Junkyard Classic: 1989 Pontiac LeMans LE – K-Po(o)p Kadett

Never let it be said that I dislike a car, any car.  I can generally find something to appreciate about any of them once I really take into consideration their point of being.  And then think about it.  Sometimes for a long time.  But this one may be the exception.  I never liked this poor thing that the storied LeMans name was affixed to, and I never even liked this generation when it was the eternal #2 German compact, the Opel Kadett.  Older Kadetts?  Sure.  Newer ones (or Astras as they were called)?  Yup, me likey.  But this?  Nein.

As far as I can tell, we’ve never featured this car here before except for one story that was technically a reprint from the “other site”.  At that point it was labeled Deadly Sin #12.  The short story is that the car started life as an Opel Kadett and did pretty well on the Continent, then after the end of the run the tooling was either sold to Daewoo or just put on the curb for recycling and someone shipped it to South Korea.

They started to produce them there and somebody got the wild and crazy idea that this is exactly what the Pontiac division would love to have to fill out their showroom.  I suppose the goal was to replace the T-1000 (Chevette) with the 3-door hatchback version (okay), and compete with the Sunbird in 4-door sedan guise (why?).  On the face of it, since the T-1000 is more or less related (kissing cousins?) to the prior Kadett, on paper in a boardroom filled with people that never had to drive either one this perhaps did make some sense.  And since GM had been hopping in and out of bed with the Korean Daewoo over the years before finally tying the knot it was all one big, happy, incestuous family anyway.

But the cars were generally wretched, slow, low quality, with poor materials and out of date to anyone that was capable of looking beyond the fact that it replaced the T-1000 and also somehow thought that Pontiac was the only showroom on earth.  Remember though that Hyundai had launched in the U.S. a couple of years prior to initial acclaim that quickly turned sour but still had sown some Korean seeds on our shores and prairies which may help to explain it a little.  That this one managed to survive this long in the wilds of Wyoming is surprising though.

What we have here is obviously a 3-door, which most of them seemed to be and while there is no obvious body damage someone decided it had to go for whatever reason (the bent trunk is likely due to the yard staff wanting it open).  This is an LE version as opposed to the bottom of the line Value Leader or the top GSE.  The sporty red bumper/trim stripe goes a lot further here than I would have thought and the red cherry bomb exhaust at least adds some noise to the rest of the pizzazz such as the pinstripe and what used to be a red arrowhead logo.

Underhood sits the Korean-made Daewoo L73 engine, a 1.6l OHC 4-cylinder squeezing out 74hp and 90lb-ft of torque.  That may sound like it translates to glacial pace here in 6000-foot elevation southern Wyoming, and it probably does, especially equipped with the 3-speed automatic as this one is.  The driver’s foot was either off the gas pedal entirely or trying to push it through the floorboard, a handy toggle switch on the dash would have provided an equivalent on/off solution with less effort and physical strain.

Around back there isn’t too much of that vaunted Pontiac “Excitement” but at least it’s a hatchback so something to rejoice over.  The four-door sedan though, I just can’t fathom that.  The dealer sticker isn’t readable anymore and I can’t recognize the shape, perhaps one of our Wyoming based readers knows.  The other sticker (in the window) supports the sheriff’s association.

Opening the hatch and propping a handy broomstick in place reveals a decently roomy cargo area.  I had pulled out a piece of bent carpet and board that I didn’t think belonged in the car to show this better and only belatedly realized it was likely the mangled cargo cover.  The 5-quart jug of O’Reilly 5W-30 doesn’t bode well here.  Let’s move around to the cockpit area!

Ooh, that’s dreary.  While the LeMans was based on the Kadett, which competed heavily with the VW Golf, I find the VW interior to be miles (kilometers?) ahead of this one.  This could just not be more gray with nothing to liven it up.  Somebody wanted out of this so bad they even left their slippers behind in the footwell.  And there’s another oil bottle in the rear footwell.

I know it’s South Korean but this looks more like a North Korean holding cell.  I suppose at least there is an armrest and the foldout (rotating I think) ashtray is actually a clever touch that mimics some European trains if I am remembering correctly.

That 71,579 mile number, that’s no good.  Here in Wyoming the average car has probably twice the miles on it than a car in most any other state due to the distances involved in everyday life.  On the plus side there is almost zero traffic at any time, anywhere.  So besides the elevation and the cold temperatures part of the year, driving here is not that taxing on a car.  So this just plain sucks.

I’ll toss in the one caveat that the instrumentation looks similar to VDO gauges, and could be either genuine VDO or a South Korean knockoff, either one leaving open the distinct possibility that the odometer broke as it did in many VDO-supplied VW and Audi products of the era.  The trip odometer being zeroed is another subtle hint to that possibility, nobody ever zeroes that unless starting a trip.  But the overall body condition does support the lower mileage.

Those look like tears running down the bodywork, not mine though.  Perhaps the Lord is sad about the use of the name.

While it certainly didn’t do much to ever get me to like it, I suppose I can still respect the fact that this one made it thirty years.  Many of the surrounding vehicles are significantly younger than that.  With whatever issue the oil containers perhaps allude to, at least it hopefully didn’t leave someone completely stranded, likely there was notice that things were not going well.  Hmm, perhaps I am able to rationalize a little something positive after all.

As of 2011, GM Daewoo was renamed GM Korea and no longer produced any vehicles badged Daewoo.  The Daewoo name did outlast Pontiac, which ended a year earlier.  Of course Opel, the original manufacturer of this car, was sold to PSA in 2017.  And if I understand it correctly, this basic car was still produced in Uzbekistan until just a couple of years ago by the Uzbek arm of GM, making it a very long run indeed for the Kadett “E”

Related Reading:

PN’s GM’s Deadly Sin #12 – Pontiac LeMans