(first posted 8/5/2012) Some cars are invisible. Due to large production numbers and affordable pricing, certain cars are seen all over the place. Slowly and surely though, rust, deferred maintenance and fender benders take them off the road – and nobody notices. The Chevrolet Beretta (and its L-body Corsica cousin) is such a car. You never even notice they’re gone, until one day you spot one and finally realize: I haven’t seen one of those in years!
The Beretta came out in 1987, and along with its four door Corsica stablemate, essentially replaced the ill-fated X-body Citation. While sporty GT, GTU and GTZ models were available (a never-produced Beretta convertible even paced the 1990 Indy 500), most of them were the bread-and-butter standard model, like this 1989 version. A multitude of engines were offered during its long life (1987-1996), including 2.0, 2.2 and 2.3 “Quad Four” four cylinders and 2.8 and 3.1 liter V6s.
I believe our featured Beretta to be a 1996 model. Granted, the ’96 model was carryover from 1995, but I am going to go with ’96 as that was the last year for the Beretta/Corsica. The color is Light Adriatic Blue, a color that debuted in 1994, but I think these cars didn’t get it until 1995. This particular car is rather basic, as it appeared to be lightly optioned. I always liked the restyled-for-1991 interior, as it vastly improved the ergonomics inside.
While perhaps a bit cheesy today, the slide-out cup holders on the dash were kind of innovative for the time, and unique for a domestic vehicle (yes, I know the 1991 Cavalier had that feature too). Also note the placement for the headlights and the wipers on each side of the steering wheel, for easy access.
Another interesting feature of the Beretta was the fact that you actually had excellent visibility all around. It was also the last “large compact” coupe to come from Chevy. Personally, I wish they would do a car like this again, and in this size, as I would be very interested in one.
Considering the design dated to the late Eighties, the overall design held up well. Styling was very smooth, and as a result the outgoing ’96 models still looked pretty fresh.
The driver’s side airbag was added at the same time as the new instrument panel. Because of the contours of the 1991-and-up dashboard, the front radio speakers were moved from the top of the dash down to the floorboard, behind carpeted panels. It worked rather well, and took up minimal room in the footwell, though why GM didn’t just design the doors to accommodate them is anyone’s guess.
Another neat feature found throughout the production run was the “beer tap” door handles, shared with the W-body Lumina, Grand Prix, and Regal coupes.
I found this car sitting in the side lot of a Ford dealer in Pinconning, MI (Michigan’s Cheese Capital). Even though it’s almost an hour south of where I live, I had to return to that area the next day, and the car was gone, so I don’t what became of it. Maybe it just turned its invisibility shield back on.
Glad to see you back, Richard – and what a car. Whitewalls, even.
I remember the great splash that Chevy made when these came out. You are exactly right – these went from being everywhere to being nowhere. The prototypical version was white with big hunks of paint missing leaving vast stretches of rusting gray primer. Whitewalls and plastic wheel covers that were often missing. Driven by people with lots of tattoos (before tattoos moved upscale). These folks drove them long after all of the rental fleets had sold them off. Didn’t Chevy make an SS or a Z-something version of this? You never saw many, mostly you saw the low-option versions like this.
What a horrible time for the American car. For several years, it was this or the Tempo or the dowdy Acclaim. I think that the Beretta is clearly the looker of the three – it is actually a very nicely proportioned car. I just remember the cheap crappy interiors in these. And those miserable door-mounted seatbelts. I cannot say that one of these has ever tempted me. But it is still a nice find, particularly in this condition in Michigan.
“What a horrible time for the American car. For several years, it was this or the Tempo or the dowdy Acclaim.”
Bite your tongue, JP – our beloved 1990 Acclaim was probably the best domestic small sedan at the time, and we owned ours for 10.5 years! Nothing “dowdy” about it, just not “sporty”.
I think that the Acclaim would have been the pick of the three if you wanted a long-term trouble-free American ride of that period. But I just never warmed up to the car. I tried to like it. When it first came out, my future wife was in mourning over her 1 year old Honda Accord that had been in a hailstorm, and she briefly considered replacing it. We went to check out a new Acclaim. Everything about the car said 1980 (or maybe 1975) instead of 1990. No disrespect intended towards your Acclaim. I just thought it sad that these cars were the best that the US could do in that period. I don’t think that quality, durability and good looks are too much to ask from one package. But judging from the US auto industry over the last 30 years, maybe it is, because this has been a mighty rare combination.
Around here there are several Tempos and Topazes from the early 1990s still in daily use, along with a smattering of Corsicas. The Mopar twins, however, have virtually disappeared, as have the Berettas.
I’m betting that the Berettas were bought by young buyers who wanted a coupe and promptly trashed (particularly as used cars – the insurance rates were probably lower than those for a Camaro or Mustang), while the Tempos, Topazes and Corsicas were used primarily as family/commuter cars and thus survived in higher numbers. Don’t know what happened to the Plymouth Acclaims or Dodge Spirits.
