Junkyard Find: 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Sport Coupe

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
Since 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.
In 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!
Now, 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).
The 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.
Better 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.
The 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.
The 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).
I’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).
The 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).
Since 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.
The 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.
Definitely 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.For links to more than 2,300 additional Junkyard Finds, please visit the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.
Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Mcmxc Mcmxc on Mar 01, 2022

    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!

  • 13kRPM 13kRPM on Mar 02, 2022

    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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  • Jeff How did the discussion get from an article about a 56 billion dollar pay package for Elon Musk to a proposal to charge a per mile tax on EVs in California or paying increase registration on vehicles to make up for lost gas tax revenue? I thought such a discussion would better fit Matt's Gas Wars series.
  • Master Baiter Both people who bought ID.4s will be interested in this post.
  • Urlik Not a single memorable thing happened in the big three races this weekend IMHO.
  • Ajla If Goodyear makes rain tires that allow NASCAR to race in damp conditions at longer ovals (other that at Daytona and Talladega) then I promise to purchase at least four new sets of Goodyear tires in my remaining life.