(first posted 9/28/2016) The Chevrolet Citation didn’t just earn a GM Deadly Sin award here, it was deemed GM’s Deadliest Sin ever. In retrospect, Roger Smith himself probably deserves that. But never mind; dig around in the muck that the Citation quickly found itself in, and there’s genuine sparkles of brilliance to be found.
Although Citations arrived with numerous shortcomings (and more were just down the road), the X-11 hatchback coupe was the great (formerly white) hope for a leading-edge all-American world-class sports sedan, rather in the vein of a Saab 900 or so. Sadly, it too got sucked up in the GM quicksand of the times.
The X-11 version arrived along with the rest of the Citation family in April of 1979, which made for an extra-long selling season, and helps explain a model year sales tally of some 800k cars. A truly spectacular start, to a car that was widely seen as the most advanced American car just about forever.
Seriously; the Citation and its X-Body siblings redefined the American car, with FWD, an extremely space-efficient package, hatchbacks on most body styles, light weight, good performance (with the V6) and efficiency, as well as superior handling. Fun to drive; practical to own. Affordable price. International-influenced styling. The ideal new-sized American car for a new American era, one in which gas prices were projected to keep escalating forever.
It was exactly what the car magazines had been telling Detroit to build for ages. They all had fallen in love with cars like the Saab 99/900, which offered essentially exactly the same list of qualities. It was a mantra that had been chanted for decades, and after a few very embarrassing stumbles like the Vega, GM was finally going to get it right. Compact cars don’t have to be penalty boxes! Oh; what a revelation. And they can fulfill all the needs of most car buyers, without any significant compromises? What’s
the world America coming to?
The Citation was a truly remarkable car for one of the Big Three to actually build instead of just teasing us about endlessly with concepts and lip service that never really amounted to anything. And of course, the X-11 package—which was also available on the club coupe—with its sports-tuned suspension, wider wheels and tires, a few other goodies, and when teamed up with the (optional) brand new 115 hp 2.8 liter V6, had world-class qualities; well except for a few key missing ones, including the ones that ended up biting the early years’ Citation in the ass generally.
The gushing advance reviews of the Citation X-11 have often been held up as a classic example of GM pulling the wool over journalists with specially-prepared “ringers”. Well, there may be a bit truth in that, but there’s also truth in the fact that the Citation’s objective stats where top-notch, and in many/most metrics decidedly better than anything even closely to its price range. Yes, it really was as fast as a Saab Turbo…
The common X-Car issue of rear brake lock-up was not noticed to be severe, with Road and Track noting “the driver needed to modulate the brake pedal to prevent early lock-up, but had little trouble doing so”. It would appear that the X cars with handling packages and the wider wheels and tires had less of a lock-up tendency. I drove a 1980 Skylark so equipped for almost two years, and never found it problematic in that regard. Yet it clearly was an issue on many of the X cars. And most of the other issues that led to a record number of recalls (no less than nine) were quality issues, not anything to do with the Citation’s fundamental design and performance, which could be was truly exemplary for the times, in a properly equipped one.
The Iron Duke four was always a noisy, rough and wheezy lump, although it did what it needed to do for those with very modest expectations. But the lack of a modern, smooth OHC four, like all of the import competition sported, was truly an unfortunate omission, especially since the Citation was quite light, starting at 2,391 lbs. and would have performed perfectly adequately with one.
The 115 hp V6 made the Citation quite lively, given that 1980 was in the depth of the Malaise Era. 0-60 in (just) under 10 seconds with the four speed manual was excellent for the times; lots of V8 cars couldn’t equal that in those days. Unfortunately, the cable shifter for the four speed manual transmission left something to be desired. The overdrive 0.81:1 ratio of fourth gear was also a compromise; a five speed would have really been ideal.
Clearly GM was very stressed by the huge development costs of the X-car program, especially considering it came on the heels of the B/C body downsizing of 1977, and the A body downsizing one year later. GM’s mammoth across-the-board downsizing was the largest industrial investment program in the US since WWII. But shortcuts are inevitably self-defeating.
Another area where GM really cut costs was in the interior. It all looked very cheap, and aged poorly. The ambiance of a car is very important. Hard plastic can work, but when it’s everywhere, and thin, and with nasty textures and rough edges and poor fits, it is just depressing. When that subjective experience is combined with repeated other quality issues, breakdowns, and recalls, it’s understandable how these cars came to be so hated so quickly. GM essentially destroyed America’s chance to adopt advanced European-style design and technology with the X-car’s poor quality. Just as it did with the Olds 5.7 diesel. And…
But there’s no denying that the Citiation’s hatchback was roomy and versatile. Did the Citation’s problems also lead to America’s general dislike for hatchbacks?
Although the 1980 X-11 package was a good start, it really shone in 1981. A 135 hp HO version of the 2.8 V6 was now standard, which improved performance considerably, with 0-60 was in the 8.5 second range, excellent for the times. The F41 suspension was further tweaked; a handsome set of alloy wheels wearing fat Goodyear Eagle GT P215/60 R14 radial tires really improved the looks and handling, and the functional powerdome hood let folks know that the good times were back, as it harked back to similar hoods gracing Chevy’s classic muscle cars in the past. The X-11 was the re-incarnation of the Nova SS and such, but with vastly better packaging, handling and efficiency (25 mpg).
An X-11 could circle a skidpad with .85G. That was a revaluation for a lot of American car drivers as well as sporty import drivers caught unaware.
This is how the featured car looked some five or six years ago when I first shot it. It’s gained some body work and a paint job, but lost its front filler panel. Maybe new ones are being sought; they might be hard to find, possibly.
The hood emblem has received the red letter treatment. The 135 hp version presumably had a slightly more aggressive cam, an improved induction system although still with a two-barrel carb, and a very roarty exhaust system with twin outlets. It had a nice almost Dino-ish crackle when it approached its 5500 rpm redline.
The 1981 X-11 was an attractive performance package, especially considering its affordable price and the lack of anything vaguely competitive from the other domestic manufacturers, and anything comparable performance-wise from the imports was considerably more expensive. An X-11 would literally run rings around the 1981 101 hp BMW 320i, which started at $13k, almost twice what an X-11 went for.
The 1982 version of the X-11 did benefit from the steering rack being relocated from the firewall to the front suspension subframe (like all X-bodies and the new A-body derivatives), improving precision, reliability and eliminating that unfortunate feedback from the front subframe. But unfortunately, the HO V6 engine lost some of its edge in 1982, due to tighter emission standards. Although the advertised hp rating remained (suspiciously) at 135, more tellingly, torque dropped from 165 ft.lbs to 145 ft.lbs. Performance suffered accordingly, with the 0-60 sprint now back in the 9.2 second range.
In 1985, fuel injection replaced the carb version, but this was now just the injected version that would eventually replace the carb version (LB6), and not a true performance engine. Power was down again, to 130 hp, although there were compensations from being fuel injected, including a wider torque band, better driveability and improved economy. 0-60 was still about 9.2 seconds.
The X-11’s brightest day in the sun was 1981, and it was a relatively short day, as was the Citation’s in general. I don’t have yearly breakouts, but I strongly suspect X-11 sales peaked in 1981. And over its six years of availability, only a very modest 20,574 were sold. The Citation’s almost instantly-earned bad rep undoubtedly poisoned the well for the X-11, even though all Citations were much improved after the first year or two.
So much promise; so much disappointment. The X-11 deserved better, a car that could hold its own with some of the best sports sedans in the world. Leave it to GM to once again give us a glimpse of brilliance but then tarnish it with immature development and poor quality. Par for the course for GM in the 1980s?
CC 1980 Chevrolet Citation: GM’s Deadliest Sin
“The 1981 X-11 was an attractive performance package, especially considering its affordable price and the lack of anything vaguely competitive from the other domestic manufacturers”
I would have thought the Fox Mustang to be competitive in regards to performance and drivability.
For some reason say back in early 90’s, around 91 or 92.
I’m not sure why, but It seemed like every coked up / crack rock using drug junkie some how always seem to be driving a early to mid 80’s Chevy Citation. The signs were always there starting with the abysmal neglected interior that looked like a trash can exploded inside the car.
Back then a drug junkies car of choice always seemed to be the entire GM J-Line cars (Cavalier, Sunbird etc), the 1985-1987 Grand Ams, and for some odd reason the Chevy Citation & Camaro were the biggest hits with users. It almost felt like the drug users & drug dealers teamed up with GM to create specific drug user friendly cars that would go under the radar of the cops.
This was when I lived in Wisconsin in the early 90’s. I observed this as a clean teenager, watching the cars drive up to make a buy from dope houses.
Citations were a major hit with the users for sure. Some junkies wanted to be a little more fancy than others and would sometimes drive up in the bright colored Citation XII sport edition hatchbacks, or Cadillac Cimmarons.
For anyone wondering, this was just my observation as a teen that sadly had to live next to a few dope houses that were on my block. So everyone watched the 24/7 in and out traffic that came and went and what they drove…The winner was the Citation by a long shot….
they still look good. And also an impressively flat load area with the seats down.