I think the Acclaim/Spirit twins followed us to Ohio 20 years ago, for I still see some to and from work on the highway almost every day – of course, they’re used as commuter cars, along with lots of – whatever platform the Celebritys/Centurys et al were…
Did the Acclaim and the Spirit ever sell in very high numbers? They debuted as the economy was slipping into a recession, and the feeling was that they didn’t look very “new” at the time.
A friend of mine looked at a Beretta in late 1995. Insurance rates (his, at least) would have still been fairly high, one reason why he wound up buying a 1996 fish-Taurus instead.
Around here (Massachusetts), none of the Big Three compacts from that era are especially common, but I’d say the rarest is probably the Tempo/Topaz. There are defintely a few Spirits and Acclaims around, enough that I’ve made note of how many I see — not a lot, but more than you might expect.
I haven’t seen a Tempo or Topaz in a coon’s age. But there is a non-rusty white Acclaim in my Brooklyn neighborhood that parks on the street.
By reading your comment I thought, “how could the paint be so bad on those cars”… then I found this picture:
Here she is! My baby.
I owned an ’89 Beretta, four cylinders and five speeds. I bought it new when I graduated college and drove it for 150,000 miles over the next eight years. Brought my first child home from the hospital in it. I could eke out 0-60 in about 10 seconds in it, which wasn’t bad for the time. The 2.0L engine was pretty strong and never gave me a lick of trouble. Lots of other things broke on this car, though — power steering pump, wiper motor, and ignition rack are the ones I recall off the top of my head. And I was never successfully able to use aftermarket wiper blades on this car; they wouldn’t conform to the windshield’s curve. I ended up buying OEMs at the Chevy dealer for 30 bucks a pair.
You’re right, this car was absolutely everywhere for a long time, and now when you see one it’s all, “Holy cow, a Beretta. Man, when was the last time I saw one of those?”
Z-26…the door handles are junk, Ive replaced many.
I’m prejudiced towards this car. I think they looked very good, except for the overly large plastic rear end, which looks very similar to what GM did to the Opel before this time. It is a very clean and very minimal design, not too much that looks odd.
The one we had was gold. It had the 2.0 four cylinder. It lasted until we traded it in back back in 1999. The engine was great – but the rest of the car had problems. The plastic interior just disintegrated. The A/C vent louvers dried up and just cracked into pieces, the instrument panel top became brittle and looked like it had some kind of exema. The cloth interior turned into rags and the head liner fell.
One day we were inside a little burger joint, dining in a booth with the car parked directly to my left, through the window, at the curb. As we ate lunch, I thought I detected a spot in the huge window that was distorted, because the Beretta’s grille appeared melted at one spot. Well, it wasn’t the window. The grille, like the rest of the plastic on the car, was falling apart too.
We had our new car ordered, so we had to wait a couple of weeks. It seemed that the Beretta knew it was being traded and within those two weeks, it began to fall apart even further.
This was the car my girlfriend, future wife, drove. I have a lot of good memories when I see them on the road because of that.
But it wasn’t a well made machine.
Agreed, the basic design is cool, and how I wish we had windows like that today! I’m with you on the oversized plastic rear – couldn’t they see it was disproportionate to the rest of the car? Holden did a similar thing on the ’86-’88 Calais – added a trim piece that spoiled the look of the car – made it look narrower, compared to the simpler and more attractive cheaper Commodore rear.
What a shame they couldn’t specify quality plastics for the Beretta and build it properly.
From the same Rubbermaid designer who gave us the gen-1 Lumina, which also couldn’t tell its back from its front. Also like big brother in that it doesn’t quite sit on its wheels right. Arches too big, wheels too small, something. The red one at the beach lools like a gust is lifting its front end. And why can’t the headlights wrap around a little? Its expression is sort of pinched and its nose looks too long.
I don’t hate it, I just always wanted to go after its design with a big white eraser and a fresh pencil!
What you are looking at is a Base or low-level model. Take a look at a GTU, GTZ or Z26 with 16″ aluminum wheels and tires and a much better body kit all around.
With the front and rear bumpers, grille cover and side skirts, they looked almost like little Camaros (especially with the European-spec headlights that look just like the 80’s Camaros).
The 2.3L “Quad 4” has had multiple issues, but with a good mechanic and some choice parts, you could outrun most cars from it’s day and even some now. The 2.8/3.1L engines weren’t as fast, but were rock solid and torquey, which would make for a stronger drive around town.
Anyway, just wanted to rep the L-Bodies and GM cars in general.
Another note: Anyone who proclaims all GM FWD cars to be floaty, soft and garbage should remember that GM gave the buyer many options when purchasing their vehicles.
