Curbside Classic: 1995 Chevrolet Lumina LS – I Fought The Taurus, And The Taurus Won

(first posted 7/12/2012)    General Motors, as has been documented time and time again, was slow to respond to foreign competition. For years they seemed to think that if they just ignored the imports and kept on keeping on, they’d wear them down – and out. Well, that didn’t exactly happen. In the mid-1990s, they finally seemed to get it: They finally realized they had to field a competitive offering to counter the Camry, and the 1995 Lumina started the long process toward parity with Japanese quality and reliability.

As partially related in the ’96 Regal post, the GM W-body (also known as the GM-10 during development) took a different path for each of the divisions. Both Oldsmobile and Buick, for instance, sold both A-body and W-body cars side by side all the way to 1996. For Chevrolet, however, it replaced the A-body Celebrity (save the station wagon, which continued for one more year) in 1990.

The Lumina was offered  in standard coupe and sedan variants and dressier “Euro” versions of same. Starting in 1991, a hot-rodded Z34 coupe was added to the lineup, featuring the Dual Twin-Cam V6 with 210 horsepower.

The Z34 was essentially a replacement for the venerable G-body Monte Carlo SS, despite its front wheel drive and no V8 in sight. The Lumina APV plastic-fantastic minivan was also offered from the get-go, but that model is beyond our scope for today.

The Lumina’s mission was to best the red hot Taurus, which was introduced in 1986 and doing quite well by 1990, thank you. The earlier Celebrity sold well through ’86, but once the Taurus came out it dated the Chevy’s “sheer” styling virtually overnight. While the Lumina never outsold the Taurus, the early ’90s Luminas sold well, with production of 256,270 in ’92 and 234,398 in ’93. In 1994, the Lumina stumbled badly, with only 86,626 made.

Part of it might have been due to the second- generation 1992 Taurus, which by 1994 featured standard dual airbags (the original Taurus got a driver’s airbag in 1990; a passenger airbag was optional in 1992-93). Yet as late as 1994, the Lumina didn’t even have a driver’s side airbag and its styling, although rather nice looking, had remained unchanged since its 1989 introduction. Time for something new…

Well, newish. The 1995 Lumina featured all new interior and exterior styling. Dual front airbags were a highly-touted new feature. Sheetmetal was smoother and less angular than in 1990-94. The new body, which was 3″ longer than its 1994 predecessor, rode the same W-body platform as its largely unchanged Buick Regal, Olds Cutlass Supreme and Pontiac Grand Prix corporate cousins.

Lumina coupes were history, in a way: The two-door version now bore the venerable Monte Carlo nameplate, thus making all 1995 Luminas four-door sedans. The Lumina APV minivan, however, was still around, but now sported a new nose that ruined the clean, if polarizing, “dustbuster” look.

Lumina sedans came in base and fancier LS models. The standard 3.1-liter V6 now produced 160 horsepower, representing a 20-plus improvement over the previous year’s 3.1. LS models could be equipped with the ex-Lumina Z34 Twin Dual-Cam 3.4-liter V6, which remained at 210 horses.

The $16,970 LS also came with standard anti-lock brakes, which were an available option on the $15,470 base model. Lumina prices for 1995 were very close to those of 1994, despite the new car’s almost total redesign. The new styling, ABS, dual airbags and attractive pricing all were meant to unseat the Taurus from its lofty first place perch.

LS models got cushier seating in Custom Cloth (shown above), which featured a different sew style than the plainer, fleet-special base model and its virtually nonexistent bolstering. In 1996, a leather interior was added to the LS option list, but for 1995 Lumina shoppers did without — or they got a Monte Carlo.

Sales were not bad, and with the questionable 1996 redesign of the Taurus, Chevrolet must have felt they had a chance to beat the Taurus. It didn’t happen. Rebadging the coupe as a Monte Carlo was a good marketing decision, but when Monte Carlo sales took off, they couldn’t be included in the Lumina total. What’s more, the 1995 Taurus  lineup included a station wagon; yes, the Lumina minivan variant was still around, but its sales had already started tapering off (the 1995 facelift probably didn’t do it any favors either). And if that wasn’t enough, the Toyota Camry had been gaining ground since the introduction of a new and Lexus-like 1992 model.

So thus did the Lumina carry on, with only minor changes, through 1999. It was a rather nice car, but competition was fierce in the midsize field, and the Lumina found itself somewhat lost among the Camry, Taurus/Sable, Accord, and its fellow GM W-bodies, too.

The Lumina was continued in 2000 as a fleet-only model. I know this because, in 1999, my parents took us to South Padre Island, Texas, for Christmas vacation. At the airport we were supposed to get a minivan, but one was not available and the clerk tried to talk us into a extended cab pickup–for the five of us! No, thanks. We took a burgundy-color 2000 Lumina instead. Since I was in my late teens at the time, my brother and I were allowed to take the car for a ride. Brownsville didn’t have a mall, though the Whataburger fast food places were interesting – my brother loved them. Anyway, I thought it was a nice car — it had lots of room, a nice ride, and a good-size trunk. I was a little surprised to find it was a 2000 model when I checked out the owners manual, as I thought the Lumina had been replaced by the 2000 Impala–it had been, but at the time I was not aware of fleet models. Later on, when we were back home, I went to the Chevy dealer and got a 2000 Lumina brochure. It was only four pages long, since retail customers were expected to look at the Impala, at least judging from that car’s glossy, over 30-pages-long catalog.

I hadn’t really thought about Luminas since then, but on Memorial Day weekend my folks had a bunch of people, including my sister’s in-laws, over. Kenny and Vicki were driving this Lumina, which I hadn’t seen before. They usually had a Chrysler Town & Country. After asking Kenny about it, he told me it was his mother’s car, and she had bought it new. When she passed away, he kept the car to drive to work. It has a few bumps, bruises, and rust, but is in pretty fair shape for a car that had been driven through at least sixteen Midwestern winters. I also liked the color. Why don’t more new cars come in a nice dark green like this one?

As I’ve already mentioned, the Lumina became the Impala. The current 2012 Impala has the same basic underpinnings as this one, but that will change in 2013, when it will become a much more luxurious vehicle on the Buick Lacrosse platform. True, the ’12 Impala is not for gearheads, hot-rodders or luxury car cognoscenti. It is, however, a solid and comfortable family car. When it finally goes away this year I, for one, will miss it.