By on March 4, 2021

In 1991, consumers could purchase one of several affordable midsize coupes of low-medium equipment, low-medium quality, and upper-middle levels of style.

Let’s talk Lumina Z34.

The Lumina was a new model in Chevrolet’s lineup, introduced in 1990 to replace the dated and extra boxy A-body Celebrity that was on sale since 1982. Lumina was larger in every dimension and more suited to its midsize car mission than its predecessor. Utilizing the newer W-body, Lumina was produced alongside the Buick Regal, Pontiac Grand Prix, and Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. All four cars went head-to-head with the sales monster that was the Ford Taurus.

But the Lumina was no single-car replacement at GM; there was a larger plan at work. Lumina also absorbed the market share of Chevy’s Monte Carlo, which saw its last model year in 1988. Monte’s sporty customers chose the two-door coupe, while Celebrity types opted for the four-door sedan. Monte Carlo was reintroduced for the ’95 model year, which coincided with Lumina’s second W-body generation. In that guise, Monte Carlo was not as much its own design, but more a new Lumina coupe. The Lumina name also extended to a minivan – the APV – which was the Cadillac of Minivans when it donned Oldsmobile Silhouette costumery. The APV was a replacement for the Celebrity wagon; GM saw the Nineties writing on the wall as wagon sales entered a nosedive.

First-gen Luminas were available with inline-four or V6 engines. A 2.2-liter I4 was available only in 1993, while the 2.5-liter Iron Duke from the Celebrity was available from 1990 to 1992. V6 power arrived via a 3.1 (’90-’94) or 3.4 (’91-’94). Transmissions were three- and four-speed GM automatics, or the rarely chosen five-speed manual from Getrag.

Newly available for 1991 was a high-performance Lumina variant, the Z34. The Z34 trim was offered only on the coupe, and was always fitted with an FE3 sports suspension package, and used the largest 3.4-liter engine shared with the Euro trim sedan. Standard was a dual exhaust and four-wheel ABS, as well as a five-speed manual. The automatic was optional on Z34 and usually selected. Even in automatic guise, the shifter was floor-mounted, in contrast to more common Lumina trims. Z34 sported 200 horsepower, which meant a 0 to 60 time of just 7.2 seconds with a manual transmission, and a top speed of 130 miles per hour.

Outside, the Z34 showed its sporting intent via different fascias front and rear, lower side skirts, louvers in various places, and a spoiler. Paint colors were limited: red, blue, white, black, silver, and gray. Inside, drivers grabbed a three-spoke sports wheel and sat on overstuffed bucket seats.

The Lumina was immediately successful, and in 1990 racked up over 300,000 sales. Around 278,000 of those were sedans, and nearly 46,000 coupes. At the end of the Lumina’s first generation in 1994, over a million had been sold. The Lumina Z34 faded away after that year and was replaced by the aforementioned Monte Carlo Z34 in 1995.

Today’s Rare Ride is in spectacular condition and goes up for auction tomorrow. With a five-speed manual, it has just 17,000 miles and has been in the same collection for the past 28 years.

[Images: GM]

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53 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1991 Chevrolet Lumina Z34, a Practical High-performance Coupe...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    There not a chance I would have bought this over its BOP counterparts.
    Honestly, any early 90s W-body would be a hard sell against a C/H/E but I guess the plebs need something too.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I find the lack of 3800 in this model disturbing.

      GM instead subjected this model to their LQ1 experiment, a 3.4 DOHC used in a few other top trims which didn’t work out so well. Good old GM, screw the customers willing to pay all that extra margin for the top trim of their respective GM brand – really the best customer you could have.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_60%C2%B0_V6_engine#LQ1

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Looks how solid the Buick lineup was in 1991 and then imagine still buying a Chevy.
        xr793.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/
        1991-Buick-Full-Line-Prestige.pdf

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I did have a Cavalier in the late 90s, and I longed for the Sunbird. That’s really sad for me to say but its true lol. Ironically Olds was where it was at in my family/neighborhood.

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        Back then GM had all these different engine plants that they needed to utilize because getting rid of UAW workers was uneconomical due to the contract a/k/a jobs bank, etc.

        So while a rational decision would be to use the best four and six cylinder configurations across the board, all those legacy tooled factories kept chugging along, sometimes with bizarro configs like the dual twin cam v6.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Back then GM needed to use all of the plants to have the necessary capacity. Sure they could have consolidated to a single design but the retooling costs would be high. With shrinking market share they probably figured they would let that push them to fewer plants and thus fewer designs. That is what they did with the V8s dropping the Buick, Pontiac and Olds once demand was down to what they could produce on the Chevy lines.

