By on February 24, 2016

1992 Pontiac LeMans sedan RH front quarter in California junkyard, © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

General Motors brought Opel Kadetts into the United States via several routes over the years. They came from Germany and were badged as Opels at first, Isuzu built “Buick Opels” a bit later, then Isuzu dealers sold them as I-Marks (the Chevette was also a Kadett sibling, but at least it was American-built). By the late 1980s, the Kadett’s American cousin was the Daewoo LeMans, a crappily-built Korean front-wheel-drive miserybox based on the Kadett E. Few were sold, and nearly all of those were three-door hatchback versions.

Here’s an exceptionally rare LeMans sedan, from the next-to-last year of American-market sales, that I spotted last week in a Denver self-service wrecking yard.

1992 Pontiac LeMans sedan instrument cluster in California junkyard, © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

The Daewoo-made LeMans was available in the United States for the 1988 through 1993 model years, and in Canada (as the Asüna SE and GT) for the 1991-93 model years. This one never even touched 80,000 miles on the clock.

1992 Pontiac LeMans sedan grille in California junkyard, © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

Sad to think that the LeMans name, which once graced cool-looking A-body machines, came to this.

1988 Pontiac LeMans Brochure Page, via Old Car Brochures

Meanwhile, GM shoppers turned off by the extravagance of the LeMans could buy a Suzuki Cultus, known as the Chevrolet Sprint and, later, the Geo Metro.

1992 Pontiac LeMans sedan Engine in California junkyard, © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

In 1993, the LeMans sedan came with an MSRP of $9,854 (we can assume that most sold for quite a bit less than that). This was way cheaper than the far-superior-in-every-aspect $11,198 Toyota Corolla sedan, but the ’93 Pontiac Sunbird LE sedan listed for just $9,382 and would have made LeMans sales difficult for Pontiac salesmen, even those under threat of having one toenail torn out with pliers for every Daewoo left in end-of-month inventory.

1992 Pontiac LeMans sedan interior in California junkyard, © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

We’ve seen this ’88 and this ’88, both hatchbacks, in this series prior to today. When will all of these cars disappear from the junkyard ecosystem?

The Asüna GT was the Canadian hatchback version.

In its homeland, the LeMans got some seriously macho voiceovers in its TV ads.

Daewoo felt great pride that this car was sold all over the world.

In the United States, the LeMans helped Pontiac build excitement.

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65 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1992 Pontiac LeMans Sedan...”


  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    The Opel Kadett/Astra base car was well liked in Europe and was a reliable and durable small car. Guess something got lost in translation when built by Daewoo and sold as a Pontiac in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      BoogerROTN

      I have to disagree. My inlaws had a housekeeper who owned an early 90’s Kadett and she loaned it to us (poor students) a few times. Mind you, I was driving an ’86 Regal back stateside…so I knew what crap was, even at that young age.

      I do seem recall that the Kadett was a stick w/a ring that you had to pull up on to put the car into reverse. Were there M/T LeMans and did they have that same Opel quirk?

      • 0 avatar
        Dann

        The LeMans also came in manual, and had the reverse lockout (aka. pull-up ring), as did the Vauxhall and Daewoo equivilents.

        Most manual GM J-bodies also have a similar reverse lockout arrangement

    • 0 avatar

      I drove a Kadett with a 1.4 or 1.6 and 5 speed as a rental car in Eastern Europe back in the day. It was tight and drove pretty well within the power possible. I rented one in the US, with my positive thoughts….

      Buzzkill. Looked close, not the same drive at all.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    A buddy of mine purchased this car new and drove it for about 5 years. It was the biggest pile of crap ever sold by GM. He had trouble with it from day one. Funny thing was he worked in auto part sales over the counter. You would have thought he learned something.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      “the biggest pile of crap ever sold by GM”

      That’s a hotly contested trophy! I think this car would be a playoff contender and a dark horse for the overall title, but not an odds-on favorite.

    • 0 avatar
      mike1dog

      Interesting question. I’d say the X-cars were the worst. Drove a whole generation away.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      That’s a really fun mental exercise.

      I think the Chevette’s gotta be up there in the running.

      And the X-body isn’t a bad choice either. Or anything with the Olds diesel.

      But No. 1 has to be the Vega and clones.

      • 0 avatar
        jimbob457

        I beg to differ.

        As bad as the Vega was (I am a former owner), its main problem as it got older was its aluminum engine. One overheating episode and off to the junkyard. The foolproof solution – don’t let it overheat.

