Junkyard Find: 1981 Chevrolet Citation Hatchback

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1981 chevrolet citation hatchback

The Chevrolet Citation is so frustrating mostly because it was such a great opportunity for General Motors to own the 1980s; if it had worked as well in reality as it did on paper, it would have obliterated the competition. A roomy, modern, front-wheel-drive car with fuel economy far superior to the primitive late-70s Chevy Nova it replaced, and it was pretty good-looking in a genuinely American way …

… but it ended up being as much a humiliating disaster for GM as Operation Eagle Claw was for the Jimmy Carter presidency.

Citations aren’t easy to find now, but strangely well-preserved examples keep showing up in the self-service wrecking yards I frequent. Here’s a very clean ’81 I found in Denver a couple of weeks ago.

So far in this series, we’ve seen plenty X-bodies, because I can’t refrain from photographing them when I find them. We have this ’80 Skylark, this ’81 Citation, this ’81 Citation, this frighteningly rusty ’81 Citation, this ’82 Citation, this ’82 Citation, this ’83 Citation, this ’84 Citation, this ’84 Omega, and this ’85 Skylark.

This one was loaded up with most of the luxury options, including V6 engine, full gauges, two-tone paint, air conditioning, and AM-FM Delco radio. That radio was a $100 option, or about $283 in inflation-adjusted 2016 dollars. Compared to the dark ages of the early 1980s, factory car audio today is a steal.

There’s no way to tell the true mileage of a Detroit car of this era, due to the 5-digit odometers used then, but this Citation sure looks like a low-mile car that got babied by conscientious owners.

Yes, you could still get a car with a CHOKE warning light as late as 1981.

Perfect Couple and their Perfect Dogs dug the Citation.

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2 of 51 comments
  • ParkRNDL ParkRNDL on May 27, 2016

    My folks bought a 1980 Citation as a dealer demo with a few thousand miles on it in late 1980. Off-white, red velour, Iron Duke/automatic, no A/C. I learned to drive on it in 1985. Bounced it gently off a guardrail in the snow, but apparently all that hit was the wheels... it popped both wheel covers off that side but I wasn't able to find any other damage. I did take out the passenger side headlight and front fender a few months later when someone in front of me stopped short in the rain. Put a junkyard fender on it and rattle-canned it back as close as I could get to the right color and it was good to go. I think I had 9 or 10 people in it one night too, with the rear seats folded down and everyone crammed in the hatch. Good times.

  • Maserchist Maserchist on May 29, 2016

    My best Citation story: I was working in a tire shop when the little old lady cruised in asking for her "water" to be topped off. The LIQUID rust that barely passed as "coolant" was my first warning that this car would be a hard case to rectify. After adding a half gallon of genuine antifreeze/water to the rusted radiator & recovery bottle, she was happy. I was too, for about 2 weeks. She showed back up, overheating bigtime. After the blown head gasket diagnosis & the cost for the repair, she sold me the car for $200. So I became the owner of a real pretty 82(?) V6 a/t a/c p/b p/s car. Dismantled the engine & discovered the liquid rust had settled/accumulated in the block to the point where barely a quart of coolant surrounded the cylinders. DUG out the iron oxide with a long screwdriver, replacing block plugs which were going to fail next, put it all back together. Ran fine as a daily driver for 3 more years, until I sold it to some other person who needed wheels worse than me. Sold it for $500. Turns out the little old car killer had been having her WATER topped off for years before I ever even 1st saw the car. Moral of the story; cheap car maintenance ALWAYS comes back to bite azz...

  • 2ACL I can't help feeling that baby is a gross misnomer for a vehicle which the owner's use necessitated a (manual!) transmission rebuild at 80,000 miles. An expensive lesson in diminishing returns I wouldn't recommend to anyone I know.
  • El scotto Rumbling through my pantry and looking for the box of sheets of aluminum foil. More alt right comments than actual comments on international trade policy. Also a great deal of ignorance about the global oil industry. I'm a geophysicist and I pay attention such things. Best of all we got to watch Tassos go FULL BOT on us.
  • El scotto No one and I mean no one on here is a UAW member or a salaried employee of the Big 3. Then again if someone identified themselves on here they would pilloried every time they posted.The comments on here are like listening to the overgrown children who call into sports radio shows.
  • Statikboy Those tires are the Wrong Size.
  • Mustangfast I had an 06 V6 and loved that car. 230k trouble free miles until I sold it. I remember they were criticized for being too small vs competitors but as a single guy it was the right size for me. I recall the 2.3 didn’t have a reputation for reliability, unlike the V6 and I4. I think it likely didn’t take off due to the manual-only spec, price tag, and power vs the V6 engine and the way it delivered that power. It was always fun to see the difference between these and normal ones, since these were made in Japan whereas all others were flat rock