After I sold off my broken International, I went car-less again for awhile. We were sharing an apartment with a guy named Eric, who had a 1980 Chevy Citation two door hatchback. He decided he would get in better shape if he rode his bike to work everyday instead of driving, so he offered to sell the Citation to me. Now normally I wouldn’t touch an X body car with a ten foot pole. But this Citation had low miles, perfect body and paint, ran perfectly, and the interior was like new with the exception of the door panels, which were slowly turning to white powder where they were exposed to the sun. And for eight hundred dollars, how could I say no?
Surprisingly buying that car turned out to be a good choice. I know, I know, terrible car, terrible build quality, terrible looks, etc. But ours proved to be just fine. Sure that 151 Iron Duke 4 cylinder shook and shimmied under the hood, sure it had torque steer like you were holding onto a chainsaw cutting through a redwood, and sure the interior was biodegradable. But it was reliably crapy.
Even after a long trip into the mountains traveling at a high rate of speed around a tight bend on a logging road, I managed to launch it off of an embankment. It landed nose first about twelve feet below the road and about twenty feet away in a Christmas tree farm. Michele and I were unscathed and began inspecting the car. The radiator and fan were full of mud and we were in deep. Some folks at the only house on the road had seen our majestic dive and came rushing over to see if we were OK. Of course; after all, this was “the first Chevy of the 80’s”.
After being winched out, we didn’t need a tow; we just cleared out the mud and fired her up, good to go. And that was only one of many trips into the great outdoors with that car.
Still need convinced of the toughness of the Citation? Well there was the time I forgot my glasses and ran it straight into a median, bending the front cross member but leaving the car otherwise unfazed. Several months latter I polished up the still perfect cream colored paint, changed the oil, and we went out on the town. Yes, a juicy T-bone would have been nice, but not to be T-boned by a 1960’s Dodge pickup truck full of (shall we call them) “socially undesirables”.
The pickup blew through a red light, smashed into the passenger side front quarter panel tearing it half way off, pushing the fan into the radiator, and spun us around 90 degrees to the left. A good direction too, because that’s the direction they drove off in. I gave chase and followed them to an apartment complex down the street. After some interesting conversation (in which he claimed it was all because of a blown head gasket) I was able to obtain the name and apartment number of the driver. He swore that he had insurance through his friend who owned the truck. Off course there was no insurance, his license had been revoked, etc.
I did eventually get paid for the car (500 dollars) after doing my own leg work between my insurance company and his former company to prove that he didn’t have insurance so that I would be covered by my uninsured motorist insurance (hard to understand). I even finally convinced the police to issue him a citation for driving without insurance. Months latter I got a letter from the State telling me that as a victim I had rights but that I would get no money from “the convicted party” as he had none.
I bought the car back from the insurance company ($300) and put another radiator in it. Ran like a… well, like a Citation. After that I didn’t care about how it looked anymore, so when the headlight switch quit, I just used a household light switch screwed to the dash to replace it. I even tried the limits of the car to see just what it would take to destroy it. I took it “off-roading” all over the Oregon forests going places only 4x4s went. I did puncture the oil pan several times, but fixed it with JB Weld. Don’t leave the road without it!
Eventually I realized it would never die, so I put it up for sale (500 dollars). One day a kid from the coffee shop called me and said he had to have it today! Ok; bring the money, I said. He showed up very obviously stoned but he had cash. We filled out the paperwork and he got the keys. I asked him if he should be driving. He told me that he had actually never driven a car but that he had to go to Portland (60 miles) to see his brother today!
I was a bit stunned. I had already handed him the keys and no amount of convincing would dissuade him from trying to drive to Portland. He got in and figured out how to start it and pulled away. I considered calling the police, but he didn’t hit anything as he left, and I knew from previous experiences that the cops would do nothing.
I called him up the next day to see how things had gone. He said that he got pulled over about ten miles into the journey, spent the night in jail, and the car was impounded. And that was finally the end of the Citation as I knew it.
GM’s Front Runners for the ’80s! August 1979 ad
A sad story about a sad little car. It’s telling, in that it illustrates who Detroit honchos envision their small-car buyers to be: desperate young people who’ll take anything, as long as it starts.
And Great, Good GM offered them exactly that; while the Japanese, after learning that we Americans like to wash our streets with brine and rock salt in the winter…they offered us QUALITY.