        I replaced the Vega with a Pontiac Astre – a Vega with an iron engine. Both were purchased used and dirt cheap. Both gave adequate service.

        My driving experience with the X-body and the Chevette seemed much worse, probably due in part to the fact that they were l a decade newer
        models. The Motor Trend car of the year was terrible. The Chevette couldn’t even keep up with traffic.

      • 0 avatar

        All worthy candidates but each bad in their own way.

        The Chevette was based on a 10 year old RWD platform when it was clear from the VW Golf that Sir Alec’s Mini FWD layout was the way to go for small cars. Not unreliable by the standards of the day, but still about the most primitive car you could buy in North America at the time.

        The X cars were the harbinger of Detroit’s decades of dross. Poorly designed with corners cut everywhere, poorly built with bad components, they ran poorly because of primitive emissions systems and I’m not sure if they broke so much as they fell apart. After the superb downsized GM fullsize 1977 models the X cars were a deep disappointment and a self goal. GM shot itself in the foot with them.

        Come to think of it, the X cars were not a harbinger because they were probably worse than anything GM made since then.

        The Vega was a case of trying an unproven technology (using aluminum engine blocks without steel liners, shipping the cars tilted on their noses to save space on rail cars) and body panels that practically started to rust on the assembly line in a factory beset by labor problems. Good idea executed poorly.

        The X cars were not just the worst cars GM has made in my lifetime, they drove a generation or two away from American cars.

      • 0 avatar

        1985 Olds Cutlass Supreme with the odd fire V6. We called it the “Supremely Gutless”. Not actively bad like other candidates, just mediocre as an art form.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    That sedan doesn’t look too awful; hardly leading-edge, but cheerfully mediocre. That hatchback… errr… “AreoCoupe”… looks terrible; screams “penalty box/Fisher Price” the whole way.

  • avatar
    Notadude

    Just looking at the instrument cluster in the LeMonster above sent chills down my spine. I had a ’93 hatch, bought for me by a well meaning granny who thought I needed a new car instead of, say, a used Honda, to get me to my new job as a teacher. That Pontiac POS was the ultimate disposable car. The brakes were garbage, the AC broke (in Florida), and the engine light went on the day I drove that car to trade it in for a used Subaru wagon. The merciful dealer gave me a tiny bit of trade on it anyway. But my granny was awesome.

  • avatar
    Mike

    I can’t believe you forgot the most important commercial for this car..

    Airwolf!
    youtube.com/watch?v=dqcxD98Cxks

  • avatar
    Project337

    My grandmother traded in a 1977 Audi 100LS for one of these. It started shedding plastic within two weeks of service. Damn I miss that Audi.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    These Opel/Daewoos were also sold in Canada under the Passport Optima name from 1988-1991.

    http://cartype.com/pages/4431/passport_optima__1986

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    These beasts live on to this day as Daewoo Nexias, manufactured in Uzbekistan and sold in much of the former Soviet republics. Updated and facelifted, but old bones are old bones. Compares favorably to most FWD Ladas (21099, 2110, Kalina) in most measures (build quality, reliability), except for ground clearance and suspension travel where it is quite lacking (~5 inches of clearance vs 6.5-7). Quite prone to rusting as well, although again, no worse than Ladas typically.

    Linkhttp://auto-offer.ru/u/dd/modelPhotos/17870/image.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      NN

      Nobody knows how to stretch an old, foreign developed platform out forever under multiple brands all over the world like GM. This Pontiac Lemans was just the beginning of the Korean rebadge work that goes on until today globally (Chevy Cruze/Sonic/Trax/Spark/Buick Encore and many GM China vehicles) and will soon be supplanted with rebadges of SAIC-China developed vehicles rather than Korean. It all started with Opel, but Opel has been largely hollowed out over the past 10 years.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    My parents got one of these in hatchback form to use as a loaner while the Chevette was in the shop. When going over 40mph the entire car would shake and vibrate making the polystyrene/tupperware interior squeak and rattle. The biggest pile of crap I have ever ridden in and it was only 1 year old. It was truly frightening on the highway.

    • 0 avatar
      Notadude

      I forgot to mention above, my LeMonster died on the interstate while I was driving alone, 8 months pregnant. That was FUN.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Well now that you’ve started, you have to tell us the rest of the story. Don’t leave a guy hangin’.

