(first posted 7/18/2016) When this series covered the Ford division last year, that Top 10 list (here are Part 1 and Part 2) featured Fords of all different stripes: luxurious, sporty, flashy. Being a full-line brand with little in the way of internal competition, the brand’s range could (and continues to) flourish and offer a wide variety of cars for a wide variety of tastes. One would think, then, that Chevrolet’s historical position at the bottom of a very tall totem pole of divisions might have meant the variety of models would be more constricted. After all, Pontiac was the sporty brand and Buick, Oldsmobile and Cadillac were more upscale, so wouldn’t Chevrolet simply offer basic, lower-end models? Wrong.
Years produced: ?
Total production: ?
In the early years of the long-lived Corsica, Chevrolet offered some unique variants. There was a handsome five-door hatchback, launched in 1989 that must have triggered PTSD flashbacks in buyers of the unreliable Citation because it was axed after just three years on sale. It was a shame as it offered a roomy interior and a 39 cubic-foot cargo area with the rear seats folded down.
Also introduced in 1989 was the sporty Corsica LTZ sedan. This was even shorter-lived, being axed after 1990. The LTZ came standard with the 2.8 V6 (no four available) as well as stiffer shocks, front and rear stabilizer bars, a quicker-ratio power steering unit and 15-inch wheels in Goodyear Eagle GT tires. A five-speed manual was optional. Cosmetic enhancements included a grille-less fascia with red Chevrolet badge and, inexplicably, a luggage rack. For its second and final year, the LTZ added standard bucket seats and a bigger 3.1 V6. But the Corsica seemed to dwell more on the lower end of the compact market and the LTZ was undoubtedly a slow seller even with its slightly sharper handling albeit commensurately stiffer ride. It didn’t help that the LTZ cost around $2500 more than a base V6 while offering only the aforementioned performance and aesthetic enhancements and nothing more in the way of convenience features. This Corsica was an enthusiast’s special.
While the hatch and LTZ were rarities then and remain extremely uncommon sights, there is one Corsica that has them beat in terms of exclusivity. The Corsica XT was apparently a LTZ with standard leather trim and a bodykit by a 3rd party supplier. I say “apparently” because there are so few references to the XT anywhere. It doesn’t seem to appear in Chevrolet’s promotional material of the time, Consumer Guide doesn’t mention it and no press photos seem to exist. There’s also no definitive answer as to how many were produced and in what years.
So, enjoy these photos of the rarest of all Corsicas. And if anybody has any more information on this unique model, please feel free to share in the comments.
Heritage Monza, Vega and Chevette
Years produced: 1976
Total production: 2,620 Vegas; an unknown number of Chevettes and Monzas
When I first introduced this series, I’m sure many Curbsiders figured that when I eventually featured Chevrolet I would mention the “Spirit of America” Nova, Impala and Vega of 1974. After all, these are one of the most well-known and memorable Chevrolet special editions around these parts even if they may have been forgotten by enthusiasts less enamored with the esoteric. A funny thing happened on the way to publication, however: I found something even more obscure.
Two things, actually. There was a Spirit of ’76 option available on some Chevrolets to commemorate the bicentennial. Alas, it wasn’t anywhere near as interesting to behold as the “Heritage” interior, option code 1776. This striking trim was available on the Monza, Vega (excluding the Cosworth and Estate Wagon), and Chevette (excluding Woody, Sport, Rallye and Scooter models). On the Chevette, it cost $182, the Vega between $111 and $143, and the Monza just $45.
Chevrolet didn’t want you to make a fashion faux pas and equip your subcompact Chevy with a clashing interior/exterior color combination, so code 1776 was only available on Chevys in particular paint colors like white, black, silver and red. By offering the Heritage interior option only on their smallest cars, Chevrolet effectively guaranteed there would be no survivors as a lot of these Vegas, Chevettes and Monzas were thoroughly used up and scrapped. Perhaps one day, however, someone will open the doors to a derelict barn and find a dusty Chevette with special bicentennial trim. Stranger things have happened.
Venture Warner Brothers Edition
Years produced: 2000-03
Total production: ?
When the Lumina range – including the APV minivan – was launched in 1990, Chevrolet’s advertising featured Mickey Mouse, Goofy and the gang arriving at the red carpet in the new Lumina models. There were competitions to win a new Lumina and a trip for your family to Disney-MGM Studios. Almost a decade later, Chevrolet and Warner Brothers had a promotional tie-up, with the Lumina APV-replacing Venture minivan being offered in a special Warner Brothers trim for 2000.
Again, there were TV commercials featuring animated characters meeting the real-life van. Exterior badging featured Bugs Bunny and the WB Edition had a monochromatic exterior treatment similar to the more upscale Oldsmobile Silhouette. The WB Edition’s defining feature, however, was a rear-seat video entertainment system, including a flip-down, flat 5.6 inch color screen, and an audio system with separate second- and third-row headphone jacks. Although an extremely common feature in family haulers now, this was quite novel for the time although it used a VHS player located under the dash. A child safety seat built into the second-row bench was also standard on the Warner Bros.