For instance, the FE3 (RP0 code) suspension package was usually the performance variant. Even a station wagon 94 Cavalier w/FE3 package got special dampers/springs, upper and lower strut braces and, in some instances, a rear sway bar. Which made for a rather nimble car for the time, especially considering GM’s reputation at the time that still sticks to this day. These were performance parts usually left for Type-R Honda’s, GTi’s, etc.
So remember that the GM car you drive, might be quite different from the otherwise identical car sitting right next to it.
Really, how many FE3 cars were sitting on a dealer’s lot at a given time? Damned few, in my experience. Sure, you could special order one, but most people didn’t. Therefore, any one of them that you were likely to rent, borrow, ride in or buy (new or used) would be the normal flaccid version.
Actually, a LOT of Berettas had the FE3 option. All 88-93 GT models had it as well as most 94-96 Z26 models. Sure, there were a lot of fluff base models around but there were also a ton of GT models running around as well – In the case of the GT, it still looked generally like a base model and usually got confused as such.
I currently own 3 Berettas. All 1993 model year cars – 1 GT (3.1 V6/5 speed) and 2 GTZ (Quad4/5speed) models. Sure, they weren’t the best made cars back in the day but they did what they were designed to do – Get people from A to B with reasonable comfort and style… for a finite period of time. They were designed from the get go as disposable cars. I’m convinced GM designed these cars with replacement in mind – Drive it for 5-10 years and scrap it and go buy another GM.
That doesn’t deter me – in fact, it is part of what drives my enjoyment of these cars. Nowadays part of the fun is hunting the few remaining good ones down and trying to preserve them. I’ve traveled to Wisconsin and Colorado for two of them and even imported one from Canada! Finding parts is becoming more and more difficult with each passing year. Still, though – I’ll keep mine in decent shape as long as humanly possible and continue to enjoy it… faults and all! I’m proud to drive mine around – I get a kick out of imagining what other motorists think when they see a Beretta in decent shape.
‘I’m convinced GM designed these cars with replacement in mind – Drive it for 5-10 years and scrap it and go buy another GM.’
I’m amazed that GM didn’t see that times had changed. Seemingly they didn’t notice the rise of consumerism. Cars no longer had centre stage in people’s purchases. People were sick and tired of products cost more and more, that were worn out after 5 years or so, especially when there were alternatives that lasted longer, didn’t require interminable trips to the dealer to put right, and felt better to drive into the bargain. With looks that were often ‘visually challenged’, and little visible change in the product really, what incentive was there to buy another GM? They obviously never took the imported competition seriously – perhaps this, more than anything else, led to their downfall.
Dante – those are some very nice looking Berettas. I’ve never owned one, almost traded in my 93 Topaz GS for a 95 off the lot. GM was handing out some great pricing on the base model cars at the end of production.
Everytime I see a Beretta pop up in an article, online, or in person… I think that I’d like to find a GTZ and fix it up as a little fun car.
For what it’s worth, the rumor floating around at the time these were introduced is that the Beretta was conceived as a possible replacement for the Camaro, in the event that gas priced spiked. Possibly a stretch, but then again, this was the same era in which the Ford Probe was intended to replace the Mustang.
I briefly owned a ’92 Corsica “program car” (former rental) that I sold in order to buy my mother’s Mustang when she suddenly retired. These cars were dismal, but with the 3.1 V6 it had plenty of power. As I recall, it was the cheapest car I could find with an airbag (driver-only at that time) and ABS. Just a few years prior, I’d owned an ’84 944, but after my career started taking off I noticed that I had to drive a 160 mile round-trip into New Orleans once or twice a week, and the 944’s maintenance costs and visibility as a ticket and theft magnet were killing me. So in that regard, the Corsica met my needs very well: inexpensive to maintain, and invisible. About four years later, I went back to Nissans and Toyotas for my sedans.
Funny thing about how driver side airbags started to mysteriously appear in compact sedans, in place of “mouse belts,” or those damnable door-mounted “passive restraints.” Around 1990, the Federal government decided that it would favor (or exclusively purchase) driver-side airbag-equipped cars for its fleet purchases, and compact sedans were the most common size for government vehicles. The impetus for this was to encourage volume production of airbags, and lower the cost to the consumer. Suddenly, all U.S.-built Chrysler cars came standard with a driver-side airbag (as almost all were based on the on the K-platform), but over at GM, the Corsica/Beretta got a standard bag, while the larger, more expensive cars still had door-mounted belts. At Ford, the Tempo/Topaz offered an optional driver-side airbag for a few years, and I believe they may have also had mouse belts (so the driver got TWO “passive restraints”).
I too remember reading of this car being a possible Camaro replacement. I always thought this was a nice design, with hints of the 3rd generation Camaro rear end with the built in ducktail spolier. The GTZ has to be a collectible classic of sorts these days. The GM V-6 was, in my opinion, one of GM’s better engines. The 2.8 in my Fiero GT did not give a lick of trouble for many, many miles.
