By on October 14, 2021

The Rare Rides series is a friend to the General Motors J-body. In 2018 we featured a 2000 Sunbird from ’83, in 2020 there was the ’84 Oldsmobile Firenza Cruiser, and earlier this year a ’91 Cavalier wagon.

But we’ve never featured the OG J-body main event, a first-gen Cavalier. Let’s go.

Introduced for the 1982 model year, the J-body lineup was both very important for GM and very extensive. A global platform, the J was branded as no fewer than nine different marques. Overseas Js included the Opel Ascona, Vauxhall Cavalier, Holden Camira, and Isuzu Aska, plus an additional subset of badge jobs. Domestically the J ventured outside Chevrolet to Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and that most sinner-y of J-bodies, the Cadillac Cimarron. Cimarron should be covered separately.

Cavalier was GM’s second contemporary offering in the compact class, alongside the unloved Citation which we’ve covered extensively in previous articles. Cavalier existed alongside Citation for only a few years, until Citation’s replacement by the Corsica and sporty two-door Beretta. And because it was not Crossover Time, there were several different body styles from which to choose. In two-doors there were coupe and convertible cavaliers, a three-door sporty hatchback, and four doors of sedan and wagon shapes. All Cavaliers regardless of body style rode on the same 101.2-inch wheelbase.

Worth noting, the convertible Cavalier was not a launch model but arrived in 1983 with a very limited production run of 627 examples. All were made by good old ASC of Lansing, Michigan, and were notable as the first Chevrolet-branded convertible since the Caprice Classic of 1975. In 1983 a Cavalier convertible asked about $11,000 ($30,500 adjusted), nearly double the $5,880 ($16,492 adjusted) of a base model.

At Cavalier’s launch in ’82 there was but one engine on offer, a 1.8-liter inline-four with carburetor. The 1.8 was immediately supplanted by a 2.0 with throttle-body injection (’83-’86), which was supplanted again for ’87 to ’89 by a more advanced 2.0, the LL8, good for 90 horsepower. From 1985 to 1989 the best engine choice was the 2.8-liter LB6 V6 which had real fuel injection and managed 130 rowdy horses. The Z24 package was available from 1986 onward, but was only offered in coupe and hatchback Cavaliers. Other versions made do with the lesser RS trim, but Z24 was granted to the convertible in ’87.

Cavalier was new for 1988, and adopted larger and more rounded looks, and looked a bit more sure of itself in convertible guise. The unpopular three-door hatch was a casualty of the shift to a second generation. Today’s Rare Ride is from the end of the first-gen Cavalier, and reaches high with 2.8-liter V6 and RS trims. Faded yellow paint puts one in mind of an old Volvo 850 T5-R, a Rare Ride we need to cover. The interior is a symphony of slightly dirty beige colors and has a stellar digital gauge package. Yours at $4,050 in Pittsburgh, where at least one of TTAC’s frequent commenters lives.

[Images: GM]

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41 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier RS Convertible, Last of First...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “there were several different body styles from which to choose”

    Including a Cadillac. What an awful little car and all it’s derivatives

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Awful or not, the almost complete death of daily drive, practical convertibles, is a truly sad development.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        If enough people wanted them car companies would make them, besides there are still plenty of convertibles for those who do want them. Miata is always the answer, even a Mustang can be practical if you need a sort of back seat

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          Lots of people want them. What’s “Sad”, is that so few can, anymore, afford them, nor a place to park them.

          Lack of food in some places, is also sad. And hardly a sign not enough people there wanting enough food to avoid starving.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I know exactly where that was taken but cannot recall ever seeing it out and about, at least in more recent decades. The seller seems to have snorted a heavy dose of crack before posting the ask (tip top $2,500), fifteen years ago if I had a garage I may have been on it for $1,5-2,5 while I was still able to source a Cimmaron’s interior (buckets are direct swap, believe rear seats as well). Its worth pointing out though there is a much better J-body convertible value in Beaver:

    https://pittsburgh.craigslist.org/pts/d/beaver-convertible/7364887900.html

    Seeing that makes me feel better about the 6-6,5 I have in my extra clean C70, because believe me I was p!ssed that the recon went way over budget on it.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Additional, due to their age both J-bodies are eligible for PA’s antique license plates which grant complete exemption from inspection and a permanent registration with the only caveat being use outside of shows/events is limited to one day a week (please seek help if you want to DD these things in any event). They also qualify for collector insurance, no joke I pay $250/year for two Volvos, full coverage.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      Because I am weird I always thought it would be fun to put a Cimarron front and rear on a J-body wagon or convertible. Leather seats would be nice, but some of of the other J’s had brougham-y velours, so they’d be ok (esp in a ‘vert).

  • avatar
    wjtinfwb

    The GM J-body… the car that made the “Check Engine Light” famous! One of the first cars with the original OBD-1, the little GM cars were plagued by faulty sensors, electronics and technicians not yet trained to keep the little Chevy’s running. I worked for a daily rental company in Florida in those days, we had the Olds and Buick versions of these crap-cans and my job was shuttling them back and forth to the dealers. In fairness to the cars, if they started, it was likely a faulty sensor and they ran as well as a 1.8L Chevy would be expected to run. But about 1/3 of the time, they just wouldn’t start at all. Cranking was fine, the battery strong, the electrons just weren’t getting to the right place. Regardless, customer confidence wasn’t high when they come in or call to report a CEL and we’d tell them, don’t worry about it, they all do that. By ’84/85, GM had it figured out and they were acceptable if not inspiring little cars. I spent a lot of trips in Skyhawks rescuing stranded rentals around the state, if I’m never in another one it will be too soon.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Looks a lot like Le Baron

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Wow 24 hours of lemons is coming next year, I know where I will be that weekend.

    https://24hoursoflemons.com/race/?id=316

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    A commenter in the Citation series opined that the Cavalier is what killed the Citation, in addition to the Citation’s myriad problems. I agree with that.

