By on August 5, 2015

12 - 1981 Chevrolet Citation Junkyard Find - photo by Murilee Martin

The well-publicized reliability troubles of the GM X-body family caused General Motors plenty of image damage during the 1980s, but the Chevy version sold well (at first). Now, of course, most are gone, but examples turn up in wrecking yards every once in a while these days. So far in this series, we’ve seen this ’80 Skylark, this ’81 Citation, this frighteningly rusty ’81 Citation, this ’82 Citation, this ’82 Citation, this ’83 Citation, and this ’84 Omega. Now I’ve found another ’81, with a very nice interior and no apparent rust, in a Denver yard.
19 - 1981 Chevrolet Citation Junkyard Find - photo by Murilee Martin

Originally sold by Mike Perry Chevrolet & Oldsmobile in Wayne, Nebraska, this car still has the original owner’s manual and inspection certificate.

17 - 1981 Chevrolet Citation Junkyard Find - photo by Murilee Martin

An ignition key in a junkyard car usually means that the yard bought it from an insurance-company auction. The car took a bad hit in the left rear corner, which reduced its value to whatever the per-ton price for shreddable cars was at the moment. Perhaps I’m a little harsh on the X-body, but my criticisms come from personal experience.

05 - 1981 Chevrolet Citation Junkyard Find - photo by Murilee Martin

It has air-conditioning, but the original buyer didn’t want to splurge on the AM-FM radio.

09 - 1981 Chevrolet Citation Junkyard Find - photo by Murilee Martin

The optional 2.8-liter V6 was a better choice than the base Iron Duke four.

01 - 1981 Chevrolet Citation Junkyard Find - photo by Murilee Martin

Chrysler wheel covers!

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97 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1981 Chevrolet Citation...”


  • avatar
    geozinger

    Let the two minutes of hate begin!

  • avatar
    Paul Alexander

    I think you’re a little harsh on the Phoenix. Car and Driver thought enough of it to include it in their ‘Best Handling Car’ competition versus no less than a Trans Am, a Z/28 AND a ‘Vette!:
    http://media.caranddriver.com/files/in-search-of-the-best-handling-american-carbesthandling.pdf

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Under Car and Driver’s revisionist history, the only reason they ever said anything good about the X-cars was because GM fooled them with prototypes that were better than the disasters they foisted on the public. Reality was that they towed the sponsor company line for many months after production cars were in everyone’s disappointed hands. They weren’t that much more credible then than they are now. They just had better writers who actually knew about cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Paul Alexander

        I actually know a guy who still drives his mom’s old Phoenix. Everytime I bring it up he mentions how much he hates it. Maybe you’re right, perhaps it wasn’t a true precursor to the FiST, despite it’s lofty competitors.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        “they towed[sic] the sponsor company line”

        I see what you did there- brilliant!

  • avatar
    Chris Tonn

    I really want a Citation X-11. I have an irrational love for factory-built, limited-edition road race specials.

    Thus my saved eBay search for “W41 Achieva”.

    It’s an unusual fetish, to be certain, and one that I’m fairly certain I’ll never fulfill.

    • 0 avatar
      Shane Rimmer

      I, too, share this particular affliction. I have hovered over the bid button on several X-11s that have shown up on Ebay. Along the same lines, I really want a Mazda 323 GTX, but haven’t been able to justify buying what would likely turn out to be a huge money pit.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Got room for one more? Same fetish. I remember trying to find one back in 1990-91 and couldn’t fulfill it then. If an 81 with the hotter cam comes up on eBay I seriously might push the button.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      If you’re serious, there are two X-11s on Columbus CL right now: One offered by a sane guy at $1500 (nice price), the other offered by a lunatic at $4900 (crack pipe).

      • 0 avatar
        greaseyknight

        Stopped by a rummage sale recently where they were selling a Cadillac Cimarron in a similar color of brown for $4500. Sure it only had 30-40k miles on it, not rust etc, but wow. Its not like we need to preserve a breeding pair for posterity, one is more than enough.

      • 0 avatar
        Chris Tonn

        Thankfully all of these (the two in CBus and the one in Cincy) are automatics..else I’d be car shopping this weekend.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          So X11 manual. I’ll keep an eye out.

          There’s a W41 SCX Gold Edition parked near where I run sometimes. It even has mixed old style rocket and modern rocket logos on it.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Wish I could find the webpage…there’s a guy who built himself a 4-door X-11, did a great job of making it look factory stock. I’d pay big money to have that in my driveway…if I had big money.