I bought the ad copy and the initial reviews and bought a new 1980 Skylark 2 dr, V6, 4 sp manual, black with a hounds-tooth checked interior. Initial thoughts – very nice looking car, great room for size, nice interior, very smooth and revvy V6…
Then the cable shifter started hanging up (then froze), then a fuel leak near the carb almost set the whole car on fire, then the brakes started acting up… It left me stranded at least three times in first six months.
It was the worst POS I’ve owned, and I’ve had some losers….
It was my first new car, given to me with only 7 miles on it. A new company car. Within a week, all the chrome across the grille had flaked off, leaving a light gray plastic behind. The interior plastic was exactly like the plastic used to make ice coolers, the vinyl seats felt like were made from carpet runners.
The brakes locked up. The 4 cylinder engine knocked and pinged so loudly, I thought it would explode every time I accelerated. The transmission was so loud you could hear it through the floorboard. Five months later, after a very cold night, all the identical black plastic dashboard knobs lost their silver circular labels – the glue keeping them on failed in the cold. The driver door sprung so badly, I could push my finger past the black window seal and through the gap outside the car.
The engine torqued so badly, it broke all the engine mounts. This caused the engine to slam into the water pump, breaking it. The distributor cap had a hairline crack in it, so when the engine warmed, the crack opened, allowing air to kill the engine – so I had to wait until the engine cooled to restart it. It was towed into garages across Colorado as I attempted to drive the Citation each day.
My car was one of a fleet of 20 Citations leased at the same time, and all the cars were returned to GM within the year, due to similar quality problems. Unfortunately, I had the long-term lease due to my mileage, so I ended up leaving it at the dealership, and rented a new Ford Escort for the rest of the lease on the Citation. My boss picked up the car and tried to get to a meeting at Keystone Resort on the Continental Divide in Colorado – she never made it.
Good points – great layout design, excellent gas mileage, and the first car I ever had with a cup holder!
Worst car I ever had.
The interior plastic felt just like a Coleman ice cooler.
I’d take the Coleman feel if it was as durable; my ’81 Escort’s rear-quarter plastic began prematurely disintegrating under sunlight.
If I’m not going to sleep on it, I don’t care if it feels luxurious or not, so long as it lasts. I wish modern carmakers would go back to vinyl armrests instead of cloth, a dirt-magnet.
Based on experience, for $25 your local upholstery shop will cover your armrest in vinyl for you. I had mine done every 5 years…
Four body styles for Chevrolet alone. This is where the money went, resulting in the cost/corner cutting downstream in the development cycle. i’m not sure, but Buick and Pontiac may have had body styles that varied enough from each other to require stamping and machining equipment.
GM didn’t screw up the X-bodies because GM was poor. They just screwed up, for a number of reasons.
The club coupe was never popular (in my recollection); I guess they wanted a “conservative” option but it was probably unecessary.
Also there were only 3 body styles. There are four cars in that lineup ad, but the X11 hatchback was the same body as the 2-door hatchback, just with spoilers etc. added.
*3 body styles, and the notchback coupe and 5-door hatchback were shared with the Pontiac Phoenix. The Olds Omega and Buick Skylark shared their own unique sedan and coupe bodies.
Notchback was never shared with Pontiac. The rooflines are completely different. That was a Chevrolet only body style.
Pontiac 2 door
I stand corrected. But might it have possibly been shared between the Pontiac and the Olds Omega/Buick Skylark? Not the side window cutout, just the roofline and rear window.
I think so, DR. It’s upright like those Xs.
A slight change, but even the Pontiac 5 door hatchback went straight back with it’s fender line under the last window [D pillar ?] as opposed to the Citation, which curved up so I suspect GM budgeted for subtle differences between the makes.
Never would have even noticed that except for seeing it on CC. I thought they were identical as well.
“It was exactly what the car magazines had been telling Detroit to build for ages”
Well they did. Even put a V6 in it so there was American style performance in a way the competitors wouldn’t due for ages And guess what. The car magazines really just did not like American cars. Built by drunken slobs in Michigan. Companies run by cigar chomping Nixon voters.
So out come the invective against the Citation. Hmm, what can we say bad……
Well, FWD so lets whine about torque steer, reader won’t know what that is so will make us look smart. Brake proportioning valve, darn it why wasn’t front drum brakes on it so we could really go to town. OHV four, big mistake and right up our alley. We constantly propose optimizing a car for the 10 manuals sold over the 100 automatics sold.
Gee I don’t know, was this car really a missed opportunity for GM, or where the mask came off at the car magazines.
The Citation name died because of the public, not the publications.
The problem with the stickshift brakes wasn’t that they had the same settings as the automatics. They didn’t. That’s why the automatics stopped and the sticks didn’t.
GM sold about 20 percent stick on the first year of the X-bodies.
Didn’t the journos fall all over themselves with praise for the X-bodies? In addition to advertising Conflict of Interest, they tested prepped vehicles.
During the preview drives, when they were just regurgitating the company press releases. But this car generated more of their vitriol than even a certain Opel wagon in C/D’s case, and this has clouded the image of a groundbreaking car. Who knew it was possible to achieve amazing efficiency, light weight, smooth quiet ride in a package that would not turn off an American car buyer. Okay, the hatchback was a bridge to far but that was fixed when it was restyled into long lived A bodies.
But this car generated more of their vitriol than even a certain Opel wagon in C/D’s case, and this has clouded the image of a groundbreaking car. Who knew it was possible to achieve amazing efficiency, light weight, smooth quiet ride in a package that would not turn off an American car buyer.
I don’t know what you’re referring to. The press didn’t sour on the X cars; the public did. The press continued to generally praise them, as they didn’t have to deal with the issues of ownership down the road. Please show me one example of the press at the time ragging on an X car.
This is very much true; the auto magazines fell all over themselves heaping praise on the X cars. Car and Driver was particularly bad about this but the others were not much better. The magazines might have changed their tune(s) once enough of the X cars were sold and people figured out how bad they were, but in the beginning all of the car mags were fully on board and behind these vehicles.
These cars made a great first impression with both buyers and journos. They performed very well when new and you drove them off the lot, at least for a little while. Even “Consumer Reports” rated them highly in terms of comfort, performance and fuel economy (although not reliability).
Moreover, the X-cars formed the basis for the second-round down-sized mid-sized Chevrolet Celebrity, Pontiac 6000, Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera and Cutlass Cruiser, and the Buick Century which were slightly better cars overall.
If you want to see journalistic malfeasance you should read some of the road tests of British cars, especially British Leyland products, in British car magazines of the seventies and eighties.
I disagree. Each of the magazines back then gushed over the X-bodies. But it’s quick demise due to negligent engineering/bean-counter over-zealousness began to confirm what had been noticeable with GM since the mid-70s – they grew fat and didn’t care much (downsized models the brief exceptions).
The X-bodies pulled the curtain back, and the parade of excrement coming out of Detroit for the next 10 years set especially GM on the road to bankruptcy. Not that there were bright moments…but it seemed every new release was half-baked.
The Japanese especially cleaned their clocks by releasing strong designs with incremental improvement. They played the long game and here we are.
GAG! A Citation! Kill them with fire!
However, I do like that color, but I have NEVER seen a Citation that interested me in the slightest, although the coupes caused an eyebrow to raise on rare occasions, and the green example above did just that. That I find rather attractive.
Chrysler certainly had the edge, domestically, in the front wheel drive department in those days, which is why I became a Chrysler fan for many years. The Citation was the final nail in Chevy’s coffin and the sealing of my GM “hate” until roughly the 2000 model year.
These cars kill me, because they had so much potential. Every time I see a Citation (which is never, except here on CC), I think how intelligent the package was in so many ways–good looking, very space efficient, economical. And then I remember what junk they turned out to be, and how much GM goodwill they squandered. The General got 90% of the car just right, and then botched the final 10% with horribly cut corners–and ironically that last 10% made the most difference. These could have been the 1980s equivalent of the landmark ’55 Chevrolet, but instead they are now forgotten embarrassments. So sad.
The entire 2.8 V6 program was a fine example of lost opportunity. The standard 110 hp version was too weak for many of its applications, especially in mid size cars and compact trucks. The rare 135 hp version cost the same to build but was restricted, (for marketing reasons I imagine).
I’ve driven many examples of both. Lack of power from those 2.8’s was a commpon complaint at the dealer level among consumers. GM should have installed the 135 version everywhere the 110 bersion went, or at least made it an option. That would have alleviated some of these complaints and improved customer satisfaction.
I beg to differ. For the early 80s, the 2.8 V6 was quite adequately powerful. An X-body with the V6 accelerated faster than many/most of the V8 powered sedans of the time. And at the time, Toyota and the other Japanese small truck makers didn’t have a V6. Toyota even turned to forced induction, to make their four keep up with the Chevy and Ford V6 small trucks.
