By on November 15, 2021

1985 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon in Colorado junkyard, LH front view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsChevrolet built Cavaliers for close to a quarter-century, selling something like five million units. If you count the all the other J-body siblings sold around the world (including some really weird stuff), the extended Cavalier family is one of the largest in automotive history. Somehow, though, the once-ubiquitous 1982-1987 first-generation Cavaliers have all but disappeared from North American car graveyards; I’ve documented plenty of later Cavaliers during my junkyard travels, sure, but the early ones seem to have been crushed decades ago. Finally, here’s a reasonably straight ’85 wagon in a northeastern Colorado yard.

1985 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon in Colorado junkyard, bumper sticker - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis one is plastered with numerous stickers celebrating the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but the lack of horrific rust on this car indicates that it spent very little, if any, time in Yooperland during its life.

1985 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon in Colorado junkyard, engine - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsTwo engines were available in the 1985 Cavalier: A 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 85 horsepower and a 2.8-liter V6 making 130 horses. This car has the 2.0.

1985 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon in Colorado junkyard, gearshift - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsA four-on-the-floor manual transmission came as base equipment, with a five-speed manual and three-speed automatic as optional equipment. This car has the automatic, which added 425 bucks to the $6,727 sticker price (that’s about $1,115 extra on a $17,635 car when considered in 2021 dollars). How much did the five-speed manual cost? 75 American dollars!

1985 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon in Colorado junkyard, HVAC controls - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAir conditioning added a stinging $750 to the cost (that’s about $1,965 now), but the original purchaser of this car decided to do without. Probably a good move, what with the slushbox vampiring away so many of those 85 horses, anyway.

1985 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThese were useful little haulers, but GM stopped building US-market J-body wagons after 1994. If you wanted a more luxurious version of the Cavalier wagon, you could always get an Olds Firenza, Buick Skyhawk, or Pontiac Sunbird with the longroof setup. Sorry, Cadillac didn’t sell Cimarron wagons.

1985 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon in Colorado junkyard, bumper sticker - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis says, “Mess with me and I sue!”

1985 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon in Colorado junkyard, RH rear view - ©2021 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe first-generation Cavalier Z24s get some enthusiast love these days, but an ordinary wagon with the four-banger doesn’t have much hope of being rescued from The Crusher.


A car badged as a Chevrolet Cavalier has been available in China since 2016, but it’s a Chevy Cruze cousin with no J-body genes.

For links to more than 2,100 additional Junkyard Finds, be sure to visit The Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

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49 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1985 Chevrolet Cavalier Wagon...”


  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    Well, the 2000 Chevrolet Metro with 400 miles on it sold on BaT sold for $18,200 so I say because that was a very obvious sign that the world is rapidly coming to an end, grab up as many old and used Chevys that you can, clean them up, list them, and watch your retirement savings increase.

    $18,200…wow…this for a car that was barely worth more than the gas in the tank and the mismatched set of tires barely holding it up. A 1985 Chevy wagon should print money…

    /s

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    They were good, sturdy little cars, but what I remember most about them is the frequent mispronunciation of the name to “Cadaver.” Some must still be on the road, judging from the interior parts taken from this one.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    “Cavalier” aptly describes the attitude of the designers and assemblers of these. But, the original styling was straightforward and honest, especially the three-box sedan.

    Look at that four-into-two-into-one exhaust manifold! Makin’ power!

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Pre-paid legal is actually a pretty good deal. It’s not just about suing people. It’s good for anything from demand letters (and yes lawsuits) to paperwork like wills. I never signed up, but I have a couple of friends that use it. It’s a monthly subscription, and when you sign up, the monthly rate you pay never goes up (at least that’s how it works for my friends that have it).

    • 0 avatar

      Prepaid legal depends a lot on your location. I saw a few of the plans when I worked in NYC, and the reimbursement rates for normal services to an attorney make sense in the midwest or south, but not in the NYC area. They also won’t file whatever lawsuit you request, trust me….

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I have prepaid legal – it can come in handy. Last year, someone tried to sue me for a zombie gas credit card debt from 1988 (yes, 1988). The attorney instructed me how to file the response using the correct legal verbiage (she would have charged me to file it herself), and the case was dropped.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    And this my friends is what a vehicle with a curb weight of 2,463 pounds looks like. (Note the greenhouse, note the glass, and take that excuse off your list of Why Modern Cars Are Heavy, Maybe Too Heavy, But Probably Just Exactly The Right Mass.)

    GM took a lot of Flak from automotive Flacks for those rear drums. 10 million rear drums instead of rotors. Which decision was the right one?

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      1985 Chevrolet Caprice Wagon had a curb weight of 3,360 pounds. (I wonder what engine it had? Fe block? Full frame? What dimensions? Hmmmm.)