Richard, you are so right. I just don’t see this car on the roads anymore whereas back in the day they were all over every roadway I was on!
A friend of mine bought a new 1989 Baretta GT, with a V6 and manual trans. It was pretty fast and sporty. It was reliable too; especially compared to my 1988 Monte Carlo SS.
A good friend’s dad had the same, black GT with the 5 speed. He used to drive us to school freshman year and I loved that car at the time, especially with the orange digital dash! As I recall, the interior materials quality was quite a bit better in the earlier, pre-facelift cars.
That dash is awesome!
I owned an ’88 Beretta GT red exterior/tan interior. It had the 2.8l V6 with the Getrag 5-speed manual. The electronic dash was pretty good for it’s day – you got a full set of gages. The only downside was that the illuminating bulbs would burn out and require a $200 repair. My major failure was an output bearing on the transmission (at about 100K miles) – a $2000 repair.
I also had an interesting time getting the engine to not stall from time to time. It was discovered that the engine management computer contained the program for an automatic transmission car – not good with a manual transmission car.
After reading JP’s reply to my post above, it made me start thinking and reaching back 20-25 years ago.
What, indeed, were the best American cars? The GM B-bodies? The box panthers? The Taurus/Sable twins? The Acclaim/Spirits? The Luminas/GM cousins?
I remember looking carefully and comparing our 1984 Chrysler E-Class to a friend’s 1984 Toyota Camry and thinking: Yep, they’re pretty close. A few years later, compare the newest edition 1990-era Camry, Corolla and Accord, Civic and Maxima/Sentra to Detroit’s comparable offerings and I got an odd taste in my mouth that the domestics were losing or had already lost the battle and perhaps the war…
Interesting question. Ignoring the Corvette and the remaining pony cars (Mustang and GM F-bodies), for the mid- and late-1980s, I would say the Fox-based Thunderbird/Cougar, the Panther-based Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis/Town Car or the Chevrolet Caprice.
For the early 1990s, I would say the Buick LeSabre/Park Avenue and Oldsmobile Delta 88/Ninety-Eight.
The first-generation Taurus and Sable were a quantum leap in terms of ergonomics, workmanship and ride-and-handling over their domestic competitors, but they had a fair amount of bugs that needed to be worked out by Ford. (Although the GM-10s were, in some ways, even worse.)
The tragedy with those cars is that Ford let itself slack off when the profits began rolling in, and then was distracted by the SUV boom of the 1990s. If it had taken the Toyota approach to those cars – build upon their success by fixing the problems while emphasizing the good points – the Taurus could be the nation’s best-selling car today instead of the Camry.
“Interesting question. Ignoring the Corvette and the remaining pony cars (Mustang and GM F-bodies), for the mid- and late-1980s, I would say the Fox-based Thunderbird/Cougar, the Panther-based Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis/Town Car or the Chevrolet Caprice. ”
From my experience these tend to be the only cars (outside of the “pony cars”) that are still around from the 80’s in any great number. I guess in time we found out that the traditional, RWD Ford Fox and Panther cars, and the GM B-body and G-body cars were the best cars of the 80’s.
It helps that they’re the last of their kind, were often bought new by older folks, and now look and feel older than they are so that a 1986 Crown Vic makes a convincing case for being a vintage car while a 1986 Taurus is just old and dated.
Dont count out the GM-H body and C-body FWD cars like the LeSabre/Park Ave and Delta 88/98’s and Bonneville
They had some teething troubles at first but by 1988-89 these were rock solid cars, a good number of them are still on the road.
Darn good cars.
My parents had two 1988 Oldsmobile Delta 88s…one bought brand-new, and one bought used. They weren’t particularly reliable or long-lived. Their 1992 Delta 88 was a HUGE improvement in every respect. GM really got its act together with the second-generation of these cars, starting with the very handsome 1991 Buick Park Avenue. By the early 1990s, the front-wheel-drive full-size Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac were very good cars.
I had a 1994 V6 as my first car, and I’ve still got it 15 years later for use as a back up car. Not the greatest car on earth, but for a 16 year old kid, it was a pretty good one. The 3100 is a torquey engine that allowed me to win many a high school race against much faster cars in the stop light drags… Today though I appreciate it for same reason author does. It’s a pretty small car, but it’s plenty comfortable for 4 people, and still quite handsome I think. Plus, in 180k miles all that it’s required has been 1 radiator, brakes and tires.
Thanks guys, it’s nice to be back!
I would like to take a moment and publicly thank Mr. Tom Klockau for actually co-authoring today’s CC with me. He had written me asking if I still had these photos, which I had offered to him for a CC. I sent them along with a brief history of the Beretta and my commentary on this particular car, and well, here we are!