I had an ’80 Skylark V6 automatic, and it accelerated quite well for those times. There was nothing like it then, in terms of the competition. I can’t even imagine buyers complaining about it; plenty of other things, but not performance.
Anyway, the 135 hp HO version just raised the torque curve and made its hp at a higher peak; for the typical driver, that can make an engine actually feel weaker in normal driving. The 1985 FI version solved that issue.
For comparison, the contemporary, carbureted Köln V6 in the Fox Mustang rated about 109hp.
I never owned one, but I drove a 130 or 135hp carb’ed, 4 speed X11 and it seemed both fast and torquey for the period, albeit with scary torque steer. I had a lot of miles behind the wheel of imported FWD cars of the time, and hundreds of laps at racing speeds as a Showroom Stock racer, and the X11 was worst … I had trouble keeping it from leaping sideways a car-width on a full-throttle upshifts. And even in that era of 4 speeds, a shift into the tall 4th gear was a noticeable let-down after such strong pull in the first three. I also spent an hour behind the wheel of a slightly later manual-trans (5 speed maybe?) S10 Blazer, and found it a very pleasant power train. A lot of good comments here from people who were around when these cars came out or even owned them. For those younger, I will merely reiterate how revolutionary they seemed and how the automotive press gushed over them. I still remember that issue of R&T, though I think they were a touch more balance than C&D, which at the time was on a mission to evangelize the world-class handling of any GM car with an optional suspension package (WS6, F41, etc).
KevinB,, The original J cars of 1982. The Cavalier & Sunbirds had, a wagon, sedan, 2 door hatch & 2 door notch coupe. The X-11 was years before the VW GTI. Which the GTI was sold in Europe before it came to the US. Cheers.
These seem to be shot through with disdain for anyone who did anything but move money around for a living – the engineers who came up with a worldbeater on paper, the journalists who wrote glowing reviews of the handbuilt, fully optimized ringers they were slipped, the union workforce who caught most of the flack for quality issues caused by cost-cutting decisions made on the Fourteenth Floor, and last but certainly not least the people who bought them.
All because GM couldn’t fathom – even though they could afford – to take a quarterly loss on the early production in order to get their blueprint for the next 20 years off to a good start.
Primary proof of GM eating itself up from both ends: 13th floor paper pushers, quality issues built in and slapped together on the factory floor
Sigh… If only they had it reliable from the start. The base Citation was awful but looking at this car and the stats, I actually would not have minded to have one with all the bugs sorted out, a mildly rodded V6 with say, 175 hp, a set of high quality European shock absorbers and modern wheels and rubber as an everyday car (yes, even here in Austria). The brakes could be sorted by fitting a proportioning valve and heavy duty pads.The 0-60 time of the 81 model is actually more or less on par with my 2015(!) Mazda 3 (EU spec, 165 hp). Of course, the Mazda, like many compact hatches these days, is no lightweight (app. 3000 lbs.). But still – do I really need all the electronic gadgets? And we drove without the safety features back then and survived. Hmmm…
Bugs should be all worked out by now, T. Turtle
For sure. Though the chances of finding one here in Austria are slim to non-existent (if I recall correctly, most X cars selling here were either Buicks or Oldsmobiles, and those are not exactly to be found everywhere).
Adding that when you think about it, the Citation and its brethren are essentially a slightly larger Lancia Beta (a car GM looked at when starting development of the X), known at the time to be one of the best – if not the best – handling sedan in its class. It’s just a question of suspension/steering/brakes optimization. If it was capable of doing 0.85G back then with the tires available and stock suspension, I would not think it unrealistic – given the improvements I mentioned – to expect 1.0G today, more than enough for 99.9% situations.
There’s more to the X-Car issue than the Citation.
The Olds and Buick versions of the X-car did not sell well, but I always felt they had potential if these marques had been handled correctly. Not in the Brougham vein, but more like Camrys. Hear me out!!
If GM would have pulled its head out of its a _ _ and done the right thing: four wheel independent suspension, addressing quality and reliability problems quickly, moving to TBI early for drivability, 4 wheel discs (would have addressed the lock-up issue), the list goes on and on. These changes would have given GM some leverage over the ever increasing number of Camrys and Accords on the road. However, Olds and Buick were reluctant to shift their image and take the lead. “Bigger was Better” and crushed velour was the answer to all your problems in life. Just ask Olds how this business model played out.
Eventually, Saturn attempted to address this issue; but it was too little too late. The seed could have been planted with something as simple as 4 wheel disc brakes on the Buick and Olds version which would have provided a unique view of these cars, but GM was fixated with its Roger Smith’s re-organization.
As alluded to above, GM missed more than one opportunity with the X-Car.
Come to think of it, maybe they should’ve dusted off Olds’ “Experimental Division” persona and only built Omegas alongside the old RWD Nova, Phoenix and Skylark for a year or so. Only building the Olds in V6 automatic would give them time to smooth out the Iron Duke and refine the manual shift linkage, government and shareholders would get the message change was coming, and the lower volumes would help work the bugs out before the other divisions’ launch.
Olds and Buick were GM’s near luxury brands. Maybe two were too many, but you don’t help brands by taking them down market. Turning out econoboxes that should have been Chevies or at most Pontiacs with Olds or Buick badging just cheapened the brand. Much like when Mercury started churning out Ford crapboxes. Why?
The car made sense as an Olds overall, though it shouldn’t have been available with the 4cyl. In retrospect it does seem like there shouldn’t have been a Buick version, but at the time these were designed, the future seemed to be locked into expensive gas and small cars, so if that scenario had played out, this would have been a legit mid-sizer.
What *really* shouldn’t have existed is the Skyhawk. They were the best-looking J-cars, granted, but that’s a car that Buick didn’t need in its lineup.
Agreed on the Skyhawk.
By the 80s they overlapped, but up to the 70’s, Olds and Buick complemented each other. Some loyalists of one would not get the other makes in the ‘good old days’ . “I’m a Buick man, Olds is the experimental brand, etc”
The Buicks did OK in my part of the country and they seemed to hang around in much higher numbers likely due to the demographics of buyers that took better care of them, didn’t rack up as many miles and hung on to them longer.
he Olds and Buick versions of the X-car did not sell well,
Hardly. The Buick Skylark sold very well, 266k in 1980, and 263k in 1981. The Omega not so well. But the Skylark was a solid seller for Buick and it continued to sell in 6 figure numbers right to the end in 1985.
FWIW, I truly believe the Skylark was better built than the Citation. We had four 1980s as company cars, and they were mostly quite dependable. I had no problems with the one I drove for several years.
Hmm, I had use of someone’s Skylark for a week, and remember the thing as being completely dismal. The brakes were awful, it felt dangerous to drive. (Of course, who knows how well maintained it was.)
The one I had had was a Limited, with the plush interior and was optioned to the hilt, with every HD option available. I didn’t really like it, but it had its strengths. The torque/subframe steer was weird, but it pulled hard, handled flat, and was pretty brisk. It would scoot right along. And I never had any issues that I can remember. Believe me, I was not a GM fan, but it had its positive qualities.
From what I remember, in Israel, the Olds Omega was the best seller; Citations were bought by rental fleets and similar. Again I have the impression the Olds Omega (as well as the Buick Skylark) sold better than the Citation in Austria – possibly because the Citation was TOO European in looks, which was not what the person wanting the “American way of drive” would have wanted.
The Buick Skylark sold well, enough so that it outlasted the Omega and Phoenix, into 1985. And, the name was transferred to the N bodies.
Skylarks were all over Chicagoland. Elders snapped them up, and then moved on to Regals, LeSabres and N body when gas was ‘cheap’ again.
Pontiac and Olds X cars didn’t sell well. The Skylark was second most popular after the Citation.
It seemed to me that the Citation and Skylark were the biggest sellers.
It was not equipment or performance that lacked in these cars. They were quicker than a BMW, much less a sub-100 HP Accord.
Camry didn’t even arrive until this car was ready to bow out. Toyota was still pushing RWD products for most of this car’s career, with the exception of the Tercel. So, yeah, bad on GM for not competing with a car debuting years after theirs.
The Camry arrived for 1983. Perhaps Toyota saw a great opportunity. The V6 Citation such as the X-11 posted here was the performer, the 4cylinder, well, not sure about that.
GM was also still pushing RWD products for much of this car’s career, no?
“ready to bow out” – I like how you put that…The Citation pretty much committed suicide. The Camry is still with us 40 years later. I would not be at all surprised if many initial Citation owners actually ended up buying a Camry, the timing was perfect.
Oh, yes: I’d probably get front seats from a scrap Citroen XM or similar to top it all.
Adding also that, with sensible tuning, I can’t see why it won’t return 25-30 MPG which would keep it realistic for EU conditions.
