By on February 28, 2022

1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 in California junkyard, LH front view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSince I’ve noticed in recent years that first-generation Chevy Cavaliers have all but disappeared from both street and junkyard on our continent, despite the millions sold here, I’ve made it my mission to document examples of the now-rare 1982-1987 Cavalier when I see them during my wrecking-yard travels. We admired a Yooper-owned ’85 Cavalier wagon in a Colorado yard in November, and I found today’s factory-hot-rod ’87 Cavalier Z24 in a Northern California yard in December.

1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 in California junkyard, RH side view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIn fact, this car was parked just a couple of rows away from another 2.8-engined GM sporty machine of the middle 1980s: The ’84 Pontiac 6000 STE that we saw last week. If you want to find unrusted Detroit machinery from 35 years ago, head west!

1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 in California junkyard, emblem - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsNow, that 6000 STE was built on the midsize A Platform and the Cavalier lived on the compact J Platform, plus the 6000 STE was the most expensive car offered by Pontiac at the time, so we shouldn’t look for too many parallels with the much cheaper Cavalier Z24 (in 1987, the 6000 STE started at $18,099 while the Z24 Sport Coupe listed at $9,913— about $45,760 and $25,065 in 2022 dollars, respectively).

1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 in California junkyard, 2.8 V6 engine - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Chevrolet Division had been selling Z28 Camaros for nearly a decade when the first Z24 Cavaliers hit the showrooms for the 1986 model year; eventually, we would see Z26 Berettas and Z34 Luminas (it is my dream to convince a 24 Hours of Lemons team to run a four-car effort with one apiece Z24, Z26, Z28, and Z34). In 1987 the owner of a new Z24 got this 2.8-liter pushrod V6, rated at 160 horsepower. That was good power for a car of its era that scaled in at just over 2,500 pounds.

1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 in California junkyard, manual gearshift - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsBetter still, the Z24 came standard with a five-on-the-floor manual transmission (a three-speed automatic cost $415 extra, about $1,050 in 2022 frogskins), and the original purchaser of this car bucked prevailing transmission trends and chose the three-pedal setup.

1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 in California junkyard, shift pattern - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe five-speed manual had become fairly mainstream by the middle 1980s but still seemed racy enough; today, Americans can still buy four new 2022 models with five-speed manuals.

1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 in California junkyard, digital dash - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe Cavalier Sport Coupe came standard with this futuristic digital dash (which looked a bit stodgy next to the offerings from Mitsubishi and Subaru); other Cavalier shoppers could get this dash for a mere $295 extra (about $745 now).

1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 in California junkyard, digital dash - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI’m not sure if the trip computer came along with the digital instrument cluster, but all 1987 Z24 buyers got an AM radio as base equipment; if you wanted to upgrade to AM/FM/cassette with equalizer— a necessity for listening to the most famous song of 1987 in all its glory— the price tag was a brutal $479 ($1,210 now).

1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 in California junkyard, RH side view - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 1987 Z24 could be purchased as a sport coupe with a proper trunk, and that’s what 42,890 Chevy shoppers did. Four thousand and five-hundred seventeen Cavalier Z24 buyers decided to hop onto the hot hatch bandwagon, however, and drove home in new hatchbacks (I’ve managed to find just one Z24 hatch in all of my junkyard explorations).

1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 in California junkyard, emblem - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsSince this car has a full complement of Z24 hardware elsewhere, I’m going to assume that the decklid from a lowly CL got swapped on long after it rolled off the line at Lordstown and that we’re not looking at a Z24-ized Cavalier CL coupe.

1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 in California junkyard, state inspection stickers - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe inspection stickers show that this car was in North Carolina in 1991 (where it was approved for daylight use only, and I’d like to know more about that restriction), then in Connecticut in 1996.

1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 in California junkyard, interior - ©2022 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsDefinitely the most interesting Cavalier of its time, and soon it shall face the cold steel jaws of The Crusher.


A new Cavalier with the bloodline of Corvette and Camaro. A quick little fox… raised by wolves.


Cavaliers were everywhere by 1987.


This commercial is for the second-generation ’88 Cavalier Z24, but it does such a perfect job of showing us who The General’s marketers saw as the Z24’s target market that I must include it here. I’m sure glad the bandanna-around-the-wrist fashion never caught on because the 1980s were already sufficiently embarrassing for those of us who were there at the time.

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30 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Sport Coupe...”


  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    What a blast from the past! I remember when these were new and how popular they were. They seemed to be everywhere, though I don’t know the production numbers. They weren’t as quick as the 1.8 turbo Skyhawks and Sunbirds of the same years but they seem to have sold in much greater numbers.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I have a friend who drove one of these until fairly recently. Bits and pieces dropped off. It was rusted. But it always started and ran.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    “(it is my dream to convince a 24 Hours of Lemons team to run a four-car effort with one apiece Z24, Z26, Z28, and Z34)”
    Funniest thing I’ve read in at least a week.

    Rewind to 1991 and I was ogling an ’86 5spd in this same color combo at a shady north Springfield,MO. used car lot with poor lighting and gravel covered. I had driven several z24s as a lot boy at a Chevy dealership, I loved the way the 2.8 sounded.My best friend owned a black/red Sunbird GT 3 speed auto. vert, so the platform was ingrained in me.
    It was most likely a repo and/or collision repair as the lot was surrounded by body shops, and it seemed underpriced for the miles. I ended up with a Mk1 GTI instead, fortunately.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Not bad looking cars. That V6 should give it some scoot, was the 5-speed any better than the earlier 4-speed used in the Citation?

