By on October 11, 2021

1984 Chevrolet Chevette in California junkyard, RH front view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIn early 1973, the new GM T Platform was introduced to the world as the Brazilian-market Chevrolet Chevette, followed soon after by the Opel Kadett C in Europe. The Isuzu Bellett Gemini appeared in Japan in 1974, and it wasn’t long before these cheap, rear-wheel-drive subcompacts were being sold in every corner of the GM Empire. North America got the Chevette starting in the 1976 model year, and sales continued here all the way through 1987. American Chevette sales peaked here in the late 1970s, so the examples from the middle 1980s have been tough to find in junkyards. Here’s one of those cars, a thoroughly battered ’84 in a San Francisco Bay Area yard.

1984 Chevrolet Chevette in California junkyard, stripe - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis one has the two-tone paint option, which added $133 to the price of a $5,508 car (that would be about the same as a $357 option on a $14,787 car in 2021).

1984 Chevrolet Chevette in California junkyard, automatic gearshift - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsA far more expensive option was the three-speed automatic transmission, which added $395 (about $1,060 today) to the final price tag.

1984 Chevrolet Chevette in California junkyard, engine - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsPower came from a 1.6-liter Isuzu four-cylinder engine, rated at 65 horsepower in 1984. An Isuzu diesel was also available, generating 51 slow-motion horses.

1984 Chevrolet Chevette in California junkyard, RH rear view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThough very obsolete by this time, the Chevette just kept selling and so GM kept building it. A couple of new four-doors managed to get close to the Chevette sedan’s price in 1984, including the Mazda GLC ($5,644) and the Plymouth/Dodge Colt ($5,639); even such super-cheap machines as the Toyota Starlet and Subaru STD were priced closer to $6,000.

It appears that this car sat outdoors for many years and endured a nearby fire that didn’t manage to set the interior alight.


Versatile, economical, dependable basic transportation.


In 1984, 97 percent of all the Chevettes ever built (presumably just the American-market ones) were still on the road. Strap that canoe on the roof and go on vacation!

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31 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1984 Chevrolet Chevette Sedan...”


  • avatar
    wolfwagen

    I remember there was a company called CONVETTE in the late 80’s early 90’s that sold kits so that you could Chop the top off of a Chevette and have a jeep style convertible or a super-mini pickup. They also sold a lift kit that kind of gave it a pre-runner type look.

    Would love to see one of these as a rare ride article.

  • avatar
    bellboy

    I owned this exact same car, 1980 model with the three speed automatic. It was by far the worst car I ever owned, although somewhat reliable and spacious with the hatchback. It had a nasty oil leak from the main seal. The estimate to repair the leak was more than the car was worth so it was never repaired. The front driver side floorboard completely rusted away, there was at least a one square foot hole in it that I covered with some sheet metal. It was like the flintstonemobile as you could literally put both feet through the hole and push the car. The three speed auto made the car slow as dirt and 55 mph felt like you were doing 90 mph in any other car.
    It got me through college though but I hated it. My buddy had a honda civic that was refined and like riding in a limo compared to the Chevette.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    My dad owned an 81 Chevette diesel 2dr 5 spd and dealer installed AC as his commuter car for a number of years.
    The 1.8 Isuzu diesel w/ 5spd got 50+ MPG which was near the top of the EPA ratings w/ Civic and VW Rabbit diesel.
    It was reliable while power was miserable up hills however highway cruising was fine. The front strut towers mounts broke away and new JC Whitney replacements has to be welded in. The interior pkg was a bit cramped with the large rwd transmission tunnel.

    • 0 avatar
      Sobro

      My Mom had a 1981 4-speed 4-door model with factory air conditioning. The A/C on/off button doubled as the “turbo” button.

      I drove it some and liberal use of the “turbo” button was necessary to stay with I-75 traffic in north Georgia. As a Tennessee vehicle it never had the rust problems as its northern siblings, same as the ’72 Vega the Shove-It replaced.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      My parents were given an 82 Chevette Diesel automatic during some hard times. I think it was the slowest car you could get in 1982. Top speed was 75 on the level.

      But it was indestructible except for the rust which claimed it many years later.

