(first posted 7/17/2013) While slowing down at an intersection, two different shades of red caught the corner of my eye. Instead of going to the more visually appealing brighter red, my eyes focused in on the darker tone because it was on a Corsica. Then, after taking notice of its neighbor, a similar vintage Cavalier Z24, I wondered if I’d just walked into an early-1990s Chevy dealership.
Just the other day I had been reading through my over 100-page 1990 Chevrolet brochure, and when I came to the Corsica, I thought, “Damn–I haven’t seen one of those in ages!” And now, only a few days later, here was one! I couldn’t have cared less about the more common (and thus less interesting) Cavalier; had it only been a Beretta, the pairing would be a true gem. Nonetheless, I couldn’t pass on this duo.
The one-generation Chevrolet Corsica was around for an unusually long 10 years. Sold from 1988 through 1996, its official showroom debut was in spring 1987, even though it had been available for rental-car fleet sales as early as (gasp) the fall of 1986.
The Corsica was initially available as a four-door sedan; the similarly styled, mechanically identical Beretta coupe was covered here.
A Corsica five-door hatchback was added in 1989. Cleverly styled, with a large glass hatch disguising the fact that it was a hatchback, the Corsica five-door boasted more than double the cargo capacity of the sedan. Even so, it didn’t catch on and was dropped after ’91. A rebadged sedan version, the Pontiac Tempest, was sold in Canada from 1988-91.
Over the course of its run, styling changes were limited to grilles, moldings, and taillight treatments. While not Taurus-radical, the Corsica’s crisp styling was aero-influenced nevertheless, especially in the ’89 and ’90 LTZ models with their grille-less front end. The LTZ also included a stiffer suspension, an upgraded interior with contoured bucket seats, 15” aluminum wheels, attractive red exterior accents and, yes, a luggage rack.
One design element has always turned me off: the small, non-wraparound headlights always gave off an unnecessarily angry look that was uncharacteristic of a small, mainstream sedan. That’s the reason I didn’t like these cars when I was a kid. For some reason, the Beretta got slightly taller headlights that were not only better looking, but a better fit with the coupe’s styling.
Looking online and in brochures for model year changes revealed some Corsica discrepancies; for instance, the taillights, interior, and wheels seen on this car weren’t ever offered for the same model year. Of the three, I’ll bet my money that only the interior is original (curiously, however, the front passenger’s seat is missing).
This one has the 1991-1996 dashboard. Rounder than the original, it contains a driver’s-side airbag. Also, the front seat belts are mounted to the B-pillars and are non-motorized, pegging this one as a 1991-1993 model.
It does, however possess the pre-1991 smooth taillights with Chevrolet bow-ties. Those on 1991-1996 Corsicas were grooved, eschewed the Chevy bow-tie, but were identically sized and shaped, making it likely that this Corsica wears replacement lenses.
From further research, I discovered that these alloy wheels weren’t even available on the Corsica but, coincidentally, could be had on a pre-1991 Cavalier Z24.
The Cavalier Z24 is a little harder to place, since not much changed from 1991-1994. It really could represent any one of those years.
Again, I probably wouldn’t have given the Cavalier a second glance had it not been for the Corsica sitting two feet away from it. To me, its Z24 designation is just lipstick on a pig. These J-body econoboxes were the cheapest way to put oneself into a new Chevy in the early ‘90s–and some four million of them were sold from 1982-1994 alone.
Despite negligible changes over what was basically a 10-year run, the Corsica and Beretta had combined annual sales of 200,000 units or more–although fleet sales probably comprised a huge chunk of sales. Even so, that’s still impressive when you consider how outdated the Corsica had become by the time Chevy pulled the plug in 1996.
I can’t imagine a Chevy salesman trying to push a boxy little Corsica sitting next to a swoopy Cavalier or Lumina in the showroom, which probably explains why so few Corsicas remain on the roads. They were probably driven into the ground fairly early as rental cars. Little old ladies and high school/college students drove the only “civilian” Corsicas I’ve ever known of.
The Corsica is still an interesting car, and I appreciate it much more now than I did 15 years ago. The hatchback is especially fascinating; I remember my amazement when I passed one on the highway a few years back. Until then, I had no idea Chevy had ever made one. It also should be noted that the Corsica had no other non-Chevrolet platform mates (excepting the Tempest), and that’s something quite uncharacteristic of a GM sedan.