By on May 10, 2021

We featured the predecessor to General Motors’ J-body last week in the Pontiac Sunbird, which was replaced by the J-body J2000 in 1982. But the Cavalier was always the star of the J-body show; the one everyone thought to buy.

Today we feature an immaculate wagon from Cavalier’s second generation.

Alongside many other J-body things, the Cavalier debuted with two, three, or four doors in 1982. Body styles ran the gamut, and the front-drive Cavalier easily replaced the Monza in the hearts and minds of American consumers.

Of course, it was no surprise that after several years of sales success, General Motors introduced a second-generation J-body Cavalier. With the same 101-inch wheelbase as its predecessor, the new Cavalier was around five inches longer and equipped with more powerful engines than before.

The three-door hatchback body style was gone, replaced by coupes and convertibles with two doors, and a four-door sedan and wagon. The Cavalier’s convertible option was short-lived though. GM brass anticipated competition with the more expensive and upcoming Beretta convertible, so they canceled the Cavalier convertible after 1989. But the Beretta convertible idea was scrapped just before production, so Cavalier proceeded with fixed roofs until its next generation. The Beretta convertible appeared as an Indy 500 pace car, by the way.

Power was provided by some not very exciting four cylinders in displacements of 2.0 or 2.2 liters, alongside V6 power in 2.8- and 3.1-liter varieties. The 3.1 became an optional extra in 1990 and replaced the 2.8. Transmissions on offer were two: a five-speed manual or a three-speed auto. The automatic was standard equipment on sedan and wagon Cavaliers.

The initial increase in size was a half-step forward for Cavalier. Model years 1988 to 1990 were 178.6 inches long in sedan form. A refresh in 1991 came with a new length: 182.3 inches. The 1990 to 1994 Cavaliers were the longest ever offered. Styling was updated with a new fascia and bumpers, an updated interior, and a grille-free nose like a Taurus.

For the remainder of the second-gen Cavalier’s life, GM fiddled around with trim options here and there and added features like ABS and an optional CD player. Base engines were also improved and gained multi-point fuel injection in 1992.

1995 brought the successful third-generation Cavalier along and deleted wagon optionality. The third Cavalier remained on sale through the 2005 model year before it was mercifully killed in favor of the Cobalt. They sold a lot of third-gen Cavaliers, probably 20 billion or something.

Today’s Rare Ride is a white over blue wagon in very basic specification. The only optional extra would appear to be air conditioning. There are 27,000 miles on the odometer, and an enterprising dealer in the bustling metropolis of Grand Rapids asks $17,900.

[Images: GM]

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40 Comments on “Rare Rides: An Utterly Pristine 1991 Chevrolet Cavalier Wagon...”


  • avatar
    TheEndlessEnigma

    $2000 yes, $17900 you’re f’n crazy!

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    Okay, who will give up and lower their price first, the $29,000 Sunbird or this $17,900 Cavalier?

  • avatar
    ajla

    What was the price difference between this and an A-body wagon?
    Because if wasn’t many, many thousands I’d have gone with the Century or Cutlass Ciera.

  • avatar
    detlump

    My mother and I were friends with an elderly couple in her Florida subdivision. They had one of these and both my mother and I liked the appearance in a utilitarian style sort of way.

    She was considering getting a car to leave in FL when she wintered there before returning to Michigan most of the time. We found one in a local used car lot (this was around 95 or so) and went for a test drive. She immediately said she wanted out of this car! She was not very impressed at all! She next spotted a Somerset Regal (which also looked nice). I am sure it reminded her of her 81 Olds 98 which she really liked and kept for many years.

    I said no – let’s go elsewhere. She ended up buying an 89 Corolla sedan with 100k miles in excellent condition (again this was in 95 or so). She loved that car and it gave her no trouble at all over the years. I still have the car, it is like a time capsule.

    That Corolla was so much better than the Cavalier it was sickening, despite being 4 years older.

    Funny – there is an earlier Cavalier 2 door on BaT at the moment. It would be nice to have for a reasonable price, just to see how bad GM cars were at the time!

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Please define “bad”. Build quality? NVH? Materials?

      I have no doubt the Japanese built Corolla wipes the floor with any J-body in TCO, but in terms of basic reliability, fuel economy, acceleration the second generation Cavalier in 2.2 auto wasn’t bad (Didn’t hurt the 92 Cav was only 2509 lbs vs the later Cruze’s 4321 lbs (gross)).

      https://www.autoblog.com/buy/2015-Chevrolet-Cruze-LS_Auto__4dr_Sedan/specs/

      • 0 avatar
        statikboy

        That’s not a fair comparison. The curb weight of the Cruise you show is only 3,082 lbs. 4321 lbs. is gross weight which includes a full load of passengers and cargo.

        ~550 lbs. weight gain over 25+ years is disappointing, but hardly unexpected with all the improvements in crashworthiness, passenger safety, roadhandling, plus the giant wheels and overly complex exterior and interior styling that are foisted on us on even the most plebian models. And don’t forget, the level of standard features has been upped significantly. Every electric dohickey adds a switch (or, these days, a bigger touchscreen)and meters of extra wiring and frequently a motor or solenoid or several sensors, etc. Complex, multisurface interiors add more parts, add more overlap, add more fasteners, add more weight. Heavier cars need burlier suspension, wider tires and bigger brakes, which adds more weight. The cycle continues… Honestly, it’s surprising that a modern car doesn’t weigh double what it’s predecessor from 30 years ago did.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    There was no wagon available in the second-gen (1995-2004) J-Body.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    At that price, that car’s gonna sit for a while.