  • avatar
    319583076

    Superfluous protip: avoid Wayne, NE.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    Probably one of the worst named cars in GM’s history. The Chevrolet Citation. They might as well called it the Chevy Ticket.

    • 0 avatar
      mazdaman007

      LOL ! You win the Internet today.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      Citation is one of those curious words that can have both positive and negative meanings, depending on context. It basically means “of note, distinct from the norm”, and that can be either good or bad. Another example is sanction, which can mean either approval or disapproval. I always wonder if when people reflexively reference “American Exceptional-ism”, do they understand that exceptional can go either way?

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      There was an ad by Ford playing on the ticket theme….a cop pulls over a Fairmont and told the owner he was getting a citation…in the end he suggests the cop pull over a Citation and give them a Fairmont!

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      Ford thought enough of Citation to use it for an Edsel model name. We know how successful it was there…

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      “Probably one of the worst named cars in GM’s history.” [citation needed]

  • avatar
    Shane Rimmer

    I had an early model Citation – an 82, I think. It was one of those cars with lovable quirks; such as a penchant for flooding when trying to start it. When it failed to start right away, I had to pop the hood, pull the filter cover, drop a screwdriver I kept handy in the car into the carburetor to hold the choke open, start the car, and, finally, pull the screwdriver and put everything back. It wasn’t a big deal when I was starting the car to go somewhere, but the car also stalled occasionally, and would need the same routine to get it going. I had to push it to the side of the road more than once, sometimes in the rain, to get it started without blocking traffic.

    That’s something kids these days are missing. Cars that needed some complicated ritual to start.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      “That’s something kids these days are missing. Cars that needed some complicated ritual to start.”

      To hell with that; my son is going to grow up without knowing a world where you can’t start your car from half a mile away, get in with it warmed up / cooled off, and personally ask it for directions to where you want to go!

  • avatar
    stckshft

    There is a Citation proudly on display on Hwy 56 in rural Kansas. It was sawed in half with a large sign out front that reads “she got half”.
    I remember making a cross country trip as a kid in the back seat of one of these. The Iron Duke buzzing away at 65mph. We had a non-a/c model with the upgraded Delco FM radio. Sadly it would rarely switch to stereo mode. Till this day I cringe when John Cougar Mellancamp’s “pink houses” gets played on the radio. My father drank the GM kool-aid on that car then learned to hate it and the General afterwards. The rear bumper literally fell off in our driveway one morning.

  • avatar
    Pesky Varmint

    I had an X-11 in 1981, the second year X-11, the real one. Tach red line in third gear was around 90 mph. In just a few months it got so a downshift to third at 60mph (well below redline) would grind, badly.

    They told me 60mph was too fast in third. Even the GM rep brought in told me the same thing. After enough fighting they fixed it (although they didn’t seal the tranny properly and it leaked after that).

    Just for fun a few months later wife and I pretended to be new customers and went to Chevy dealer and test drove a brand new X-11. Guess what happened immediately driving it right off the lot when I shifted into third?

    My experiences with that car were unbelievable. Two worst cars I’ve ever had were that, and my 1976 Rabbit. Oddly, a couple of the best I’ve ever owned were my 1974 Fiat 128 and our 2000 Land Rover Discovery.

    We’ve made peace with GM since 2001 when we bought our first Duramax. GM cheerfully replaced injectors for four times for free until we had 250000 miles on it. So we bought another Duramax in 2011 and are quite happy with it.

    • 0 avatar
      burnbomber

      I had a 77 Rabbit and it was the second worst car I’ve owned. The top dog worst car was a pre-FI and pre-intercooler Turbo Regal, and 83 model.

      My best car (pertinent to this post) was an GM A-body Celebrity with the infamous Iron Duke. Kept it the longest of any of my fleet–for 20 years.

  • avatar
    jgcaulder

    I wonder if any of these have been updated with a 3.1 or 3.4 by someone crazy enough to do it. Perhaps even upgrade the rear brakes that were prone to locking up.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Lack of proportioning valve was the reason for the poor brake performance. This was a trait shared by GM A-bodies (based on the X) as well. My grandmother and my mother (each driving different Celebrities) each managed to do a 180 spin in icy conditions with their A-bodies.