I had an 80 basically 4 door X-11. 173 V-6, four speed, heavy duty suspension. I must have had the only decently built car. Never left me on the side of the road in 150K miles. The engine revved quite nicely and handled decently with good rubber on it. The short falls I had with it was it had a gearbag not gearbox. The stick itself had a weird bend in it, it was not straight. I got used to it, but no one else could drive it with out issues finding gears. I can also confirm the huge gap between 3rd and 4th gear. It did need a 5 speed to tighten up that ratio. The interior was low rent and aged quickly with fading occurring almost immediately. The worst was the too thin steering wheel would get a weird gummy feel to it. The radio was laid out vertical and killed every cassette player within 18 months, though the radio would keep working. Never had a braking issue with it, it did get all of the recalls done to it. Overall I enjoyed the car and it provided me with years of good driving. Obviously other had issues with there, mine I guess was the diamond in the rough.
In the spring of 1980 when my mother decided to dump her fuel-swilling 74 Luxury LeMans, she wanted a small but “plush” (in her words) car. I was really drinking the Chrysler Kool Ade then and got her interested in the Omni/Horizon. In its favor, Chrysler did a nice job of trimming them in a way that was appealing to a traditional American buyer.
In the interest of fairness, I felt like I should also let her consider one of the new X cars from GM. After all, she had driven GM for pretty much all of her life, and I figured that an Omega might be something she would like. In one of life’s great mysteries, she told me to go drive one and let her know if she should bother looking. I drove it, and it seemed pretty vanilla to me, and told her that she should probably check it for herself. For whatever reason, she was pretty sold on a Mopar L body and didn’t think checking out the Olds was worth the effort. Bullet dodged. (or Plymouthed?)
This car was the great GM turnabout. Here was Chrysler, broke as hell and with a history of being able to screw up a two car funeral turning out the competent L and K body cars between 1978 and 1981. They were not perfect, but they were decent. And then there was the mighty GM that could afford to heat the buildings by burning dollar bills that turned out a car with potential to bury the K car, but was so flawed that it would have embarrassed even Chrysler at its worst.
…..and on top of everything else, GM named it after the top of the line Edsel. Wow!
Well, so did AMC.
But I’m still waiting for the Chrysler Corsair
Lots of people are waiting for the Ford Ranger.
The styling was well-proportioned, it was roomy and versatile for its size. It sold like hotcakes…
Some people say GM had bit off more than it could chew by such a dramatic overhaul of all its models in such a short period of time, save Camaro/Corvette.
But I believe GM simply thought their poop didn’t stink and we’d just respond “please sir, may I have another?” as these X-bombs disintegrated, sometimes within a year of purchase.
It’s a crying shame for fans of the General, like me. Cars that should have set the pace for the 1980’s, are instead relegated to Deadliest Sin status by nothing more than corporate greed and arrogance.
Roger Smith’s response to the problems with the X Cars was “A sale’s a sale”. Didn’t matter to him so long as market share and volume were there.
This quote sounds entirely accurate. Sadly.
Well, the market share started dropping very soon. And the sales. So by the time he might have said that, after all the problems had come to light, it really wasn’t true or relevant.
Yes, Paul. I remember reading that quote around 82-83
Roger Smith was someone who should have never been in the position he ended up. A typical finance guy, good with figures but not with sales or anything else. The opposite can also occur and the best example is that of Donald Stokes who was CEO of Leyland, a very good salesman but nothing else. Like Smith, to me his actions all through the 60s are the main cause for the ruination of the UK motor industry. The wrong men at the wrong time.
Actually, they even overhauled the F cars! Other than the Corvette and Chevette, GM overhauled their ENTIRE lineup, and introduced two completly new platforms (X and FWD A) in six years!
Actually, no, THREE new platforms in three years! (X, A, and S10 truck.) Not to mention two clean-sheet engines (2.8, ohc Sunbird four), a transaxle (TH125), and two new rwd transmissions (TH700, TH200-4R).
I’ve driven Citations once, albeit left over government fleet cars not an X-11, for a driver’s Ed class. The 80’s Caprices in the mix, which must have been donated because it was a vinyl roofed Broughamed version and not a stripper gov’t contract Impala, was pretty much as worn and clapped out as the Citations, but was like a stately Cadillac in comparison all the same.
I’d take the Caprice any day. I want a stately car, not something that is just practical and affordable. Most of the States are pretty wide open spaces and even the handling of an old box Caprice is capable for most anything your average mortal is going to do with it.
Having owned a new 1982 Citation X-11 with the F41 suspension, four-speed manual transmission, and just about all the available options, I can attest that the car was rubbish. The transmission failed totally at 36,000 miles, the carburetor was troublesome, the interior was cheap, the seats were uncomfortable, and the fit and finish was poor. Total junk.
I can’t say I’ve ever had an urge to seek out a Citation for a drive, but I enjoyed reading your write-up. At least there’s still 1 on the road in 2016. The lime green paint job looks okay. I reckon those missing pieces behind the front and rear bumpers must be hard to locate. Is ‘fillers’ the right term for said pieces?
There are at least 2 still on the road. I was passed by a brand new looking X-11 on the Interstate about two months ago. I had to wonder where it had been for the last 35 years to still look so good.
I wondered that, what’s the purpose of those filler pieces? Did they plan to have wraparound bumpers initially?
They’re just like the pieces used at the fins of Cadillacs. They were supposed to be flexible at a time, where in the event the bumper is pushed back they simply deflect and go back to normal form in low speed(less than 5 mph) crashes. They lose their elasticity as they age and get very brittle.
The purpose of the flexible plastic bumper fillers was to allow the bumpers to compress in an impact without contacting the metal bodywork. The government, in a well-intentioned move to save consumers money, required cars to be able to withstand a 5 mph collision without damage. Eventually it was determined that the heavy bumper requirement actually cost owners money by increasing the cost of repairs and the law was changed to reduce the requirement to withstanding a 2.5 mph impact.
On GM cars in particular, the plastic chosen didn’t withstand sun or cold very well and soon cracked and fell off in chunks. Cadillacs looked especially sad without their spats, with their big chrome tail lights hanging two inches away from the tail of the car, as in the picture below. It screamed “GM cheaped out on this luxury car!”
Lots of interesting opinions. The closest I ever came to a Citation was a ride in my sister’s 4 cylinder/automatic 2 door hatchback. I would guess a lot of Citation buyers went with that combination.
As a previous poster notes, Chrysler did quite well with their FWD cars, no doubt due to Chrysler’s engineers not being afraid to use/learn from folks outside the company (as in VW for engines in the early Omni/Horizon).
Considering how many “L” and “K” cars were produced compared to “X” and “J” cars, it’s a testament to Chrysler and it’s engineers that you are (slightly) more likely to see a K car at your local Wal-Mart instead of an X car….be it FWD or RWD.
At least around here, you are much more likely to see an OG K car than an OG X car, by far. I’ve seen even a couple Dodge 400s, one was actually very well preserved. If you count the K car derivatives like the first Mopar minivans as well as the later Dynasties New Yorkers and Imperials then they are still fairly well represented.
When I attended college, my pal had a second hand Citation for school. Yup, it was a POS. As college dudes running around chasing the gals and generally behaving as college guys do,….that car was not up to the task. I think the last straw was when we were being pulled through the “automatic” car wash and the antenna was bending wayyyy back, we all knew what was about to happen…,fling goes the antenna somewhere into the car wash. Radio goes out, and were left listening to static, the car wash blow guns, and oh yea, the car stall out because it left its contents of oil all over the inside of the car wash station. (Too a wiper and I believe a hub cap even) We all piled out and pushed it the rest of the way at the end so others could use the car wash. Yup, it was dead. Granted, it wasn’t looked after at all,..Well, it was the right POS color. I have no idea how much his dad paid for it, but two weeks later dude comes to class with an ….Escort!
I drove an ’82 Citation once. It was a rental that I drove in a major snow storm in the Washington DC suburbs. This must have been when these cars had the bugs worked out or I may have rented a good one. I remember that it was very roomy inside and dealt with the weather conditions very well.
My dad drove full-size Buicks for decades but my mom didn’t like driving them because they were too big. So, in 1980, he traded in his LeSabre for a brand new V6 1980 Skylark Limited; mechanically identical to the Chevy Citation. It was a special order car.
When it arrived at the dealership, I was shocked. Body panel fit was horrible. Hood fit between the front fenders so closely that the edges scraped the paint when the hood was opened or closed. At the other extreme, gaps between the doors were too wide. Trunk lid had an Olds Omega key fob.
Within a few months of ownership, the powertrain leaked oil, antifreeze and transmission fluid, resulting in several trips back to the dealer for repair. Engine needed to be warmed up for a long time before driving car in traffic. Otherwise, it would stall when cold, resulting in near collisions when merging into traffic. Eventually, the headliner fell down.
Nevertheless, it was reliable, especially in contrast to my 1984 Renault Alliance, which would stall and refuse to run for the rest of the day. After being towed to the dealer, it would start right up. Nobody could diagnose the problem, so we got rid of it with only 10,000 miles on the odometer.
