By on August 30, 2011

Back in the grimmest part of the Malaise Era, most Chevette shoppers knew exactly what they wanted: a really, really cheap car. You don’t find many Chevettes with a factory AM/FM radio, or remote mirrors, or even an automatic transmission. A Chevette with all those options and air conditioning to boot? This is a junkyard first for me.
The base Chevette engine in ’79 came with 70 horsepower, which seemed like enough only if you were upgrading from a Rabbit Diesel (the optional “high performance” Chevette engine packed an additional four horses). I don’t know how much power this AC compressor gobbled up (knowing The General’s penchant for overkill HVAC systems, probably plenty), but I’ll bet it added plenty of drama to freeway onramps on hot days.
Naturally, the money-is-no-object buyer of this car went for the sporty stripe option.
There’s not a whole lot of luxury you can pack into a Chevette, but the pleather door panels, cloth seats, and door-pull straps make this car the Cadillac of Chevettes.
I’ll bet Chevette restorers (there must be such a thing) would pay at least a dozen genuine American dollars for this factory AM/FM radio. The small size of the dash opening probably ruled out factory 8-track players, but there were always under-dash aftermarket units available (at great cost).
Check it out: a Chevette with a map light!
This car is so weird that I’m not going to write my usual “good riddance, bring on The Crusher” screed. I’m just going to think it.

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50 Comments on “Junkyard Find: Fully Loaded 1979 Chevrolet Chevette...”

  • avatar

    Just imagine what that boy stickered for back in ’79. you could probably get a base Camaro for the same money.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    All that money still didn’t buy you padded door panels or power windows.

  • avatar

    You bring up an excellent point. Cadillac should have softened the blow of the Cimarron with this. Called the “Valletta (capital of Malta, dontchaknow) by Cadillac”, it would come with an upgraded engine (say 90 horsepower), 8-track (mounted under the dash), real leather seats and door trim, copious wood(grain) trim, power door locks and windows, and a glass roof. All for the very unreasonable 1979 sticker price of $8,999 (about $29K today)!

  • avatar

    I feel a need to defend this car – my friend’s Chevette (it was a 77, not a 79) was the first car I ever drove on road (illegally) at 14. We had a lot of good times with that car, it was cheap on gas, and he drove it for 200k miles believe it or not. A few years later I mimicked the size and got a 79 Ford Fiesta, which had the advantage of FWD, being german in its roots, even better on gas (mattered to a high schooler living on busboy tips) and more than enough speed for a teenager. Yes, the Chevette was malaise driven, but in truth it was a better car than the subsequent Citation, at least in terms of reliability if not style.

    • 0 avatar

      It was indeed a much better car than the star-crossed Citation. A Chevette wouldn’t get you there quickly, or with all that much comfort, but it would get you there.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey, the Chevette was German in roots too – the platform originated with the Opel Kadett C before it was adapted to be used as the Chevette. Not that it made it any better of a car (although the RWD and utter disposability made the Chevette rather entertaining).

  • avatar

    Back in 78, a couple guys from high school had those damn things. They both were bought new by well meaning parents that thought surely if Chevy makes it – it has to be good. Those dudes always referred to them as “Shove-it’s” Me? by this time I was driving the Motel 6, excuse me, the 1978 Monte Carlo with the full size bed (hood) just add a sleeping bag and condoms! Good times!

    • 0 avatar

      Ahh, not to derail us, but I sported a 78 Monte Carlo in high school. $400 and a little prayer got it home. Didn’t have a drop of oil in the crankcase, but oddly never used any oil once I filled ‘er back up. Big bench seat, tilt wheel, cruise. The 305 didn’t have great power down low, but on the highway it had plenty of juice. I don’t have a single bad thing to say about it, except that I don’t still have it.

      Chevette? Meh. The Monte never drank more gas than the usual odd high school jobs could cover.

  • avatar

    A true gem in the rough! Surely, this was the Cimarron’s mentor.

    About the only thing I miss about the 1970’s were the bold color schemes. This example reminds me of a C&O R.R. Chessie System locomotive from back then!

  • avatar

    Makes you wonder who would go to a GM dealer in 1979 and end up buying a loaded yellow Chevette with pinstriping. I wonder if he/she got suckered into the paint protection and undercoating too.

