By on December 4, 2017

1998 Chevrolet Cavalier in Phoenix wrecking yard, RH front view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
GM sold 191 octillion Cavaliers, more or less, during the Chevrolet-badged J-Body‘s 1982-2005 production run, and so I walk by many discarded examples without feeling any urge to grab my camera.

A late-1990s Z24 convertible is a rarity, though, and so I photographed this ’98 in a Phoenix self-service yard back in July.

1998 Chevrolet Cavalier in Phoenix wrecking yard, air freshener - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
The Cavalier convertible debuted way back in the 1983 model year, but never sold in huge numbers. Just 5,804 1998 Cavalier convertibles were sold in 1998, all of them Z24s.

1998 Chevrolet Cavalier in Phoenix wrecking yard, rear bumper emblem - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
Perhaps the low sales figures for Cavalier convertibles resulted from price tags that pushed the cost of these cheap compacts into the midsize range; in 1998, the MSRP on today’s Junkyard Find was $19,410, versus $18,470 for a new Malibu, $17,245 for a Lumina, $17,795 for a Monte Carlo, and just $16,625 for a Camaro (the 1998 Camaro convertible listed at $22,125). Meanwhile, the bargain-basement cheap Cavalier started at $11,610, for a four-cylinder two-door.

1998 Chevrolet Cavalier in Phoenix wrecking yard, air engine - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
That El Cheapo Cavalier had a miserable 115 horses, however, while the Z24 got a screaming Olds Quad 4 engine rated at 150 horsepower. You could get this engine with a Getrag five-speed manual transmission in 1998, but almost no buyers — including the original purchaser of this car — opted for the three-pedal version.

1998 Chevrolet Cavalier in Phoenix wrecking yard, air steering wheel - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
This car had 246,037 miles on the clock when it arrived here, so its owners got their money’s worth and (we hope) had a lot of top-down enjoyment while doing so.

Busy yoga-doing, hard-working thirtysomethings chose the Cavalier convertible two decades ago, according to this version of reality presented by Chevrolet’s ad agency.

Financially-challenged Cavalier shoppers went for the coupe for their vacation wheels that year.

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51 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Convertible...”

  • avatar

    The last division engines are pretty special. I’m not a GM guy, but I really like the Buick V6, Chevrolet 2.8 V6, Pontiac OHC Four, and the Oldsmobile Quad Four.

    I’m currently running the Quad in a 2000 Olds Alero as a daily driver. I thought it was a V6 the first time I drove it. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened the hood.

    PS: See Cadillac, see what the Northstar could have been?

    • 0 avatar

      I always wanted to put a Quad 4 in a Vega, as an alternative to a Cosworth Vega. I wonder if the Quad 4 would bolt up to the Borg-Warner T-50 5-speed, that was offered in the Vega? Or a T-5?

    • 0 avatar

      I want a Quad 4/5 speed Alero coupe, or an Achieva, but I’d settle for a Calais.

      The Quad is as powerful as a lot of V-6s from the era. I remember being surprised by a Grand AM, I thought for sure it has a 6 until I popped the hood.

  • avatar

    That 2nd ad was interesting – apparently in 1998 people would dare drive out in the countryside without the security of AWD and high ground clearance, which doesn’t seem possible today.

  • avatar

    At my last job, one of the uh weight-challened woman there had the Sunfire version of this. The white interior looked looked dishwater gray within a year.

  • avatar

    My parents had a Cavalier, never bought a GM product after that. These were sad little cars. They were responsible for selling countless Toyotas and Hondas.

  • avatar

    Well, the later Quad-4s must have not been the turds the earlier ones turned out to be.

  • avatar

    Just plugged that price into the inflation calculator: $29, 637. I’d probably opted for a slightly used Camaro or Firebird unless that hood cash was stacked high.

  • avatar

    I have some respect for any vehicle that goes 246,000 miles.

    Too bad digital odometers make the mileage harder to get on newer vehicles.

  • avatar

    In its day a great car for hair stylists, discount Florida car rental agencies and sorority girls from second tier midwestern colleges.

    To the crusher!

  • avatar

    I wonder if that was the shifter with the oh-so-classy bristle-brush around the lever, because GM was too cheap to spend 20 cents for the sliding plastic plate everybody else has used since forever.

    That bristle brush ended up with frayed bristles and dust bunnies in not time at all; I had a rental with 10k miles and those bristles already looked like crap.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    That’s a pretty potent drivetrain for 1998 Compact Car Land. Too bad they wrapped that particular car around it.

  • avatar

    Ah, the Cavalier. My first car was a ’95ish coupe with 2.2L and five speed. My brother’s first car was a ’95ish sedan with 2.4L and a five speed. The manual made them pretty lively to drive and they were mechanically simple and durable. The miserable interior made you hate driving it. I sold mine in about 2001 but my brother kept his through college, law school, and well into his first job around 2009.