  • avatar
    VX1NG

    My grandparents had 3 of these at one point, my grandpa drove about 300 miles a day, he would do oil changes every two weeks and would swap them out when they needed repairs. Two were wrecked and used as parts cars for the third one which they traded-in for a 1997 Cavalier which my late grandfather said was a much inferior car to his beloved Chevettes. In one of the wrecked ones the seat belt broke and they received some sort of settlement from GM to not sue GM for but I am unsure of the amount, but it must not been a life changing amount because they kept driving the other Chevette up until 1997.

  • avatar
    VX1NG

    My grandparents had 3 of these at one point, my grandpa drove about 300 miles a day, he would do oil changes every two weeks and would swap them out when they needed repairs. Two were wrecked and used as parts cars for the third one which they traded-in for a 1997 Cavalier which my late grandfather said was a much inferior car to his beloved Chevettes. In one of the wrecked ones the seat belt broke and they received some sort of settlement from GM to not sue GM for but I am unsure of the amount, but it must not been a life changing amount because they kept driving the other Chevette up until 1997.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      I knew a guy in the late 90’s with a 50 mile commute (so 100 miles a day X 5 days a week) that did this with Ford Festivas. He always had a min of two parts cars and two runners so he was never stranded. He was always on the lookout for a cheap one.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I wonder if that engine in the trunk came in via the hatchback or through the rear window.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    This Chevette looks right at home in a graveyard, it’s where it always belonged

    I don’t even have a funny Chevette story, no one I know owned one and I’ve never even ridden in one. Have I missed anything?

  • avatar
    JREwing

    Back in the ’80s, not knowing how to drive stick meant that merely slow acceleration turned glacial, and a good chunk of the good fuel economy you got driving a small 4-cylinder car went with that missing acceleration.

    This was definitely not a car intended for the post 55mph speed limit era. The 5-speed stick might’ve been OK, but the 4-speed manual’s gearing, at least in the ’79 model I grew up in, was never intended for extended 65-70 mph cruising. Bring earplugs.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I got to drive a friend’s ’84 Chevette once (this was in the late ’80s). The thing that amazed me (and still does) is the steering column and wheel that’s offset from the centerline of the driver’s seat.

    I remember that in the first feature story in Car and Driver, the writer, comparing with the VW Rabbit, referred to the Chevette as a “rear-wheel-drive sh-tbox”.

    • 0 avatar
      TimK

      My brother (a die-hard GM fan) bought one of these because in his mind it was “practical”. He weighed over 300 pounds and watching him get in and out of the Chevette was interesting. A few days after he bought it he noticed something odd in the way it handled and it seemed to have a pull to one side. His dealer looked at it and said there was nothing wrong. He took it to an alignment shop and they told him the rear chassis was offset by an inch and a half! With this he went back to the dealer and they said the car was made “within tolerance” and there was nothing they could do. This was long before lemon laws and such so he drove that crap car for three more years as it destroyed several sets of tires.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    My mom bought a used 4-speed ’81 after my dad divorced her in 1983, and kept it all the way until 1991 when she bought a used ’88 Accord. It looked kind of fancy because it was maroon, with pinstripes and chromed wheel covers from a Citation, but it was the same sh!tbox you all are describing. In that car, she did several years of 90-mile round trip commutes. It slowed down to 35 on many of the local freeway hills, couldn’t defog the windows, and went through crappy steel mufflers like candy, but it never had a catastrophic failure during a time when she absolutely couldn’t afford anything to go wrong, so I can’t be too mad at it.

    Compared with it, though, the ’88 Accord seemed like something straight out of the future.

    • 0 avatar
      tomLU86

      Well, yes, the 85-89 Accords were, back in the day, ranked among the best cars one could get at ANY price, in any class. They were THAT good. They were as far above the Chevette as the Chevette was above a Model T.

      In 1976, the Chevette was slow, yes. And slower than most other small cars–though several others were equally slow…original RWD Mazda GLC. Most of the competition was cramped, or noisy, or both.

      I’m not saying the Chevette was a superlative car in 1976–but it was not that bad either. The Japanese cars also rusted.