      • 0 avatar
        JREwing

        That Caprice wagon in 1985 was more like 4,000 lbs. GM’s late ’70s downsizing pulled a bunch of weight out, but it was still a full-size rear driver. The front-drive H-platform cars that started rolling out that year (Delta 88, Ninety-Eight, LeSabre, etc) were in the 3200-3400 lb range.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      It also went 0-60 in about a week, and provided about as much crash protection as a can of Coors Light.

      There are always complaints around here about things like weight and visibility, but I’ve never heard anyone complain about being able to walk away from a crash that would have been very, very serious in something like this.

      Progress is a double edged sword.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        Let’s take these one at a time:

        • “It also went 0-60 in about a week” – You’re saying that today’s vehicles accelerate more quickly because they weigh more, is that right?

        • “provided about as much crash protection as a can of Coors Light” – Exactly which parts of a modern crash optimization package add roughly how much mass to a vehicle? Here are some possibilities off the top of my head: a) door intrusion beams b) bumper absorbers (polystyrene or similar) c) front rail crumple zones and/or reinforcements d) airbags/sensors/harnesses. What else? (Because that smells like around 100-ish pounds so far.)

        Then on the other side of the ledger (these are all helping the typical modern vehicle, which still seems to have a persistent weight problem) we have:
        – Modern CAD
        – Aluminum engine
        – Aluminum hood
        – Significantly lighter/stronger steels (in places)
        – Thinner steel
        – Unibody (vs. the Caprice)

        I seriously do not get it.

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          Let’s also consider parts (for the Caprice) like a massive steel driveshaft and the rear axle/chunk that are completely missing from the newer vehicle.

          While the newer vehicle gets premium lightweight components like aluminum suspension members.

          (The mystery deepens.)

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            Because of the non-stop upsizing at every redesign. I was looking at my Sable in the railroad parking lot and it seemed awfully small in comparison to the cars all around it. And that was considered a six passenger vehicle. Add in extra structure for small overlap crash protection and the like, plus standard features are more comprehensive…put it all together and here we are. Amazing when you think in the 70’s simple things were made of cast iron – liked master cylinders – and all of that stuff is now some type of lightweight plastic.

        • 0 avatar
          JREwing

          Not sure where you’ve pulled your assumptions, ToolGuy, but there’s been 30+ years of progress between that Cavalier and the recently-departed Cruze.

          The Cruze is about 400 lbs heavier than that Cavalier, but has nearly double the power and double the gears to choose from, so obviously it’s able to thrash the Cavalier in a straight line despite the weight difference.

          Crash worthiness standards are far higher now than in 1985, so obviously much of that mass went to a stronger frame. But it also went to computers and associated wiring, two airbags, standard A/C, standard ABS, larger wheels, brakes, and tires. Choosing different and stronger materials helps keep the weight down, but you’re not getting down to 2500 lbs without ending up like a Mitsubushi Mirage – super tinny, loud, and slow. Actually, that’s not that different from a 1985 Cavalier, come to think of it.

          Oh, and that Cruze is comparable in room and size to a 1985-era Celebrity. 1985 small cars genuinely were small.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            @JREwing,

            Thank you for replying. I just google ‘Year Make Model Curb Weight’ and it usually leads me somewhere like this:

            https://www.automobile-catalog.com/make/chevrolet_usa/caprice_3gen/full-size_caprice_3gen_sedan/1985.html

            and then drill down one page further and we see curb weight (1985 Caprice Wagon) of 3,527 lbs. [The 3,360 was pulled from the top page of google results and is closer to shipping weight.]

            (I learned to drive in a 1976 Impala Wagon and my dad’s first ‘new’ car was a 1985 Caprice Wagon; I drove both *fully* loaded including a few times with a car top carrier, so these are a little ‘familiar.’ My current ‘reference’ vehicle is my 2005 Avalon XLS at 3,560 lbs. [with no tools in the trunk].)

            I am not expecting a 2,500 pound car in 2021. But some current production vehicles are truly impressively porky. (Mazda CX-9 at ‘4,236 to 4,409 lbs’?? I do not get that one.)

            Most of the ‘explanations’ I get involve a lot of hand-waving and/or dismissiveness. Thank you for a thoughtful answer.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @toolguy:

            Okey dokey, let’s say you are driving a car that’s about to hit a tree doing 55 mph. Do you want to do it in that old Caprice wagon, or that unfathomably heavy CX-9?

            I’m sure you’d say “no” to the CX-9’s horrifyingly heavy airbags and reinforced steel safety cage in favor of the blessedly, gloriously lightweight Caprice. After all, it’s not everyday you get an up-close, in-person view of a front end accident as your head passes through the windshield of a Reagan-era Chevy. What an experience!

