By on July 27, 2020

1988 Chevrolet Cavalier in Colorado junkyard, LH front view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsGM 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.

1988 Chevrolet Cavalier in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsCavalier sales peaked during the middle-to-late 1980s, when the factory-hot-rod Cavalier Z24 got pitched with screaming guitars and alien landscapes.

1988 Chevrolet Cavalier in Colorado junkyard, RH rear view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis 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.

1988 Chevrolet Cavalier in Colorado junkyard, sticker - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI 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.

1988 Chevrolet Cavalier in Colorado junkyard, sticker - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsYeah, I-25 is not for the faint of heart.

1988 Chevrolet Cavalier in Colorado junkyard, sticker - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI’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.

1988 Chevrolet Cavalier in Colorado junkyard, bottle caps - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI hope these caps didn’t come from bottles consumed while the car was in motion.

1988 Chevrolet Cavalier in Colorado junkyard, engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsCavalier 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.

1988 Chevrolet Cavalier in Colorado junkyard, sticker - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsStill, 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.

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45 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Chevrolet Cavalier Coupe...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    The former owner of this car was last seen in a “Karen” video mouthing-off to a Walmart employee about their rights and wearing a mask

    *sigh*

    • 0 avatar
      seppi

      STFU idiot

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I’m actually picturing a 32-year-old tattoo-sleeved single woman who tends bar at a craft brewery in some newly-yuppified area of Denver. Normally, my money would be on Cap Hill, but considering her ride, that’s too rich for her blood. Call it Edgewater or Old Town Arvada.

      Karen’s ride is a Toyota Highlander festooned with “Dog Rescue Mom” and “My Kid Is An Honor Student” stickers. Why the Highlander? It received Consumer Reports’ VERY highest recommendation for safety – and little Kyler, Kylie and Keegan HAVE to be kept safe!

      (sorry, Dan, you know it’s true, LOL).

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I’m still laughing.

        When my wife finally get’s the 3 row Nimitz class SUV or CUV she wants I’ll smile because it’s her money and I can go drive whatever I want because it’s my money.

      • 0 avatar
        Superdessucke

        I too was kind of picturing left-leaning here with a lot of anti-Trump stuff on her Facebook page but I guess that’ll remain a mystery. It could reasonably be either I suppose. Anyway, this is a rare (now) VL. You can tell by the classic Camaro four spoke steering wheel, which was only offered in ’88.

        A friend of mine bought one of these brand new back in 1988. His was dark blue though.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Of course I have a soft spot for J-cars since I had a ’90 Sunbird LE coupe. It was bought new for my sister when she became driving age and then handed down to me when my ’86 Sentra started mysteriously dying when at stop lights.

    It was a decent car and it was the car I got my awful modification bug out on. Fortunately I was pretty broke so I never spent real money on it.
    The only problem it had during the first 120k miles was an alternator going out. And that might have been exacerbated by the “system” I installed in it.
    in 2000 at around 124k miles the headgasket blew. I got another hand-me-down car (my beloved ’90 Mazima SE) but held onto the ‘Bird and my folks put a junkyard engine in it and used it sparingly. It made it another few years and in 2006 the junkyard engine blew and that was it.

    You can still find it on CarDomain – last updated the day it passed on.
    http://www.cardomain.com/ride/192176/1990-pontiac-sunbird/

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Aren’t these the cars that coined the phrase, “runs poorly for a long time”?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Great bumper stickers….

    A 32-year-old Cavalier: the ultimate cockroach. I would never have owned one of these, but they do get my respect.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    I had a coworker which drove an almost identical vehicle, but it was a puke green color. Also decorated with several aggressive stickers.

    And yes, she was also a Karen.

  • avatar
    paxman356

    I owned a 1991 Cav 2 door. It would be the worst car I ever owned, if I didn’t own a Chevette first. This is not to say I was unhappy with it. I also wasn’t happy with it. It just was. Don’t miss it. Wouldn’t buy another one even if it were 1991, it was new, and being offered for $1… okay, maybe it was worth that. It at least got up and down the road with minimal fanfare and fuss. Maybe I got lucky it ran so well, but my family is known for getting 250k out of Chevettes, so there is that.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I seriously doubt that bumper sticker’s claim about that car’s brakes.

  • avatar
    JMII

    When I first started dating my wife she had one of these terrible cars. I had a Honda Civic which was 3 years older and a good 40k more in mileage yet was clearly superior in every possible way. The Caviler is the only car I’ve driven to its top speed because it was only 90 MPH. It took forever to reach that velocity as the engine was so gutless it just kept making noise but never went any faster. I remember the interior being of laughable quality and the paint was just as bad. The car required a new alternator like other cars used oil – every 3 to 5k in mileage that battery would stop charging as the little light on the dash glowed to remind you it was time for a new one… again. If you drove it thru a puddle the power steering stopped working until it dried out an hour later.