  • avatar
    jrhurren

    Much nostalgia for the Cavalier here. My Dad had 5 different 3-doors growing up. The best was the one with a rusted out floorpan in the rear. Had to pull your feet up to stay dry when it was raining.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Once in a great while I would see the post MY90 body style in ‘vert form with the 3.1 and I would lust for it. I heard they were epic off the line for what they were, but the torque steer was real.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    My parents had a Caralier wagon, it made the Vega seem like a Toyota Corolla. No build quality and always broken, and that was when it was new,

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I remember trying out a ’93 Cavalier coupe with the 3.1 – torque steer wasn’t bad at all. Main reason I held off on it was that I was getting married, and it was a coupe – my thinking was I’d end up with kids in the car’s time with me and I didn’t want the “strapping babies into the back seat of a coupe” lifestyle. So I passed. And it was a good move – we ended up reproducing a couple of years later.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Oh dear, its even the same color.

    https://pittsburgh.craigslist.org/pts/d/greensburg-1990-audi-200-turbo-car/7318495462.html

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      A ran when parked 1990 Audi?

      I mean if you want to go bankrupt I guess so (sure, $15K buys a lot of parts and I’m not advocating for the Chevy).

      $2,500 for a scrap value Audi is overpriced – not as overpriced as the Chevy…

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I used to have a base 100, this is the 200 which is basically the loaded turbo version. Mine also had the same quandary (only it sat in the winter of 2009/10 outside), it wasn’t worth fixing so I let it go in 2010.

        My car lot is full, yet…

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    No pic of the instrument cluster, odo, or center stack.

    Kind of sus given how careful they were with every other picture.

    • 0 avatar
      teddyc73

      Was “suspicious” to difficult to type out? Or Should I say to “dif”?

    • 0 avatar
      frankev

      APaGttH: in the ad copy, the dealer says that third-party websites such as AutoTrader may have limitations on the number of photos that can be shown, and then they say, “To be sure you access all the more than 150 high-definition photographs, including a short startup-and-walk-around video, and a link to its very-low-mileage Carfax history report, please go to our main website.”

      Indeed, to that end I found pictures of all the interior items you mention and more:

      https://www.garagekeptmotors.com/vehicles/1649/1991-chevrolet-cavalier-wagon

      I notice that on the AutoTrader post there are 99 photos, so maybe that’s the upper limit? Anyway, it’s a cool survivor car, but not nearly $18k cool–maybe for 50% of that amount they’d be slightly closer to the realm of realism, and even then that’s pushing it.

      That being said, if I were a billionaire I’d buy up all these very ordinary time capsule vehicles had have a museum of some sort.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    You gotta love any vehicle that you can get sans passenger side wing mirror. I forgot that automakers used to do that on some of their base vehicles.

    That price is insane. Who knows, maybe there is someone out there looking to relive their youth with a mint example of this vehicle.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Had a friend who ran a Z24 Cavalier for well over 2 decades. Bits fell off. Switchgear stopped working. But he was on a very tight budget and it always started and got him to and from where he needed to go. As they say, ‘ran badly for longer than most other cars run’.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    Move the decimal point one space to the left and I’ll think about it.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Asymmetric ‘wheels’ = Pass.

    https://rimsandtiresmag.com/last-minute-check-before-you-buy-new-set-of-car-rims/

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Bill on Curious Cars has reviewed some real classic American cars from the 60s and 70s with little mileage one owner originals that are this price or less. The cars that Bill reviewed are rear wheel drive classic V8s. This Cavalier will not be a classic it is just a survivor.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Miserable chitboxes back then, even worse by today’s standards.

  • avatar
    Offbeat Oddity

    My mom bought a used 1992 Cavalier coupe from my uncle in 1994, the same red as this wagon. She kept it for a few years and sold it to my grandma, who drove it until 2009 with about 160k (she later sold it to a different uncle who trashed it a couple of years later).

    It provided my family many years of reliable service. I have fond memories of the car and even took my driver’s test in it – it was much easier to see out of the rear than my dad’s 2000 Pontiac Grand Am. I also thought it felt pretty solid for a small car- the doors were much heavier than in my 1998 Neon, the seats were comfortable, and the interior used some pretty good materials. A 2000 rental we drove felt noticeably cheaper in just about all respects.

    That being said, I’d only pay a few grand at most for this listing.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back when these were the compact rentals of choice I would usually pick them and found them to be decent and serviceable. I particularly liked the Sunbird with its more high tech dashboard and unique to Pontiac separate radio controls in a square panel just to the right of the driver.
    In the town where I grew up loaded the Cavalier Z24, Sunbird GT and Buick Skyhawk as well as the N-body Grand Am were the popular go to new car for college grads.

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    The price is unreasonable but I would drive this. It would make a great little utilitarian second car. I like that blue interior.

  • avatar
    spookiness

    I would love a compact wagon with a blue interior, but not 18k for a Crapalier. I do give credit to GM J- and A-body wagons, great space efficiency.

  • avatar

    I wonder how they came up with that price? I do not think it is KBB.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Maybe a classic survivor because it just happens to still be around when most have been used up and junked decades ago. Nothing unusual or significant about this car except for the fact that someone stored this away for decades and didn’t drive it. The same is true for an old fruit cake sold by Krogers in the 1940s that has been stored for decades in its original tin which was recently sold in a charitable auction. Its value is that is is a survivor that was not eaten or thrown out. Most of us wouldn’t want an 80 year old fruit cake.

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