    They’re the kind of cars that last longer than you want them to, a GM specialty in the 1980’s and ’90’s. For years he was hoping it would break so he could justify buying something else, but every time it did it was a $25 dollar water pump or $50 alternator. Finally the engine started making a tapping noise around 200k miles and he sent it to the junkyard without even diagnosing the problem.

  • avatar

    My old buddy bought a base Steel wheeled cavalier back in 1988. It was red and had a manual 5 speed. It wasn’t a bad car for what it was. I always thought the Z-24 V6 in the 80’s was a sweet car for what it was. Imagine a V6 with a manual transmission. I think the 2.8 and 3.1 was making 125-135 HP. Big numbers in those days. I never ever got to drive a manual Z-24 but did drive a Beretta GT once.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m pretty sure that era 3.1 made about 160hp. I know this because I had a Sunbird GT with a 2.0 Turbo that made 165hp. It really did get moving–after some good old fashioned turbo lag. A friend I worked with had a Sunbird V6 and I lusted after hers because mine was such a broken mess.

      • 0 avatar

        An ’88 Z24 would’ve had the 2.8 V6. There were lots of sub-types of the 2.8 and 3.1, but I don’t think any of 2.8s put out more than 140 hp. They were torquey, though, and definitely felt peppy in the J-body platform.

  • avatar

    My FAV cavalier….1988 z24 convertible

  • avatar

    These convertible conversions (Cavalier/Sunbird) had one unfortunate feature not yet mentioned: The rear quarter windows couldn’t be lowered independently of the top; they were part of the top mechanism and went down only when the top was lowered. How cheap could GM be? During the many years I had my old Pontiac convertible, I often had the top down and all four windows up, or the reverse.

    • 0 avatar

      Nothing new. The rear quarter windows on the Fiat 124 Spider went down with the manual top.

      • 0 avatar

        Sure, but there were no rear seat passengers in the Fiat who might want to independently lower their windows.

        When all the (mostly Japanese) car companies stopped equipping their two-door cars with flip-out rear quarter windows, that was real cheapness too. It cost so little to install flip-out windows that my 1983 Civic 1300 – the least expensive U.S. Honda that year, the one with the 12-inch wheels and no door armrests – came with them.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      I was always surprised that the Cavalier/Sunbird never had the pseudo rollbar like the Cutlass Supreme droptop.
      The chassis flex must have bad enough to impress Joe Wieder.
      The quarter windows on the Cutlass Supreme droptop also lowered with the top and had a small triangle quarter panel that lowered with it.

  • avatar

    “Cavalier” (from Webster’s) – marked by or given to offhand and often disdainful (see 1disdain) dismissal of important matters; a cavalier attitude toward money; has a cavalier disregard for the rights of others

    Hey, what a great name for a car! And let’s make it a first car for young people. Kinda fits, right?

  • avatar

    Ugh. An ex of mine had one. I can say the transmission was pretty good, and the acceleration was surprisingly brisk.

    Other than that, what a nightmare. Black paint flaked off the spoiler as readily as steel flaked from the wheelwells. In 50k miles (from 35,000 to 80,000) I personally replaced the water pump, alternator (twice), a cracked spring, conveniently about 15K after I did all four struts; a gas tank sending unit and straps, two calipers, and for some reason, about 4671 fog light bulbs.

    It died from headgasket failure at 84,900 miles and I was never happier to see a car get sold to a local mechanic for $200. She ended up in a three-year old Camry Solara and for all I know may still be driving that.

    Her brother owned an ’00 SVT Contour and I’d occasionally swap seat time in my ’95 SHO MTX. Kindred spirits, those.

  • avatar

    Funny commercial quote “I’ll take you there”. But will you take me back?

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    The last gen Cavalier and Sunfire were styling home runs, and that is it. It’s unfortunate GM put that nice sheet metal on such a stinker.

  • avatar

    By 1998, the Cavalier wasn’t a terrible car anymore; just an adequate one.

  • avatar

    The only experience I have with the Cavalier/Sunfire was my mom’s 06 Sunrise, an automatic, and my brother’s Cavalier of a similar vintage (had the red unibrow on back and the misshapen headlights). His was a manual and had suffered years of neglect at the hands of a previous owner. The oil was effectively pudding by the time he bought it with 276k miles. About 6 months later the timing chain snapped and lunched the engine. He had the 2.2. That car soured me on any GM with a relatively small engine. The transmission was nice, but otherwise there wasn’t much to recommend it.

    My 95 Accord that I had at the same time was better in every way, despite being roughly 10 years older.

  • avatar

    Cheezy-looking seats held up pretty well.

    Do you bring the LittleTree things or are they really there from the former owner?

  • avatar

    That woman works an awful lot to be stuck in a Cavalier.

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