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      IIRC the Cavalier V6 went from the 4-sp Muncie transaxle to the 5-sp Getrag at the same time Fieros did (mid-86 model year). The 4-sp was durable enough but Getrag shift action was much better.

      4-cyl Fieros got a 5-sp Isuzu transaxle that shifted nicely, but was supposedly not strong enough for the V6. Not sure if the J-cars got the Isuzu transaxle or not.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        ” The 4-sp was durable enough but Getrag shift action was much better.”

        Yeah, that was our experience, typical GM. 5 years later it works just as poorly as the day it was made! Glad to hear the 5-speed was an improvement.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    That 2.8 was such a tight fit, and terrible to service even in the larger Citation.

    This car is the same age as my marriage, but I’m happy to say my marriage has aged better. :)

  • avatar
    jeanbaptiste

    This was my first car and while I don’t hear the exhaust sound often anymore I still cherish the sound of the Chevy v6’s from those days.

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    ah… frogskins. that was the “sano”currency referred to in bmx plus? bmx action? so long ago that i bought my last repop PK ripper frame. memories.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    I bought a 87 z24 as a demo in 1987 ( same as picture but mine was black and had a auto transmission)

    I drove it to 2000 , and it had 300k km on it . The engine ( 2.8 liter ) and 3 speed auto transmission were “ bulletproof “ – it was still running decently when I sold it ..

    The body was rusting, and the electronic dash burnt out a couple times , so other than engine and tranny the car quality was average at best

  • avatar
    RangerM

    Interesting on this model it’s spelled “Gauges” on the dash fascia. I wonder if it’s spelled “Gages” on the warning lights. (Was “gages” a GM thing or am I thinking of another OEM?)

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      ‘Gages’ was indeed a GM thing. The urban legend is that some bean counters decided that by eliminating printing the ‘u’ on instruments, owner’s manuals, etc GM could save considerable money. I am sure that the B&B can explain the actual reasoning.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        I thought Chrysler may have used that spelling as well.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Thinking more about it, I think some of the second-generation K-derivative Chryslers like the LeBaron GTS/Lancer/Daytona/Laser had a “Check Gages” light that would illuminate if one of the various..GAUGES..was indicating a fault, in case you weren’t paying attention. Kind of like the “i” telltale in many of today’s vehicles.

          Any of the B&B who owned one of those, was that the case, or is my memory incorrect?

    • 0 avatar
      1500cc

      I just thought it was the American spelling, same as Yanks omitted the “u” in other words like “colour” or “neighbour”.

  • avatar
    amxsteve

    I believe you could have a Z24 and a CL concurrently. CL got you the nicer seats etc. I think I’ve seen the CL combination on Celebrity Eurosports, too. Chevy seemed to do some mixing and matching on the packages. I remember both Z24s and Celebrity Eurosports with the down market non-CL interiors.

  • avatar
    Sobro

    Murilee reported the torque instead of the HP for the 2.8 MPFI. The standard 4 had 90 HP and the 2.8 had 120 HP.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    The 2.8 was a poor fit in these cars and less reliable than the 2.0, but at least made something about the car less than totally boring.

  • avatar
    eng_alvarado90

    Gotta love these corny promotional videos. They somehow make even the most boring appliance to look interesting. And the hosts did their part too as they had to enlighten all the pros of a car even if it was the most miserable piece of brand new garbage on the road. Kudos to them!
    It’s a pity they were pretty much gone by the mid 2000 (just like these 1st gen J-bodies).

  • avatar
    NigelShiftright

    Nice r__kr__l there Murilee, haven’t seen one here before.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The hatchback version of this was quite stylish and functional. A rare ride is it’s cousin the Buick Skyhawk with the 1.8 turbo.
    A firm I worked for in the 80’s had a Cimarron company car with the same 2.8 MPFI. It was a nice ride but obviously unworthy of the Cadillac badge. Apparently GM had plans to badge engineer a Cimarron drop top but with a roll bar.

  • avatar
    stevelyon

    My best friend in high school bought an ’86 Z24 hatchback in 1988 – his was red with a bordello red interior and had a manual transmission, but only 4 forward gears. The car sounded great, and for the time it seemed pretty fast.

    He drove it for years with very little trouble, but I remember that Minnesota road salt ate it up pretty quickly.

    Great memories.

  • avatar
    Zrocck94

    Can you tell us what junkyard? I have been looking for one for a few years. I had a red 87 and loved that car. Sadly it was wrecked. I ended up with a 95 after that which was faster, but did not have that same sound.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Would it be legal to hit this vehicle with a Molotov cocktail? Asking for a friend.

  • avatar
    mcmxc

    Murilee, did you notice that second video takes place in 1980s Denver? The beginning is a bunch of nondescript neighborhoods, but the Rocky Mountains are recognizable, and at the end, downtown Denver and Union Station are featured, including the now-defunct 16th Street viaduct. So cool!

  • avatar
    13kRPM

    As a poor college student, I had the polar opposite 87’ caviler to this. It was an absolute stripper the likes of which you cannot buy in any model or brand today. It had an incredibly monochrome color scheme of gray exterior with gray vinyl interior, 4sp stick, crank windows, mechanical locks, no A/C, no power steering and no . . . passenger side mirror. I don’t think a single options box, was checked unless it was a delete option by the original purchaser. It was pretty reliable considering the intentional and unintentional abuse it was saddled with, which included being driven for a few miles on the freeway with no oil after the oil pressure sending unit for the low oil pressure dummy light broke which itself created the pathway for the oil to be pumped out. Replaced sender (a whole another crazy story around that process) added oil, started up and didn’t seem to suffer any lasting ill effects. Murilee, maybe you can add a few more stripper cars like to that to your junk yard finds, cars that show what real entry level transportation used to look like?

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