By on November 9, 2013

01 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWe haven’t seen many Daewoo products in this series— in fact, just this ’00 Nubira wagon has made the cut, out of all the expired Lanoses and Leganzas I see— but there was a time when The General saw fit to sell a Pontiac-badged, Opel-based Daewoo LeMans next to its Chevrolet-badged Suzuki Cultus and Geo-badged Toyota Sprinter and Isuzu Gemini. The 1988-93 Pontiac LeMans never was a common sight on American roads, and its iffy reliability and plummeting resale value sent most of them onward via the Great Steel Factory In the Sky by the late 1990s. Still, someone has to win the lottery, and some Daewoontiacs have to survive on the street for as long as Grandpa’s Plymouth Valiant hung on to life. Here’s a miracle LeMans I found at a California self-serve wrecking yard a few weeks back.

GM’s marketers did their best to spin the LeMans as a sexy-yet-sensible ride for big-haired 80s women with tiny bank balances, but the Ford-badged Kia Pride and the first-gen Hyundai Excel proved far more popular.
16 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one made it to just 127,990 miles, which suggests either long-term inactivity or a meticulous drive-only-to-church-on-Sunday long-term owner.
18 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHere’s an engine that ought to provide good trivia-question material at your next Pontiac car show: the Daewoo G16SF.
20 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOverhead cam! The future, it has arrived!
12 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMore or less your standard-issue late-80s cheapskatemobile interior.
07 - 1988 Pontiac LeMans Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHow many of these things are left today?

The German-market Opel Kadett GSi version of this car got a sportier-looking ad campaign to go with its allegedly high-performance option package; the US-market got a GSE version with a whopping 96 horses, starting in the 1989 model year.

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77 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Pontiac LeMans...”

  • avatar

    God communicates in funny ways. For someone my age to see LeMans on something like this was akin to a lightning display spelling out “Your Future? Take Off the Shades”.

    But my, what an encouragingly clean engine compartment. Someone took good care of this humble little ride.

  • avatar

    LeMans built a good name for GM thru to the 5th generation, which by then had already been down-sized. Le Mans morphed into Bonneville. With much insult to the name this Daewoo POS was reintroduced later as the 6th LeMans.

  • avatar

    Hah, does it really say PONTIAC GRAND LEMANS on the rear quarter?

  • avatar

    Man, I miss the Eighties…

  • avatar

    I had a friend who had one of these in college, in the sedan version, which I think was “less popular” than the hatch. Most cars I can find something positive to say about them…..even my Uncles first gen Excel…but nope, nothing positive about that car. At the time it was about 10 years old but it could have been 30 years old the way it drove, despite only having 30K miles on it. It didn’t make it the whole 4 years. It was so awful when she got a Dodge Shadow with 5 times the miles it was like someone gave her a Cadillac, making her the only person ever excited to have a very used Dodge Shadow.

    • 0 avatar

      This was my girlfriends second car growing up and she tells me how excited she was to get it after her late 70s Chevette. The feeling was brief though after the LeMans began to eat head gaskets as part of its regular diet. A milling issue meant even replacement cylinder heads would warp after a time she says. Traded it in on a 1st gen Neon when they were new in the early 90s, a good car at the time (still is to me). Neon was traded in ’01 on a new TJ and that’s where it stands today. She will be buried in her TJ, wheels the heck out it.

    • 0 avatar

      I had an assigned by-the-college roommate who got one of these new in 1988. The car matched his personality which was dork +1.

      I was glad to be driving a semi-rusty, 12 year old, mid ’70s Dodge slant six engined car versus a new Pontiac dweeb mobile…

  • avatar

    The original Opel Kadette “T” car that this car is based on wasn’t bad. It was, in fact, a bit of a game changer. It had great space, performance and economy, at the time. Daewoo took over that body shape after Opel moved on to the next generation. Daewoo inherited all of the issues and then added to them with terrible quality control, cheap components, lower standard steel and materials. Seems like GM continued the trend when gluing on a Pontiac badge… Gosh! customers where taken for suckers!

    • 0 avatar

      It was actually a Opel Kadett E. I know that because I have my owm in concvertible by Bertone flavor down stairs. The GSI with 2.0 4 cyl 8 valves and 130cv was very fast, it weight only 950kg. but the 2.0 16v 150cv was much better. The chassis was never good, GM penny picking, but the german Opel engines were great, reliable, with bosch injection systems. They had ATE brakes with diferent better disign calipers from 1989

  • avatar

    The only thing I remember about these cars was the front brake sliding pins were always seized.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    Sometimes I forget just how bad the General was at its lowest point, but dredging this thing up from deep in the memory banks brings it all back. I haven’t seen one of these in so many years I’d actually forgotten that they’d desecrated the LeMans name with this POS. And that ad – wow, talk about trying hard to polish a turd.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m surprised they were willing to say that it was imported.