General Motors gave us snappy jingles and hardware designed to look good on a spec sheet. Japan gave us the result of fifteen years of working with W. Edwards Deming, the exiled American guru of quality improvement through statistical controls.
Guess which one worked? Japan Incorporated is fading right now only because of high wages and unimaginative car design; not because of rolling abortions like the X-Car. GM has collapsed; has been restructured (what I have to say about THAT belongs elsewhere) and is continuing on the same primrose path.
Japan worships Edwards Deming. Detroit yuks it up with P.T. Barnum.
And the Koreans, very smart and driven even harder, watch…and learn. Learn correctly. China is in the wings as well…no way to know how that will go; but I’m old enough to remember when “Made in Japan” was a slur and suggestion of zero quality.
“A sad story about a sad little car. It’s telling, in that it illustrates who Detroit honchos envision their small-car buyers to be: desperate young people who’ll take anything, as long as it starts.”
No true-er words have ever been spoken about this car my friend.
This is exactly how they (must have) envisioned the market for the Chevette before the Citation and for the Cavalier, Sprint, Geo Metro, Cobalt, Aveo, and now Cruze after it.
Sadly, Japan, (are you listening, Toyota?) has bent over backwards in the last 30 years to engineer out every single reason we Americans bought their products in the first place…
I got a kick out of the ad video. I remember, now, the shots of the car pulling a boat with the rear wheels removed. What the hell was that supposed to prove? And, along with the product, their jingles were not what they used to be. A jingle with “a thoroughly contemporary driving machine” is a far cry from “See the USA in a Chevrolet”.
Yeah, I don’t know what that was supposed to show, either. Sure, the front wheels drove the damn thing. But there’s no WAY it could have towed that trailer without a rigid connection to hold the car off the ground…bracing on the trailer tongue, also.
In any event, nobody in their right mind would tow a boat or heavy trailer behind a small, light car. And I know of whence I speak; I tried towing a loaded trailer behind a 3000-lb Jeep YJ.
Once. And once was enough. YOU JUST DON’T DO IT – unless you really want to die messily.
Even though there had been quite a few FWD cars sold in the US by the early 1980’s, there were plenty of the unwashed who really weren’t aware of the characteristics of front wheel drive. It was meant to prove that the front wheels were really doing the work.
If memory serves, the only FWD vehicles GM had sold to the public before the X-cars were the Olds Toronado, the 1967-on Cadillac Eldorado (and, from 1979, the Riviera), and the GMC Motorhome — none of them anywhere close to the Citation’s price range. I suppose they figured some education for existing customers was in order. Or something…
There was a posting on TTAC the other day about one of these in a Colorado junkyard. This is an excerpt of that post: “In my part of the midwest, if these cars lived to 5 years old, they all developed scabrous rust spots and ran poorly generally. They seemed like they should have belonged to a “Mad Max” movie set, and the (usually) low rent owners of these cars should have looked like extras on the movie set.”
The pix above are perfect examples of what I was talking about. This is the image I have in my mind when someone says “citation” to me, whether referring to the car or the legal construct.
I doubt one of these could have made it to a MadMax movie set they didnt film in town near the coast
“Mad Max” actually had some nice cars, when you think about it. At least at the beginning of the film.
Aztounding that a company could build great cars in one country and crud like this from its home base what a perfectly awful car
This too, is telling. GM, as structured by William Crapo Durant, was to be autonomous divisions within the corporate structure. And as long as they stuck with that, it seemed to work.
Oldsmobile and Chevrolet were all part of GM; yet until the Citation era, a Chevy engine in an Olds, sold as an Olds, was an outrage and cause for a lawsuit.
Holden and the European divisions as well. There was cross-pollination; and all the divisions had to live by corporate law…but Holden and Vauxhall and Opel all were free to develop to their home markets. Australians and Europeans, being not so wealthy, simply couldn’t AFFORD a disposable car; and had one been sold it would have been the end of that company.
So…aside from some styling cues and engineering protocols, each was different.
The Citation and X-Cars marked the point where badge-engineering and corporate one-size-fits-all-divisions really became the GM Way. Prior to that, there were common bodies…customers accepted that, allowing that there were distinctions in styling. Engines and drivetrains were divisional. But the X-Cars were naked badge engineering…you bought an Apollo, you bought an overpriced Citation. In a different body style perhaps (Citation didn’t come in a 4-door sedan) but the same car, same transxle, same lumpy, heavy engine, same lack of rust prevention.