  • avatar
    FerrariLaFerrariFace

    “Paint colors were limited: red, blue, white, black, silver, and gray”

    That’s a pretty typical, yet comprehensive, palette by today’s standards.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Dear TTAC,

    I have been attempting to atone for my ad blocking sins and whitelisted a handful of sites I really like. However, and this may be a recent change, the video you implant in about the middle of an article has become a real problem. More specifically, the fact you fire off Javascript to force the video to my lower right to annoy the f*** out of me as I scroll down the article. I seriously consider this a middle finger, in fact I’d be more amused by gif of one than whatever you’re playing. I really don’t mind the video playing in the center as I scroll, but if I want to watch it I can stop and watch it before scrolling down – I do not want my sometimes limited screen space filled with your sh!tty ads. Please consider my most serious feedback, play whatever videos you like but don’t allow them to follow me.

    Thanks,
    28

  • avatar
    dal20402

    The Twin Dual Cam was the best-sounding of all GM V6 ever made. Unfortunately, it was also both the least reliable and the hardest to service. These cars sure sounded nice driving by but there is a reason they are all gone.

    This one is absolutely immaculate, though. It looks like someone put it in one of those helium bubbles for storage.

  • avatar
    whynotaztec

    I was a very early adopter of these back in 1991, buying one of the first off the truck in my area. Door mounted seat belts, no ABS. It ran fast enough, but the exhaust was just too raspy for me. I won’t bore you all with the litany of mechanical maladies, but I traded it in just as the warranty was up.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Note that in the interior picture that accompanies this article, although the vehicle appears to be ‘all dressed’ the passenger side mirror appears to be operated by a manual toggle located on the passenger side door. Not even a manual toggle on the instrument panel that the driver can reach.

    Might a Cavalier Z24 with a drop top have been a better option if you were committed to buying a Chev?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “The Lumina name also extended to a minivan”

    Ford, 2020: “If Chevy could do that with a revered name like ‘Lumina’, we can do it with the Mustang!”

  • avatar
    conundrum

    I echo the complaints about the video horse manure on this site.

    The Z34 V6 DOHC supposedly had 215 hp. Had a race against a guy who thought he’d bought the bees knees. My Talon AWD turbo shut him down im first and second and by the time I was fully hammering in third, the Earnhardt blobbo silhouette was a rapidly diminishing dot in my rearview mirror. Paper tiger that car. There was another DOHC V6 GM stuck in an Olds midsize of no distinction beyond body rigidity that I had the displeasure to sample, 3/4th of the Aurora V8, and called the Shortstar. Another dud engine, and the car wasn’t much better. GM, more money than sense back then.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Ok bud.

    • 0 avatar
      Bcweir

      So in your book, beating a car that’s 700 to a thousand pounds heavier, with MAYBE a fifteen to twenty horsepower advantage over your completely different vehicle type is a win for you?

      That’s comparable to a Miata driver celebrating a “win” over a 70s/80s body on frame station wagon.

      Apparently your ego really needed that empty and easy win.

    • 0 avatar
      1500cc

      IIRC, the 3.4 TDC was de-rated to save the transmission. It could’ve made well into the mid-high 200s if allowed to run free.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The Buick Regal version was introduced in MY 1988. Below is a link for a video review of a 1988 Regal from Curious Cars

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Thank god these are about to be extinct any minute, at least from the roads, along with the Berretta/Corsica and similar HEARTBEAT OF AMERICA era “classics”

    • 0 avatar
      Garrett

      Why?

      It literally looks better than ANY other Chevy that is produced today.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        No argument there. I guess I’ve totally given up on any car looking tolerable after ’08 or so. They’re not even on my radar. German cars being the exception.

        On a side note, I was just admiring a newer frost white metallic BMW 330i this morn. Damn. But when I got close I saw that the dealer plate frame said “Kia of…”. How can people do that?

        • 0 avatar

          >>>I got robbed at Bob’s Ripoff Ford<<<
          Every new car I get, I tell them no frames. Every car has them when they roll it out.
          I tell the salesman I'm not taking the car with them on unless they want to cut the price $500. Frames off…

    • 0 avatar
      Bcweir

      About to be extinct? When was the last time you saw a front wheel drive personal luxury coupe produced new from General Motors?

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    “Standard was a dual exhaust [tips] and four…”

    There fixed it for you.

  • avatar
    mauldin1983

    I created an account specifically to tell you how awful the video is that follows you throughout the article. Also, I’d totally drive the Lumina APV over the coupe or sedan.

