Rare Rides: The Chevrolet Citation Story, Part II

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the chevrolet citation story part ii

We continue our Chevrolet Citation coverage today, just after the economy car’s 1980 introduction to critical acclaim and huge sales figures. Unfortunately for GM, the Citation’s true personality was quickly exposed, and things were entirely downhill from there.

After it won a COTY award from Motor Trend, the Citation’s qualities became apparent to the press, NHTSA, and the general public. Citation was almost immediately derided for its poor quality, panels that loved to rust, dangerous handling characteristics, and how it would occasionally catch fire. Said fires caused a recall of 225,000 cars from 1980 to fix a transmission hose that tended to spill its contents all over red-hot metal.

The NHTSA even took GM to court given the Citation’s braking issues: Under heavy braking, the lightly loaded rear end of the Citation was prone to break traction cause a loss of control. There were also power steering issues. NHTSA was not successful in its legal challenge to GM, and the case was dismissed.

All of the above added up to a considerable loss in consumer confidence toward the Citation. Sales halved in 1981 to 413,000 cars, and more than halved again in 1982, to 165,000. Each year from 1983 through 1985, Citation couldn’t manage 100,000 sales.

GM continued fiddling with the very damaged Citation and renamed it in 1984 to Citation II. The name edit was meant to reflect a newer, better Citation (it wasn’t) and bring in new buyers. It worked very marginally, as 1984 sales increased around 3,000 over the prior year’s 92,000. The Citation was discontinued after 1985 and replaced jointly by the Corsica and Beretta. Almost nobody missed it, and Citations were largely off the roads by the early Nineties.

But there was a bright(er) spot among all the Citation’s problems, the X-11. The X-11 stood aside from the two standard trims at introduction in 1980. Visually different from standard Citations, the X-11 wore large badging to denote its specialness alongside different color schemes. There were also upgrades to the chassis and engine (eventually). X-11 trim was offered only on the two- and three-door Citations – sorry five-door. By 1981 the X-11 offered a different engine: the high-output version of the 2.8, good for 135 horses. This exclusivity lasted only through 1982, as for ’83, that engine was granted as an option on all Citations.

Today’s Citation example is of course an X-11. The three-door is presently for sale on eBay out of Illinois. Black over tan with a four-speed manual, it looks in great condition. Yours for a not-so-reasonable $10,950.

[Images: GM]

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Sep 09, 2021

    I remember one of the disc jockey's in Houston in 1979, Miles in the Morning, said if you get a speeding ticket while driving the new Citation that it would be the first citation of the 80s.

  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on Sep 15, 2021

    My experience with the Citation was soon after they went on sale in the early 1980s. Next door neighbors got one. Quickly it developed running problems. I usually did not witness the morning, cold running problems as I was already gone to work. When I happened to be home I'd often hear it trying to run. It would make a bump-bump noise as only one cylinder was firing. After several minutes other pistons would join the act and whomever was driving would rev the motor and try to back out to the street. The Chevy would usually stall a few times before making a jerky exit down the block in a cloud of black smoke. Later I saw the scene from the outside. Mom or grandma would be smoking a cigarette with throttle WFO until it would get going on 3 or 4 cylinders. A few times the Citation baulked completely and was towed away. It was back after a few days, presumably at a repair shop, and ran okay for a month or so until the previous routine would come back. One day it came back on a tow truck, having driven away earlier. It sat in the driveway for some time and later was replaced by something else. The family knew me enough to know I was a mechanic, very glad they never asked me to work on it. IDK if the trouble they had was with that individual car or something in common to most of the Citations. From what I've read here it was probably a model wide problem.

  • MelanieRichardson GOOD
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