    I’d forgotten about GM’s A/C controls with MAX and NORM. Do modern GMs still use that wording? GM does make good A/C, no matter how crappy their cars are/were. And I also have to salute them (and VW) for making DRLs mandatory. Because a lot of people are too stupid to turn their headlights on when it’s foggy or rainy out.

    • 0 avatar

      Most modern HVAC controls have gone non-lingual, to make export easier, so you end up with weird snowflakes and arrows and crap that no one can understand. My fiance’s Jimmy, made in 2000, does still have the old MAX and NORM settings, though (and like all GM HVAC systems, will make the interior of the truck meat-locker cold or Sahara hot with the flip of a switch).

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree over the mandatory DRLs, because thanks to them we now have drivers who never even think to turn on their other lights at night, so they cruise along mile after mile with very dim headlights and no tail lights, utterly oblivious.

      • 0 avatar

        I blame modern instrument panels for this scourge; if you can read your speedometer at night without having to turn on your headlights there is no impetus to do so. To add insult to injury, fewer cars are being produced with reflectors on their rear making them virtually invisible at night until you’re right behind them.

      • 0 avatar

        McGilligan, reflectors on the rear, front, and sides are required by law and that law sets the minimum size and reflectivity. Of course that doesn’t mean that there weren’t/aren’t cars that have more than the minimum, making those that meet the minimum requirement seem weak.

      • 0 avatar

        Or, they can just go with the automatic headlight that my 2005 Chevy has. When its day, DRL, then it gets dark the headlights come on. No way to kill the battery by leaving them on either. It can get a little weird when you are under a bridge at a stop light and the car flashes everyone, but there is a delay function that keeps that to a minimum

    • 0 avatar

      My 05 Taurus still has options for A/C and Max A/C on it’s knob. Like they took the labels from the mid-80’s HVAC controls and put them on a knob, rather than a slider.

  • avatar

    Whoa! That is so cool, I’ve had a lots of Chevette experience’s. I’ve seen a couple with factory air. An AM FM, a map light,and remote mirrors…Never.

    That is a true Junkyard Find. I’m shocked that somebody has grabbed it to restore.

    Its rarity alone makes it somebodies idea of a collector item.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey Mikey, one of my Mopar buddies had – as a parts car – a 1962 Plymouth brown four-door sedan with this equipment: slant six, automatic, power brakes, non-power steering, air conditioning, radio delete, and dog dish hubcaps. Now that was a rare car – my guess would be that it was truly one of a kind – but who would want it?

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      My dad had a 81 Chevette diesel 2 dr 5 spd with all of those options including dual remote mirrors. In the diesel A/C was not offered from the factory but it had an aftermarket unit w/ dash cutouts that looked factory. A whopping 52 hp but 50 mpg+ hwy. It was his commuter car.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine’s grandmother had one like this- yes, ANOTHER fully loaded Chevette. I recall it only had 55,000 miles on it or so, (this was about 10 years ago, so the car was about 20 years old at the time) and I decided to take it out on the highway and give it the old Italian Tuneup. With the A/C blasting, I managed to wind it up to about 75 mph on the flat- an absolutely terrifying speed for the rattly old beast, and the poor engine was absolutely singing.

    I have heard that the ‘vettes fully optioned with power steering and A/C had a tendency to break crankshaft pullies. Apparently all those drive belts cantilevered way the heck out there from the front bearing overstressed the cheap stamped steel pulley.

    Also, I have that exact radio in my ’68 Volvo 122. I was junkyard hunting one day, seeking a monaural AM/FM radio for my single-speaker AM-radio equipped Amazon (I didn’t want to hack up the door panels or rig up more speakers). I found this unit in an early 80’s Chevette, paid $5 for it, popped it right in. Didn’t have to hack up the dash or anything- it fit right in place of the stock Volvo AM unit, and plugged into the stock Volvo speaker on the front package shelf.

  • avatar

    70hp!?!? Makes you wonder how many mpgs today’s cars would get if they tuned for max mpg instead of 2-3 times as much hp. I’m thinking we’d have a 50mpg Chevy Cruze.

    • 0 avatar

      Except the Cruze weighs twice as much as this car does, so it needs twice the power.