            Seriously, you’re just being obtuse. We all know the reasons for added weight today are: 1) more power, 2) more performance, 3) more stuff, and 4) more safety. If you want to go back to the ’80s, there are plenty of old Chevys out there to buy.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            @FreedMike,

            You are absolutely correct that I do not want to drive anything from the 80’s. My oldest vehicle is a 1995 specifically because it has a driver-side airbag. And I am well aware that the 2010 vehicles driven by my spouse and daughter took huge strides forward in safety over my 1995.

            Brought up the 1985 Caprice Wagon because it was an interesting (to me) comparison to its 1985 Cavalier Wagon stablemate. (And they are both more generally similar to today’s CUV’s than sedans would be.)

            Sidebar: “We all know” will never be a valid argument to me in any context – if that is “obtuse” I own it.

            “1) more power, 2) more performance, 3) more stuff, and 4) more safety” is generally correct over the long term. But if I compare my 2005 Avalon to the newest CX-9, some of those don’t hold up.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “These were useful little haulers”

    Weren’t these the cars behind the famous, “runs poorly for a long time”?

    I guess we can also call them the “Chevy of Cadillacs”, after all they were just de-contented Cadillac Cimarrons

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    I don’t know about 1985 but in the late 1980s you could only get the 2.8 V6 with the Z24 or the wagon. I remember I wanted to order an 1988 Cavalier VL with the V6 to make kind of a modern day Road Runner. But you couldn’t do it.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Legible, simple gauges.
    Simple, easy to use climate control.

    There are a few design gems on ths shining example of mediocrity.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I had never seen one of these with the CavaSunbirMarron dash and no A/C. (My aunt had a first-year Olds Firenza hatchback in the nice seafoam-ish green that was the brochure color in 1982. IIRC, the only option on that car was tinted glass! But I think it had all the dash vents found in A/C cars.)

      No driver-side vent! Wowzers! But is that an actual gauge cluster I see down where just the fuel gauge would be on a base dash of this type? I also can’t tell if there’s an actual vent above where the DIN 1.5 Delco would have been. (These all had AM radios standard, except maybe the Caddy.)

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    As much as we laugh at and complain about these cars, there are as some others have mentioned some facets of it which current auto designers/engineers should emulate and/or learn from.

    The simple analogue gauges (did GM still use ‘gages’ that year?). The upholstery. The greenhouse. The simple squared styling and utilitarianism of a boxy, small wagon.

    And yes, they did ‘run poorly, for a long time’.

    Also a nice reminder that not that long ago A/C was still considered an automotive luxury.

    As for Murilee’s comment that “an ordinary wagon with the four-banger doesn’t have much hope of being rescued from The Crusher”. That indeed saddens me. It is vehicles such as this, that I wish were preserved. Not the exotics or ‘collectables’ but the vehicles that sold in large quantities and served as daily drivers until used up. This example truly does still look ‘solid’. Wonder if the mileage is over one hundred or two hundred and what finally ‘did it in’?

  • avatar
    7402

    The wagon is almost as pretty as the Volvo 740 wagon from which it was shamelessly derived as a 4/5 scale copy.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’d venture to say that no Gen X er on this site hasn’t had either a direct relative or close friend/girlfriend that owned a J body of the late 80s, early 90s. My wife was driving one when we met.Blue coupe MY 2000, auto transmission, with an indash CD player from Best Buy

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Or even owned one themselves! ‘84 Sunbird hatchback FTW!

      (Welllll..it DID turn me off to American cars permanently. But it DID do its job!)

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      @cimarron typeR Sir, my ex-gf was pure class I tell ya! No lowly Chevrolet for her. She had the small and sporty Pontiac, the Grand Am. Oh it leaked fluids like a 1st grader after lunch. Warped rotors until I made her buy the lifetime ones. She lived on a gravel road so alignments were kinda pointless. Oh the fond memories of her drinking screw-top wine and her bras that could have been used as dual-cantaloupe launchers.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      Graduated High School in ’94 and the parking lot was full of J-bodies of all stripes. Geo Storms, Berettas/Corsicas, Fox body Mustangs and LTDs were all well represented too.

  • avatar
    Shockrave Flash Has Crashed

    My first new car was an ’85 Cavalier convertible.

    -would not start on the first cold day and dumped gasoline in the oil.
    -Dealer put a cold start kit on it, a relay to advance timing and hotter sparkplugs.
    -It ate plug wires at an alarming rate after that.
    -Ignition switch broke with top down.
    -Power windows never worker right
    -Front bushings all needed to be replaced.

    I love GM stuff and so does my wife, so it took a couple of more vehicles to put me off of them forever.