Now, I just need to shoot an Acclaim for our good friend Zack 🙂
I remember when this (and the Corsica) came out, and I thought they were remarkably good looking. And they really have aged very well. I seem to recall though that I never really knew where they fit in the lineup – weren’t the X cars still being made (which were replaced by the N cars)? And were they that much larger than the J cars?
All the X-cars were gone after 1985, Pontiac, Olds and Buick got N-car replacements via the Grand Am, Calais and Sommerset. Chevrolet however made due without an X-car replacement until late 1987, when they got the L-body Beretta/Corsica, which was sort of a blend of a J and N car, the Corsica became the Malibu in 1997 and it had held that same spot in the line up since, so we go Nova–>Citation–>Corsica–>Malibu. if were tracing the direct family tree.
I thought I saw a bit of J-car in the A-pillar shape
As of 5 years ago I live in a small middle Tennessee town and realized where all the ’90’s GM cars went. I frequently see first generation Lumina’s and many “dustbuster” vans. I even saw 2 first generation Aurora’s yesterday…..most with big hunks of paint missing as mentioned earlier. But I hardly see any Corsica’s and Beretta’s…..I wonder why these don’t seem to last whereas other GM’s from that era seem to still be around?
I was expecting this to be a L-body roast but I’m wrong again as usual.. but I’m glad for that. For some reason, nearly every person I know hates these cars. “Extremely ugly” was the most common complain I heard which baffles me because I think they both are sharp looking vehicles, particularly the Beretta. I thought Chevy did a fantastic job on the rear styling of these — the taillight area is so clean, unclutttered, & “not cheap” appearing. They looked good with or without a spoiler.
I liked the headlights because they didn’t bubble or blob themselves around the corners of the car & that they were actually made of glass. Sure, the driver’s door handles sometimes broke but at least their headlights never yellowed. I suspect many door handles broke in cold weather from drivers attempting to yank frozen doors open…any such-designed handle will fail when overtaxed in such a manner.
I’m more fond of the earliest generation cars because of the early design 2.8/3.1 engines. I’ve seen lots of these cars with 220 – 250K on them. They still ran strong although the paint & interior never held up very well. This is just my opinion but I never thought the 3100 was as good an engine as the “old” 3.1. It seems like the ancillary stuff on the 3100s like gaskets & such seemed to fail a lot more..but that’s just from my POV.
I also like the earlier cars’ interior appearance, particularly the dashboard with its angular turn signal stalk, blue graphics & long “grille” that spanned the length of the middle & right side, concealing the A/C registers. The digital dash was awesome but I hated the fact that it was orange instead of red, green, or blue. I’m sure the radio installation people hated these vehicles as the radio face & A/C controls were integrated.
Unfortunately, the early style instrument panel vinyl shunk/delaminated from its frame leaving huge “bubbles”…which eventually split as the vinyl started cracking. I agree that the newer style dash has better ergonomics but it kind of gives me a “Playskool” vibe.
Both generations seemed to have really good seats in them though. While the dashes disintegrated, door panels self-detached, various plastic retainers snapped, & headlining fell, the seats always seemed to hold together…along with the carpet. These cars had a unique central seat track with just a couple of guide rollers in the rear which made underseat access easier..
I got to drive a V6 5-speed Beretta once & very much enjoyed the experience. My choice would be a dark blue 1st generation with Digidash, V6, & 5-speed. Underhood maintenance is particularly hellish with the V6.
I replaced the radio in my Beretta and it was pretty easy. You could get a faceplate from Crutchfield that accepted a normal-height radio and had a place for the hvac controls. Easy peasy.
The seats were held to the floor by this funky curved piece of metal with two bolts on it. My funky curved piece of metal broke in half one day when I adjusted my butt in the seat. Thank goodness I was still in my driveway, because the seat fell back and I was looking directly at the ceiling.
I think the main reason that the door handles broke off on these was they everytime I saw someone open the door one one of these the would pull the whole door along with the handle, my friends wife broke it like 3 times on their Lumina coupe doing the same thing, while I never broke one on my same vintage Grand Prix.
I’m sorry to say, but you’re wrong about the seats. The seats in these cars had the cheapest, thinnest mouse-fur material GM could find. Every one (with the exception of the GTZs that had the fancier race-car type seats with side bolsters) wears out and tears in strips from regular use.
And the dash bubbling/splitting/cracking problem is more present in the later cars than the earlier ones. The passenger side of the dash has a great little flat area where one could throw one’s lunch while eating in the car, or just toss items like a folded map or whatever, and that’s where the distortion and splitting take place, almost totally eliminating the utility of the dash design.
I’ve owned both an early Corsica and a later Beretta, which I still have. They’re good cars, and despite the cheapness of the interior fabric (Oh! And the crappy headliners that inevitably delaminate and start hanging down on you), I prefer the later cars for their dash and interior.
Another point: the earlier Corsicas could be had with a column shifter!
