Mere days before Christmas of last year, I stumbled across this sad specimen of a Chevrolet Citation while on one of my long, meditative walks. To see any Citation anymore, the newest of which would have been thirty-five years old as of last year, would have been an extremely rare occurrence, but the grille pattern on this one was exclusive to the Citation’s first, extended model year on the market. It’s plausible that this car is not actually a 1980 and that its grille was a replacement from a donor car. Which parts were original to this car, given that over 1,642,000 were produced over six model years? It would be hard to tell absent a closer look than I was afforded, given that this car seemed so complete.
At least one owner didn’t even bother to replace the body panels that had rusted all the way through, which leads me to believe that most of what I had photographed was probably as from the factory, if not replaced under one of myriad factory recalls that Citation owners were subjected to. It struck me that this car was the perfect sighting with which to end 2020. This car was 2020… for many people, anyway. I have documented at Curbside what some of my own personal journey has looked like over the past year and a half, and there was a lot of good that came from last year for me. With that said, I will never forget what it was like to survive what may have been the single most challenging year of my entire forty-something existence on this planet. This was true not so much on a personal level, but in terms of daily functionality and the inability to safely do even simple things I had been able to do with ease before.
This Citation appears to have gotten here to this patch of pavement under its own power. Missing its license plates and other ways of identifying it, this unloved and used-up X-Body hatchback sat, very illegally, at a crosswalk. I have a vivid imagination, but even I’m having trouble with coming up with the scenario under which this Citation ended up here. Was it cheaper to drive it to this stretch of North Broadway and abandon it than to pay for a tow truck to the junkyard? Who would tow this thing only as far as this specific spot? Did the junkyard straight-up refuse to accept it when someone had made a phone call earlier? What then? What does one do with a car they no longer want that they can’t get rid of that’s taking up valuable real estate on one’s property? Some might do this, and hope they don’t get caught. I have many questions.
There is just so much rust. Merely looking at this car makes me want to get another tetanus booster shot. At some point, its owner had taken matters into his or her hands and did a very artisanal job of applying almost-matching silver duct tape to the lower door panels. Remember when you were learning how to use crayons in kindergarten, and the teacher taught you to color using strokes made in the same back-and-forth directions instead of scribbling, and how much better your pictures looked as a result? Someone took great care to apply the duct tape to the doors in parallel lines to almost give the appearance of a two-tone paint job. It’s almost as if they had asked themselves, “How do I make this car look, well… less crappy?”, and they took care to bandage this Citation’s festering rust-sores with something approximating precision.
The condition of this car also begged the questions: What of this car could actually be salvaged or reused? Does it have any value at all? The glass looked alright, but I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on this busy thoroughfare getting too up-close-and-personal with this car, as I didn’t want anyone to assume I was responsible in any way for getting and leaving it there. The Citation model, itself, has already been chronicled at CC as “GM’s Deadliest Sin”, so my intent here is not necessarily to restate any of that. It just seems to me that this particular car seemed to be the most perfect embodiment of the Citation during its entire, unfortunate life, in terms of what it turned out to be for many trusting consumers, what it did to contribute to the diminishing of GM’s once vast market share and reputation, and for the kind of lasting impression it left on many who had expected much, much more from the United States’ largest automaker.
“Murphy’s Law” is commonly described along the lines of a set of circumstances under which if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Not everything went wrong with the Citation. The stylists did a nice job. The interior was roomy, and the hatchbacks swallowed a lot of luggage and had a high utility factor. Fuel economy was good from the standard, Pontiac-sourced “Iron Duke” 2.5L four-cylinder with its 90 hp, which was mounted sideways. Chevy’s new 2.8L V6 yielded over 25% more horsepower than the four, with 115 hp on tap. The entire Citation range was also moderately light, weighing in the 2,500-pound range which was generally about 100 – 200 pounds less than the entire two-door Monza line-up. As detailed in the link above, things did not end well, with many of over 811,500 first-year Citations leaving a bad taste in the minds of many buyers. For the record, my Uncle Bob really liked his, which he still maintains was a good car. Apparently, they had gotten one of the good ones, and that car served as their primary family hauler until my other cousin came along.
I was in elementary school in Flint, Michigan when the song “Murphy’s Law” by dance band Cheri was a hit on R&B radio. It’s a song I remember hearing from the tinny speakers at the front of the school bus. The sped-up vocals in the chorus reminded me a little bit of something from some song on one of the Disney records I was actually allowed to have at that age (played, of course, on my plastic Fisher-Price turntable in two-tone brown and beige). “Got it all together, dont’cha, Baby?” “Murphy’s Law… is sure out to get you.” Words that could have been uttered directly from this Chevy Citation or last year’s calendar, if either could talk. Let us all collectively cross our fingers, toes, and everything else that there will never be another, ever again, like either this car or last year.
South Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Tuesday, December 22, 2020.
Click here for related reading on an ’81 found a year ago by contributor Jim Klein.