By on October 8, 2012

Before there was the Geo Metro (a rebadged Suzuki Cultus, there was the Chevrolet Sprint (also a rebadged Suzuki Cultus). U.S. gas prices dropped below a buck per gallon during the middle 1980s, which had the effect of forcing the oil-income-dependent Soviet Union into bankruptcy even faster than predicted, with end-of-Cold-War results. On top of that, cheap gas prices meant that only the most tight-fisted of cheapskates felt that buying a tiny three-cylinder car built by a motorcycle company made any sense at all. Still, enough Sprints were sold that I see them in junkyards every now and then.
This is about as basic as basic transportation could get in 1986. Even the wretched Yugo was more luxurious than the Sprint (though most Sprints lasted about five times as many miles as most Yugos).
A lot of more expensive Japanese subcompacts (e.g. the Nissan Sentra) came with 4-speeds as standard equipment in 1986, so this 5-speed was a nice touch.
Not much to go wrong here.
I’ve driven a few 3-banger Sprints, and I’d like to say they were actually peppier than one would expect. Unfortunately, they were even slower than you’d expect. We’re talking Diesel Rabbit slow. Still, the Sprint would haul four adults at highway speed, if you weren’t fussy about how long it took to get to highway speed.

In the United States, the Sprint had two selling points: price and fuel economy. The first item went out the window in 1986 with the appearance of the even cheaper Hyundai Excel and Yugo GV, but the Sprint still owned the fuel-economy crown.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the Cultus GTI was available with a screaming twin cam engine and “The Final Countdown” playing in the background.

Back in the United States, Suzuki was also selling the Cultus as the Forsa, under its own marque. Thanks to this very long and utterly incomprehensible advertisement— in fact, it’s so incomprehensible that I have a hard time believing it isn’t a spoof created six months ago— nobody bought these things. Later on, Suzuki changed the name from Forsa to Swift and sold… several.

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32 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Chevrolet Sprint...”

  • avatar

    I wasn’t impressed by these when new but they have a rabid cult following .

    Aparently the second generation engines didn’t all fail @ 40,000 miles making them incredibly thrifty cars indeed over the long run.


    • 0 avatar

      Assuming you’re talking ’90’s Geo Metro, definitely wrong in the one I owned. It went with my live-in upon our breakup, and she traded it in with 155,000 on the clock. Basically reliable, and she was a real beater when it came to cars. I still have fond memories of the car.

  • avatar

    The Turbo sprint would be interesting to tweak. It was identifiable by an opening in the grill or hood(?).

  • avatar

    I test drove a turbo model. In its time of underpowered cars, it was quite impressive, particularly here at 9000 ft elevation. Ascending to the Eisenhower Tunnel in 5th gear while sustaining highway speeds with a little power to spare? Wow.
    It is one of the many cars I would have gotten if I was in the market at the time.
    Yes, it had an intercooler scoop on the leading edge of the hood.
    I would still like to have one.

  • avatar
    Watch Carefully

    If this is the same car I remember from my 1986 summer job at Jiffy Lube, it is most notable for one thing. The strangely unadorned little black plastic rectangle, where most companies would have put a hood ornament or some sort of logo, was actually a push-button for opening the hood.

  • avatar

    I remember these when new, and rather liked their styling, back then, and in many ways, still do, though give me the flush headlight variant from 1987.

    I think there is still an 87 Sprint 4 door model, in blue no less still parked somewhere here on Seattle’s Capitol Hill area. I last saw it 3 years ago on a walk, it was parked next to a rather beaten first gen Subaru Brat.

    BTW, still see many of the later ones still plying the roads around here, including a convertible or two.

  • avatar

    I had a spruced up version of the Sprint, an ’86 5 door Sprint Plus! Still haven’t figured out what the Plus counted for but it was a decent little car. Unfortunately, because the engine was so small, and had minimal valve clearance, when my timing belt broke at approx 127K miles there was no fixing it without putting more money into the car than what it was worth.

    Overall, it was pretty good little first car for someone on a budget in college. You could loading a surprising amount of stuff (or people) into the thing, the 4 doors and hatch made for a decent little hauler.