      A late 3.4 with roughly 185 factory hp would turn the thing into a rocket-ship by 80s standards.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Why stop at a 3.4? Go whole hog and get a 3.9 out of an Uplander or Impy. 240 HP would make it interstellar!

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Only a heretic would look past our lord and savior, 3800, and suggest *pause* 3900… the Church has spoken.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            This was a 60-degree car to start with.

            The truly masochistic thing to do, which would probably be the right thing for anyone who would spend money on one of these heaps in the first place, would be a TDC.

        • 0 avatar
          greaseyknight

          I think whole hog would be a LS4 (i.e. FWD LS motor) now that would be a rocket ship. Torque steer anyone?

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        FWIW, Chrysler was pretty inconsistent in getting front-rear brake bias right. My ’75 Valiant had a proportioning valve but the rear brakes would still easily lock up, seemingly even moreso on steep hills. On the other hand, the family ’85 Reliant had a strong front brake bias. My ’82 Volvo 240 got it just right, but those cars quite possibly had the most expensive, over-engineered brake system ever sold on a regular passenger car.

        Admittedly this was a tough nut to crack in the pre-ABS days. A lot of variables- tire traction (dry, rain, snow, ice, not to mention tire quality), brake friction material quality…

        But yeah, the X-cars were infamous for omitting the proportioning valve. It should be a case study on the culture of profit-in-the-next-quarter-at-all-costs-myopic-bean-counters triumphing over sensible engineering. Every MBA candidate in every business school should be required to write a hundred page essay about it.

        OK, I exaggerate just a little.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    “but the original buyer didn’t want to splurge on the AM-FM radio.”

    I’m guessing that there may not have been much available on the FM dial in Wayne back in the 80s.

    • 0 avatar
      Geekcarlover

      From checking through various GM offerings on the Old Car Brochure Project, AM was standard (free), FM with two speakers was around $200. For an many buyers the Golden Oldies AM station was perfectly OK.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    AC, V6, and AM radio?

    What an interesting option combo. Was the salesman wearing a plaid suit, wide white tie with matching belt and shoes?

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Say what you will about the Citation, but in hatchback form with a bench seat it was a miracle of packaging. It could carry six passengers, something almost no sedan available today can do. The fold-down seats and huge hatch made it at least as practical as any current station wagon. Yes, it had brake imbalances that could kill you under certain circumstances and the Iron Duke was anemic, at best. But for efficent people and stuff-moving, it really was pretty remarkable.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      List good qualities of the Chevy Citation:

      1. Can carry a ridiculous amount of stuff.

      END

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Bunkie: add right size, good ride,comfortable, quiet and good mileage. The Iron Duke is the Iron Duke: lots of sound and fury but little action, simple and old tech.

      I could always tell an X-Car didn’t have the six by the sound of all that wheezing and rattling.

      Had an 84 Citation II notchback two door that I wish I’d never traded.

      And the X provided the basis for the As that followed and those lines lasted for ages.

      GM got a lot of it right and without looking through the eyes of presentism, these were revolutionary for people downsizing from bloated Big 3 fare.

      Too bad GM used those 800,000 initial Citation buyers as Beta testers for their engineering dept.

      • 0 avatar
        burnbomber

        My A-body bought used from Uncle Sammy was Iron Duke powered with HD-optioned cooling, suspension and brakes. Kept it for 20 years–it was a pretty good ride.

        The Iron Duke had pretty good torque off the line–it was peppy from a standing start. Highway passing was another matter.

        Thanks to all those 800k Beta-testers.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Same old GM story: Great concept and design, engineering bean-counted into the ground.

      • 0 avatar
        Geekcarlover

        Also remember the other GM tradition. We finally got it right and fixed (most) of the problems. Now cancel the program and start all over again with an untested platform/engine/drivetrain/electronic tech system.

    • 0 avatar
      jim brewer

      Absolutely right, Bunkie. I remember Mom’s Pontiac Phoenix well. Same color as the car in the picture. A not unpleasant “new penny” metallic color.Fairly comfortable, with dignified trim and upholstery. I didn’t notice any weird braking issues, but I suspect the 55 mph speed limit masked a few things.

      A nice looking car in a form follows function kind of way. At the time it was plausibly billed as the car that would show the Japanese what’s what.

      I think a lot of the hate is based on the disappointment, which was colossal. It wasn’t even as durable as the terrible cars that it competed with.

      It was miles ahead of the Chevette in any category except durability.

