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

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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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.

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