Time Machine Dilemma: It's 1986 and You Have Enough Money For a New Chevette. What Do You Buy?

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
time machine dilemma its 1986 and you have enough money for a new chevette what do

After last week’s Time Machine Dilemma (in which you emerged from your time machine in 1973, on Auto Row and with enough cash to buy a new Ford LTD), I thought of doing a 1974 Oil Crisis Diminished Expectations Economy Car Time Machine Dilemma. However, the really challenging econobox-shopping decisions came a bit more than a decade later, when the Hyundai Excel and Yugo GV arrived in a marketplace full of Japanese subcompacts duking it out for supremacy and Detroit trying to stay relevant. Yes, 1986! So, you exit your time machine in front of the Chevrolet dealership with $5,645 in your pocket. That’s enough to buy a new Chevette at full list price (the out-the-door-price would almost certainly be lower, but we’ll go with MSRP for this exercise). Do you get the antiquated-but-simple rear-drive Chevy for your penny-pinching commuter… or something else? Let’s look at your choices.

It turns out that the Chevette (which was on its second-to-last model year in 1986) was priced higher than much of its competition. How much higher? Let’s take a look at some prices for ’86 Chevette competitors, according to the prices in the Standard Catalogs or the NADA Classic Cars site.


But first, we’ll look at an example of Chevette pricing in action. Here’s an ad for the ’85 Chevette, which listed at $5,340. Yep, $4,993. Just keep that in mind when you start looking for a place to spend your $5,645 in 1986.

Chevrolet Sprint: $5,380


Dodge/Plymouth Colt E: $5,372


Honda Civic hatchback: $5,479


Hyundai Excel: $4,995


Mazda 323: $5,645


Nissan Sentra: $5,499


Pontiac 1000: $5,749


Subaru Justy STD: $4,989


Toyota Tercel hatchback: $5,448


Yugo GV: $3,990

Having owned quite a few ’86 Tercels and Civics, I think I’d buy… the Mazda 323. The Tercel would last forever, regardless of abuse, and the Civic would get 45 MPG, but the 323s of this era were more fun to drive and held together pretty well.

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  • Applesartini Applesartini on May 02, 2012

    Well, seeing as I owned both an '80 Datsun 310 and an '88 Nissan Sentra (and loved both of them), I'd have to vote '86 Sentra. I know this isn't the popular choice, and If I was thinking rationally I would've bought the 323. I had a friend back then whose parents were serial 323 owners. They put 250-300k on them and then traded them in. But I was not (and am still not) a rational person, and I was a huge Nissan/Datsun fanboy in those days. Also I got a good solid 45mpg in the 310 with its anemic A13 forklift engine, and the Sentra got 35-40 with the E16.

  • Herm Herm on May 02, 2012

    I bought an '85 Honda Civic Si in '86.. for about $6500 IIRC, sold it two years later +50k miles for the same.. it was a great car. For some reason the price of new Hondas exploded in 1986, everyone figured out they were good.

  • Lou_BC "They are the worst kind of partisan - the kind that loves their team more than they want to know the truth."Ummm...yeah....Kinda like birtherism, 2020 election stolen, vast voter fraud, he can have top secret documents at Mar-lago, he's a savvy business man, and hundreds more.
  • FreedMike This article fails to mention that Toyota is also investing heavily in solid state battery tech - which would solve a lot of inherent EV problems - and plans to deploy it soon. https://insideevs.com/news/598046/toyota-global-leader-solid-state-batery-patents/Of course, Toyota being Toyota, it will use the tech in hybrids first, which is smart - that will give them the chance to iron out the wrinkles, so to speak. But having said that, I’m with Toyota here - I’m not sold on an all EV future happening anytime soon. But clearly the market share for these vehicles has nowhere to go but up; how far up depends mainly on charging availability. And whether Toyota’s competitors are all in is debatable. Plenty of bet-hedging is going on among makers in the North American market.
  • Jeff S I am not against EVs but I completely understand Toyota's position. As for Greenpeace putting Toyota at the bottom of their environmental list is more drama. A good hybrid uses less gas, is cleaner than most other ICE, and is more affordable than most EVs. Prius has proven longevity and low maintenance cost. Having had a hybrid Maverick since April and averaging 40 to 50 mpg in city driving it has been smooth driving and very economical. Ford also has very good hybrids and some of the earlier Escapes are still going strong at 300k miles. The only thing I would have liked in my hybrid Maverick would be a plug in but it didn't come with it. If Toyota made a plug in hybrid compact pickup like the Maverick it would sell well. I would consider an EV in the future but price, battery technology, and infrastructure has to advance and improve. I don't buy a vehicle based on the recommendation of Greenpeace, as a status symbol, or peer pressure. I buy a vehicle on what best needs my needs and that I actually like.
  • Mobes Kind of a weird thing that probably only bothers me, but when you see someone driving a car with ball joints clearly about to fail. I really don't want to be around a car with massive negative camber that's not intentional.
  • Jeff S How reliable are Audi? Seems the Mazda, CRV, and Rav4 in the higher trim would not only be a better value but would be more reliable in the long term. Interior wise and the overall package the Mazda would be the best choice.
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