My mom, on the other hand, kept the Skylark for many years until she was too old to drive. It was more than 20 years old by then and, despite its cosmetic flaws, never stranded her on the road. It was reliable.
Nice to find a follow up on a rough looking CC being restored and brought back to it’s former state instead of being dragged off to the U Pull.
Hopefully the owner will be able to source some bumper fillers eventually, they must be pretty much unobtanian at this point.
Good to see GM learned it’s lesson from the Vega. OK, now that we finally got the Vega to where it’s durability should have been from the start, and killed it’s reputation (and sales) in the process, lets rinse and repeat with the X cars. Look at all the money we save by releasing prototypes to the public and we can fix the problems later on. It’s always worked out fine before, what could possibly go wrong?
The fillers are available in fiberglass, but I can’t imagine what loony is restoring a Citation.
More than you would guess. Almost 2,000 members of the Facebook group.
I have a vague memory of riding around in a rental Pontiac Phoenix version. It was typical GM of the period, garish colored interior, sticky shiny dashboard plastics when exposed to the sun (how did they get it to be so sticky?) But since it was a Pontiac it was much better trimmed than the Citation. Nice full instruments and sporty front seats with built in headrest, very roomy 4 door hatch. Overall not bad at all.
I had the same experience. A school roommate brought his Mom’s Phoenix hatchback sedan to school, probably an 81 or 82. It was a high trim level car, and I thought at the time that it was very nicely done. Compared to the 77 or 78 fleet-grade LTD II that he normally had, the Phoenix was real luxury. 🙂 I never heard about problems with the car, but he was not a car guy and his next trip home he got the LTD II again.
Bet the remaining filler panels broke upon removal for the bodywork/color change process. GM made those things out of clay it seems, across the board in this era.
These were attractive and well proportioned, and the stance was very European with the tracks placing the tires right at the edges of the fenders (something ruined on the X based A bodies), a true comeback of the wide track. It’s easy to see the optimism from today’s perspective, every plague of 70s malaise seems to be absent on these upon first impression and on paper. The reputation ultimately preceded those qualities for me at my age, those massive first couple year sales guarantee somebody has a personal pitfall with one, and in my case it was my next door neighbor as a child, who had one perpetually under a tarp at the side of their garage since the mid-80s. I only ever saw the taillights and heard the name uttered in a negative light by my Dad who found it an eyesore, so the first time I saw front/side pictures in a book I thought “ooh that’s a nice 80s car”, then I’d see a caption saying Citation and then the picture of the rear I’d recognize and my optimism would turn “oh that’s what it is, err nevermind”.
The name Citation I never understood by the way. All the other divisions X cars carried over their old RWD names except Chevy, and unlike GM’s usual m.o. of running names into the ground first, the last 79 Novas were arguably the best of the nameplate. It would even later reappear on the Corolla based version. The word Citation itself doesn’t exactly carry positive connotations.
Aside from alliterating with Chevy, I can’t give you a good reason for Citation. But it made sense for Chevy’s new import fighter to pick a new name. OTOH, the other other GM brands were selling to their traditional buyers, with traditional styling.
Ford also used Citation with their Edsel. I hadn’t thought of it before, but Chev’s X car was blessed with a name associated with failure 22 years earlier. It lived up to something, I guess.
I’m sure the manufacturers were thinking of the best definition of the word Citation, but I think just about every American thought of a traffic ticket first….
noun: citation; plural noun: citations; noun: cit.
1.a quotation from or reference to a book, paper, or author, especially in a scholarly work.
“there were dozens of citations from the works of Byron”
synonyms: quotation, quote, extract, excerpt, passage, line; More
“a citation from an eighteenth-century text”
•a mention of a praiseworthy act or achievement in an official report, especially that of a member of the armed forces in wartime.
synonyms: commendation, mention, honorable mention
“a citation for gallantry”
•a note accompanying an award, describing the reasons for it.
“the Nobel citation noted that his discovery would be useful for energy conversion technology”
a reference to a former tried case, used as guidance in the trying of comparable cases or in support of an argument.
2. North American
“a traffic citation”
synonyms: summons, ticket, subpoena, writ, court order
“a traffic citation”
Citation was the name of a very popular and winning horse in the 40s. The first American Triple Crown winner. First horse in history to win a million dollars. Inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1959.
I’ve read about the connection before. Citation = Thoroughbred. Not such a stretch when coming up with a name for a new car.
By that rationale, we should be getting a Chevrolet Secretariat in the next couple years.
The red white and blue ribbon in the “C” in the Citation nameplate would also give a clue.
GM in their “we can screw up a wet dream” phase. I worked on many, many of these at the used car lot. Pure rubbish. Can’t tell you how many steering racks I put in these; dozens probably. And I never saw a X car with the rack on the firewall; all were on the subframe. J cars (more rubbish) had the rack on the firewall. Gauges were another issue with these, so bad the local GM dealer kept ALL of them in stock. If I never see another X car it will be too soon…
That’s because you were only fixing the ones that had racks go bad (1980-1981). The 1982s had the racks repositioned to the firewall, in common with the basically identical (under the skin) new A Bodies, and the Js too.
Only the 80-81’s had the steering rack problem? So… only 800,000 cars, right?
No, if you count up all the ’80-’81 X-cars by all the divisions, it’s probably closer to 2 million.
Kudos to the owner for keeping the factory wheels, though I have to wonder about the tires 215-60/14s can’t be easy to find nowadays, not that they were common when the car was new.
My local independent tire dealer will order whatever you want, as long as you are willing to pay for it. I bought 4 new BF Goodrich T/As for my 1967 Mustang and the owner was even willing to look up the OEM tire size equivalents for it.
You pretty much have to order them. They are not cheap. Depending on where you get them $160-$240 a tire – gatorback territory.
Beginning with the Vega, any Chevy below the mid-size class (except the specialty F-body and Corvette) had that damn plastic interior that really couldn’t be upgraded. GM definitely gave small Chevys in this era penalty box fitments to produce price leaders, and gave the nice interiors to Buick and Oldsmobile. The Buick and Olds X car interiors were on the broughamtastic side of the spectrum, but at least they were a nice place to be.
The subject car reminds me of an early Cavalier a friend’s parents bought new. They had traded off a Bonneville Brougham, and bought the Cavalier with every option possible. The disconnect of seeing GM’s shiny chrome power window switches snapped into a hard one piece plastic door card was disconcerting.
Did the Citation help kill the hatchback in the U.S.? I’ve pondered that with no conclusion. The Citation 5 door is actually sort of good looking on the outside. The three door versions look rather awkward with their huge rear side windows. A lot of hatches just didn’t look good in American eyes. In the style driven two-door market, that was a deadly sin.
FWIW, hatches are popular again.
Chevy Cruze version available for 2017. A virtual successor to the Cit’ 5 door.
“Did the Citation’s problems also lead to America’s general dislike for hatchbacks?”
“Did the Citation help kill the hatchback in the U.S.?”
I don’t think the Citation had anything to do with it. The Citation for all its faults, was an attractive car and its looks didn’t scream ‘cheap shitbox’. However, look at the likes of the Chevette, AMC Pacer, Ford Escort, numerous faceless Japanese econoboxes, etc..theyre just appliance like and pretty dorky looking. Such minimally styled penalty boxes just reek of cheap, economical minimalist transportation that only someone completely broke, completely apathetic to cars, or ‘efficiency enthusiasts’ would ever find appealing. They had a dorky, geeky stigma in those days, due to many of them putting practicality and efficiency first with little to now sexiness or performance aspirations. Sure, you had the GTI but at the time, VW was also becoming something of a bit player over here.
If only the Citation, Vega, J cars, etc been fully baked, then it wouldn’t have taken till about ’00 or so for hatches to catch on again. Every one of those was a practical layout that is FAR superior to any sedan or even notchback coupe for day to day use, but they also had curb appeal and LOOKED sexy. Mini has been a huge success, the GTI has always had a following, the Focus 3/5 door hatches are a success, the PT Cruiser sold over a million cars, the Scion Xbox was a hot seller at first, Mazda’s 3 has been a seller, Subaru has no problem moving Impreza 5 doors and the list goes on. Sedans tend to outsell hatches, but lets face it…there are just more practicality minded, plain vanilla people out there as opposed to those with a sense of style and looking for a bit of excitement. The hatches now seem to have been positioned a bit more of a premium product, and have the right mix.
Hatchbacks might have an image issue. But almost everyone I know who’s had one had their hatchback broken into and valuables stolen out of the back.
Security is an issue. But no matter what you drive, if someone wants into it, they WILL find a way.
I had a hatch, a ’03 GT Cruiser and all PT’s have a positionable package shelf that covers the cargo area. Out of sight = out of mind.
Those cargo shelfs always defeated the hatch utility and convenience to me. My Mom kept the cumbersome factory cargo shelf in her Quest minivan since she didn’t feel comfortable having that area exposed, but in use she can get more in the trunk of her Focus sedan now than the area under the shelf. The clunkiness of the factory piece meant that it didn’t easily stow either if you need to haul something larger. Other hatches like old fox Mustangs had retractable cargo covers, which somewhat solve that, but they’re like a drum if you drive with the windows down.
