By on July 23, 2012

Easily overlooked among all the Nashes and Willys of the Brain Melting Colorado Junkyard were the many Chevettes scattered across the landscape. The owner of the BMCJ has had a soft spot for Chevettes for many years, and he has acquired dozens of the little Opel-designed subcompact. Here’s a few that I photographed during my visit.
With the smell of wildfire smoke in the air and the ground choked with prickly-pear cacti, the mid-apocalyptic environment of this place made simple, rear-drive econoboxes seem quite sensible.
There’s this Limited Edition Chevette four-door, featuring… luxury?
Yes, luxury.
How about a snazzy Chevette GT?
The steering wheel and instrument cluster look of the Chevette GT appear very Vega GT-ish.
The Chevette Scooter was the stripper low-cost version, for those who wanted basic transportation a (small) step above a moped.
No collection of Chevettes is complete without an example powered by the same diesel engine used in the I-Mark Diesel.

Here’s a selling point for the Chevette that became less relevant as the Malaise Era ground on: “If you drive a foreign car, you could find yourself in foreign territory!”

By 1984, the best GM’s marketing wizards could say about the Chevette was that its design hadn’t changed during its run.

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32 Comments on “Junkyard Find: High Plains Chevette-O-Rama!...”

  • avatar
    Ted Grant

    Say what you want about the unloved Chevettes but I had a 1983 and 87 Vette that I bought new and never had a breakdown. Sure they were slow by any yardstick, cramped interior, and questionably designed front brakes but they were as tough as nails. I finally retired my 87 last year due to rust but I recieved many compliments on owning a running Chevette.

  • avatar

    I had two as well, a ’79 two door and an ’82 two door. Both with manual transmissions and without (thankfully) A/C. Over the years I collected a multitude of junkyard parts to add options including pulse wipers, tilt wheel, rear window defogger and the “full” gauge cluster that included a tach and temp gauge. by the time I was done with the ’82 all it was missing was a rear wiper and A/C.

    I have fond memories of both cars. I bought the ’82 for a song b/c the engine had seized. A junkyard engine and a Saturday night with a couple friends and I had a nice little car.

    Drove the ’82 cross-country on I-80 after I graduated college, that was January of ’88…winter in the rockies in a Chevette – have some stories from that trip. The car got me there and back without mechanical issues, but I did learn that my next car would have cruise control. Sore is 18 hours behind the wheel of a Chevette without cruise control.

    They were easy to work on and parts were cheap. I liked my Chevettes, they had character.

  • avatar

    Neat to see all the Chevettes. The top one looks to be a 79. That is the first year of the square headlights but they still had the taillights of the 1976-79s. I had a green 78 automatic 4 Door. It was a good car but wasn’t all that powerful. I remember going up a hill once on the interstate with a headwind. The best the car could do floored was 40. My Dad had 2 or 3 in the 1980s and they got him back and forth to work. They were cheap transportation and tough. Also good hot rod potential with RWD. Also cheap to fix. Neat place but watch out for cactus when walking. Something has to protect these cars!!

  • avatar

    I’m surprised that the sport steering wheel hasn’t been pulled yet…

    My uncle had a red two-door and a good friend’s mother had a dark brown four-door (with a big ol’ Firebird Chickenhawk on the hood!)…not fancy cars, but those things were like cockroaches…indestructible.

  • avatar

    53bhp and a 3-speed auto – 0-60 in 19.6? A Prius is a Veyron compared to this thing.

  • avatar

    A niece drove a Chevette for several years. Her fondness for it was summed up the the nickname she bestowed: the Shove-It.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Chevette GT almost as funny as Yugo GT. GT what? Grand Turd, Grossly Terrible?

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve concluded someone in the auto industry found an ancient Greek or Roman phrase that started with G & T. It was roughly translated into “gauges not lights”. Because by 1971 almost nothing on the road meant Grand Torismo.

  • avatar

    I always find it amusing how all the cars in Colorado seem to rust from the top down, while they rust the other way ’round in New England. I’m guessing you guys must use something else instead of salt in the winter?

    • 0 avatar

      We don’t use salt here. The environment nazi took care of that years ago. The rust comes from the fact it is so dry and the sun is a mile or more closer to the sun.You wouldn’t think that would be the case but it happens here all of the time.

  • avatar

    A friend drove a Chevette in the early 80’s. Not very roomy. I was always intrigued by the cockeyed position of the steering column – it was not positioned squarely in front of the driver’s seat – looking under the dash you could see the column appeared through the firewall closer to the center of the car and was angled towards the driver’s position.

  • avatar

    When I was a little kid, somebody from GM marketing came and knocked on our door. The family had owned a couple of GM cars: Mom’s ’68 Firebird; her ’72 Olds 98 (two-door); grandma’s mid-60s Buick Riviera to name a few. This young woman, probably a student, had been instructed to canvas the neighborhood to gauge consumers’ awareness of their advertising campaign for the Chevette. I remember distinctly how annoyed both she and my mom were when I kept chirping in with “It’ll drive you happy!” My mom had never heard the ads. I knew them backwards and forward.

    I don’t know if that interaction with GM led my folks to buy their next Chevy. But, the horrendous build quality of that car, a white 1979 Chevy Monte Carlo ensured it would be their last GM car.

  • avatar

    Geez, with a low po SBC, one could have a lot of fun with these cars…

    I’ll take the Scooter version, with a side of LS1. Thanks!