        • 0 avatar
          Notadude

          Here goes; I was driving north on I75 after a baby shower and my POS car was loaded with the loot. Around Gainesville, the car went totally silent, shut off and I had to drift carefully to the emergency lane. Right next to a call box, right next to the exit where my in-laws lived. And my spouse had just gotten me a cell phone. So, called AAA, called in-laws, called spouse, stood on the side of the road looking like a bloated cow (hot car, no AC), and met my in-laws who paid the AAA guy a tip and then paid to have my timing belt replaced, because that is what made my car die. It turned out well, considering. And my in-laws toted the baby loot in their car and got me a rental. But I still have a deep dislike of Pontiac products.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            You can’t really blame a car for you not changing the belt on time. Plus it’s not an “interference” engine that bend the valves for you.

            Lots of cheap cars get a really bad name, when most are neglected and driven into the ground.

            A Corolla or Civic may be no better, but those are more likely to see service by the ‘book’ or better.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    why did a lot of cars get different names in Canada?

    • 0 avatar
      Geekcarlover

      It’s the same name, but because Canada is a foreign country they don’t speak ‘Merican up there.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        no, I mean stuff like the Neon being sold as the “SX 2.0,” or selling the Chevy II as the Pontiac Acadian.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          The Chevy/Pontiac thing was because GM Canada’s dealership network was split between Chevy and Pontiac-Buick, and many small towns only had one.

          GM had to create Pontiac doppelgangers for popular Chevys, or risk losing rural sales to Ford and Dodge/Plymouth.

          • 0 avatar

            The same was true about Canadian Ford brands like Monarch and Meteor. It has to do with keeping dealers happy. The ’57 Ranchero was even sold as a Meteor in Canuckistan. Lincoln-Mercury dealers got the Meteors and Ford dealers got Monarchs to be able to compete with Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles. Ford trucks were also sold under the Mercury brand in Canada.

            More here (I was checking facts for this comment and I found something I wrote myself):
            http://www.leftlanenews.com/a-trip-though-history-to-see-fords-unique-canada-only-lineup-feature.html

        • 0 avatar
          r129

          The Neon was originally sold as the Dodge Neon in Canada, until they stopped selling Dodge-branded cars there. For several years, only the Caravan and trucks were sold under the Dodge brand, and vehicles such as the Chrysler Neon and Chrysler Intrepid appeared. At some point, Dodge began to sell cars again, but instead of simply renaming it the Dodge Neon, it became the Dodge SX 2.0. Maybe they figured people would think it was an all-new car.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            No Plymouth name in Canada?

          • 0 avatar
            NOSLucasWiringSmoke

            @CoreyDL

            The Neon was originally sold as a Dodge or Plymouth in Canada, but after the second generation I think it became a Chrysler. We had the Neon, Breeze, Voyager/Grand Voyager, and I guess the Prowler.

          • 0 avatar
            r129

            Now that I think of it, yes, the first gen was available as both a Dodge and a Plymouth in Canada. The timing of the elimination of Dodge cars, the phase-out of Plymouth and the release of the new Neon all happened around the same time in 2000.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      GM Canada is where GM sends promising executives to learn to f-up. It’s a mandatory step up the corporate ladder.

      The strategy goes like this: Golden Boy gets parachuted from Detroit to Oshawa (a short drive, as many know), proposes a major re-branding and re-org, gets promoted back to Detroit, and whatever he started in Canada comes crashing-down.

      That’s why the same bunch of Daewoo cast-offs were sold as Passport, Pontiac, Geo, and Asuna within a five year span. Canadians responded by buying even more Civics and Corollas.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Does anybody else see a striking family resemblance between this, particularly from the back and the Aztek?

      Here is a link to a brief history regarding the differences between GM sold cars in Canada and the USA. The biggest difference being Pontiacs, which in Canada for many years were actually more like Chevs with a Pontiac body.

      https://history.gmheritagecenter.com/wiki/index.php/Canada_Only_General_Motors_Cars

      The title of worst Pontiac may go to the Firenza which did have a rather startling ability to self-immolate.
      http://www.autofocus.ca/news-events/features/the-firenza-fiasco-is-the-canadian-nader-corvair-affair-you-never-heard-about

      There was still an Asuna sign located on the premises of the Kingston Ontario Saturn dealer’s lot as late as around 2007.

    • 0 avatar
      NOSLucasWiringSmoke

      There are several reasons:

      1) The Canadian market historically had a larger concentration in lower-priced brackets.