    • 0 avatar

      We’ve tried that, but the result is lampooning of the cars in question as “slow”. Gas would have to get a lot more expensive before 12+ seconds to sixty would become an acceptable trade-off.

      The other issue is that lowering power doesn’t really help highway mileage all that much: improving aerodynamics and fiddling with gearing can manage that. It does help city mileage, but no one save Toyota (via the Prius) quotes the urban figure.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      The engines on Malaise Era cars were detuned to meet emissions standards. The engine management systems on modern cars can meet these standards without sacrificing horsepower. Since the 1990’s horsepower has increased significantly as engine management systems have become more sophisticated and efficient.

  • avatar

    “I don’t know how much power this AC compressor gobbled up (knowing The General’s penchant for overkill HVAC systems, probably plenty), but I’ll bet it added plenty of drama to freeway onramps on hot days.”

    HA! I had one of these, and I learned to turn the A/C off when getting on the freeway. But it was ice cold. And the MAX and NORM comments made me laugh, my friends would say “man it’s gettin’ cold in here, give Max a break and let Norm take over.”

    But I will say it ALWAYS started no matter what.


  • avatar

    Ah, the memories.

    My Dad bought a Chevette in ’79 for his commuter car, two-door, beige inside and out. No A/C, AM only, and a manual transmission, but it wasn’t the base “Scooter” trim, so it had the cloth interior of the junkyard car above. That became my first car when he bought a Tempo in ’85. It was nowhere near fast, but was reasonably fun with the manual. And, like others have said above, the damn thing always started. I got T-Boned by a ’76 LTD on the passenger side which totaled the car, but I pulled the engine and transmission out, found an ’81 Pontiac T-1000 with a blown engine, bought it for $200, put my engine in, and got another 40,000 miles out of it. I think it had 180,000 on the engine when I sold it.

    That A/C compressor looks like it’s half the size of the engine. Glad my Chevette didn’t have it. It was easy to work on.

  • avatar

    Never had air in my 1979 Chevette with manual transmission and it was hot ride too! But rear wheel drive was fun in the snow and 40 mpg was the norm in the late 80’s.

    Got to love Opel derived front engine and rear wheel drive!

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    A friend of mine owned a mid-1980’s Chevette. What I recall most about this car was how cramped the interior felt. Around the same time I owned a Fiat 128 and later a Plymouth Horizon and these small, front-wheel drive cars were more roomy inside.

    One of the original selling points for front- wheel drive was the nearly flat floor which gave passengers more leg room. This advantage has been all but lost on modern cars because designers insist on putting huge consoles and center stacks in almost everything.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes! I looked at the new Taurus at a car show, and was amazed at how cramped it felt with that massive console in it.

      If I want a console that wide, it better be able to fold into a seat, so I can have 6 passenger seating in a sedan again.

  • avatar

    I think Chevettes were available with diesel engines also. The AC compressor probably shut off under full throttle.

  • avatar

    Irene laid a tree over my 2010 Malibu so I found myself in a pickle this weekend and needed to borrow a car to get to work Monday. My next door neighbor has a MINT condition 1985 ‘vette that he keeps under a cover and drives on weekends only. Guess what I pimped into the office yesterday?? I got a lot of smiles and laughs on the road in it, and heard plenty of “I used to have one” stories.

    I owned one back in college at the turn of the century so I was familiar with the drive, but boy it brought some memories back. Kind of fun to drive in today’s world…no power anything, RWD so it’s like a big go cart. Today’s Chevy Aveo is a tank in comparison.

  • avatar

    My grandmother had a silver version of this, with all the options except the automatic. Yep my granny drove stick! Automatics made her nervous, course she learned to drive on a 1920 Model T, in 1920.

    With the 4 speed, it was a reasonably peppy car with the A/C on, nowhere near as peppy as her previous car which was a ’69 Falcon, V8 and 3 on the tree. I think the only thing that ever broke on it in her 5 years of ownership (she bought it used in 84 to retire the elderly Falcon) was the temperature lever for the A/C. Every spring and fall, dad would just open the hood and and move the lever on the A/C suitcase from cold to hot. She never drove it far enough to make a difference anyway. The furthest it went was from her house to ours a mile away.