  • avatar
    jgcaulder

    Here’s an interesting one, with a V8 and all.

    http://jalopnik.com/for-2-500-this-1981-chevy-citation-x-11-is-a-rare-mov-1705060558

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “this car still has the original owner’s manual and inspection certificate”

    These were inspected?

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Herringbone! And the modern font on the fender tells me it’s good, and Euro-inspired! I do like that someone put a V8 badge on it as well.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Wayne kinda had a depressing bi-level house. But maybe that was neato gang in 1981.

    https://www.google.com/maps/place/2302+belmont+drive+norfolk+NE/@42.048423,-97.442473,3a,75y,327.96h,73.93t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1skilxtZ3SDcNH7XFVBHrcZg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x83eaef683cfcd2be!6m1!1e1

  • avatar
    happycamper

    My 1984 Skylark had the same front seat. Basically a bench with a console to prevent 3 people from sitting in the front. The entire assembly moves as one unit, so the passenger is stuck with the same legroom as the driver.

    My car must have known how much it sucked, because it would try to commit suicide every chance it could. Touching the brakes could result in a spinout at any time, in any road condition. It was completely unpredictable.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    When my great uncle died around 2006, they pulled from the garage his absolutely pristine 84 or so brown Citation. Had something like 20,000 miles on it.

    My cousin drove it for a couple months, until he decided he hated driving a Citation around. He replaced it with a newer Neon.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Wow that had to be worth, -$400.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        LOL where’s Matador!!

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          It’s alright
          to tell me
          what you think
          about me
          I won’t try
          to argue
          or hold it
          against you
          I know that
          you’re leaving
          you must have
          your reasons
          The season
          is calling
          and your pictures
          are falling down

          The steps that
          I retrace
          the sad look
          on your face
          The timing
          and structure
          did you hear
          he f***ed her?
          A day late
          a buck short
          I’m writing
          the report
          On losing
          and failing
          when I move
          I’m flailing now

          And it’s happened once again
          I’ll turn to a friend
          Someone that understands
          Sees through the master plan

          But everybody’s gone
          And I’ve been here for too long
          To face this on my own
          Well I guess this is growing up

          Well I guess this is growing up

        • 0 avatar
          matador

          Not even I would touch a Citation.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Off topic, what should I rent when I’m in Vegas in October? Sixt had CLAs and 3 series at 49/day, but an E-class was 99/day. Then Hertz had convertibles I think for 49/day but I don’t want a leftover Sebring. Camaro SS CONV was 149/day. Any thoughts? Should I stay out of commercial rentals and try to find something exotic?

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Extra points to Murilee for finding a brown-on-beige specimen, it doesn’t get more Malaisey than that.

  • avatar
    stevelyon

    I might have one of the only positive experiences with a Citation. When I was 19, I bought my cousin’s 1980 Citation – it was a white four door with the wheezy Iron Duke and four on the floor. The only options it had were A/C and tinted glass. AM radio, bench seat, single non-remote outside mirror, manual everything.

    It’d been bought new by my uncle, and lived its first 10 years in Phoenix where the outside remained the same, but the sun roasted the interior plastics to a chunky beige powder. By the time I got it (for $500), and drove it home to Minnesota, it had 130k miles but it ran well and got pretty decent mileage. Always started, even on the coldest mornings.

    I put another 30k miles on it before I went off to college, and never had a single problem with the car. I sold it two years later for exactly what I paid for it so that I could buy myself a computer for school. It sure wasn’t an exciting car, but it was just about perfect for 19 year old me.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    So I’m going to guess original owner, borderline retiree when purchased, and some distracted driver ended its life in a moderately light rear ending on the left corner.

    When the glove box on an 34 year old throw away car still has the original inspection paperwork and owner’s manual – it has to be a single owner car.

    Second possibility. Retiree gave car to rotten grand kind who was trying to drift said Citation and slammed the left rear corner into something ending it’s life.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “The optional 2.8-liter V6 was a better choice than the base Iron Duke four.”