      2) The way their Canadian sales organizations were structured in the 1930s-60s, (GM: Chevrolet/Olds/Cad, Pontiac/Buick/GMC; Ford: Ford, Lincoln/Mercury; Chrysler: Chrysler/Plymouth, DeSoto/Dodge) the Big Three needed to have lower-priced cars for medium-priced makes or they would have had very low volume in those dealerships.

      3) They needed to build the cars in Canada before the Auto Pact in 1965 to avoid import duty.

      So:

      GM Canada brought out the “Canadian Pontiac” line about 1937, which was a Chevrolet with Pontiac trim at a lower price point than the US-standard Pontiac. They usually had Chevy engines slightly upsized. This continued into the 1970s, so you could get a Biscayne-poverty-class Pontiac Strato-Chief at about the same price as the Chevy.

      Chrysler Canada made the “Canadian Dodge” which was a Plymouth with a Dodge front clip. The introduction of the US Dart line in 1960 made this superfluous. Chrysler marketed “Export” versions of all their cars at one time or another that were an odd patchwork of Plymouth with other make trim/nameplates.

      Ford Canada marketed the Mercury 114 (1946-48) and Meteor (1949-61) which was a Ford-sized, Ford-priced car for Lincoln-Mercury dealers (early ones had Mercury trim, then they diverged to their own style which was basically Ford-with-busier trim).

      A funny side-effect of the Meteor was that Ford dealers demanded a medium-priced car (tit for tat with the L-M dealers), so Ford Canada also marketed a car called the Monarch from 1947-61, which was a Mercury with different trim. So in 1958-59 Ford Canada was selling Fords, Meteors, Edsels, Monarchs, Mercurys, and Lincolns.

      After the auto pact in 1965 much of this went away in the name of rationalization, but some lower-priced models got medium-price-brand versions in Canada before the US to satisfy dealer demand. I believe the Mercury Bobcat came out in Canada a couple years before the US, and the Pontiac Acadian started life in the 60s as a Pontiac-clone of the Chevy II which was never offered in the US, then later as the Pontiac version of the Chevette before the 1000 model debuted in the US.

      Meantime, Mercury kept the Meteor name for base-level full-sized Mercurys in the 1960s and 1970s because of name recognition, and Canadian Pontiac B-bodies in the 70s and 80s kept the Laurentian and Parisienne nameplates when the same cars were being marketed in the US as the Catalina and Bonneville.

      Funny thing, when Pontiac in the US moved the Bonneville nameplate down to the G-body and later the front-drive H-body in the early 80s, they started selling B-body Pontiac Parisiennes in the US, I guess because US Pontiac dealers demanded a Caprice-type car to sell.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    The German built 75 Opel Manta (sold by Buick) was the apex of the US Opel brand. It was close to a MMW 318 in performance. The chief differences being that BMW had a slightly better suspension and a few more HP. But adjusting for cost, the Opel was a far better deal.
    The Isuzu built steaming pile of crap GM replaced it in 76 was the beginning of the decline that lead to ever more crappy cars sold under the Opel brand. Now, after a long hiatus, Buick is mining Opel for compact cars. The biggest issue now is to get the cost down without de-contenting. That’s going to be a challenge with European labor costs.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      My dad had a 1972 Opel 1900 4 speed in brown. It was a decent drive with many of the attributes of the BMW 2002/1600 of the era. As if BMW made a model below those. Once it needed a head because the valve guides were going so he went to the junkyard and came home unexpectedly with one out of a Opel GT which apparently was a higher performance big valve version with a alloy valve cover. That gave it a bit more zip. Sadly the electrical system gave up the ghost and it went to the wrecking yard.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    So on this example, on the right of the dash there us an arrowhead and some dashes… is where the tach is supposed to be but they have it filled with a plastic blank?

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      My base Impreza came like that! I immediately swapped-in a tach-equiped panel that I bought off a guy who upgraded his to a white panel from a 2.5 RS.

      Didn’t old Audis and VWs put a clock where the tach should have been?

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      Yeah, the tach was optional, if you didn’t order the tach you got that blanking plate with the pontiac logo in the middle.

      This was common back in the 80’s among cheaper cars, as I recall. A lot of ford pickups had blank spots in their dash where an optional tach would have gone, to ensure that you were constantly shamed for your cheapscateness.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        My mom’s Chevette had a giant fuel gauge where the tach should have been, and idiot lights sitting in a gauge opening by themselves where the fuel gauge should have been. And this was a manual. It did at least have those little marks on the speedo to indicate the redline in each gear. Not that the car could reach such speeds in any gear but first unless dropped off a cliff.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Look up the definition of “Turd” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of this uninspired dog cart.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    The exact steering wheel from this car was still in use in 1997, in the Daewoo Lanos. No airbag for the S. Korea market.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I didn’t know there was a sedan.