A friend in high school had an ’89 Beretta GT with an auto which he just beat on. The car kept going and going till body rot got it in his first year of college. It wasn’t a bad car, as it lived through his beatings, but it did have a certain unappealing vibe about it. This could have been because it was 14 years old at the time and wasn’t the best looking car around. I think the reason people shy away from Beretta’s is because most of the ones people saw were neglected by their owners, as most cheap new cars are.
I finally got a CC Clue!
Lots of these passed through the used car lot at Casa Chevrolet when I sold cars there in 1997. They were all program cars, most without power windows but with the 3.1L V6.
Nothing about these was particularly compelling, though I always found the styling pleasant (Corsica too) albeit in a thoroughly dull way.
Our 1985 Dodge Lancer ES Turbo had cup holders that tilted down out of the passenger side dashboard and then pulled out to expand to hold a second cup. It even had a clever slot cut in the side to allow for coffee mugs. Probably the only feature of the car that didn’t cause trouble over its miserable three year life.
I remember the Beretta looking sportier than it does in these pictures. I suppose I haven’t seen one in years, but I thought it was sleeker when I did see them. I had a friend with a Corsica. It seemed really old even when it wasn’t.
I’ve yet to see a Beretta or Cavalier cupholder that’s not broken!
Another case of slipshod GM execution…a cryin’ shame as I’ve driven several Corsica/Berettas and they were a ball. The Beretta’s suspension was tuned more for handling and the Corsica for ride comfort.
I bought a brand new Corsica in Summer ’88, 4-cyl, 5-speed, and within three years and 88,000 miles the engine was out twice and needed a third rebuild. It kept eating thrust bearings…and yes I had the paint recall too.
If these cars had been built with the precision of what GM’s doing right now…or what they did back in 1949-52, they would be icons.
On IDing cars, one thing I ended up doing that saves me a lot of guessing is saving a little cheat sheet in the memo pad on my phone for reading the VIN. On pre-1980 cars, every manufacturer did something different, but from MY1980 on, all U.S.-market cars have a uniform format where the 10th digit indicates the model year. It starts with A and goes from there, although some letters were skipped to avoid confusion. As long as the VIN is visible, it’s pretty easy to figure out.
I think the first model year for the newer-style, standardized VINs was actually 1981. Massachusetts conveniently prints the VIN on vehicle inspection stickers, which are affixed to the lower passenger’s side of the windshield. I’ve never really looked at the VINs on newer cars, but I know how to find the model year in the VINs of some older cars and have used this at car shows/cruise nights to figure out what year certain cars were.
IINM, Ford Motor Company VINs from the 1960 through 1980 model years start off with the last digit of the year (so if the first digit of the VIN is a “6”, it’s either a 1966 or 1976). 1965-80 GM VINs start off with a series of numbers indicating the make, model and body style, followed by a group of two letters and a number in some order. The number in the latter group is the last digit of the model year. While this is somehat buried in a long string of characters — not at the beginning like with the Ford VINs — I know the two-digit body style codes well and can usually pick them out of the VIN quickly; the next number (as opposed to letter) to the right of the body style code is the model year code.
Looking up some info on modern VINs, it looks like there are only a few letters in the VIN. Similar to what I had said for the old GM VINs, if you have a sense of about where in the VIN the model year code appears, it’s probably not that hard to pick out which letter it is.
+1 I’ve been expecting someone to mention this and have been puzzled by the delay. Of course, looking for the seventh number from the end doesn’t help when the VIN is missing (a blank plate) or obscured (a paper tossed between the dash and the windshield). The embossed VINs can be tricky to read, the printed ones by GM are nice.
This is the chart I use at home.
Its Corsica stablemate is possibly the worst rental car of all time. Legend has it that National wrote the specs for GM. I had one with the small V-6 and 3-speed automatic, a dog with bad gas mileage. The Shove-it I rented a few years before was a better car, performance-wise.
So what makes the Corsica one of the worst rentals? My ex-girlfriend demonstrated what a “dog” her 3.1L autmatic Corsica was by laying rubber with three people in the car…which it did quite easily by the way…and yes, it was on dry pavement.
I’ve had two 4-speed non a/c Chevettes (still have one) & I’d be shocked it they could keep up with a 2.0 L Corsica, much less a 2.8 or 3.1 Corsica.
It must have had the 2.8. This was in the flatlands along the East coast. Maybe it was all the traffic that killed gas mileage. A Cadillac I had rented in DC on another trip did as well on gas. The Chevette took us to the top of Haleakala on Maui and didnt feel like it was going to fall apart on the Hana Highway, a crude, but rugged little car.
My dad had an `88 GT back in the early `90s. I remember fondly that digital dash and those fantastic taillights. It was a good car.