    To me this car represented everything that was wrong with GM. As soon as my wife got out of college and got a full time job she bought a Civic. We have avoided Chevy’s for nearly 30 years because of this one car. Last year I gambled and got a Corvette which is obviously in a totally different league. My C7 (so far!) appears to be the exception that proves the rule when it comes to crappy GM products.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      How does a car go through alternators that fast? That’s a new one on me. Was there some underlying cause, by chance?

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        I have no idea. Just seemed to be a feature of this particular car. She had the car for 2 years and it needed 3 alternators. I think one of them was rebuilt so can’t fully blame the car. This car was a “demo unit” per the sales guy. The grandparents bought it for their granddaughter… so I think they saw the “sucker” stamped on her forehead from a mile away.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        It is much more likely to be the blame of the crappy “rebuilt” alternators. The typical operation for the last few decades sells 100% used alternators as their price line, which is the one you find on the store shelf most of the time.

        They buy cores from core consolidators and of course get cores from the customers. They tear them down in big groups and reassemble them with the working parts. They only replace parts that aren’t working at that time if they absolutely have to.

        For high demand applications some offer a premium line that actually has all wear parts replaced from the left overs of the main operation. However you don’t find those on the shelf at most parts stores.

        Unfortunately GM alternators due to the large numbers of them produced with shared parts means your chance of getting a 100% used unit is very very high.

        That said there are a number of underlying problems that can shorten the life of an alternator and that is certainly possible that was the case.

  • avatar
    KOKing

    As much of a reputation the nameplate built in 30yrs (don’t forget it was recycled from its Vauxhall platform mate) I thought it was pointless renaming it to Cobalt then Cruze. I personally still referred to those later nameplates as Cavaliers.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Married into a 1998 Cavalier with 25k miles on it. It was a decent car and was trouble free other than an alternator at 85k miles. Sold rust free with 135k miles on it. Seats were actually decent and got decent mileage. It wasn’t a thrilling car but perfectly fine as a commuter.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    “…Chevy Cavalier sales continued like money-printing clockwork…”

    In Moe Szyslak voice: “Hey, uh, I ain’t sayin’ one way or the other, but never assume that just because a particular vehicle sells in significant volume, that it is profitable on an all-in net income basis.”

  • avatar
    rpm773

    Back when my ride was a 1981 Volvo “DL” (244) with a rust-belt finish on it, I thought these were pretty good-looking vehicles. A little sporty, a little reserved.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      I drove a very similar vintage Volvo in the mid 1990s and I had the same favorable opinion of the Cavalier’s styling.

      My other observation of these cars was the rear seat headroom was very tight- a sacrifice for the car’s good looks. There were a few small cars back then that had decent room in the front and rear seats, but the J cars were not one of those. The Volvo 240 was a medium sized car, very different customer base, design philosophy, oh and price(!!), but its boxy styling meant four adults could sit up straight and be comfortable.

      Back to this Cavalier, yes, I do remember their styling as tasteful, almost elegant in its simplicity, and with a kind of fond nostalgia.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I’ve rented these as well as the Sunbird before and found them to be decent. The Sunbird had the Pontiac only dash with the unique separate radio controls. Someone at GM must have said how do we prevent Cruchfield upgrades.
    An uncle of ours left us a well appointed Oldsmobile Firenza sedan with the GM Europe and Brazil 2.0 OHC motor. After a while the motor was making ungodly sounds so we sold it to someone who wanted to fix it for a commuter car.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Murilee ain’t kidding about the “rage filled stretch of I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs” – it’s a disaster, and the stretch from Denver to Fort Collins isn’t much better. Once upon a time, people actually commuted between those cities, but today, you’d have to be seriously pumped up on Xanax to handle it.

    #ReasonsI’mThinkingAboutAbandoningDenver

  • avatar
    Proud2BUnion

    Well, I do have to agree with ONE of those bumper stickers!

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    No actual mileage numbers? I believe one of the pictures actually shows the car still has their gauges and I believe those Cavaliers already come equipped with 6 barrel odometers. Would’ve been interesting to know how further this Cavalier went

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      There is a picture of the instruments and while there is glare, you can tell it’s a five digit ODO.

      Mileage is one of my favorite aspects of these posts and with electronic ODO’s now prevalent it makes me sad.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Many J cars continued to run badly long after better-engineered cars, mechanically speaking, had disintegrated into dust leaving behind functional drivetrains attached to hopelessly rotted bodies.

    The bean counters were brutal when it came to interior materials on the J-cars, moving close to a milkcrate strapped to the floor covered in fake vinyl from Michael’s as the mid-tier interior option.

    One last thought (yes I know this version has the 2.0 4-cylinder paint mixer), the 2.8L GM V6 had a glorious exhaust note.

  • avatar

    As a foreigner I don’t get that pussy sticker. Is it about pregnant pussy and what is so delicious about it?

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Another J body Road Roach…..

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    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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