    • 0 avatar

      Thats whats so funny about perspective, As a kid in the seventies and driving in the eighties….THIS IS PONTIAC to me.
      Even the name LeMans on cars like this were a running joke with my other friends, seriously is anything further from LeMans (either the race or the place) than sh1t like this?

      And when drivers Ed was conducted using a Pontiac T1000 AUTOMATIC , well lets just say I never understood the purported “performance” image of Pontiac within the GM gluefactory.

      Jaded by GM , the fragrance of the 80s.

  • avatar

    Aztek = Lemans carried to full term

    • 0 avatar

      Azteks were great. Strong drivetrain, good driving position, surprisingly nimble mall-wagons. You just had to expect the standard GM leprosy to attack ancillary systems within 7 years. And mosquito larvae in the headlight assembly.

      • 0 avatar

        Errrrrr… Beyond its monumental ugliness, I remember having a really hard time keeping a clean-and-newish Aztek on the correct side of the road on 45-mph two-laners.

        And yes, it was the last car on the rental lot. Why do you ask?

        • 0 avatar

          The kids had three over the years, never encountered that. Used to love driving them as they sat almost as high as my pickup.

          • 0 avatar

            I am one of the few who actually likes the Aztek. I used to choose to take them home when I worked in rental and had other options. With the rear seats taken out you could haul a lot of gear. I was goofing off in a snowy field with a buddy who had his Grand Cherokee one day, and he got stuck, I didn’t. I did donuts around his stuck jeep in the aztek to clear the snow out so he could get out. And I’m actually a Jeep guy so its hard to admit that. Then again, if it was me driving I probably wouldn’t have got stuck with the jeep.
            I can’t speak to reliability issues because in rental everything is brand new.

          • 0 avatar

            Me too. They were a pioneering CUV and a worthy transportation appliance for lower middle-class families. They got thousands of Americans used to and liking the form factor.

            Like most GM since the ’70s, their guts were completely competent and reliable while the accessories and fit/finish were lower middle class. Exactly as they were meant to be and how they were priced. WYSIWYG.

          • 0 avatar

            I’m on my third one. We went several years without a “hauler”, it’s been very nice to have something with that capability again.

            This one has car tires (Goodyear Viva 2s) on it instead of the Goodyear Fortera (SUV/Truck tires), it rides and drives much better with the cheapo Wal Mart grade Goodyears than it did with the Forteras.

            They’re a nice size, decent handlers and not bad fuel economy, too. Most can’t get past the looks, but after 12 years of looking at them, I like them.

  • avatar
    Carl Kolchak

    This is probably the one car I can say I actually Hate. Uncle had one. ate a cam at 30k, dealer did squat. Ended a relationship with the dealer where my uncle and multiple family members had to have bought 20+ cars from them.
    As for myself, had one as a rental in San Bernadino. Car did not have enough power for the hills so it would slow down going uphill. Great when you are on unfamiliar roads. Cars like this are why GM went into BK.

  • avatar

    The Kadett GSi 16V (or Vauxhall Astra GTE 16V on these shores) was a seriously fast car in its day, and something of a cult car. This was in part because 156BHP was WAY too much for its chassis to handle, making it something of a thrill. The Astra/Kadett was a decent enough car for the times (1984 Euro Car of the Year), but Daewoo cleverly managed to nullify its good points whilst magnifying the bad ones.

    My first car in 1991 was an ’88 Astra 1.3, and I won’t hear a word against it. However, I will accept that it’s never an appropriate Pontiac LeMans in a million years.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The GSI version used the same 2.0 that was in the Sunbird. I always wondered what the turbo version of that motor would be like in these. Would it make it rattle more?

  • avatar

    I remember this tinny junk from the roads in early 90’s quite well. It seemed almost all of them were white. Here in Canada there was an “Asuna” brand version as well (don’t ask):

    • 0 avatar

      Hey, you left the rock dots off the ü in “Asüna!” Rock dots transform the ordinary into awesome.

      Remember the Asüna shorts in the movie theaters? The cute Pixar films with no dialog but a catchy a capella Bobby McFerrin song as the soundtrack.

  • avatar

    This car hurts my soul.

  • avatar

    I think even a Metro would be superior to this.

  • avatar

    Which was worse, the late ’80s Pontiac LeMans or the Ford Aspire?

  • avatar

    I remember the Sears driving school had this as their “student driver” vehicle, complete with two steering wheels for the instructor.

  • avatar

    Cruze, Encore, LeMans, Sonic, Spark, Verano: none of these things is unlike the others.