Unfortunately, the Venture’s crash safety was lacking, as was build quality and, by many accounts, reliability. The WB Edition also packed a hefty price tag: in 2003, MSRP was $31,490, with all-wheel-drive available for an extra $2,300. At least for the price a WB Edition buyer received the extended-length body, as well as leather seats, front side airbags and various power accessories. Also included in the price was a collection of WB VHSs, a blanket, girls’ pajamas and other odds and ends. The option was discontinued for 2004 as the Venture wrapped up production. Breaking the pattern, Chevy’s replacement minivan, the Uplander, featured no promotional tie-in.
Cobalt SS Turbo Sedan
Years produced: 2009-10
Total production: ?
Those seeking a sporty, compact 2016 Chevrolet are out of luck. The capable Cruze has a turbocharged 1.4 engine but, with only 153 hp and 177 ft-lbs of torque, it is merely a substitute for a larger displacement, naturally aspirated engine. Cast your mind back a few years, though, and you may recall the various hotted-up versions of the otherwise rather forgettable Cobalt. First, there was a supercharged version of the 2.0 Ecotec with 205 hp and 200 ft-lbs. Not bad, but something came along in 2008 to blow it out of the water: a turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0 four packing 260 hp and 260 ft-lbs, available only with a 5-speed manual. Those were V6 luxury sedan figures in a 3000 pound body, and resulted in a 0-60 time of 5.5 seconds. But while the coupe is probably the most commonly seen Cobalt SS, Chevy introduced an SS sedan for 2009.
Chevrolet had a long history of selling sporty compact coupes but had never offered much in the way of a focussed, performance compact sedan. It was strange, as cars like the Subaru Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution had been available for some time. Oddly, Chevrolet did market a Cobalt SS sedan from 2006-07 but this featured a naturally-aspirated 2.4 engine with 171 hp. That was at a time when Chevrolet was applying the SS nameplate to pretty much everything.
It seems like the short life of the turbocharged Cobalt is another case of GM getting a car right – well, except for its cheap interior – and then axing it without a replacement. The Cobalt SS, after all, received glowing praise from critics, with Car & Driver saying it had “…such excellent wheel and body control… the ride-and-handling balance demonstrates a level of expertise—dare we say passion?—Chevrolet has heretofore only achieved with the Corvette.” Then, just a handful of years later, the Cobalt SS disappears and there’s no Cruze SS to replace it? Why?
Well, let’s consider for a moment that GM had some higher priorities than sporty compacts at the time, such as remaining financially solvent. But while Chevrolet has yet to offer another spicy compact like this, the turbocharged Ecotec did reappear in a North American compact. The Buick Verano Turbo is down only 10 hp from the Cobalt SS but features a vastly nicer interior, more creature comforts, more sound-deadening and, if you’re interested, it’s still available at Buick dealerships. But, oh dear, not for much longer: the Verano disappears for 2017.
Chevelle Malibu SS Wagon
Years produced: 1973
Total production: Exact figure unknown. 28,647 ’73 SS Malibus were made in total, including both wagon and coupe.
Offering a dedicated performance trim level of their mid-sized wagon was very much an anomaly for Chevrolet. Consider this: the Malibu SS Wagon was offered only for 1973, then there was an 11-year gap until the Celebrity Eurosport, then a 16-year gap until the Malibu Maxx SS.
Neither of those later models could offer what the Malibu SS Wagon did: namely, V8 muscle and rear-wheel-drive. While in some years the vaunted SS badge was available on six-cylinder Chevys, Option Z15 ($243) was only available in conjunction with the 350 cubic-inch V8 or the big 454. Transmission choices were a 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic or a 4-speed manual. With the switch to SAE net horsepower figures and the adoption of low-lead fuel, Chevy V8s had taken a hit in the numbers: the 350 was rated at 145 hp (2-barrel) or 175 hp (4-barrel), while the 454 had 245 hp and 375 ft-lbs. 0-60 times for the 454-equipped coupe were in the realm of 9 seconds, so the 4,027 pound wagon would have been a bit slower considering its 400 pound weight penalty over the coupe.
In the tape-striped 1970s, the ’73 SS package was remarkably subtle. Visual modifications were limited to badges, some blackout treatment, and turbine wheels in raised white-letter tires. Perhaps also surprising in the tape-striped 1970s were actual performance modifications in the form of front and rear stabilizer bars. Inside, there was full instrumentation and you could still opt for a rear-facing third row in the SS wagon, bringing the occupant total to 8.
Ultimately, a car like this was always going to have very niche ongoing appeal. What is more surprising is how little appeal these have with collectors. Some, like the pictured example, have appeared on online sales sites but a lot of enthusiasts don’t realize the SS wagon even exists. And it’s a shame, because these are some of the coolest, rarest wagons to ever come out of Detroit.
Family haulers that can haul, Bugs Bunny and patriotic cloth trim. Chevrolet sure has had some variety in their special editions and limited-run models! Stay tuned for part two.