2005 Chevrolet Cavalier, Last Gasp of the J Platform Edition

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
The General built cars on the J Platform for a quarter-century, and J-based machines could be bought new with badges from just about every marque in the far-flung GM Empire. Yes, South Koreans drove Daewoo Esperos, Brits drove Vauxhall Cavaliers, Aussies drove Holden Camiras, and even the Japanese could buy Isuzu Askas and Toyota Cavaliers. In North America, nearly every marque offered J-Bodies at some point… and in the end, the very final Js were Chevy Cavaliers and Pontiac Sunfires. Here’s one of those end-of-the-line cars, found in a Denver yard a few months ago.
By 2005, the J platform had attained levels of obsolescence undreamed-of even by Lee Iacocca with Chrysler’s K platform, which went into production about the same time as the GM J but got the axe in the middle 1990s. By the end, just a handful were being built and most went to thin-walleted fleet buyers; it took me many months of searching to find a 2005 J in a junkyard.
Most low-trim-level Cavaliers got the pushrod 122 engine, developed specifically for use in the J-Cars, while the factory-hot-rod Z24s received various members of the 60° V6 family or screaming DOHC Quad-4s. The 122 got dumped after 2003, with the 2.2-liter Ecotec getting bolted into all 2004 and 2005 Cavaliers. Since the Ecotec has proven to be the most reliable engine ever installed in a J-Body, ’04s and ’05s should be the most sought-after today (they aren’t).
While a 5-speed manual transmission was standard Cavalier equipment in the early 2000s, nearly all post-mid-1980s Cavalier shoppers paid extra for the automatic transmission. This car has a not-so-futuristic-in-2005 four-speed automatic; low-end Cavalier shoppers got three-speed slushboxes as late as the 2001 model year.
I believe the trade name for this fabric was sac de jute de pommes de terre, and it was dandy for removal of car-renter bodily fluids via the water-hose and wire brush technique.
Still, even cheapo mid-2010s Detroit cars came with CD players in their base-level cars (the AUX jack came later).
Fittingly enough, this car spends its last days parked next to another final-model-year GM machine, painted in a color quite similar to ’05 Chevy Victory Red ( known as Bright Red in the ever-contracting 2009 Pontiac universe): a 2009 Pontiac G3. The G3 was a one-year-only version of the Daewoo-built Chevy Aveo, so it wasn’t around for the demise of Pontiac in 2010.
It’s safe to say that not everybody was talking about the Ecotec-powered Cavaliers, but at least GM paid to advertise the final version to civilian buyers.For links to better than 2,000 additional Junkyard Finds, 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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  • Canam23 Canam23 on Feb 08, 2021

    What always bothered me about the J cars was their terrible crash ratings. I had a friend who was pretty badly hurt in a relatively minor crash in one of these.All the more frightening considering how many people put their teenagers in them as first cars.

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    • Mustangfast Mustangfast on Feb 19, 2021

      I had to drive one of these for drivers Ed. It’s amazing how that car was almost brand new yet was terrible in every way compared to either my parents late 90s Villager and Escort, or my soon to be 80s Volkswagen. I lived not terribly far from where these disasters were made, and there were so many “buy local” people who had these because they were American, but not because they were any good.

  • JRED JRED on Feb 09, 2021

    A neighbor had two of these maybe 4-5 years ago. One never moved, guessing it was purchased for parts, the other ran, badly, for a little while. One day while driving past I noticed the hood up on the running one, with a couple guys working on it. I stopped in to see if they needed any help/tools (I maintain my own cars and have accumulated a lot of stuff to that end), and it turned out they were replacing the headgasket. Having done that job before, I was a little concerned by the big pile of nuts/bolts on the base of the windshield, but hey, maybe it wasn't their first time? A day or so later the car was back on the road, but not for long. It wound up parked in the driveway for a few months. Then one day I was working in the yard and heard loud banging, like someone hammering something. I noticed some teenagers in the street in front of my house looking pretty concerned, their attention focused toward the Cavalier house. I asked if they were alright, and one replied "He lost it man, he crazy!" in reference to Cavalier owner. Said owner was beating one of the Cavaliers with an aluminum baseball bat, leaving taillights smashed, panels dented. Didn't touch the glass for some reason though. Couple more months, rollback hauled off both Cavaliers. Since then, I think I've seen as many 2nd gen Cavaliers as I have 3rd gens. Which is to say, maybe 1 of each. A friend in high school had an '02 model in yellow, with the Ecotec engine. He ran the hell out of that thing and it took it well for at least a few years. He participated in some of the import meets that were popular at that time, and claimed the car acquitted itself well against Civics etc. in stoplight races.

  • Honda1 Unions were needed back in the early days, not needed know. There are plenty of rules and regulations and government agencies that keep companies in line. It's just a money grad and nothing more. Fain is a punk!
  • 1995 SC If the necessary number of employees vote to unionize then yes, they should be unionized. That's how it works.
  • Sobhuza Trooper That Dave Thomas fella sounds like the kind of twit who is oh-so-quick to tell us how easy and fun the bus is for any and all of your personal transportation needs. The time to get to and from the bus stop is never a concern. The time waiting for the bus is never a concern. The time waiting for a connection (if there is one) is never a concern. The weather is never a concern. Whatever you might be carrying or intend to purchase is never a concern. Nope, Boo Cars! Yeah Buses! Buses rule!Needless to say, these twits don't actual take the damn bus.
  • MaintenanceCosts Nobody here seems to acknowledge that there are multiple use cases for cars.Some people spend all their time driving all over the country and need every mile and minute of time savings. ICE cars are better for them right now.Some people only drive locally and fly when they travel. For them, there's probably a range number that works, and they don't really need more. For the uses for which we use our EV, that would be around 150 miles. The other thing about a low range requirement is it can make 120V charging viable. If you don't drive more than an average of about 40 miles/day, you can probably get enough electrons through a wall outlet. We spent over two years charging our Bolt only through 120V, while our house was getting rebuilt, and never had an issue.Those are extremes. There are all sorts of use cases in between, which probably represent the majority of drivers. For some users, what's needed is more range. But I think for most users, what's needed is better charging. Retrofit apartment garages like Tim's with 240V outlets at every spot. Install more L3 chargers in supermarket parking lots and alongside gas stations. Make chargers that work like Tesla Superchargers as ubiquitous as gas stations, and EV charging will not be an issue for most users.
  • MaintenanceCosts I don't have an opinion on whether any one plant unionizing is the right answer, but the employees sure need to have the right to organize. Unions or the credible threat of unionization are the only thing, history has proven, that can keep employers honest. Without it, we've seen over and over, the employers have complete power over the workers and feel free to exploit the workers however they see fit. (And don't tell me "oh, the workers can just leave" - in an oligopolistic industry, working conditions quickly converge, and there's not another employer right around the corner.)