  • avatar
    Dave W

    Friends had one that they traded in in ’96. They went back the next day to give them the (factory) roof rack, the salesman gave a look like No worries, it’s already been crushed.

    • 0 avatar


      I had an image of Chevy Chase trying to take back the Family Truckster in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

      • 0 avatar

        To the tune of Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday rooooooooooooooooad, holiday rooooooooooad.”

        Hopefully I got that song stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome :)

        (I found out long ago, it’s a long way down the holiday road…)

  • avatar

    I’m glad the US didn’t buy any Daewoo machine guns or automatic rifles.

  • avatar

    Just looking at that interior I was reminded of how awful these cheap GM cars inevitably smelled after about 5 years once something leaked. I once changed my mind about a weekend beach trip from Orlando when I saw my free rides car and it looked like this. Ended up co-driver in a Z28 headed to the Gulf side instead of the planned Daytona trip. Nice memory after all. The owner spun the car on a cloverleaf on-ramp in an unexpected downpour, got mad and tried it again, same spin… I kept laughing and he said “So you try it then A$$hole!” I Doriftoed the entire ramp and ended up designated rain/go fast driver for the next 6 months.

  • avatar

    One season I volunteered as a corner worker for the local road course, and an ITC race had a blue one of these (branded as an Opel Kadett), with flaps cut into the hood, apparently to aid cooling. For whatever reason, he had to hit his brakes hard, and a Triumph TR7 came up behind, and rolled right up his back. The track website featured the humping cars for a long while (“Was it good for you?”).

    About nine months later, the Pontiac Aztek was introduced. Coincidence? I think not.

  • avatar

    I nominate this Daewoo Lemans as the most shameful model name “revival” ever.

    The ’64-’67 Pontiac Lemans was an awesome car. Powerful, stylish, luxurious, reliable, etc etc. Suggesting this Daewoo econobox is anything like that car by trading off the Lemans name is just disgraceful.

    Yes, I hate it even more than the Mustang II!

  • avatar

    So, they brought an 1984 car to the market in 1988 with worse build quality? A true winning tactic.

  • avatar

    With its black plastic triangles near the C-pillar, this car epitomized ‘DLO fail’ before I had those words and letters to name the idea.

  • avatar

    Meh I’d take it over an Aston Martin Cygnet, drop in a battered GM Quad-Four, then replace the “Lemans” with “Intercooled Lemons”, then I’d have something fun.

  • avatar

    Well, Daewoo did make a good microwave oven…

  • avatar

    This was a good basic design let down by inadequate quality control on the part of the Korean suppliers. At the time, GM and Daewoo were pointing fingers at each other over who was to blame for this fiasco. And I would feel bad for anybody who had to pay 8 or 9 grand, financed at that, for one.
    Having said that, I had one of these and didn’t mind it all, despite it’s frequent breakdowns. This was in Korea, where used ones weren’t worth too much.
    In my price range, it was either this or a Hyundai Excel. Having driven both, IMHO this was much better than an Excel. Despite Daewoo’s ham handed execution, there was still a lingering ember of Germanic goodness to it. It outran and outhandled the Excel, and had a nicer dash and driving position.
    It was a no brainer for me.
    Mine was the 1991 high-zoot GTE version with alloy wheels, power windows-locks etc, even a height-adjustment seat. Bought in the summer of ’97 for around 800 bucks, I was happy as a pig in $h!t. I was finally on wheels again after no driving for 2 years!
    Not only that, I always wanted an Opel (forbidden fruit effect) and now by gum, I had me one!, or so I thought.
    My last car in Canada was an A2 Jetta, and I felt that, had the Daewoo been better assembled, it would have compared well, as noted above..
    It handled great, and was perfectly stable at 160 km/h, it’s top speed which I frequently hit on the expressways. The TBI unit failed, along with the exhaust and some other things, plus a recurring CEL that coincided with a detonation death rattle,
    fixed by cutting the ignition and restarting it. Ultimately fixed by replacing the underhood wiring harness.
    But, it was still fun to drive, and I beat on it relentlessly. My most vivid memory of it was a time when I was whipping along between Incheon and Suwon at about 150km/h when a “Bongo” truck in front of me made an evasive swerve that lifted it’s little left side dual rear wheels into the air.
    I was looking wide eyed at that when I should have been looking at the reason he swerved, which was a huge box-shaped piece of sheet metal industrial ducting that had fallen off of a truck (a common occurrence in Korea even now, 15 plus years later).
    I plowed straight into this at full tilt, in a spectacular explosion of jagged metal shards, which, looking back, must have been a fan enclosure for a factory ventilation system.
    The bulk of it got caught under the front, balled up like a piece of cigarette foil.
    I dragged it about another 300 feet down the road, with an ungodly shrieking sound
    of metal dragged on pavement. It got so far under that the wheels lost part contact with the road, compromising my steering. When I finally got it stopped and backed off of it, I found had no lights, and it was dusk. The sharp sheetmetal had cut deeply into the rubber bumper cum chin spoiler, and severed a wiring harness.
    I managed to get back to my home base in Suwon. My mechanic, who was well familiar with me,as he was with another LeMans driving compatriot,, repaired the wiring and fixed the spoiler with some large industrial staples to hold it together.
    I dumped it when the AC conked out. Should have just fixed it.