    Dad would occasionally take it out on the road and do an Italian tune up on the thing, I’d go with him to hear him thrash that 4 banger. I liked it at the time as it was a perfect size for a 10 year old, but when she passed away and I was 12, they decided to sell it, instead of hanging onto it for a few more years. I got a 76 Chevelle for my first car, and it was markedly a better car.

  • avatar

    I had a 78 Chevette (it was passed down the food chain by my mom). Anyway, one thing that hasn’t been mentioned is that the Chevette bodies were made out of freakin’ tank steel. Apparently GM didn’t understand that they didn’t need to go major heavy duty on body panels, and so the skin thickness of these cars is amazing.

    Proof of this was seen after a Denver hailstorm, which left EVERY other car in an unlucky parking lot with dents and pings… not one ever showed up on the ‘vette.

    Also, the seatbelts could double as beer cap openers.

    • 0 avatar

      Looking at the straight and unprotected flanks of this junkyard husk, you must be right about the use of formidable steel. The funny thing is that my friend’s Chevette looked like a slightly crumpled beverage can. I have no idea why.

  • avatar

    Nobody has yet mentioned that the Chevette was I believe the only car that GM sold on which the cigarette lighter was a $7 OPTION, and this car has it!

  • avatar

    This could have been a special dealer’s car to drive around and demonstrate a fully optioned Chevette. It wouldn’t have been too expensive to check all the boxes and maybe some dealer’s wife or kid was fine with it for the year it drove around town.

    If you had to have a Chevette, at least add all the options to it, IMO.

  • avatar

    I spent the Chevette years in the mid-atlantic region, with its routine 90+% humidity. Perhaps that is why I never rode in a Chevette that didn’t have air conditioning, and I also can’t remember driving one with a manual transmission. The Chevette was slower than most of its pathetic period competition, making a 1.7 liter Audi powered Horizon seem like a Riviera. It was also pretty much the only small car GM sold in the US that didn’t self destruct before it was paid off. There is something to be said for that.

  • avatar

    My aunt and later my cousin had this exact Chevette in Michigan. Same options, down to the tape stripe.

  • avatar

    For kicks I just looked on eBay to see if any were for sale – sure enough… and it’s a nice one, 76 two door…

  • avatar

    Some drag racer might buy it. You still see old RWD compacts and subcompacts at the strip. I was at a cruise event yesterday and saw two or three Vegas, and a Mercury Bobcat, a badge engineered Pinto.

  • avatar

    Yes the RWD made the Chevette entertaining.. on ice & snow…I know I had one. Goddam awful car would have been better spending a bit more for a Tercel or Golf/Rabbit than loading up Chevette.

    Here was GM of NA answer to president Carter’s “Each of us will have to use less oil and be prepared to pay more for it..”

  • avatar

    I’ve told this story before, but it was a couple of years ago so I’m going to repeat it. Back in the eighties, I think it was, I saw a young, edgy, female standup comedienne (possibly Paula Poundstone) who, with a droll deadpan delivery, told the audience how much her life sucked.

    Her job sucked, her boyfriend dumped her, people were mean to her, and she had a Chevette, which had to be the world’s slowest car. One day in a fit of hopelessness and depression she decided to end it all. By driving her car into a tree. So she drove into a tree. You know what happened?

    The box of Kleenex fell off the dashboard.

  • avatar

    My parents had a very similar ’79 Chevette, but sans A/C, remote mirrors, AM/FM, and the automatic.

    Back in the 55mph speed limit era, it was slow but not horribly so. Once freeways were posted for 65, however, it was not up to the job. Earplugs were required on the trip to northern Michigan.

    My dad drove it as a commuter right up until the hatch area rusted out, and the exhaust fumes would asphyxiate you. But the engine never failed to start, and its reward was to be stuffed in the Chevette of a high-school kid who neglected to keep the last engine full of oil.

  • avatar

    My first wife had an 85 4 door chevette that she bought new. It didn’t have a/c, and was a 4 speed. The only options it had were the am/fm radio and dual sport mirrors. The sport mirrors were pretty common on those cars by the 80’s. All chevettes came with dome lights, and all 4 door models had the pull straps on the rear doors because there were no rear armrests. Lighters were standard except on the scooter.

  • avatar

    If this were close enough to me I’d seriously think about purchasing it for myself. Please, where is this?

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