  • avatar
    Jim Ketchel

    I am probably remembering this wrong, but IIRC there was at least one model year where there was some kind of ignition/fuel cutoff at 109 mph. I vividly recall engaging in a top speed contest (sorry, I know, public roads, but very much deserted) and seeing the Z34 driver banging on the steering wheel that his 200hp car couldn’t go as fast as a VW Cabrio

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      It looks like the 2nd gen Monte Carlo Z34 and Lumina LTZ (both of which started out with this 3.4L and then eventually moved to the 3800) had a top speed limiter at 118mph. Some owners seem to report it kicking in around 108 and some around 120. I don’t know if that is from the tires or just where GM decided to put it.

      montecarloforum.com/forum/monte-carlo-repair-help-8
      /top-speed-limiter-engages-based-what-43892/

      On this 1st gen Lumina Z34, I’m not sure. I see the 130mph cited in lots of places but the feature car only has a 110mph speedometer.

      • 0 avatar
        thor124

        With regards to speed limiters on these cars, I owned a 1991 Lumina, and a 95 Monte Carlo, both with a 3.1L V6.

        The 91 Lumina did not have a speed limiter. I have no idea how fast it would go, the speedo only went up to something like 140kph. But I it could pull away from an 3.4L Old’s Achieva on the highway(given time – it was faster off the line). The Achieva’s speed limiter appeared to engage around 190kph(118MPH) per it’s driver.

        The 95 Monte was limited to 190kph or so from what I recall.

  • avatar

    The service writer at the dealership I worked in when I graduated high school had one of these. His had a flowmaster exhaust some aftermarket shocks and other bolt on goodies and the manual transmission. I rode in it a few times to go move cars around the dealerships, and while not my thing it was pretty quick for the time while being fairly comfortable to ride in.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I once looked at a Cutlass Supreme coupe with the 3.4 Twin Dual Cam as well as the basket handle drop top with the 3.1. They drove and handled fine but what put me off was the door mounted belts and the Roger Smith era cut rate interior furnishings. Apparently the Twin Dual Cam was a problematic motor hardly in the league of the 3800 Series I and II.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Where I live there are still many Pontiac front wheel drive cars roaming the roads in hooptie condition. Seems regardless of how negatively they are perceived they are still on the road like roaches they just keep going and going.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      You just had to stay away from the “QUAD-4” powered cars of that era. Incidentally, I think the aftermarket has adressed the headgasket issues on those and I’ve always kind of wanted to drop a manual equipped one into a first gen Fiero.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        GM did plan to use the QUAD-4 in the Fiero if they continued to build it after 1988 when they improved the suspension and steering. In typical GM fashion once they get it right they drop the model.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I’d forgotten the Lumina was available as a coupe. Not a bad looking car, too bad GM’s 4 and 6-cylinder drivetrains in this era were a disaster (with a few exceptions).

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    You coulda had a Taurus SHO with the wonderful, conservatively-rated at 225 HP, Yamaha 3 liter DOHC V-6 instead of this. I bought a ’92 and kept it 10 years. The engine appeared to be bulletproof; the clutch had some throwout bearing issues. Like most domestics of the era, it was under-braked. Replacing the stock front discs with higher-quality ones from, IIRC, Germany cured the chronic warping problem.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      The SHO was a better sports sedan, but it was also apparently about 35% more to buy.
      Over its 4 years of production the Lumina Z34 sold about 9600/year (around 35% of all Lumina coupes but only 5% of total Lumina production). SHO production from ’89-’92 averaged about 10K per year. I think the lack of an automatic transmission hurt the Ford more than the higher price though. In ’93 when an automatic SHO became available they sold over 21K cars and 17K of them were automatic.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      I test drove an ’89 SHO and brought back with a stinky clutch. Luckily I got to do a solo test drive since I used to work at the dealer. I would’ve bought it otherwise, but the clutch/transaxle, I later found out, were straight out of the Tempo/Escort parts bin. Yikes. It hated upshifts above 5K RPM or downshifts that would put it there.

      What a shame. I settled on a 5.0 LX Mustang.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I remember a Patrick Bedard article (it could have been his column) in Car and Driver about this generation of Lumina. He wrote about the panels that comprise the top of the dashboard, and how they don’t really align with each other. This was done intentionally by GM to ease assembly. His thoughts on the subject (wording approximate): “Do you really want, after you’ve spent $15,000 on a car, to have a daily reminder of how easy it was to slap together?”

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