap on that J car.

    Shortly after we got married, I had bought a Mazda 323(her family wouldn’t touch a foreign car), and she liked it so much I got stuck with the Firenza until the motor literally cracked parts of the unibody frame from the horrible vibration of the craptacular motor.

    Nothing, nothing, nothing to like about that car. Pick any part on it, from nose to tail, and I could go on about how horrible it was. And short of a Cimarron, I’ll bet it was the most expensive J car around.

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