    If there was any product that killed Pontiac, this is the one that comes to my mind that did it.

  • avatar
    rpm1200

    There’s something you don’t see every day, a single-DIN Delco factory radio.

  • avatar

    I had an “emergency” meeting in Atlanta one morning and flew there from San Antonio. This pile of crap was all National had left. Worst rental ever! That was the only time I left a car curbside at the departing terminal to make a flight back. National wanted to charge me for that. I told them they should have paid me for foisting that garbage on me! I was surprised — they did waive the charge.

    A few years later, I met a couple at an event. Later it turned out they wanted a threesome with me. I turned ’em down, but did learn that the woman, an ad agency graphic designer, had worked on the Korean LeMans launch. The creatives test-drove the car and couldn’t come up with anything great. She also said Robert Stempel, later GM’s President, was a lunatic and idiot.

    • 0 avatar
      CobraJet

      About 1989 my boss and I flew to Baton Rouge, LA and rented a car. His secretary had set up the rental. When he got the keys at the counter I asked him what car we had. He said Pontiac LeMans. I said oh no! He replied that the LeMans should be a nice car. I said no, this is not the LeMans you once knew. Sure enough it was a 4 door version of this crapwagon.

      He made me drive to our meeting in Lafayette. I could hardly crawl out of it after that short trip. Could not imagine driving it all day.

  • avatar
    Ostrich67

    Someone scored a great pickup truck ladder rack that day!

    Oh yeah, the LeMans. It amazes me that a car that traveled less than 100,000 miles can look so decrepit.

    And it never ceases to amaze me that GM, with all the financial resources, engineering talent, and manufacturing capability that it has can produce such sub-mediocre junk like this, and everything else that they have made for the last 40 years.

  • avatar
    Carl Kolchak

    My Uncle had one of these. Because of it, the Pontiac dealer lost about 3-5 sales a year from our family. Less than 20k ,the cam was shot. Had one as a rental in San Berdoo. Nothing like going up a a hill full throttle and the car is slowing down. Good Times

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    I looked at “Le Mans” and expected this:

    http://image.hotrod.com/f/31352330+w660+h495+cr1/1106phr_01_o%2B1972_pontiac_lemans_gt%2Bpaint_job.jpg

    Both have nothing to do with “Le Mans” but at least the 1960s one looks cool.

    Also another old beater with lack of tacho.

  • avatar
    laserwizard

    One of the worst cars ever made. Total Recall Motors thought it could use a low rent automaker to build a car that would rise to Hyundai levels (at that time that was a low threshold). Unfortunately Daewoo could not even rise to riding lawn mower levels of quality. Huffy had them beat.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    Obama didn’t kill Pontiac, Pontiac killed Pontiac.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    I traveled on business a lot in the early 1990s and drove a lot of different rental cars. Several times these were the Daewoo LeManses. They were fine as a rental car, but not something I was ever tempted to buy. Driving wise they were more on the cheap and cheerful side of the equation than were competing econoboxes in the day.

    Now those little three cylinder Geos Metros were real crap! You could drive them flat out without risking a speeding ticket though :).

  • avatar

    A horrid little car, but was it worse than the Korean built Ford Aspire? Of all the cars that I’ve driven, I’d put the Aspire somewhere below 0 degrees Kelvin. I’d rather ride my Litespeed, probably get there with less fuss.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    The LeMans (also for canadians, the Passport Optima) was NOT based on the Kadett E, but the more robust Kadett D. It takes a bit of investigation, but the blower motor on the OUTSIDE of the firewall is a dead giveaway. GM gave the boxy D-Kadett some nicer E-clothes and rebadged it for the USA.

  • avatar
    webibeay

    In 1990 I made the miserable mistake (college kid on a VERY tight budget) to buy one of these sedans brand new. LE sedan, all the options (even sunroof) for $7k. Everything, and I mean everything broke – (windshield fell out, rear bumper fell off, everything leaked, it overheated constantly amongst leaving me on the side of road numerous times!!!!) what a horrible, miserable, piece of crap!!! I managed to get 9,000 miles on it before finally giving up and trading it on a new GEO Storm…. Just can’t explain how truly horrible this POS was….

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