    The Cavalier wasn’t great, but so many of them are cockroaches and just won’t die. I saw a 1st-gen Cavalier wagon the other day with a ladder on the roof rack and a bunch of tools inside, apparently going to a job site. Quite different than arriving in the Ford PowerStroke.

    • 0 avatar
      Imagefont

      He was compensating fit his masculinity. Just the other way.
      I met a guy who drove around programming and testing relays, he drove a Prius and racked up over 300,000 miles. The difference in fuel cost between that and a pickup more than paid for the car.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        My dad knew a logger with a VW Beetle. The redneck types looked down on him but he laughed all the way to the bank. It carried his power saws, tools and gear and was dirt cheap to run.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Yep there are plenty in f Chinese parts being used. Some Vette rims are Chinese sourced. China will produce quality if you are willing to pay for it. They will also provide substandard parts too if you won’t. Nothing new. My old sable has wiring harnesses made in Mexico and that was thirty years ago. Parts made in US is not that common anymore. A Harley is loaded with globally sourced parts. They are more “assembled in USA” than they are made in USA.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    I was an emergency services dispatcher in the late 90’s and J-bodies were notorious among the crews for fatality accidents. I can only imagine how much less crash worthy a convertible J-body would be.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Corey, seller deceived you by taking photos in the golden hour. That color isn’t anything like the light yellow of the T-5R. It’s horrible ’80s beige. Here’s a car the same color in normal daylight: https://m.freeclassifieds.com/details.aspx?adID=0xoaFvlwdDlPpe7mCPjBew==

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I remember seeing in a car magazine back during the peak J-car era that Cadillac considered a Cimarron drop top with a faux roll bar. The suits at GM probably said no because it might have cut into 83-85 Eldorado Biarritz convertible sales as well as the all new 87 Allante.
    J-cars were all over the place then and you still see a number chugging around.
    I always liked the hotter hatchback and coupe versions of the J-Car be it the Pontiac 2000 GT, Chevy Cavalier Z-24 with the 2.8 MPI or the rare ride Buick Skyhawk T-Type with the 1.8 turbo.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    One of the earlier cars I had was a 1987 cavalier z24 ( bought it in 87 as a demo with 5k km on it ) The 2.8 liter and the 3 speed auto transmission we’re bulletproof ( I had the car until 2000 and had 330k km on it). The car rusted pretty quickly though and the overall quality of the car ( aside from the engine and transmission) was “ ok”at best

    ( crazy thing is I changed the oil often but never changed the transmission fluid , I was going to do it at 200k km but my mechanic at the time just said at that point it’s best to just leave it !)

  • avatar

    Why you guys are so angry at this little cute car. It looks good. It should be light and handle lively for convertible. I never drove Cavalier or Cimoron,
    @Slavuta, is it better than 1986 Lada with 1.5L engine and two doors?

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      “It should be light and handle lively for convertible.”

      Yes, nothing like that cowl shake to give you that light and lively feel. You obviously weren’t around to watch these age with peeling paint, bits and pieces falling off and of course the always popular rust-through all within a few years of purchase. These are the cars that gave GM the nomenclature of, “runs poorly for a long time”

  • avatar

    Why you guys are so angry at this little cute car. It looks good. It should be light and handle lively for convertible. I never drove Cavalier or Cimoron,
    @Slavuta, is it better than 1986 Lada with 1.5L engine and two doors?

  • avatar
    Hydromatic

    Hard to believe these cars are now considered collectors’ items. Even harder to believe the owner thinks he/she/[add preferred pronoun here] can get $4,500 for one. Between the bubbling, cracking paint, the worn-out interior bits and the 184k on the odo (on top of what else is lurking underneath the chassis — rust belt, yaknow), I’d pass and find something better to blow my $4,500 on. Like a couple of RTX 3090s. Or cocaine.

    • 0 avatar
      namesakeone

      But there’s no rust! It says so in the ad! And if it says so in the ad, it must be true, right?

      By the way, why does one seat cushion not seem to match the rest of the upholstery?

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I remember reading that the first-gen Chevrolet Cavalier was the last American car available as a two-door, a four-door, a wagon and a convertible. (At least two German cars–the 1986-95 Mercedes-Benz E-class and the 1990s BMW 3-series–were available in all four body styles later.) Any others that I’m missing?

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    December 1986, my co-worker and I were given ‘bonuses’ and were told to use them to purchase new vehicles that we could use for work purposes, including taking clients out to lunches/events/etc.

    I purchased a new Honda Accord sedan with a manual transmission.

    He purchased a new Pontiac Sunbird GT (Turbo).

    I believe that you can all deduce which vehicle the clients preferred, which had the least problems, and which lasted the longest.

    A couple of years later a friend purchased a Z24. It epitomized the ‘run badly, for a long time’ stereotype. Various bits and pieces fell off or stopped working. It rusted out. But it kept running (badly) until last year, when it could no longer pass any safety/emissions testing.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    These were wretched little $#!+boxes.

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