    A needle through my right testicle was a better choice than the Iron Duke.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    Whenever one of these shows up there is a huge amount of hatred thrown at it. As the former owner of an 82 Omega, I believe they probably deserve every bit of it. But in 1981, if you wanted a domestic compact or small midsize, your choices were not great. FoMoCo had the Fairmont/Zephyr or if you wanted to spend more, Granada (early 70’s frame with mid 70’s body). Chrysler had just come out with the K-cars. My folks had an Aries, and they had early teething problems. Oil leaks, instacrack CV joints, and perpetually out of whack fuel injectors are a few I remember.
    I am amazed the paint job on this one held up so well. On my Omega the hood,roof,and trunk all looked like they’d lost a fight with a sandblaster after 6 years.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I forgot about the paint. I put a small dent in Dad’s Citation (Safety tip: always use your parking break, even if the ground looks level), and he split the cost of repairs with me because the paint had gotten so bad. My buddy’s parents had a Chevette, it went bad so fast GM repainted it for free.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The early Aries probably had a constantly out of whack carburetor. I don’t think any of them were fuel injected until the turbocharged cars arrived for 1984.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    My ’80 Skylark was really not a bad car, except that it would overheat due to a constantly failing temp switch that would make the cooling fan inoperable, causing the car to die from heat exhaustion at any given moment.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My brother had a 2 door 1982 Buick Skylark Limited version of this and it was a good car (bought it as a year old car from Enterprise leasing). It had the Iron Duke I-4 with fuel injection and a 4 speed manual light gray exterior with a maroon landau top and maroon velour interior with electric windows and air conditioning. His car went about 300k without any major issues. Maybe his car was the exception but the miles were mostly highway and he used Mobile 1 without having any oil consumption. I also know others who had these X cars that had very good service.

    • 0 avatar
      burnbomber

      My 89 A-body Celebrity gave very good service. Had it for 20 years, also with the throttle body FI Iron Duke. No Iron Duke problems, no transmission problems other than the lockup torque converter solenoid (left it unplugged). It was steps above the reliability of my 2nd generation Camry.

      It’s weatherstripping killed it. Couldn’t keep the rain out. Awhile after a big rain, it would make your eyes water–it smelled so bad.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The Iron Duke was the engine to get if you wanted durability. No power, lots of noise, horrible drivability, but it would just keep running no matter what abuse was dished out. The early 60-degree V6es were comparatively fragile.

  • avatar

    I have no Citation stories, but my parent’s 1989 Plymouth Voyager SE had those same wheel covers.

  • avatar
    Joss

    GM X-family: Only acceptable new as a Bob Barker give-away.

  • avatar

    I just recently found a Citation as well (can be seen clicking my name).
    It is definitely… um, standard. But then again it was supposed to be a bland simple car.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Fun factoid: When GM was designing the X-car they used a few Lancia Beta’s as test mules. If you look hard you can see the styling influence in the Citation and Phoenix 4 dr hatches and Citation 2 dr coupe. A 16v 4 banger like the Beta/Fiat would have been revolutionary but multi-valves were not on GM’s plate back then unless you count the Cosworth Vega.

  • avatar

    My parents had a first-year model, an ’80, in off-white with red velour. Iron Duke, no A/C. They got it with a few thousand miles on it as a dealer demo. I remember folding the rear seats down and hauling around about 10 of my friends in high school. Once, in the snow, I managed to bounce it off a guard rail and do no visible damage other than popping off the two passenger side wheel covers. Then another time, in the rain, I locked the brakes when someone ahead stopped short and wiped out the passenger side headlight and front fender. Bolted on a new junkyard fender in the street in front of our house as my first lesson in body work. Overall, I don’t remember it being any more horrible than the other Malaise era heaps of the time… and you can add me to the group that would still rock a stickshift X-11 if one landed on my head today…

  • avatar
    a1veedubber

    Dammit, there are parts here that I could use on my 81 X-11. Why can I never find these local to me???

  • avatar
    theoldguard

    I had 1981 Citation X-11. Not a bad looking car even now, but unfortunately, according to dealer, “it leaks oil from every place it possible could.” Still not the worst car I’ve had. That honor is 1990 Range Rover. http://www.oldcarbrochures.com/static/NA/Chevrolet/1981_Chevrolet/1981_Chevrolet_Citation_Brochure/1981%20Chevrolet%20Citation-08%20amp%2009.html

  • avatar
    user1265

    X-body Lemon grove!
    I’ve dealt with a 1981 Skylark – swapped transaxle 5 times until found a supergood ’82 one with manual TCC switch. Soft cruiser besides occasionally smoking steering column.

    1980 Citation with mostly rear braking and 2-speed AT – sold to a junk peddler.

    Recently spotted a Citation X-11 coupe for sale cheap, happily didn’t even stop to look.
    Byeee!

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