Curbside Classic: 1981 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel – Christmas In June

I’d long given up hope on ever finding a diesel Chevette; it’s a genuine unicorn. But there’s always Christmas, or Christmas Valley, in this case. It’s a hot and dusty one-gas station town that was famous for a land scam in the 1960s, and is now populated by “desert rats” and alfalfa growers. On our second day of EXBRO6, we headed down there from Green Mountain, in order gas up before heading south on Burma Road.

I instantly noticed the Chevette sitting in front of The Trail next to the gas station and store, and planned to take a few shots after filling up and getting ice. A Chevette still on the road is always deserving of a bit of CC love. When I walked up to it, I spotted the DIESEL badge on its bobbed rear end. Yowza!

It’s a pretty modest-sized badge, and there’s none on the front or sides, so it’s easily overlooked. The Isuzu 1.9 L diesel became optional on the Chevette during the 1981 model year, in the throes of the second energy crisis and the heart of the Great American Diesel Boom.

I looked inside the open window and noticed that the keys were in the ignition. Does it not run, or is this just a Xmas Valley thing?

I went over to the store and asked the cashier if she knew who it belonged to. “That’s Rick’s car; he’s the pump attendant”.

Rick, in the safety vest, was filling up a number of big propane tanks being hauled by this vintage Dodge truck. He confirmed it was his and said he’d be over shortly.

I noticed the wheels while waiting for him. They are another version of those composite wheels we talked about here recently, with an aluminum center and a steel rim. I’m not sure what car they’re from; it’s a bit hard to imagine them having come from the factory with this diesel Chevette.

Some of my EXBRO cohorts thought they were wheel covers, because the steel rim is so obviously visible, but no, these are alloy centers.

The most recent license plate sticker is from 2019; well, it is Christmas Valley, so who cares?

Rick sauntered over, popped the hood, and told me that he’d bought it a year ago from a guy in Lebanon, OR for $600. And that it’s his daily driver, and he’s thrilled with the 60 mpg he’s getting, given current fuel prices. That sounds a wee bit optimistic, but then Christmas Valley is essentially an ancient lake bed, and if you’re rolling along at 45 mph or, 60 mpg might well be doable.

The naturally-aspirated indirect-injection 1.9 L Isuzu four was rated at 51 hp. Just about perfect for Christmas Valley traffic, since there isn’t any whatsoever.

These Isuzu diesels are legendary for their immortality. I’ve been a witness to that, in the form of an Isuzu I-Mark diesel coupe that I’ve shot repeatedly in Eugene since 2010, and last shot and wrote up in 2020. I haven’t seen it for a while, so maybe…

Not much in terms of emission controls; but then that was a big part of the appeal of the diesel, until the feds started cranking down on its NOX and particulate emissions.

That sounds a bit alarmist. Nothing can damage these Isuzus.

Rick said that getting parts is a bit iffy. He’s been looking for syncros for the B/W T5 transmission. I was a bit surprised to hear that. He also said he regrets not buying the other diesel Chevette the seller had; would have made a fine parts car.

Leave it to a gas station attendant to appreciate the finer qualities of a diesel Chevette.


My homage to the (non-diesel) Chevette is here