Junkyard Find: 1988 Chevrolet Cavalier Coupe

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

GM may have produced the W-Body for a few more years than the J-Body (W-based Impala Limited production continued until 2016), but Chevy Cavalier sales continued like money-printing clockwork via the increasingly antiquated J platform from 1981 all the way through 2005.

More than five million Cavaliers rolled off assembly lines in the United States and Mexico, so we still see the later ones on the street. 1980s Cavaliers — particularly Cavalier coupes — have all but disappeared from the street, so I keep my eyes open for interesting examples as I tread the oil-saturated soil of American junkyards. Here’s an ’88 coupe still showing the personality of its final owner, found in the shadow of Pikes Peak a few months ago.

Cavalier sales peaked during the middle-to-late 1980s, when the factory-hot-rod Cavalier Z24 got pitched with screaming guitars and alien landscapes.

This car, though, is an El Cheapo coupe with base engine and the least expensive number of doors. The automatic transmission (a $415 option — $925 in 2020 dollars — despite having just three forward gears) and optional air conditioning indicate a certain willingness to pay a bit more for traffic-jam comfort.

I don’t know if I’d want to try to collect that insurance money by jamming on the brakes in a 2,359-pound 1980s car when being tailgated by a typical three-ton 2020 commutemobile in the rage-filled stretch of I-25 between Colorado Springs and Denver, but perhaps this sticker above the Liddy Light had a deterrent effect.

Yeah, I-25 is not for the faint of heart.

I’d say that at least a quarter of cars I find in Colorado junkyards these days have at least one sticker from a cannabis dispensary, and this Incredibles Colorado sticker is by far the most popular. Actually, they’re not just in Colorado these days, so we’ll be seeing these stickers in the junkyards of the West Coast and Midwest soon.

I hope these caps didn’t come from bottles consumed while the car was in motion.

Cavalier buyers could choose between two engines in 1988: a 90-horsepower pushrod 2.0-liter four or a 125-horse V6 displacing 2.8 liters. This car has the four, which must have struggled up steep grades at the high elevations around Colorado Springs.

Still, it worked as transportation for better than three decades, outlasting plenty of Toyotas and Hondas in the process.

When you’ve got that first job in the big city, leave your teddy bear behind and drive your affordable Chevy two-door off into the sunset.

For links to 2,000+ more Junkyard Finds like this one, visit the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • -Nate -Nate on Jul 28, 2020

    Another J body Road Roach..... -Nate

  • Daniel J Daniel J on Jul 28, 2020

    We had a '91 sample of one of these atrocious cars. We purchased in on '03. It only had about 65K miles on it. About 6 months after owning it the torque converter would stay locked up every so often and then pulling from a stop light or stop sign would stall the engine. It was going to cost more to fix it than it was worth.

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