Curbside Classic: 1993 Chevrolet Cavalier RS Wagon – Ordinary Has Become Interesting

1993 Chevrolet Cavalier RS wagon

As time rolls on, ordinary things often become more intriguing – such is the case with Chevy Cavaliers.  Just a few years ago, I wouldn’t have given this car a second thought.  But now, I look at this and wonder “Is this the nicest Cavalier wagon left in existence?”  I’m not the only one captivated by a car like this… my sister-in-law actually took these pictures after coming across this wagon at Walmart.  Who would have thought that a GM station wagon at a big box store parking lot would be so interesting?  After all, not too long ago, Cavaliers were likely the pinnacle of ordinariness.

1983 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon ad

Introduced for the 1982 model year, General Motors’ J-cars, including the Cavalier, were originally intended as “import fighters,” though that moniker faded quickly.  Instead of battling the surging tide of Hondas and Toyotas, Cavalier settled into the niche of providing affordable transportation to buyers with more traditional domestic-car tastes.  While perhaps lacking long-term vision, this market niche did provide for plentiful sales, and Cavaliers quickly became a fixture of North American roads.  Production reached its peak of 463,000 in 1984.

Cavaliers changed remarkably little through its first and second generations (1982-1994), and not surprisingly, sales generally dwindled as time wore on.  Though the 1988 introduction of a second-generation model breathed some new interest into the lineup, production dipped below the 300,000 mark by the early 1990s.

1986 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon ad

Meanwhile, an interesting reshuffling took place regarding the Cavalier’s body styles.  In the early and mid 1980s, affordable, small family wagons were a hot item – accordingly, wagons accounted for over a quarter of total Cavalier production in the model’s second production year, and were heavily advertised as well.  But it was all downhill from there.  Meanwhile, the two-door coupe gradually gained in popularity – most second-generation Cavaliers were coupes.

Chevrolet Cavalier Production

Source of production figures: Standard Catalog of Chevrolet, 1912-2003.

This pattern shows up clearly when looking at the bodystyle proportions of annual Cavalier production.  Wagons, gradually shrank in importance to the overall model range.

1993 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon brochure

In terms of absolute numbers, Cavalier wagon production fell below 30,000 for the second-generation’s debut year of 1988, and fell for five of the six years that followed.  The wagon seemed to just exist after that point.  After all, try finding an ad for one printed after the mid 1980s… GM just let the Cavalier wagon coast for its final years.  By the early 1990s, Cavalier wagons were a mere footnote to overall Chevy sales.

1993 Chevrolet Cavalier RS wagon

Our featured car was one of only 19,207 wagons made for 1993, accounting for just 7.6% of Cavalier’s 251,590 model-year sales.  And whoever was the original owner didn’t skimp on options.  For starters, this is an RS model – a designation that added items like a radio, tinted glass, a split-folding rear seat, red-accented bodyside moldings, and other goodies to the base VL (i.e., Value Leader) model.

1993 Chevrolet Cavalier RS wagon front

Additionally, this wagon is equipped with the most important item for breathing life into an otherwise stagnant model – a bigger engine.  In this case, the 140-hp 3.1-liter V-6, which added 30 hp to the anemic standard 4-cyl. engine.  Better known in Cavalier-land as the Z24 engine, the V-6 provided decent power for the day, and importantly for a wagon, enabled it to carry a full load of passengers and cargo without being overwhelmed by the thought of acceleration.  All Cavalier wagons since 1991 came equipped with a standard 3-speed automatic transmission.

1993 Chevrolet Cavalier RS wagon rear

A glance around this car shows other options as well, such as the luggage rack (a $115 option) and a rear defogger (a surprisingly steep $170).  A look inside revealed power windows and locks (another $330).

1993 Chevrolet Cavalier wagon interior brochure

For a recollection of what Cavalier RS interiors of this vintage look like, we can head back to brochureland.  While improved over 1980s-vintage J-cars, this was still a haven for lower-quality plastics and less-than-ideal ergonomics.  A Toyota it’s not, but this didn’t carry a Toyota price tag either.

Assuming our featured car came equipped with the popular “Preferred Equipment Group” (a/c, cassette stereo, cruise control, etc.), it would have listed for just short of $14,000 – one of the priciest non-convertible 1993 Cavaliers to leave GM’s Lordstown, Ohio plant.  With Cavaliers rarely selling for list price in the early 1990s, it’s safe to guess that this car left the dealer’s lot for under $12,000 – a solid deal for customers who didn’t necessarily care to seek out the most refined, modern design available.

1993 Chevrolet Cavalier RS wagon

This wagon shows only the slightest signs of age, such as this area on the tailgate where the Bright White paint is molting.  Many GM cars of this vintage have significantly more profound molting problems than this.  It’s unlikely that I’ll come across a better-equipped and better-preserved J-car wagon any time soon, so a minor blemish such as some peeling paint hardly matters.

1993 Chevrolet Cavalier RS wagon

Though none of us would likely choose a Cavalier wagon as one of our favorite cars – we can still appreciate a survivor, which is exactly what this wagon is.  If this is the nicest Cavalier wagon left in existence, let’s hope it rolls on for a long time still.


Photographed in April 2022 in Jefferson City, Missouri.  Many thanks to Michelle T. for the photos!