COAL: 2002 Chevrolet Corsa Wind – Jelly Bean, Maybe; But One With Character

Around mid 2000’s I decided to sell my 1997 VW Gol (see COAL here) and search for another car. What should I look for? After owning two VW Gol in a row I decided for a different thing, not only a different car but also another brand, one that I had always liked, especially because it’s comfortable and reliable, and somewhat more upmarket cars than those I had usually driven… a Chevrolet. But it wouldn’t be a nice road cruiser like an Opala with a 250 ci engine nor a 2.0 liter Monza or a Kadett; all of then cars which for sure I liked very much. That’s the story of my 2002 Chevrolet Corsa Wind, a car that left really good memories.

Before I enter the proper story of my own Chevrolet I must touch a background subject. Until a few years ago all I used to read about cars was books and magazines. As for magazines, since a kid I used to read the Brazilians and, less often then I would like, the foreigners. I subscribed the English “Thoroughbred & Classic Cars” for about four years. Whenever as possible I used to buy other European and American magazines about new or antique cars. I had known the big three Americans for a long time didn’t read them regularly. That old fashioned reading habit wasn’t explained by aversion to more modern internet media but just because I really didn’t bother about searching for new grounds or had not found interesting new sources when I tried.

Only like five years ago when I got my first smartphone I got in to the habit of reading independent automotive websites on a daily basis. That was when I got very surprised about some quality issues GM had faced on other markets. I got almost shocked that some Chevys were considered not well built and not well engineered. How could that happen with a company that built true classics like the Bel Air, Impala, Camaro and many others in USA and in Brazil built from tough trucks to nice sedans?

Chevrolet goes back a 100 years in Brazil. It started in the 1920’s when they were assembled locally as CKDs. Until the 1960s, car sales here were ridiculously low in this country but apparently there were quite a few Chevrolets. Just look at old pictures of São Paulo (my town) traffic jams to spot Chevys, many with 20 years or more. My memories from childhood are clear about how older folks like my father, who was born in the 1940’s, were generally big fans of the bow tie more than any other brand.

So, for most Brazilian drivers born before 1980 (I’m not able to make any consideration on younger people’s opinion on cars) Chevrolet have traditionally held a very good reputation. It had begun passenger cars local production in 1968 with the Opala (CC here) based on the Opel Rekord C (CC here). The Opala line was sold under three trim levels, from base Opala, midrange Comodoro to top Diplomata, as 4 door sedan, 2 door pillarless coupe and 3 door wagon (Cavaran). It was very successful considering it was relatively pricey and heavy on gas.

In the 1973 came the Chevette, similar to the Opel Kadett C but with an engine engineered by Isuzu (CC here on the Opel and here on the American), which also spanned a pretty long production run and sold very well. Even in Brazil’s closed market a bad car wouldn’t survive 20 years with just facelifts and a few mechanical updates.

Then the Monza came in 1982 to fill the huge price-size gaps between the Chevette and Opala. It had a slow start but GM quickly made important improvements and it’s sales grew to be best selling car in 1985 to 1987, the only time ever a non basic-non small car accomplished that in Brazil. The Monza was basically an Opel Ascona (CC here on the Opel). The list goes but I should cut it short with the Vectra and the Omega. First and second generations of the Brazilian Vectra were just like the Opel brother, and the third and last generation was a modified Opel Astra. The Omega, built as sedan and wagon was pretty similar to the Opel of the same name. It was a real luxury car in Brazil and maybe because of this it had a short career here.

Therefore, considering the Brazilian market was (still is) dominated by small inexpensive cars, Chevrolet had an upmarket biased lineup and more than that, at least until then, none of it’s cars had got a bad reputation nor were huge market flops. Probably few people in Brazil will disagree that Chevrolet has been among the brands with the smaller number of cars that turned to be market failures.

Around mid 2000’s I made my mind about replacing my 1998 VW Gol 1000 Mi and started researching the market for a used and economical hatchback. A newer Gol would have high insurance costs and I was a tired of its hard suspension. But the worst problem was to find a good used example. At the time I was temporally living in Belo Horizonte (state of Minas Gerais) and finding a good used car there was not easy, I don’t have a clue why.

I went to my home town of São Paulo and started searching. I became aware that a used Chevrolet Corsa of the same price range and model year would be in much better shape than any VW Gol I could find. I did a little check with some friends who had previously owned Corsas to clear any doubt about reliability and got me a green light. Then it was just a matter of finding the right car. For a little more money I could have had a 5 door but I deliberately looked after a 3 door. Why bother with more doors and weight, I didn’t have kid, I was single and living by myself! I found a good one 2001/2002 (so it was a 3 year old car) very clear and well maintained with only 16 thousand km (10 thousand miles).