This and the Corsica look like Chevrolet was paying very close attention to the Toyota Camry. As for the Beretta specifically, a style of car I just don’t get – surely with its full-height greenhouse it is not fooling anyone that it is sporty. A 5-door liftback can look a lot better. I would much prefer the Ford Telstar or Mazda 626 of the same era.
We all know how after a CC feature, we start seeing the car, right? Well, last evening I saw a Beretta – a dingy red one with a bent-up front end, filthy windows, missing half of its plastic wheelcovers, and full of four overweight none-too-well-off 20-somethings (one of whom was slurping out of a big gulp cup). I started laughing because, other than the peeling white paint, it almost perfectly fit my stereotypical mental image of a Beretta.
I’ve been obsessed with Berettas for many years. Since the late 90’s, there has been a Berettafest every year, with the largest turnout being Milwaukee in 2003. Something about these cars hooked me early on, and I love driving mine every day. And for the record, my cupholder works perfectly, Junqueboi!
I’ve done quite a bit of work to my 1995 Base Model, including an engine swap (2004 Alero 3400) and putting on the Z26/GTZ ground effects and interior, and BMW E36 headlights.
I really enjoyed reading this article and the comments. I was fully expecting a bash-session.
No front shot with these nifty headlights?
I’ll try again. It hasn’t been letting me post a picture.
are the E36 headlights better then the original headlights and do they just bolt on or did you have to modify them to fit. thanks
It sounds like you’ve put more effort into improving your Beretta than GM did engineering the entire car!
The Corsica and Beretta are good examples of how close GM could come to greatness in the 1980s, while at the same time emblematic of the many problems that kept them from the top. The styling for both was pretty decent – plain, sure, but also modern, and entirely in keeping with the prevalent design themes of the times.
They were also sized right, not too big or too small, though the interiors weren’t particularly roomy. Execution is where these cars failed – anachronistic engines (even for 1988-1996) combined with cheap underpinnings and bargain-basement interior treatments guaranteed these would be little more than throwaway vehicles.
GM sold enough of these – I should see as many Berettas and Corsicas still on the road as I do 1990 Camrys and Accords. Yet most of them are in junk yards, returning (figuratively) to the mindset from whence they were created. It’s sad.
Don’t forget the Z26!
I kind of liked the Beretta, not the Corsica (as a rental I had once, the handling was terrible).
As a side note, I knew someone who had just bought a new one and they thought it a Thunderbird competitor in size and position. Odd I thought, one with a V8 and rear drive…..but they were both sporty specialty coupes. Still prefer the T-Bird!
I bought an ’89 dealer demo GT – blue with a removable sunroof. 2.8 with the automatic. The GT “package” if i recall added some handling bits and bigger tires – I always liked the way it handled. The 2.8 was fast enough – especially for the time.
It did have it share of problems – random stalling that was finally fixed by the dealer, bad chipping paint that was fixed by the dealer (this was before the internet, and I heard a similar tale about bad paint from a co-worker who said her dealer was fixing hers for free – a “silent” recall??).
The driver’s seat broke and was replaced for free – then there was the time the top hinge on the driver’s door broke and the door sagged to the ground – also fixed by the dealer.
The final straw came when it started to overheat and blow white smoke – the telltale sign of a blown gasket – out of warranty by that time – my mechanic said (true? who knows) that since he couldn’t tell which bank of the v6 the gasket had blown – he had to take both heads off – it was too much for me to pay for – so I cleaned it up the best I could and sold it for $1000 to one one of those “fast cash for cars” places. I had only had it for 5 years and a bit more than 100,000 miles.
I owned two of these cars, both 1995 models, both base models, one a Raspberry Metallic 4 cylinder, the other, a black V6. We actually bought the 4 cyl model first, and added the v6 to our fleet about two years later. I always liked the looks of these cars, I was, and still am not a fan of the jellybean aero look so prevalent since the late 80s, yet somehow on this car, it worked. The 4cyl car was dead reliable, got decent gas mileage, and due to its more leisurely power train, was an unstoppable force in snow. It never left me stuck, which is more than I can say for a co-worker’s 2007 Camry….it couldn’t pull the hill going up to my house for nothing! The v6 car was quite peppy, got reasonable mileage but, unfortunately, developed a rod knock shortly after we bought it. We replaced the engine and had a few glitches with sensors, but once that was ironed out, had no more issues.The v6 became my daughter’s first car, and then was sold to a local person. It was seen from time to time, each time looking worse than the time before. The last time we saw it, it was wearing a red fender, missing two wheelcovers, and missing the gas filler door. The only quality problem I had with both of these cars was that the cloth seats did not wear well. Both cars had the drivers side seats replaced twice while we owned them. I finally gave up and put seat covers on both of them. And yes, I broke a drivers side door handle on the 4cyl car in the winter once….an easy fix but at the time $90 seemed steep for a new handle! I can say these cars felt very open and airy, visibility was exceptional…my new Camaro should be half as good in this area…..