As much as I loved cars as a teen for a variety of reasons I lost interest in my early 20s, until I got a job and could afford to buy a decent car. This was during most of the Citation’s life and I just assumed it would be a huge hit because of covers like the one from R&T (which I read cover to cover) and from my own test drive experience in a 2.8L Skylark at our local Buick dealer. Man was that thing smooth and fast. Good looking too. By the time I got into cars again the Xes were no longer being talked about. Just assumed they had been successful. Did not know about the steering rack and braking issues.
GM hit a home run in 1977 with B/C bodies, but then they had higher prices, more profit, less cost cutting. So, it was assumed that the FWD X would continue the “roll” they were on. I went along with the hype and wanted parents to get a Citation in ’81. Luckily, they got a Regal instead.
My first car and my first totaled car, all of 4 months after I got my license. Not an X-11 mind you, a 1980 notchback with the 2.5 that I inherited from my Dad. It had needed the rack replaced, I recall, before I was driving. The rear brakes did lock up in my accident, but I don’t know that I can blame the car, I blame my 4 months of driving experience more – going too quickly in to a turn, resulting in a complete flip of the car. Seat belt on, I walked away. The car had 140k miles on it when I totaled it, and had been pretty trouble free for the 5 years we had it before I wrecked it.
The Citation’s sales decline in 1982 probably had more to do with the introduction of both the Celebrity and the Cavalier that year. The X-Car’s (lack of) quality rep didn’t keep even my father (who owned a Supra and a 280ZX at the time) from considering a 4-speed Citation in 1982. He did, however, end up spending nearly twice as much on the smaller automatic-only Cressida.
Summer-fall ’82 was the beginning of the big car comeback, too. Caprices started rebounding, and the big Pontiac [Parisienne] was back that fall.
Poor reputations didn’t spread as quickly before the internet and were mostly word-of-mouth that was wildly inaccurate to begin with.
The Citation was one of the many cars I tested back then for my radio feature. I recall driving an 80 four door model and enjoying it very much especially on the highway. As a media car it was well optioned. Yes, the Citation and the other X cars were setting the North American automotive world on fire.
And wonder of wonders, I saw one three weeks ago transporting a couple of people I assume are living on a limited income. As rough as the Citation looked, it was getting them from here to there. I’ve seen more K cars on the road than any X-cars.
I remember the review in Car & Driver on the relaunched X-11, one of the editors in a sidebar called it the “Z 28 for the 80’s. They really liked the car-I still think the 2 door hatch looks good.
The most vivid memory I have of that particularly glowing C&D X-11 article is the mention of the gearshift constantly popping out of fourth gear upon deceleration at speed and how a GM PR hack claimed it was entirely due to a pre-production model and wouldn’t be present on any cars for sale.
Not long after (and due entirely to the positive C&D article), I test drove an X-11. Lo and behold, it had the exactly same problem of the gearshift popping out of gear ‘every time’ I slowed down from highway speed. I mean, I, literally, had to hold onto the gearshift knob to keep it in gear when slowing down.
Needless to say, I didn’t buy the car.
C&D also had a fictional story by one of their writers of owning a Phoenix for 10 years. Predicting years of “fun ownership”. I’d love to see that scanned online.
A great term to describe the Citation debacle could be ‘catastrophic success’. It might not have gotten its place as Deadly Sin #1 if GM hadn’t sold so many of them in the beginning. So, not only was it a bad car, but it created a whole lot of quite disgruntled owners, to boot. It was the last straw for many loyal GM owners (especially those who had had a Vega and were willing to give GM a second chance) who would find Japanese products to be a revelation, swearing off not only GM, but domestic vehicles, in general, for not only an entire generation, but for life.
I think I read somewhere that GM lost a whole 10% market share (40% to 30%) during the decade Roger Smith was at the helm. He certainly didn’t get off to a very good start with a car that many consider the worst to ever come from the domestic auto industry.
FWD X cars were “catastrophic”, while the similar FWD A’s end up lasting until ’96
I had an 84 Citation II Club Coupe and collected, read and consumed everything I could about the Xs and the “First Chevrolet Of The 80s”.
Early reports compared the V6 to Chevrolet’s 55 small block, I guess in power to displacement and historical significance.
“Morning sickness” was what the steering rack had: a condition whereby the power steering wouldn’t kick in till the car had been driven for awhile. And it was still a problem on the As as well as my Citation.
My Iron Duke pinged using the proper gas and even the owner’s manual claimed some pinging was normal as it delivered the best fuel economy. I still have the owner’s manual and the disclaimer still amazes me.
Another common problem was the “torque converter switch” which would allow the car to remain in 3rd gear and feel like a manual in same when coming to a stop: lots of jerking and noise and then dead.
The Xs and the As and the Ns were all likely to have this “glitch” and I even replaced the transmission on the Citation because it was deemed to be the problem.
Had it on the N I owned as well.
That Citation was my first “nice’ car: Auto, AC, power steering and brakes, mag wheels, two tone champagne and dark brown paint. It still sets the parameters I want in a car: Good fuel economy, small size, great interior packaging, quiet and comfortable ride.
I still regret trading it for the 86 Olds Calais my brother still drives.
“The X-11 was the re-incarnation of the Nova SS and such, but with vastly better packaging, handling and efficiency ”
The same could be said about the Cavalier Z24s up until about the ’90s, and maybe even the Cobalt SS. For having a tangible piece of that good old American muscle DNA still right there, I have a soft spot for some of these performance oriented GM compacts.
While I generally regard GMs 60 degree V6 as an underpowered turd (moreso in the small truck line), in smaller lighter platforms it was relatively spry. My sister had a ’94 Grand Prix widebody coupe and the 3.1 was wretchedly underpowered for a car that SHOULD have been rwd and packing a 350. But I will say this: that 60 degree V6 had a crackling snarl like no other V6 Ive ever seen. Nothing like that rappy, blatting crappy ricer sound that comes out of just about every other V6 made. The 60 degree didn’t make muscle car power but its sound, while different, was still satisfying in the same way.
Imagine a world which would have really involved a cheap out where the redo of the Nova X body looks more like the Maverick to Fairmont replacement. A little weight comes out, the iron duke comes in and 3.0 Buick V6 is the most common option. Probably could have been done for 25% of the cost. Reliability would have been fine.
The Ford Escort would have never been stretched into the Tempo. No reason to, The fox body just got started. Toyota wouldn’t have bothered with the Camry, just send us the later Corona updates. Chrysler would have been alone out there with their underappreciated for how advanced they were K cars. The other big winner would have been Honda when the Accord got up to family size in 86. Not sure they really had the capacity to sell more than they did.
A very different world. The X bodies changed the world.
X-bodies changed the world? Haha no, they certainly did not. GM specifically benchmarked a car the Italians, of all people, came out with seven and a half years prior. They couldn’t even be bothered to change the styling very much for either of the body styles of their me too clone over at Chevrolet. I guess I should be fair, as GM thought OHC engines and 5 speed gearboxes would be a bit much, but a hatch might be wise. They even used the bodyshells for some of their test mules during development. Go back to 1972 and check out a Lancia Beta.
The didn’t “benchmark” the Lancia Beta. They just used some Betas as mules because they were convenient, being somewhat the same size so that they could fit their own suspension and drive trains. Anyway, the Beta was an excellent design; it was just flawed in its execution.
You sure come up with some
Thanks I guess. I still agree with what I wrote back in 2016, but that first one up there from me could have really used a proof read before I posted. The Citation seems to get the juices flowing on both sides of the debate.
I think I’ve read that GM originally did plan lighter weight RWD replacements for the older X cars, but changed plans to go FWD around the time CAFE was enacted. Personally, I think GM should have replaced the X cars with the J body and manufactured the FWD T body to replace the RWD H and T cars and not developed the FWD X car.
My father, who passed away in 1992 at age 90, had two in his 80’s. The first was a 4 cylinder, which he traded for the v6, because he felt the 4 was under powered. What he liked about them was the fact that they were the first front wheel drive in a small car, which he greatly liked because they were so great in the snow.
If a comfortable car with good gas mileage is the mantra then everybody missed the boat on an ’81 Caprice. I had one with a 305 with auto OD that got great gas mileage. When I first got it I filled up in Portland, OR – drove to Tillamook, then to Manzinita.- spent the weekend driving 50-60 miles at the coast – drove home to Portland – drove car in town about another 60 miles in town – filled the tank on the following Friday – took 13 1\2 gals. I was an idiot for ever getting rid of the car, about the same gas mileage of a Citation but a car that was way better.
I had a 4sp 1981 X-11 as my first car. I own a 1982 X-11 3-speed TH125 now.
In 2016 terms, the interior is plastic, but not nearly as awful as it seemed compared to the 1980’s Hondas. It’s certainly not as penalty-box depressing as a Nissan Versa or Toyota Corolla.
