North Americans could buy the Chevrolet Chevette, featuring the finest in affordable early-1970s Opel Kadett C technology, starting with the 1976 model year. Chevette sales continued all the way through 1987, amazingly enough, because it could be manufactured and sold so cheaply.
Since the Chevette was so simple and sold in such large numbers, enough have survived that I still find them in the big self-service wrecking yards to this day. Here’s a grimy, beat-up ’81 spotted in a Denver yard last winter.
The Chevrolet Chevette was a primitive, cramped, rear-wheel-drive econobox hammered together with obsolete technology… that sold like crazy because it was simple and cheap at a time when stagflation and gas prices were up and confidence in the future was down.
The Chevette Scooter was the most affordable Chevette; here’s one that managed to evade The Crusher‘s jaws until age 42, finally ending its days in a snow-covered Denver self-service yard.
Let’s take a trip back to the 1980s — the time when one could drive past numerous Chevrolet and Geo (or Pontiac in Canada) dealers to visit their friendly Isuzu franchise. General Motors has a 34-percent stake in Isuzu, and that means some of the vehicles at the Chevrolet, Geo, and Isuzu lots are up to some badge-swapping trickery. Born as the Isuzu Gemini, the hatchback was renamed and rubber-stamped across brands, swapping badges and fascias with ease.
But one version was strictly badged as Isuzu, and only available for two years toward the end of the model’s run. It’s called the RS, and it’s Really Sporty fun on the cheap.
You know how people say there aren’t any truly bad cars sold in the US any more, with a sort of wistfulness that we’ve lost the benefits of an era when men were men and miles spent in miserable crapwagons strengthened your character? Every time I see a Chevette in a wrecking yard— which happens more often than you might think, given the checks-all-the-boxes awfulness of these heaps— I’m reminded of how great today’s lowliest econoboxes are compared to the stuff you might buy during the darkest night of the Malaise Era. I’m a member of the generation whose first cars were mostly dredged from the cheapest-possible-used-car cesspool that contained such horrors as the Pinto, early Colt, and Vega, and— even against that backdrop of automotive suckiness— the Chevette stood out as the booby prize, the car that your crazy aunt gave you when she upgraded to a new Renault Alliance and you couldn’t afford the $150 to buy a Maverick with a rod knock. About the best that could be said about the Chevette was that it was cheap and simple, without much to go wrong, and so there’s still a pool of the things to provide fresh examples for your local U-Wrench-It. Here’s one that I saw in California a few months back.
Did you know that the Chevrolet Chevette was manufactured in the United States through the 1987 model year? It’s true! Serious fans of Chevette trivia also know that American car shoppers could buy a new Chevette with an Isuzu diesel engine; Chevette Diesel owners could eke out tremendous range in their oil-stinking, cramped, rear-drive econoboxes, and isn’t that really what car ownership was all about in the middle 1980s? I see the occasional Chevette in my travels (not to mention on the race track), but this California find is the first diesel Chevette in this series.
Easily overlooked among all the Nashes and Willys of the Brain Melting Colorado Junkyard were the many Chevettes scattered across the landscape. The owner of the BMCJ has had a soft spot for Chevettes for many years, and he has acquired dozens of the little Opel-designed subcompact. Here’s a few that I photographed during my visit.
After last week’s Time Machine Dilemma (in which you emerged from your time machine in 1973, on Auto Row and with enough cash to buy a new Ford LTD), I thought of doing a 1974 Oil Crisis Diminished Expectations Economy Car Time Machine Dilemma. However, the really challenging econobox-shopping decisions came a bit more than a decade later, when the Hyundai Excel and Yugo GV arrived in a marketplace full of Japanese subcompacts duking it out for supremacy and Detroit trying to stay relevant. Yes, 1986! So, you exit your time machine in front of the Chevrolet dealership with $5,645 in your pocket. That’s enough to buy a new Chevette at full list price (the out-the-door-price would almost certainly be lower, but we’ll go with MSRP for this exercise). Do you get the antiquated-but-simple rear-drive Chevy for your penny-pinching commuter… or something else? Let’s look at your choices.
We give GM a hard time over the Citation, but at least the Citation was a big leap into the future compared to the primitive, rear-drive, Opel-designed Chevette. However, it tells us something that more Chevettes than Citations have survived long enough to make it into junkyards in 2011.
Back in the grimmest part of the Malaise Era, most Chevette shoppers knew exactly what they wanted: a really, really cheap car. You don’t find many Chevettes with a factory AM/FM radio, or remote mirrors, or even an automatic transmission. A Chevette with all those options and air conditioning to boot? This is a junkyard first for me.
If you want to contend for 24 Hours of LeMons racing’s top prize, the Index of Effluency, choosing a terrible Malaise Era subcompact gives you a big edge. Choosing a General Motors product also helps. Going with a diesel or, even worse, a Chevette Diesel, means that you pretty much have the Index of Effluency nailed down if you can manage to keep the thing on the track for most of the weekend. Easier said than done, of course, but Zero Budget Racing managed to do just that with their ’82 Chevette Diesel.
The Index of Effluency goes to the LeMons team that accomplishes a feat far beyond their vehicle’s purported abilities, and the chances for an IOE go way, way up when you race a General Motors product. The IOE chase in the Loudon Annoying 24 Hours of LeMons
devolved into a Chevette-versus-Storm battle early on and stayed that way all weekend.
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- Art_Vandelay The 80s ended with this car and Nevermind. Be sure to grab the Motley Crue cassette that is surely stuck in the cassette deck
- FreedMike As I look at this car I feel my hair longing to become mulleted.
- Dukeisduke Oh, and I have one of those Chinese Club knockoffs - I got one recently for my youngest daughter's 2012 Forte Koup, that was for six years my oldest daughter's ride. It got her through her senior year of high school, four years of undergrad, and her one-year Master's program. She was then gifted my mother-in-law's 2017 Elantra Limited. It has pushbutton start, so it's not susceptible to the Kia Boyz thing.The "Club" is still in the package - there's no way in hell she's gonna remember to put that thing on every time she parks it.
- Dukeisduke That instrument cluster is lame, like something out of an S-10 pickup.And why is the Purple Pantsuit Guy video still up? Is that some kind of punishment?
- SCE to AUX "The MSRP for a 1992 Camaro RS coupe with 5.0, 5-speed and T-Top roof was $13,339 (about $29,655 after inflation)."That's a remarkable price, even for a base model. But even then people knew these weren't very good cars.However, kudos to this one for going the distance.