  • avatar

    This little babe was sure a license plate frame magnet: a generic one on the engine and, for the win, a “Bill Lang” on the front seat.

  • avatar

    That´s one ugly Opel Kadett.
    I bought a new Kadett GSI in 1987.
    It was a fun car with low quality. The engine overheated when i drove home from the carcompany. The reason for this was the front license plate in the wrong place!
    The battery died after a couple of months, the interior was made of cardboard, the wheels got stuck after the winter etc. I sold the GSI shortly after the 1 year warranty was finished.

  • avatar

    There are still a lot of these things prowling the roads in Pakistan with Daewoo badging. They must have anticipated a lot more sales of the Pontiac-badged models, because all the Daewoos I’ve seen in Islamabad have had the Pontiac emblem on the front.

  • avatar

    I remember this car. When I was a kid (not realizing cars could be a P.O.S.) I would always see this car in the paper for $1995 or less. A couple of friends got one in high school and all were in the junk yard by the time they went to college. I cant say it was a bad investment since the car probably bought for less than a $1000 and my friends got to become better drivers before moving on to a real car.

  • avatar

    My sister had a ’91(?) Sedan back in about ’97. Car seemed old then. I was aware of the pedigree and quite surprised and disappointed of the name plate on the car. I couldn’t drive yet, but she would wheel me around back in the $.85/gallon days. She was into classical music at the time and would play npr nonstop on the no-tape-deck radio.

  • avatar

    I made the unfortunate mistake in 1991 to purchase a leftover 1990 LeMans LE sedan. As a college student I was looking for cheap reliable transportation and this ended up being the biggest heap I’ve ever come across. If it could have broken, fallen off or just plain failed, it did. It was the most uncomfortable, unreliable and plain old disgusting vehicle I’ve ever owned (…. and I’ve had alot over the years). I ended up keeping it a year and almost 18,000 miles later and traded it/took the hit just to get something reliable.

  • avatar

    The 1980’s. Pontiac had this….Honda had the CR-X.

    I’ll take the CR-X.

  • avatar

    Okay- I so still actually own one and it runs very well;Same red color/model as in the junkyard article. Known as the ‘Value Leader’ model. 262K miles/1 owner and still going ‘strong’. For the past 10+ yrs it’s been my car to drive my dog in and for loading up junk in the hatch. Shocked to see one in the junkyard as I haven’t seen any in my local junkyard since ’05 and other than mine haven’t seen one on the road since that time.
    Brief history: My parents bought brand new in 1988 for me when I was in high school. We saw an ad in the local paper for a new car for $5K. 4 speed manual/no AC. We saw ‘Pontiac’ and thought ‘Made in USA’. HA> The dealership offered to put in an aftermarket AC (which of course was undersized and worthless in the Texas heat) for a few hundred bucks. The car made it through college and was my DD until 1997. Left me stranded once in Post, Texas due to a broken timing belt. Had to spend the
    In ’03 with 220K miles on the original motor I found a brand new still-in-the-crate complete drop in motor. With a winning bid of $500 I decided to put in a new motor in. (After all, every guy has to install a motor in their car once in their life). Also replaced clutch at the time and even with 220K miles on it, there was still plenty of life left–another ebay purchase for just $40. Of note, the original Bosch clutch read ‘Made in East Germany’. Mechanically, pretty much everything has been replaced. The only original parts are the transmission and the steering rack.
    Pros: Paint job still looking good after 20+ years. Rust free.
    Oil Changes: Only requires 3.5 quarts of oil.
    Tires: Thanks to 13″ rims, 4 new tires cost me walk out price for $225. Heck, most tires now for newer cars are $200 EACH.
    It’s all mechanical; There’s no electrical door locks/window motors/seat motors to break.
    Parts: Ridiculously cheap for the last 10-15 yrs. Yes, mechanical/electrical parts are still available thanks to the internet.

    CONS: UGLY! enough said. Interior is complete cheap crap plastic…
    Valve cover gasket: thanks to a cork gasket on the valve cover, it’s guaranteed to leak after 10k miles.


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