My recollection in the 1980’s was that the X-11 is fast. It was relative to its peers. It’s not anymore. With the slow-to-rev HO 2.8 and the automatic, it’s merely adequate. My Volvo V70 2.5T is much, much faster (and heavier).
There’s little steering feel and the brakes are really not bad (I completely rebuilt them this year).
Despite this and the passing of 34 years, the car is fun to drive. Really fun. It’s lightweight, there’s lots of V-6 pleasant sounds and the visibility and cargo space is fantastic. For an old car, there’s not much else you can ask for.
The real great point is that all the room it has, it is an really compact car outside. It’s amazing how much space there is inside, but how little room the car takes up in the garage.
I spent approximately 4,380 hours in a new Citation, driving everywhere one could drive in the state of Colorado. From Independence Pass 12,095 ft elevation to 3317 at the Kansas border, every season, every place.
It was never fun to drive. On uphills, the engine sounded like a popcorn popper ready to explode and on downhills, I was concerned about the rear end locking up on any harder than usual, braking. It was never a quiet ride. It reminded me of riding in a school bus.
The curse of the Chevrolet Citation, based on my extensive experiences living with one that was brand new – until I parked it, threatening to quit if the company I worked for forced me to keep driving it – was inferior quality parts. It was a very well designed vehicle. It was built with the cheapest plastic crap ever put into an American car, using an axe and Superglue.
Fourty years have gone by. My fury towards GM regarding this vehicle has cooled with age and wisdom. So, it is with measured tones, tempered with soften emotions that I can say today, that the Chevrolet Citation was the worst car I have every had the misfortune of living with. It could have been a great car – but it was undermined by evil people who refused to pay a cent more than necessary to put it on the road.
I cannot believe that every person who bought a new GM X-Car wasn’t completely reimbursed with a framed apology from Roger Smith, along with a replacement vehicle. This was a preventable catastrophe when GM controlled 60% of the US market – inexcusable.
What car from 1980 would have met your needs at what your employer was paying Chevy?
I would have preferred to have kept the Fairmont Futura sedan I was using, but the lease was up. I would have taken another. The car that replaced the Citation was a new Escort – which shocked me because it was a great little car. When the lease was up on that one, they gave me a new Fox bodied Mercury Cougar sedan, which no one else wanted because it looked like an old lady’s car. That turned out to be even better than the Fairmont or the Escort.
What the company learned when it gave all its business to the local Denver Chevrolet mega-dealership, was that the GM X-cars were lemons. They also discovered that when you make a huge deal involving the entire fleet of cars, and they all end up being lemons – you have a fleet of unhappy drivers. When this Citation fiasco was unravelling, the Chevy dealership switched us over to the new Cavaliers and they also had Pontiac J2000 Sunbirds. Those were OK, more reliable than the Cavaliers, but still problematic.
Within two years, the company returned to permitting its drivers to drive what they wanted within a specified budget. So the fleet became diversified and the drivers became satisfied. There was no longer a mass disaster as it was with the X-Cars.
Interesting, my guess, fleets didn’t do much foreign then, would have been an AMC Concord. Most had a nice interior and the 4.2 seems a solid choice. AMC was always ready with a low bid for a fleet. Didn’t think of the Cougar sedan. Mercury did a good job with that making it at least look like it was in a bigger size class.
When I was shopping for a used car circa 1985, GM X cars were near the top of my list. Everyone knew they were crap by then, and as a result they were selling for around $1,500-2000 for cars that were only 3 or 4 years old. I preferred the ’81 or ’82 models since some of the bugs had been worked out by then but their rep (and prices) were still in the dumps. I figured even with the known quality issues, a three year old X body would be more reliable than a six or seven year old something else, and few cars from the late ’70s had this kind of space efficiency, performance, and fuel economy.
One of the cars I test drove was an ’81 Citation X11, and it seemed better built and cared for than most, and a great performer. This one had the “custom interior” that replaced the all-plastic door panels with the nicer padded and carpeted ones from the Pontiac, Olds, and Buick versions. The plastic door and trim panels used on base Citations had already faded and become crumbly and dusty in the first few years, especially at the windowsill. Anyway, I wound up buying an ’82 Pontiac J2000 LE, which was hyped for having better quality than other GM cars when they were introduced, but whose resale value still plunged much faster than Japanese cars like the Accord that were similarly priced when new. The build quality was indeed better than the X body, in part because GM learned to replace multiple small pieces of interior plastic with one large piece. Unlike the X bodies (even the high-trim models), high-trim J cars got fully upholstered door panels with no hard plastic which made them last (GM velour from the ’80s was exceptionally durable), and the overall fit and finish was good. But the reliability of mechanical parts like carbs and cooling system was still poor,
The filler panels near the bumpers of ’80s GM cars are notoriously brittle, but why did the Citation have two filler panels at each corner?
I generally didn’t like the styling on the X-cars. One exception would be the Citation Turbo 660 concept. The flares, spoilers and BBS-style wheels worked well, giving the Citation a serious performance look. Previewing the look Pontiac went for in the 1990s.
Nice profile for 1983.
The 1977 Monza Mirage and/or IMSA Monza may have been inspirations.
I don’t understand why the X bodies were considered so bad, while the A bodies were considered so good. They were nearly the same car. The A’s just had a longer nose and tail treatment to put them into a different class. Some guys have said the dashboards will even swap and the bolt holes line up. Especially 1982 and later, the X got the same rack and cradle that was used on the lifespan of the A. Same front and rear suspension. The A offered the same engines. Every A I owned had the same rear brake lockup problem, at least thru 1990. Same steering morning sickness at least thru 1986. I believe 1987 was finally a better engine lineup and rack.
Maybe it was just luck or a regional thing, but I knew one person with a Citation, yet 3 with a Phoenix. I also can’t remember the last time I saw a Citation, but I saw a Phoenix running around Marquette this summer. Only seen 2 or 3 Omegas, but have seen more Skylarks than I could keep track of. Probably more Skylarks than anything.
The original run of the Citation poisoned that name, and the general image of the X bodies. The X and A shared fixes that were implemented for the original X.
I think it’s an exaggeration to say that everyone thought the A was “so good.” But it wasn’t notably worse than its domestic competitors.
I traded my ’79 Nova 2 dr, 3onthetree 6 with power nothing for a lightly used ’80 Citation X-11. At first it seemed pretty impressive, but as time and miles went by, not so much. That vague cable shifter did NOT do the car any favors when “trying” to accelerate and shift quickly.
The carb gave drive ability problems that were never really ironed out. The front bucket seats were barely adequate…if you were were not in them more than @ 2 hours.
I finally traded it for a new ’85 Dodge Lancer Turbo. The interior/seats were certainly superior to my X-11. However, the Lancer also suffered badly from a VERY vague cable shifter. IF one had a light touch with slow gear changing it was ok, but like the X-11 try to put power to it AND shift fast: not happening.
In the end my base ’79 Nova was a better overall piece of transportation (not fun to drive tho…) then either the X-11 or Turbo Lancer, plu$ co$t a lot less to purchase!! 🙂 DFO
Never drove one, but I remember when they came out. I don’t know if I ever saw a car with better glowing reviews than the Citation X body. I was an avid reader of both C and D and R and T in those days and I seem to recall both of them just raving about it. Gushing praise. I even suggested it to a friend who was looking for a new car, fortunately he didn’t take my advise.
A couple of years in they were so maligned. Brakes were what I mostly heard about and it’s not like brake proportioning valves weren’t used since the 60s. Hang it off the rear sway bar so it’s load dependent.
But it fits right in with my GM theory (actually the big 3, but especially GM) which wanted to build big rear wheel drive cars, with no emissions, with 3 speed autos. And took the tack that well, we will build something else if we have to, but they’re not going to like it. And guess what? People didn’t.
Shall we count the sins of the GM X-bodies?
Steering racks/morning sickness. Aluminum housing, glass-filled “space-age plastic” seals. The “hard” seals wore grooves into the too-soft aluminum casting. Fluid bypasses the seals until the thing achieves operating temperature. I’m thinking that the aftermarket “rebuilt” racks had a steel sleeve pressed into the casting.
Engine mounts–sloppy weak to absorb the hateful vibrations of the poorly-balanced/rough-running engines–particularly the pathetic Iron Duke. The aftermarket responded by producing hydraulic “dogbones”, a spring-and-oil filled “shock absorber” that replaced the stupid metal strap-around-a-rubber-bushing-at-each-end. The aftermarket hydraulic unit worked great for about a year and then was totally worn-out and leaking. The real fix would be properly-firm rubber engine mounts, but then the sins of the Iron Duke would be obvious every time the key was turned.
