Portlandia Outtake: 1983 Chevrolet Cavalier Wagon – The Rare Two-Headlight Not-Quite-Deadly Sin Version

(first posted 9/26/2017)       I found myself the other day in Curbsidelandia Ultimate Edition, otherwise known as Portland. It was a short trip, and I only managed to squeeze in a brief 15 minute walk-and-shoot, although I saw all kinds of marvelous CCs from the car. If I ever feel the need for new fodder, I do know where to go.

One of my Holy Grails has been a 1982 Cavalier; the one with the ultra-wheezy carburated 1.8 L four. I needed it to give it its highly deserved Deadly Sin award, and eventually I gave up and used one posted at the Cohort. The results (and 197 comments) are here.  When I saw this two-headlight Cavalier wagon, my hopes raised..just a bit. But only a bit, as I was 90% certain it would be an ’83, as the ’82s were so crappy they’ve all long been junked. My hopes were not raised in vain, although I think I’m using that expression a bit differently than usual.

I quickly walked to the rear, to look for the tell-tale badge on the lower left side. Sure enough. The ’82s have no badge, as well as no proper engine.

I’m not going to repeat my Deadly Sin #22 sermon here again, but let’s just say that that GM managed to utterly misjudge the expectations of the market with their new Cavalier, thanks to Honda et al having raised the bar far beyond what the boffins on the 14th floor were even able to comprehend. But then comprehending what small cars were all about was not something they got until quite some years later; decades, actually.

Anyway, the Cavalier fell on its face, thanks in part (but for from wholly) to its anemic, buzzy, phlegmatic, lethargic brand new 1.8 L four. And so for 1983, they rushed out an enlarged and fuel injected (TBI) 2.0 L version that should have been in the 1982. Not that it would have made the Cavalier truly competitive, or compensated for its other weaknesses, but it would have at least been something other than an unmitigated embarrassment.

Typical GM; give us a few years, and we’ll get it the way it should have been at first. but of course by then, the competition will have jumped that much further ahead. Perpetually trying to play catch-up, but falling further behind.

This particular Cavalier wagon is an interesting case, as it exhibits all the signs of long-term productive use that so many old Toyota wagons and such are usually coveted for. But an ’83 Cavalier? Well, they’re just doing their part to keep Portland weird. Old Toyotas are so main stream; need to do something a bit different.

The two headlight front end was only used for two years, so they really are getting scarce. The rear view mirror mounted on the fender is not original, in case we have any Japanese readers.

The roof rails are another sign that this Cavalier is still leading a productive life. Old Cavaliers have become Cockroaches of the Road™, and this might well be the granddaddy of them all. Or is there a 1982 1.8 out there somewhere still running? Given that 196,000 were sold, the odds would suggest yes. But I’m not a gambling man.