Junkyard Find: 1988 Chevrolet Cavalier Coupe

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1988 chevrolet cavalier coupe

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™.

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2 of 45 comments
  • -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.

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.