My 2002 Chevrolet Corsa Wind

The Opel Corsa (Mk2 or Corsa B) was released in Europe in 1993 replacing the original Corsa A. But in Brazil the only small car Chevrolet offered at the time was the 20 years old Chevette. The guys really rushed to replace it with the new car to match increasing competition: the Volkswagen Gol was old at the time but was the market best seller, Fiat Uno was a huge success, plus the new offerings by VW, Fiat and Ford were underway. GM released the Corsa in 1994, only one year after the European. It was the first small entry level car in Brazil to offer electronic fuel injection and was also innovative in terms of comfort level and style: finally a 1.0 liter car could be not a punishment to ride.

My 2002 Chevrolet Corsa Wind

And unlike in Europe, in Brazil and Latin America the Corsa spawned a whole family.Offered first as 3 door hatchback only, with 1.0 liter engine (50 hp, some years later upgraded to 60 hp) and 1.4 liter (60 hp), in 1995 came the 5 door hatchback, the four door sedan that outlived the original hatchback by more than 10 years the pick-up know just as Corsa Pick-Up.

The same year a new 1.6 liter (92 hp) engine was offered for the sedan, pick-up and some versions of the hatchbacks. In 1995 the sporty Corsa GSI was released only as 3 door hatchback, with a 1.6 liter 16 valve making 108 hp. According to sources it was faster than the Gol GTI that used a much bigger 2.0 liter engineIn 199 Chevrolet released theCorsa Wagon.The hachbacks remained in production in Brazil until 2002 when the new generation Corsa C was released.

A Corsa hatchback like mine weighted 870 kg (1,918 pounds), measured 3.73 m (147 in) long, with a 2.44 m (96 in) wheelbase, 1.61 m (63,4 in) wide and 1.39 m (54,7 in) high. But I must write about my Corsa, and what a nice car it was. First the design which I consider, between similar sized cars, one of the most beautiful and certainly the most handsome since it was released. I refer to the 3 door model because I don’t see so much harmony on the 5 door: the Corsa Mk2 is probably a rare case of a small hatchback with different rear sheet metal depending on the number of doors. Mine, being a 2002, was the last production year of the Corsa B hatchback. It was the base Wind model, with the 1.0 liter with multipoint electronic fuel injection and 60 hp. Torque was 8,3 kgfm at 3.000 rpm.

I don’t know how it could be so spacious inside even being so rounded on the outside. Ergonomics were really good for me, I used to get a nice driving position even without tilting wheel drive or seat height regulation. And the seats were among the most comfortable I can remember, because of the nice cushion. It was like it had soft springs inside and other cars only thin foam over timber board.

By the way, why so many newer cars have overly hard seats? Do people really like them? Maybe the problem for me is caused by the horrible condition of the streets in my town. I remember that around 1990 I read on a Brazilian magazine called Auto Esporte a test drive of a Porsche 944 Turbo. The journalist stressed the fact that the seats were really hard but it was expected in a true sports car. I wonder what he could say about some regular cars of today.

I remember one time I made a trip on the back seat of my Corsa and still considered it comfortable. Of course that had to do with the suspension, smooth on the right manner, without being floppy and very well behaved on curves or high speeds. I did many 250-500 miles trips with very little tiring compared to other cars I had driven and many bigger cars I drove later.

Of course these cars can’t be mistaken as highway cruisers or even be compared to bigger hatchbacks like, for example, a Ford Focus in which a longer wheel base makes a lot of difference in ride quality. But my point is: I only could afford an inexpensive car so it makes sense to compare to similar priced cars. As a whole the driving experience with the Corsa was a revelation. Being a Chevy, I expected it would be comfortable, but I underestimated the riding quality because I thought that wasn’t possible in a car of that tiny size.

Did I mention it didn’t have air conditioning, power windows, power locks and other amenities very common even on Brazilian cars of today? Maintenance? Only regular preventive and no breakdowns at all in 50 thousand km (31 thousand miles). This things may look fragile but aren’t. Actually there’s still plenty of then on the road in São Paulo, my town. Some are pretty beat up but many are looking integer, including the upholstery. But what about the engine? Well, I did a little research on a couple of car sales websites and found many with over 100 thousand miles (it’s enervating that many people here doesn’t care to fill up even basic information on their sales announcements).

By that time I was married and had to adjust to somewhat different less thrift tastes and habits. To end up, selling it was very easy and fast. It took just 3 hours in a big open car market fair. A young guy came with a fellow mechanic and made a good offer. Deal But I still miss my beloved Corsa.