Same torque steer. Same “WHOOPS!!” brakes that were likely to send you off an embankment…as happened to many.
And Buick and Olds buyers didn’t get to being able to pay Buick and Olds prices by being fools. They saw; they walked. Right down to the Lexus and Infinity stores.
Holden probably escaped that fate for its remoteness; and because their managers would never have DARED.
Holden had the J body it was rubbish but the mainsream Commodores never sank that low in quality even in 4banger form they were better than this xcrement which I seriously doubt could have been registered in Aussie without a proper braking system It would have failed a basic ADR requirement Holden during the 80s was selling handling and performance which its cars had in spades totally unlike GM US
To GM’s credit, prior to the seventies, its shared-body products rarely looked much alike (except in the case of deliberate feature ‘trickle down’). There were some exceptions, but the divisions were generally wary of cloning — witness Pontiac’s resistance to offering a rebadged Corvair, which led to the creation of the rope-drive Tempest.
Good observation; and I’ll add: That’s what was WRONG with GM in that era. If it wasn’t in their showrooms, it wasn’t happening.
Remember the times: The FWD way was paved with the Fiat 128 and Renault 16, for the adventurous; and then with the Rabbit, for the mainstream. The Fiat Strada, their last hurrah in the States, was on showroom floors. Chrysler had had their Horizomni out for a year; and the Ford Fiesta was showing their loyal customers just what was wrong with the Pinto.
To say nothing of the runaway success Honda was having with the Civic and 2/4-door Accords. Anyone who needed to be TOLD about FWD at that time, needed to shop for a new car with a pilot.
But…just as GM pooh-pooh’d the idea that they could learn anything from Japan, they probably had likewise contempt for their own shoppers. By 1980, brand-loyalty was a thing of the past…something the Big 3 had wrought with their own actions and product.
I’m surprised Z71Silvy hasn’t popped up to say what a fine motorcar these were and Fox Fords were crap…
Let’s hope that’s one troll that stays the french toast out of here. Although PeriSoft annoyed me more when he would stop in to tell us all how stupid we were for loving any old car and that it was child abuse for us to put our kid in anything less than a 20__ (insert current model year here) because of all the advancements that had been made in safety.
Could be worse. Hopefully, Mr These-cars-never-sold-on-the-east-or-west-coast stays at C/D and TTAC.
My Celebrity had the same rust issues, same crappy Iron Duke, and the same refusall to die. Last I heard it had been destroyed in a local Putnam County, OH demo derby at about 300,000 miles.
Its funny that the hatch on this Citation has rusted so much but the bumpers are still nice and shiny. Usually they rotted just as quickly as the body.
Additionally, I can’t imagine trying to tow a 2000 pound boat with this boat anchor of a car.
I had a 1984 Buick Skylark that I bought in 1995 with only 16k miles on it. I drove it for 5 years and 75,000 mostly trouble free miles. I had the 2.8l V6. I stayed ahead of the rust by scraping, priming and painting the spots as they came up annually. I spent about $500 to $1000 annually in repair bills. Really no different than any other car I’ve owned. The half axles on the Buick lasted far better than the ones on the Honda.
It was not a glamorous car, but it worked for me at the time.
I remember when I was a kid, and my best friend’s parents bought a new Citation. They picked me up to go swimming a day or two later and we rode in the back of it with the parental units up front. I went to roll down the window and the winder came off in my hand. My buddy Rick says “That’s so no one can steal the handle; we put it in the glovebox when it’s parked.” OK, to a 9 year old this is plausible, though I heard the parents making unhappy noises up front. What wasn’t plausible is when his mother, a rather large lady, went to adjust the seat and the back fell flat. Rick tried to convince me it was a fold down bed; I remained unconvinced. She had to drive home using the steering wheel to hold her up.
Not long after that (within a week I think), the Citation was gone, and a new Chevette was in place. Boring but competent, they had that car until the mid ’90s, when their youngest son totalled it…
When I was in grad school, I had 3 roommates. One had a 75 Mustang II, one had an 80 Monza hatchback, and the third had the nicest of all, his dad’s 81 Pontiac Phoenix. This was 1984-85, so the Phoenix was still nice and new and shiny. I still hated it. I drove a 71 Plymouth Scamp with about 130K on the slant 6, and I would not have traded for any of the other 3..
My initial comment will be a repeat of my comment on TTAC about a Citation in a junk yard last week:
I had a 1981 Olds Omega Brougham with the 2.8L V6.
I actually loved that car.
