By on April 15, 2015

10 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinEven as GM was selling Suzuki Cultuses badged as Chevrolets and Daewoo LeManses badged as Pontiacs, your friendly Chevy showroom offered Isuzu Geminis with Chevrolet badges (a decade later, you could get an Opel Omega with Cadillac badges, but that’s another story). A few years back, we saw this 1989 Spectrum, which came with both Chevrolet and Geo branding, but today’s Junkyard Find came from the era prior to GM’s creation of the soon-to-be-defunct Geo brand.
05 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThese cars were more or less invisible back in the 1980s, and they remain invisible today. This doesn’t stop Craigslist sellers from claiming to have Geo “barn finds,” of course.
04 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one sat outdoors for a long time before its final tow-truck ride.
16 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinJust 76,000 miles. If you’re the president of the Chevrolet Spectrum Owner’s Club and you’re reading this in 2057, understand that we early-21st-century Americans just didn’t understand how rare and valuable these cars really were. Sorry about that!
02 - 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum Down On the Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Murilee MartinPower by Isuzu.

I was 20 years old when this ad came out. I don’t remember it, but I’m sure I would have been horrified by the idea of “Spectrumality.”

I’ll bet the media launch for this car was what press-car-killin’ car writer Jay Lamm refers to as a “tents and corn dogs affair.”

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29 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Chevrolet Spectrum...”

  • avatar

    Murilee and I have discussed how some of his finds are nonsensically incredibly popular, such as the Montero.

    I predict this find with break traffic records as one of his LEAST popular. This car has such incredible unremarkabality. I sneered at these with smugness back when I was driving a ’90 Prism. Not even unremarkable so as to be charming, like a K car.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    So I watched the Heartbeat ad first and thought, “How come no one writes catchy jingles like that anymore?” Then I watched the Spectrumality ad and realized “Ah, that’s why.”

    The guy in the ad specifically mentions technology as a positive aspect of the Spectrum. I’d be interested to know what he was referring to.

    No one will ever adequately be able to explain to me why GM completely punted on small cars and just rebadged Korean and Japanese cars as Chevys, Geos, and Pontiacs. I can’t imagine the meetings they had where they justified it to each other. “Well, we stink at building small cars, let’s just use Isuzus and focus on full sized pickups.” What an admission of failure.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      They didn’t /completely/ punt on small cars. The J-bodies were sold alongside all their captive imports and directly competed with many of them. For instance, the Cavalier and the Nova/Prizm are on paper basically the same car – same body style, same footprint, same oversized trunk – yet GM kept both cars going simultaneously for 17 years straight, nearly the entire run of the J-body. Why? That shows how much GM didn’t trust their in-house car to not completely tank and need the Prizm as a fall-back for 17 years.

      Of course, it does say something about GM’s customer base that when they finally DID cancel the Prizm, the Cavalier became their #1 selling car overnight.

      Having so many varied imports at the bottom of the market gave them an opportunity to experiment with different types of small cars, without having to build any factories. Should we build a sporty one? A small one? A high MPG one? Let’s just sell all of them and see what works!

      An optimistic person could hope their experimentation over the years dipping into all these subcompact genres informed their decision making on what kind of car to build with the Sonic.

      • 0 avatar
        Land Ark

        I would say I don’t count the Js as being the kind of small cars I was referring to (I don’t really) but I honestly forgot about their existence when I posted that. Which is particularly damning since I owned a Sunbird for 10 years.

    • 0 avatar

      GM always managed to lose money on small cars – you can blame high labor costs from unions or poor management, or a combination of both. Pretty much the only reason they kept making (and rebading) them is CAFE regulations.

      Full-sized trucks were a huge profit center – especially considering they used the same designs for decades.

  • avatar

    As a car loving person I am embarrassed to have a connection to this car.

    In the 90’s I was in the car business. Met a pretty girl tending bar and she mentioned that she was looking for a new car. I gave her my card, she called and made arrangements to stop by a few days later. On appointed day she shows up with a girlfriend and I show her some Jeeps. I go to get her car appraised and its a 86 (or 87) 4 door Spectrum with auto and long expired AC. I put car in reverse and boom!, the transmission let go. Car won’t move, just makes hideous screeching noise. Car is now worth however much gas is in the tank.

