Curbside Classic: 1988 Chevrolet Celebrity – When Life Hands You Lemons…

(first posted 3/17/2012)    You have to hand it to GM. The 1980 X-bodies were by all accounts an unmitigated disaster. Yet they took that very same platform, updated and enlarged it, and turned it into the new A-body, which lasted for fifteen years and by the end, was a relatively well built, reliable car. The Celebrity was Chevrolet’s version.

The Celebrity was introduced in January 1982 as a late ’82 model. It had the same 104.9 inch wheelbase as the Citation, but an additional 11″ of length and conventional three-box styling made it look very different. The added length put it in the mid-size class, competing with the Malibu for the same customers.

It was initially available only in sedan and coupe versions. The standard engine was a 2.5L, 151 CID four cylinder with 90 horsepower. Optional engines included a 2.8L, 173 CID V6 with 112 horsepower and a 4.3L diesel V6 with 83 hp. All ’82 Celebrities had a three-speed automatic as a manual transmission was not available at first. Due to the late introduction, only 19,629 coupes and 72,701 sedans were sold.

Not much changed for ’83, although you could no longer get an eight-track tape player. With the full model year, sales were up with 139,829. 1983 was the last year for the rear wheel drive Malibu (shown above), so the Celebrity would have Chevy’s mid-size slot all to itself shortly.

Station wagons arrived for 1984, replacing the discontinued Malibu Classic wagon. Unlike the Malibu, the Celebrity’s rear windows actually rolled down. All Celebrities received a restyled front fascia with a taller grille. There was also a new optional H.O. version of the 2.8L V6 with 130 hp.

An attractive new trim level, the Eurosport, was available on all models and included sport suspension, 14″ rally wheels (the aluminum wheels seen on the coupe above were optional) and blacked out grille and trim with red accents. ’85s were much the same, although the H.O. engine’s carburetor was replaced with fuel injection.

1986 Celebrities were restyled both front and rear with slightly smoother fascias. The diesel was history. Plain and Eurosport versions continued to be offered in coupe, sedan and wagon versions. The Celebrity really hit its stride this year, with almost 405,000 sold. Unfortunately for Chevy, the Ford Taurus would soon steal the Celebrity’s thunder.

1987s got new composite headlights, but not much else changed. The four-cylinder was still standard, with the 2.8L V6 optional. Sales were down to 362,000. One new model was the Eurosport VR.

The VR included a monochromatic exterior with matching alloy wheels, plus a custom interior. It was strictly an appearance package, although a supercharged V6 like the Buick GN would have been interesting. It looked awfully sporty though, with a large front air dam, side skirts and a grilleless nose. The package was even available on the station wagon. The above image is from, which has much more information on these special Celebritys.

The Celebrity was six years old by this time, and smoother, more aerodynamic designs like the Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable and Honda Accord made it look more dated than it really was. The Celebrity had smoother front and rear styling than earlier in the decade, but the jelly bean look was in and the ‘sheer look’ that GM had applied to most of its cars in the early 1980s was becoming passe.

I was a kid when these were new, but I only knew two people who had a Celebrity. Our pastor had a base sedan much like the one above, only in navy blue. It was later traded in on a Corsica. The one I was more familiar with was a Eurosport sedan that a friend’s parents had.

like this, only a sedan

It was a pretty sharp car in dark gray with the black and red trim. I probably rode in it but don’t remember doing so. It was an ’87-’89 model as it had the composite headlights. It was eventually traded in on a dark red ’93 Grand Voyager with a red interior.

The 1988s were essentially the same. The Eurosport VR continued and was now available as a coupe, though it remained a low-production car. The special interior featured on the ’87s was eliminated and all VRs had regular Celebrity interiors. Celebrity production had been trending downward since 1986’s high, and output for ’88 was down to a little less than 260,000.

This was the last year for the coupe, with only 11,909 built. 1989 was a short model year and the last year for the sedan, as the 1990 Lumina was waiting in the wings to replace the Celebrity. In 1990, only the wagon returned, with a revised 3.1L V6 with 135 hp. It was joined later in the year by the Lumina APV minivan, which ultimately replaced it.

To the end, the Celebrity provided traditional six-passenger seating and a variety of trim options. I suspect that the sedan was especially attractive as company cars and rentals. There’s no breakout between base vs. Eurosports, but I imagine the lion’s share were standard sedans. The Eurosport that my friend’s parents had was the only Eurosport I recall seeing back when they were new. I also remember seeing a lot more Cutlass Cieras and Centurys than Celebrities. Northwest Illinois and Southeast Iowa liked their Oldsmobiles and Buicks, especially in the ’80s.

That holds true even more so today. I see Cieras and Centurys every day, but Celebrities are scarce enough for me to notice. I found the blue one in January and the white one just a couple of weeks ago (both are on the Cohort). It seems like Celebrities rusted a lot faster than their corporate cousins, as I remember seeing rusty ones frequently in the mid ’90s. Regardless, the Celebrity was good for Chevrolet; they sold a lot of them. Ironic that a troublesome little car like the Citation could be used as the base for a successful car line.