I guess it helped that it was a company car that cost me nothing and only needed to survive 36,000 miles.
The transmission died at 20,000 and was replaced.
That was the sum total of repairs.
I loved it until it was totalled by a speeding Camaro running a stop sign and tearing its front end off after its replacement was on order.
With the Iron Duke 4 producing only 80 (or was it 85?) hp, how did it generate enough torque steer to overpower the front wheels?
My 1982 Iron Duke put out 90 hp but 123lbft of torque at a very low 1500 rpm. You couldn’t get the thing over 75mph but you could break the front wheels loose on dry pavement.
Hello everyone, I’ve been reading for awhile but this is my first post…
I bought a Citation 2.8 v6 (brown like in the ad, but not two tone) from the grandma next door about ten years ago…I knew it would not impress the ladies but I soon realized that maybe GM was trying to hit a “home run.” I mean, it floated along the road like a Caddy, it could seat six (mine had a bench seat in front), the dash was virtually the same as my ’77 K5 Blazer (with a vertical radio!), and the rear seat folded all the way down to give what seemed to be a cargo area that was bigger than an S-10 bed! If I squinted enough when looking at the front, the Citation had a handsomely rugged look (I tried not to admire the rear much)…
What caused me to give up on the car was the fact that I had to open the hood every time to put my hand over the carb to get the engine to stop dieseling after I turned it off. Unfortunately a new (or rebuilt) carb would have cost more than I believed I could turn around and sell the car for. So I donated it to charity in the last year that one could claim whatever they wanted (up to $5000) on their tax return in California.
I am a sinner, and I miss that car.
Was that really a charitable thing to do, don’t you feel just a tad guilty?
In a word…”no” 😉
Interesting story. It seems as though the Citation worked fine all things considered. Was it a perfect car? Of course not! What car is? Blaming the car for the problems that develop hardly seems fair. Nor does blaming General Motors. With certain exceptions, I refuse to believe that Detroit or anyone else who builds cars deliberately sets out to build defective cars. I believe that the reason problems develop is that we drivers and owners (for the most part) don’t take very good care of our cars.
Yesterday while leaving church with my wife I saw the first Citation I’d seen in a decade or more. It had a new registration…in fact the car looked like it stepped straight out of 1981.
I have a co-worker who once owned an ’84 Citation II. He actually liked the car…said it always ran well and never let him down.
My co-worker’s and the one I saw at church must be the only good ones ever to roll off a GM assembly line. Maybe they were built at exactly 11:26AM on a Wednesday. You remember what they used to say about never buying a car built on a Monday or Friday…
OTOH, my business partner bought one of the last ones made – a Buick IIRC…it lasted just a few months. When the dealer refused to stand behind it, she immediately traded it for a Honda and not only has never looked back, but has made a point of sharing her story as a warning to anyone looking at a GM vehicle.
The Honda – a 5-speed Civic – lasted 15 years. She still drives the CR-V that replaced it.
As I left the church parking lot…I offered that many of the imports parked around us belong to people who once owned a GM X-Car.
As bad as the Vega was, this was the icing on the cake. And as good as I hear many of GM’s products are today, it’s a shame that many will never pay attention precisely because of experiences like the ones outlined im this thread.
I’m as big a Chevy guy as any you’ll find, and I’ll be the first to say…I can’t blame them.
Chevy did make a 4dr citation sedan ,I had a 1980 model with power streering and 4 speed trans. To me this was a great little car I had no problems with at all. My wife and I went on vacation in it and we got 48 mpg. The only reason I got rid ofit I thought my payments were to high at that time and my wife could not drive a standard shift. I wish I could find one now.
Can I just say what a reduction to search out someone who truly knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You positively know how you can deliver a difficulty to mild and make it important. Extra people must learn this and perceive this facet of the story. I cant believe youre no more fashionable since you positively have the gift.
I Owned 1980 2.8 V6 2dr Citation Hatch back for 20 years and 265,000 miles when I sold it.
It still ran great.
Over the years I stayed on top of the rust problems.
TUfoil and routine maintenance served me just fine.
WHY DIDNT YOU FILL OUT THE PAPER WORK?!
I could have had one recently. In May 2013 I found a yellow 83 citation hatch with v6/auto at a garage sale with no rust for $400. Shoulda/whoulda/coulda! And there is a lady now in 2015 still driving the Pontiac Phoenix version. See her at Wal-Mart. I’ll talk to her someday.