  • avatar

    I rebuilt a later version of this 3-banger once (1995 Pontiac Firefly, the Canadian version of the Sprint). The later-version cylinder head was simpler, a single 0verhead cam with hydraulic lifters acting directly on the valve stems rather than using rocker shafts. Reason for rebuild was a burned #3 exhaust valve, which in a 3-banger barely runs.

    The re-build was stock but spared no expense: New oversize pistons, crank/rod/thrust bearings, valves, resurfaced head, re-bored cylinders, etc.

    These are ultra-simple engines to re-build btw, might as well have been a Briggs & Stratton. Car ran like a top afterward, although still a gutless wonder vs. anything else on the road, except maybe for a Smart. This engine/transaxle assy might be better suited for a go-kart or dune buggy.

    Sold the car for $2500 and then paid cash for a then-new “09 Honda Fit Sport MT, which after nearly 4 years and 130,000 kms is still as bullet-proof as ever.

  • avatar

    Nothing says 80s like The Final Countdown!

  • avatar

    My memory of these involved loading it onto a 16 foot trailer behind my 77 Impala Wagon. SIL was poor and trying to make a living. I had to retrieve him several times between this and his diesel jetta.

  • avatar

    By focusing on the lack of power, you are missing the fact that these cars are really fun to drive. The Chevy Sprint is like the Mini Cooper of its day. Small and lively. FWD cars come alive when it’s below 2000lbs, and the Chevy Sprint is one of the best examples of that.

  • avatar

    A buddy of mine was a salesman at a chevy dealer when these came out, I remember him saying that they had to be careful not to lean against them because they would dent.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    If you work with delivery or courier services, beware the driver of the 3-pot Chevy Sprint: (s)he knows the difference between fast and efficient, and will have the tallest stack of receipts at the end of the business day.

  • avatar

    There’s a metric ton of WTF in that “Giant Suzuki” ad.

    There’s something to be said for an engine that can be swapped using two dudes, a 2×4 and some ratchet straps.

  • avatar

    I seem to remember they were shockingly roomy inside for such a small package. Spartan point A to B transportation. The butt of jokes 25 years ago, and now has among the owners keeping them going in the hypermiling circles an near cult like following.

    Not much a hammer, bailing wire and duct tape can’t repair on one of these.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    No, just no. The automotive equivalent of shoes from Wal-mart.

  • avatar

    Did anyone else read that as Suzuki Coitus while skimming? Perhaps that is why they never used the Cultus name in the US.

  • avatar

    I once drove an automatic version. 48 (or 55?) HP on a 3 speed slushbox wasn’t quite a performer. Also, the fuel gauge was wrong, 1/4 meant empty, but nobody warned me.

  • avatar

    These are smaller than the new Spark. [opinion] I would like to see them side to side.

  • avatar

    Something tells me a tank would’ve blown this thing up buawahahahha

  • avatar

    I wonder what value Antiques Roadshow would give it?

    They may mistake it for a child’s toy, though.

  • avatar

    My roommate owned one, an 86 5sp. Zippy little thing that always felt like a go cart compared to the 70s era “compacts” I was used to driving. But he racked up almost 90k miles in about 5 years and never had a major problem.
    I was surprised by the mileage. Gainesville to Jax Beach and back with $6 worth of gas. Even my motorcycle was hard pressed to match it.

  • avatar

    wife and I had one for years.We even took a 900 mile trip in it from Memphis to Cincinnati and back.
    It did fine but was really noisy but we were really strapped at the time.The little thing hauled groceries and lawnmowers and whatever else we could stuff in the back with the rear seat folded down(very easy to do from what I remember)and only problem over all the years was a clogged carb..which I really fixed(honestly)and a clutch(which I didn’t)that gave out.I remember paying ..ready for this..$17.99 per tire for new ones!
    Wife rear ended someone and there went the
    If I could find another I would buy it in a ‘New York Minute” whatever that means…

  • avatar

    As an owner of a ’97 iteration of one of these (a 4 cyl Geo Metro, 4 door, 5 spd), I can attest…under powered, capable, reliable…I have 185k mi on the clock.

    I filled up today. There’s no replacement for the feeling when the pump shuts off at $23.56.

  • avatar

    I also get good mileage from my riding mower, I still wouldn’t want to use it as everyday transportation though.

  • avatar

    I remember my brother going from LA to Vegas and back on one tank of gas.Not on windy days anyways :=)

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