Cars Of A Lifetime: 1980 Chevrolet Citation – GM’s Immortal Sin

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.