      But I cannot think of any 1984 small car that was not better than a 84 Chevette.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    The manual version had one redeeming quality, a very nice, direct shifter (especially compared to the cable-link shifters found on FWD cars of the era).

    That’s about it.

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    I was given a Chevette Scooter back in the day, as a company car when I worked for the phone company. Absolutely the most miserable car ever. Even the door panels were cardboard and started coming apart.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Not too long ago, I saw a Chevette on the street, being driven by a woman who I would guess was in her 60’s. It was in surprisingly good shape, and proudly wore a “1979” front license plate. It surprised me to see someone put in the effort to keep such an undistinguished car on the road.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    In the fall of 1983, I started grad school at a large commuter campus of a large university. I felt a distinct air of superiority as I traversed the college parking lot in my new, 1983 Nissan Sentra XE hatchback as I passed row after row of Chevettes, with a few Escorts and older cars mixed in. Like the Chevette, my car had a 1.6 liter 4-cylinder Engine, but mine had 69 horsepower, not 65; and my car had front-wheel-drive, not rear-wheel-drive; and my car had a 5-speed manual transmission, not a 4-speed, or, God-forbid, a power-sapping automatic tranny. As a result, my car was rated 0-60 in 11.9 seconds, making it actually quicker than the average car in 1982-83. (Popular Mechanics clocked a 4-speed 1980 Chevette at 0-60 in 17.9 seconds.) I paid for the privilege though, My car listed right at $7,000, which was over a grand more than a typical Chevette.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Perhaps they had substance abuse problems. How could any senior GM manager look someone in the eye and say this is as good as a Civic/Sentra/Tercel? Either serious substance abuse problems or severe arrogance.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Where’s the rest of me?? LOL!!

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    In this timeframe the Caprice was the Chevrolet that you wanted. Including the wagon, if that was your thing. Sit inside a 1984 Suburban and you’ll see what I mean.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    During the period when the Chevette was introduced you still had a great many North American consumers who were ‘brand loyal’ to GM. So they purchased whatever GM vehicle they could afford rather than cross shop with the Japanese imports.

    And once you purchased a Chevette you were kind of stuck with it. It depreciated rapidly. Yet as others mentioned rarely suffered a catastrophic failure, until it just rusted out. So you just kept driving it, until such time as you could afford something better, and often passed the Chevette down to another family member. Who after driving it, would probably ‘swear off’ domestic small cars altogether.

  • avatar
    ferd

    I’ve always wondered why GM made this car so crappy for the US market when the other versions made by Opel and Isuzu were at least decent. The interiors look so much better in the non US cars. Under the skin the Impulse was essentially a Chevette but which would you rather have? They must have been selling so well, GM thought there was no need to make a better car.

  • avatar
    mor2bz

    It was known in England as the “Shoveit”.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Back in high school we once piled 13 guys into a buddy’s Vette. It drove.

  • avatar
    pale ghost

    My wife bought a new one during the gas crisis. She loved it and I catch hell whenever I make fun of it. Her prior car was a Corvair and that she only kept it for a year probably accounts for her positive opinion. Her parents made her get rid of it for safety reasons. Her father was able to sell it for more than she paid for it.

  • avatar
    Albigensian

    I bought my first car in 1982: a brand-new Toyota Tercel. I’m pretty sure I paid about $5,400. for it.

    Then again, it was the base model, and stripped to a degree I’d never seen before. To mention just a few:

    1. No radio. Not even an AM-only, just a piece of plastic where the radio was supposed to be. Of course, it didn’t have air conditioning either (but many cheap cars didn’t then).
    2. No carpet. The floor was covered with sheet plastic. (Utilitarian, perhaps, but easy to clean).
    3. A 4-speed stick (when all the other Tercels that year came with a 5-speed). I think they just left the top gear off of it.
    4. Roller-skate wheels: 145×13 tires all around (which was small even for 1982).
    5. No sound insulation, no outside mirror on the passenger side, an inside mirror that lacked the usual day/night feature.

    The car was transportation: it lasted for ten years before rusting away beyond hope (and safety). But I don’t think it came with anything not mandated by law.

    Of course, this type of marketing isn’t done anymore. Probably because buyers look on the internet long before setting foot in a showroom. No Apple Carplay? Fuggedaboutit!

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