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    My wife=to-be had one of these back in the late 70’s and we took off on a 6 hr trip and it has been so far the most uncomfortable drive I’ve ever experienced, even though it was mostly lightly traveled roads, a pleasure to drive in just about any other car

  • avatar

    Seriously, you could be kidnapped and nobody would know if they just ran cars from that yard. You`ve got years worth of material. How about a look at the 61 Olds next to the Shove-it ?

  • avatar

    It was essentially outdated when it first hit the market, but especially by ’79 when better driving imports had made their mark. But in ’84 you couldn’t beat that price, unless you looked to the Hyundai Pony. Which was essentially the same piece of crap, but Canadians bought them.

  • avatar

    There is a guy that lives near me who has at least 2, possibly 3, Chevettes that he is still driving to this day.

    My dad owned one while I was in high school, enabling the classic:

    “My dad has a Vette!”?
    “Yeah! a Chevette!”

    Well, it was classic to me anyway.

  • avatar

    My best friend acquired one, and it provided endless humor. But also cheap wheels.
    To set the stage, it was 1988, the ‘Vette was a blue 1979 with around 79k already on the clock. I remember it being an automatic and blue, but that’s all. But what else did you need?
    His brother handed it down right before we left for freshman year of college, and his father, ever the immortal cheapskate having been brought up in depression-era Georgia, stated at the end of the argument as to whether he could take it to school: “You just want this car at college so you can be a big shot!” It was very tough to keep a straight face. So it was driven back and forth to Lawrence, KS. But it was tough. Once in the snow it spun coming through some yards and bushes intact, but sans chrome trim.
    Later, my friend acquired a date with a sorority girl that lived north of Kansas City, and offered to drive there. The ‘Vette made it about 45 miles where, right outside of western KC, it promptly caught fire. He walked to a fire station, but they offered not much help and were too busy laughing anyway. He wound up eating in a Shoney’s for hours until we came to pick him up after class. The girl? She thought it was an excuse and hung up on him.
    It’s end came at the end of a long summer season delivering pizzas. At one in the morning there was a bang, and a walk home. After retrieving the car, I was summoned to help disassemble the engine. The camshaft was in two pieces. It was replaced with ‘the cockroach’, a brown 1981 Corolla SR5 hatchback that lived forever. In the end, he was never accused of being a big-shot in either car…

  • avatar

    I don’t know how people who lived in mountain regions drove these things. They were slow and underpowered even here in flat Florida. Going over the bridges of Jacksonville was an adventure. So was trying to merge onto a highway, and that was in the 55 days.
    Despite it’s faults, the Chevette was an honest car. It promised to get you from A to B with reasonable efficiency. That it did, but not much more.

  • avatar

    Where did GM source the engines for these (the gas version)? As others have noted, they rusted pretty rapidly, but the engines were durable as hell. Years, after they were out of production you could still see mangy looking Chevettes all over the place.

  • avatar

    There was never a such thing as a “Chevette GT”! Nor any “Special Edition”.

    The owners who put the fake stickers got whomever believes them fooled. Do Pep Boys “SiR” badges add HP, too?

  • avatar

    “There was never a such thing as a “Chevette GT”! Nor any “Special Edition”.”

    There was the factory Chevette CS and Chevette S in 83 and 84.

    I think this is a photo of an S:

    • 0 avatar

      No, but there was the Sandpiper. My sister bought a piper from a private owner but did not have it long, it was always needing us to jump it. There was someone else on the highway with the ‘Piper too so it must have been popular.

  • avatar

    My only interaction with a Chevette was when I was a young child and my grandfather was going to buy one for my mother since he sold her Celica without her knowledge (long story). She drove the car twice and said she just had this overwhelming feeling that she was going to die in that car. She refused it. My grandfather was so mad but she was not going to drive that car again, so much that she went without a car for a few more months until he helped her out with a 84 Ford Escort.
    Later on, the Chevette went to my uncle who promptly did with it what he has always done with cars, destroy it.
    It was last seen on the side of a rural highway, mismatched wheel and tire sizes and busted windows.

  • avatar

    They used to sell those limited edition door handle stickers back in the day in most auto parts stores and other retail stores that had automotive sections, like K mart and Walmart. The streering wheel in the car shown is not a factory unit, chevettes didn’t have any steering wheel options from the factory. Although you could get a tilt column. In the 70’s there was the scooter, the rally, models just labeled chevette, I can’t remember any others. Sometime in the 80’s there was the cs, the scooter, and I believe sometime around 84 or 5 they changed the scooter name to S. @Nick, gas engines in the chevettes were built by GM.

  • avatar

    My high school English teacher used to drive one of these things, and would regularly take 4-5 of us students to offsite extracurricular events in it. (Although ostensibly uncomfortable, riding in the back seat allowed for the possibility of having a girl, although possibly an insufferable Drama Club girl, ride on one’s lap. This was before any of us thought of the legal liability the teacher risked from having unbelted teenagers riding in his car.) It was a piece of crap, sure, but a rugged and unkillable piece of crap.

    Then his daughter started attending our school, and the Chevette had to go as extracurricular transportation–he wasn’t having her ride unbelted, nor in an upperclassman’s lap. He bought a minivan.

  • avatar

    My grandmother had a 79 Chevette. It was a 4 speed car with AC and an AM radio. To 12 year old me, it was a fun car to ride in, and I thought it was fast based on the noise it made.

    I ran across one in the junkyard and realized how tiny they were.

  • avatar

    After having survived a 500 mile trip in a rental Chevette, I can attest that there was never a worse product than this heap of excrement. It was so slow that my friend and I timed it from a standing stop at a toll booth and it hit 60 miles per hour AFTER 20 seconds had gone by. Yes, it was an automatic and had four doors. I think the license plates were the best part of the car.

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