    • 0 avatar
      gasser

      The above GM “features” are the reason why after having one Honda in 1980, NO ONE in my family has EVER had another GM product.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Mine was the head gasket on my ‘84 Sunbird hatch, which cost me a whopping $500 in 1990 dollars to replace (while I was commuting to college and slinging burgers at the Golden Arches to pay for everything), plus the constant cold-heartedness of the 1986 Century 2.8L (with 2bbl carb, which my Dad purchased over my pleas for the SPFI Buick 3.8L), at which the Mr. Goodwrench parts cannon was repeatedly fired without a resolution, and for which a TSB was discovered a year after the Century had been traded for the first of my Dad’s five Accords.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        The irony here is that GM was taking a loss on these vehicles in order to gain customers for life (“Get ’em and grow ’em” strategy; cf. the old new college graduate discount).

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I had a Sunbird J-body with the 3.1L V6. I put 400,000km on it, the only repairs I did were a starter, intake gaskets and an ignition module, the rest was normal maintenance. Not exactly a scintillating car to drive, but reliable and the V6 gave it some punch for the times.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    My parents had one. Let just say it lack reliability. They never bought a GM after it.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Gm J car. The J is for Junk.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    This august website has never, ever run the QOTD: what domestic (American/Canadian; apologies to our foreign readers) made you switch to imports and never look back?

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      @el scotto – YES YES YES! That is a great question. And I know exactly what car that drove my entire family away from domestic cars.

      And this question has some legs as well. It can be used for particular brands, or European or Japanese cars. There can be a lot of mileage out of this and I think there will be some great answers.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        @theflyersfan Sir, or flip that coin. What domestic vehicle will you keep buying until our sun turns into a charcoal briquette?

        Essay question for extra points. You can borrow my Waybac machine, Sherman drives a hard bargain, and use your up-to-date and expert automotive knowledge to go back to 1979. You would become the CEO of GM, Ford, or Chrysler. Which company would you choose, why, and what would you do moving forward? Our non-North American readers can choose a company in their country.

        This could go on for weeks. I’d go: Caddillac after Mercedes, Corvette after Porsche, Pontiac after BMW, Chevy after Honda. Leave Olds/Buick alone; what they do, they do well.

    • 0 avatar

      My first car in America was very used Ford Taurus and I still drive Ford (Fusion). I don’t have a habit looking back.

  • avatar

    Regarding looking back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrZSy8swyuY

  • avatar
    johnny ringo

    I test drove a Cavalier wagon in 1988 or 1989, the interior was absolutely cheap. It was a totally mediocre car-I ended up buying a 1988 Mercury Tracer wagon which was a vastly better car in all respects.

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    Roof pillars that can bear 2.5x the vehicle weight.

    Electric motors on absolutely anything that can be motorized.

    35 airbags, wiring, and controllers scattered throughout the vehicle.

    Giant touch screens to run the aforementioned electric motors.

    High-strength steel.

    4/All wheel drive.

    My 87 Cavalier Z24 didn’t have any of those things. It would be interesting to build a car without all the modern accoutrements, but I doubt it would sell.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I recall seeing a moderate-offset crash test of two Cutlass Cieras several years ago, and I don’t recall if either or both cars were equipped with driver airbags, as the last few years of the run was. But the way those things folded like cheap Chinese lawn chairs was eye-opening!

      As was the 5th-Gen Civic Sedan test that Top Gear did in the T-bone with their Isuzu Trooper/Mitsubishi Raider! I had a 1994 Civic EX Sedan of that vintage, and that gave me the shivers!

      And now, in The_Current_Year, in a subcompact the size of a Chevy Sonic, as long as you’re not T-boned by a semi doing 55mph or something REALLY freaky, you’ll be alive after something that would have killed you in a 1980s vehicle, and in a wreck which would have put you in the hospital with a difficult recovery afterward in a Ciera or Acclaim, you’ll walk away from the remains of your vehicle with maybe some minor burns from the airbag, a bruise across your chest from the seatbelt, and maybe a few other aches and pains. But..alive!

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    The most miserable $#!+box to ever $#!+box

  • avatar
    SD 328I

    The first car I’ve ever owned. It was a hand me down from my family, a 1983 Chevy Cavalier station wagon, in blue!

    It was surprisingly peppy with that fuel injected motor. I used it from my 18th birthday until I was about 21, right before I got my new Integra GS-R.

    I honestly miss the old girl, she carried at least 7 people, because back then we were able to ride in the cargo area. As kids we would sit in the back staring at the cars behind us.

    When I got the car, it was my “learning to drive” car, took her to college my for my freshman and sophomore years. Great surf car too! I honestly would pay quite a bit to get that car back, though you rarely see any running anymore.

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