    I can’t leave work but I drive her and her friend to a local TGIF and tell her I’ll pick them up at 9:00 when I get off. After work I go pick them up, hang out and take them home. Almost 20 years later we are married with twins.

    Car sat on my lot for days right in front of door. Sales manager was pissed about it as had big puddle of trans fluid under it. She still blames me for it and thinks I did it on purpose. Car eventually got towed away. She needed a car with cash on the hood so I couldn’t sell her anything. She ended up with a 96 Mazda Protege and I got a roller coaster.

  • avatar

    If only these were available with Tuning by Irmscher and Handling by Lotus… OK, maybe not…
    I’ll admit, though, in high school there was a time when I really wanted an I-Mark RS.

  • avatar

    Whenever I read Chevrolet Spectrum I think I’ve read Chevrolet Sputum.

  • avatar

    i did like the looks of the Isuzu Impulse of that era – with design by Guigiaro.

  • avatar

    I do remember seeing some of these, I think I assumed it was the same thing as a Nova at the time.

    But they REALLY wanted to make sure you were using UNLEADED GAS! That’s an excessively large font to choose for such a notice. Could you still get leaded gas anywhere but specialty pumps in 1986? Or at all?

    What an awful crap box.

    • 0 avatar

      Some states may have totally banned it earlier, but I remember leaded gas was still available in Florida in 1990.

    • 0 avatar

      A quick web search reveals that in 1986 the refiners were just starting to finally stop production, since that’s when the EPA’s not-quite-ban-but-even-more-severe limit kicked in.

      So a car sold for MY86 – and thus designed in 85 or 84) would definitely want an “unleaded only” sign.

    • 0 avatar

      Isn’t this the Opel Kadett or the Brazilian Chevy Kadett? Seems like it and if so, another mental marker of the divide into what constitutes a good car in Europe and other places of the world (like Brazil) and the US. It was a good small cars, miles ahead of the Chevette it replaced. In GSi form it even inspired some passion. Not my favorite by a long mile, too cramped and expensive in Brazil for what it was, but not a disposable car, either.

  • avatar

    I was 11 when the Spectrum came out, and my Dad surprised my Mom with one (navy blue on blue, with the wheel covers that disappeared almost immediately). Nothing special, but it was better than the 84 Renault Alliance (the Motor Trend Car of the Year stickered version) it replaced.

    This was the car that taught me that not all cars can peel out and leave two stripes on the road… matter how much I bugged my older brother….wasn’t gonna happen!

  • avatar

    Ah, I remember renting a brand new ’87 sedan in Florida during August of that year. I remember putting my finger on that A/C button in Picture 14 and getting a blast of cool, clean refreshing air with a hint of new car smell. Now if I touched that filthy button, I’d want some hand sanitizer and perhaps some rubbing alcohol and a tetanus shot to go along with it. Ugggh!

  • avatar

    The Gemini produced some of the best car ads the world has ever seen!


  • avatar

    On the one hand, it’s difficult to view this car, even new, and conceive the degree of desire necessary to plunk down one’s hard earned dollars on it versus anything else. What could the Spectrum possibly possess to distinguish it from a variety of competing econoboxes? Then it came to me.

    It’s not a Hyundai Excel. In ’86 with discounts etc this thing probably rolled off the lot with money on the hood, unlike the heavily demanded Excel, and was a better car. The dealer experience may have been better than at a Toyota/Honda/Nissan dealer in the days of voluntary export restrictions, during which the attitude was YOU WILL BUY IT AND PAY OVER STICKER AND THE TRUCOAT AND $300 WHEEL LOCKS cos we have people queued up for the things. It was better than the agricultural Chevette in the same showroom. It was more durable than the Escort/Lynx. You could do worse for a generic econobox, and many people did in ’86.

  • avatar

    For Isuzu, this car was the successor to their versions of the GM T-car platform, best known here as the Chevette. However unremarkable the Spectrum may have been, it was a moonshot compared to a Chevette.

  • avatar

    Hi, I want to see if you can sell me 3 things from that car
    if you can contact me through wassap at 809-902-1459 to do business
    I have that same car and I want three things to get it right
    Thank you.

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