Grabby rear brakes. Rear brake drums were just plain too small and of a crappy, non-typical design. As a result, the park brake–which uses the rear shoes and drums–wouldn’t meet Government standards for keeping the vehicle in place. Instead of making adequate brakes, GM spec’ed more-aggressive shoes so the park brake would hold. But the more-aggressive shoes were…more aggressive in panic braking and normal driving, too. A proportioning valve could have improved things. When GM did essentially the same thing on the new-for-’88 GMT400 half-ton pickups, (pathetic, tiny rear drums, non-standard design) they did have a proportioning valve and “Rear Wheel Anti-Lock”, (RWAL) a primitive ABS.
Weakass differential. We used to check the CV joints where they went into the differential housing every time we had an “X” up on a hoist. They’d flop around like wounded guppies. The aftermarket designed an external support for the CV shaft; that was good work for an independent service shop IF (big IF) you could sell the job. Most folks wouldn’t put the money into the vehicle.
Torque steer. GM beat torque steer on the ’66 Toronado, with a 425 CID Big-block. Equal-length CV shafts; and with a torsional damper on the right side. But the Iron Duke and the V-6 would swing an X-body into the next lane. I’ve often wondered if the suspension bushings and subframe bushings weren’t at least partly-responsible for “torque steer”. How can you have “torque steer” when torque is so lacking? I think the subframe and control arms were wobbling on their too-soft rubber mounts in the same way that the engines flopped on their too-soft rubber cushions.
The hateful Iron Duke. Originally designed as four cylinders of a Chevy 230 six-popper, then redesigned by GM of Brasil in ’74 (?) with bigger bore, and shorter stroke. When the Vega 2.3L became the kiss of death, “Pontiac” took credit for the work pioneered in Brazil; added a few refinements of their own, and one of GM’s worst engines in my lifetime infected a jillion cars. Gutless turds from beginning to end; the only gumption the Iron Duke showed was when it worked-up enough steam to break it’s own cylinder-head bolts. They’d routinely drive into the shop with cylinders that tested at 60–80% pressure leakage past the rings.
Early computer-control of engine parameters. Not an X-body exclusive, and the T (Chevette) was way worse. The computers were s….l….o….w, and with limited diagnostic capacity if you had the “best” “Dealership” scan tool. The “engineers” figured the technician would pull “codes” and instantly know what was wrong with the thing. They actually thought that adding that sort of complexity and wiring would make servicing EASIER. Ha. If you didn’t have a scan tool, (and in the early-mid ’80s, independent shops often didn’t. The first really-decent aftermarket scan tool was the Snap-On MT2500 in 1988.) you were stuck at the code level without meaningful access to the computer’s data stream and with terrible, time-consuming testing of individual sensors. “Codes” can be helpful, but the real diagnostic power is in the data stream. Making things worse, the early computers controlled a mixture-control solenoid in the carburetor. M/C solenoid failures were epidemic.
Early emissions tuning. Not an X-body exclusive. Aside from the computer and the M/C solenoid, the carbs were tuned dead-lean, (the M/C solenoid added the remaining fuel…if it worked.) EGR operation was crude if not prehistoric, the catalysts on GMs were restrictive and on some models would not last through the 50,000 mile Federal requirement–there was a stupid “flag” that would pop up and cover the odometer when the catalyst was due for replacement. Which then made it impossible to record accurate mileage of the vehicle unless the “flag” was reset…at customer expense.
Cheap cable shifter for manual transmissions. Cables wore out, cable-shifter pieces wore-out. They weren’t precise and easy-to-use when new. I never had an X-body transmission apart. I don’t know if the transmission “guts” had inherent shifting problems. Until proven differently, I blame the shifter not the transmission.
Paint that fell off in dinner-plate sized flakes. Especially the metallic silver. Not an X-body exclusive. Same with rust holes you could push a cat through.
What did I forget?
I never noticed the cheap interiors. I was focused on the mechanical issues. The aftermarket did it’s usual remarkable job of supplying “fixes” to piss-poor engineering and cost-cutting by The General. The mechanical problems were all solvable if you had deep pockets; but who invests in a car that has one problem after another until you’re so sick of it you could scream?
My POS Citation had many of those problems and the Chevy dealership would end up spending hours trying to fix the problems our fleet of Citations had daily.
That POS had so many problems in one single year, I forgot some of them. I thought I was going crazy. My supervisors had, for the longest time, just thought I was being a picky A-hole.
The reason I got out of the Citation lease was when I was driving the new Escort around Dillon Colorado, one of my supervisors decided to meet me at Keystone Resort and bring up my “fixed” POS Citation. She never made it. I had all my Keystone meetings, spent the day a bit worried about her not being around, and when she finally showed up she told me that I wasn’t crazy, and that she was stranded in the Colorado foothills during a snowstorm in that POS Citation for the entire day. That is how my supervisors started realizing that I wasn’t out of my mind with these POS Citation problems and that I needed to break the lease.
Horrible, HORRIBLE car.
I remember getting that May ’79 Road and Track. I was working on my undergraduate studies as a commuter student from Shelburne to Burlington Vt, I had a ’74 Datsun 710 which was a light RWD car and not very good in the snow, but I think it was good for me at the time, since I knew I couldn’t do anything too rash during the winter, or else I was likely to get stuck…did have rear snow tires (not on rims, had to change them over before winter) guess I should have had 4 snow tires, but that got left off my student budget. The car was simple to work on, and it didn’t break down (much); got me through 4 years undergraduate studies, and learned how to do old fashioned tune-up, of course oil changes. I lusted after these since FWD was supposed to be better in slick conditions than RWD on a light car my Dad had a ’76 Subaru DL (FWD back then, not yet AWD) but I didn’t get to drive it much to tell how much better traction it would have provided. The Datsun was an automatic (my last automatic) and in slippery conditions before it warmed up I had to shift into neutral at stoplights to keep the rear end from crabbing forward when I had the brakes engaged. In ’81 I’d gone onto my 1st job about 4 hours away by car, on one trip back I hit some black ice and bit the guardrail, the fender was smashed but fortunately not on the battery side, so I was able to nurse it to my parents (was about 2/3 there) despite having a smashed headlight and being a bit shaken up.
Anyhow, didn’t trust the Datsun after that, I got it fixed up, but intended to sell it. My inexperience showed in that I started looking at cars before I got a firm handle on my finances, I had a good job but had been in it only 6 months, so I should have been looking mostly at used cars (guess I could have squeezed into a new stripper, especially since the interest rates were lower for new cars). Anyhow, one of my stops was at the local Pontiac dealer, where I looked at a Phoenix, which I liked but really couldn’t yet afford…I also looked at the then new K cars that came out in 1981, but really couldn’t afford them either quite yet. Turns out my manager at the time was president of the company-affiliated credit union (a volunteer job, neither of our regular jobs really had anything to do with finance); since I was a new member they limited how big a loan I could take out based on tenure, of which I only had 6 months, which translated to about a $3500 loan…but I think somehow he finagled it so I got an extra $500, which ended up making the difference; still couldn’t afford new, but got me into my first VW, a ’78 Scirocco, which of course was FWD. Don’t know whether I’d have bought the Phoenix or the Dodge K car (Aries) if I could have qualified for a larger loan. Back then, interest rates on especially used cars were very high, I had a friend that got a 24% annual loan on his used car right after I got the Scirocco…but the Credit Union seemed to have lower rates (which is why I was glad to get the loan there, think it was “only” 16% or so, which was good for a used car in early 1981.
Anyhow, never got the Phoenix, but 3 years later my parents moved to central Texas, and had a fender bender on their ’78 Chevy Caprice Classic wagon which my Dad didn’t want to get fixed (he should have as it turned out…his next car was a new ’84 Pontiac Sunbird, which turned out to be the worst car he ever owned…went through 2 engines in 5 years (despite being dealer maintained per the service book)…went to junkyard by early 1989). Hard to imagine the Citation (or the Phoenix) being worse.
One odd thing, guess these were bigger than the Sunbird, which only offered the 4 cylinder engine (which was the big problem on his car). Of course the Cimarron eventually offered the 6, which the lesser makes never did on this platform. Got me wondering why even the Citation had an optional 6, whereas the Pontiac Sunbird (and I think even Olds and Buick only had the 4 on the Firenza and Skyhawk). So the only way to avoid the 4 was to buy a later Cimarron or else pony up and get one of these X body cars which all offered the 6. The 2.0 litre on the Sunbird might have been a sample defect, it lost its timing belt in less than 500 miles from new)…but even the replacement engine (replaced under warranty) was terrible, it threw a rod before the car had 80k miles on it (which would have been around 40k miles on that 2nd engine).
My Dad did eventually come back to GM for his last 2 cars (Chevy Impala, my sister owns the last one he bought still) but after the Sunbird, he bought a series of Mercuries and Dodges before getting the Impalas (also bought new). My other sister wasn’t so forgiving, she had taken over the Sunbird after it was deemed too unreliable by my Dad, but after it went to the junkyard she ended up buying a string of Japanese cars, never buying an American car (she passed away in 2008…sometimes I wonder what she’d be driving now had she lived).
I have seen later Cavaliers with the 2.8 V6.