I’ve broken the handles on my car in the wintertime, too. I have two more sets in the basement I pulled off of junkyard cars.
My four-cyl Corsica blew a head gasket, but that was after an overheat when a small heater hose burst.
The Beretta has given me no problems other than regular wear and tear, except for an ignition module. Oh well, it wasn’t too expensive to replace and the job wasn’t as difficult as it could have been–best yet, it had the decency to fail in my driveway and not leave me stranded.
The worst I can say about the 3.1 is that it does have some loud piston slap when the temperatures are low! But it’s been absolutely reliable.
My next door neighbor still has his blue ’88 Beretta, original owner!
These door handles break if you breathe on them wrong.
Amen on that. I had a 1990 Beretta for 5 years and every winter I could count on replacing at least one of those door handles because water always got in and froze the damn things. I used to keep a box of them in the trunk of that car(the local pick and pull sold them for $5 each)
That’s funny because I’ve owned MANY Beretta’s over the years in many harsh winter environments (northern wyoming, Wisconsin, and currently at 7000 ft in the Continental Divide) and I’ve yet to break a single door handle on a Beretta. Ever.
I thought some of you might get a kick outta seeing one of the GTZ’s alive and well and receiving a fresh engine this weekend. I love this car in it’s Quasar blue with blue interior. It’s a 1992 with the High Output Quad 4 2.3L and a Muncie/Getrag 5 speed manual transmission.
That is really clean! How did the engine transplant go?
My grandma had one of those 20 years ago. Her license plate frame: “MY GRANDKIDS ARE CUTER THAN YOURS.” Yep, classic.
I rented a Beretta from Hertz at Dallas-Ft.Worth Airport. The window crank fell off as I rolled down the driver-side window at the exit gate from the Hertz lot. The car was replaced by a Dodge Spirit, which already I liked better.
Didn’t take much…
I bought one of the first Berettas in El Paso, TX. in early “88. I got sent overseas (with my car) to Germany that summer and the safety inspector for US ARMY EUROPE insisted that I had “tinted” the taillights. He was not going to certify it for German roads. Luckily, a younger mechanic came over and set him straight. The old guy really freaked out with the next serviceman’s car: an “88 Fiero GT with factory “tinted” taillights!! It seems that all American cars sold in Germany had to have amber turn signals in back. Mine was a bright red base coupe with the 2.8V6/5 speed combo. Lots of autobahn memories and the Germans loved it!
9/11 Never Forget!
Hi, the featured car in this article is not a 1996, in fact it is a 95. I now own this rustless wonder, bought from Dave’s motor sales in whittemore Michigan. The bumper sticker that says “your child matters in the Lansing school district” is what gave it away, but has been removed. It was a real find, and I didn’t even know that it was uncommon until I tried to find a scrap Beretta for interior parts and a passenger front fender. But I bought it on September 1st of this year. I love this car, and it is basically my baby.
Hi Sam, thanks for letting us know! I took these pics in Pinconning a couple of years ago. 1995 and 1996 Beretta/Corsicas were identical, so I decided to err on the side of it being newer. I’m glad to hear you are enjoying it.
I’m curious though, how did you find our story here???
Sams dad here we we’re on line looking at them she wants to dress it up some her friends kinda pick on her about her old lady car lol, but she picked what I think was the best car she could find 139k 3.1 v6 no rust under neath spotless not even rust on break lines , but we googled 1995 beretta and there it was she seen the bumper sticker on it said dad that’s my car I said ya right got to looking at it and the small dent was there on pass fender ,inside was the Kenwood in the dash n ya the bumper sticker was there kinda fun to see it there , first thing that went wer the white walls lol
I used to live up in Tawas, so this route was well traveled by me. You all definitely have a rare car there, I hope it serves you well 🙂
I owned a new 1988 Beretta. It was unusually nice looking considering most American cars back then looked like s@@@. The interior was airy and comfortable and the 2.8 V6 was peppy. I began having early problems with the engine: oil leaks, water pump, ac compressor failure, spark module failure and even wiper motor failure. The Beretta had strange feeling power brakes. When you applied moderate force to the brakes they almost felt like manual brakes. The car was hard to stop. The steering rack developed problems and the interior and exterior finish degraded over the course of four years. The Beretta was the last American car I ever owned. I’ve owned Mazdas and Hondas and never had a problem with any of them. My current drive is a 2009 Toyota Corolla that’s never had a problem either.
“Never” had a problem? I am always incredulous when it comes to people driving cars and say they have never, ever had a problem. First, what constitutes a “problem” must be defined. I can’t remember where I read this, but there was a blurb about how Dodge had indicated to change the timing belt or whatever when it breaks, but Toyota counted that as “routine maintenance.” So we would consider the same issue to be a “defect” in the Dodge but not in the Toyota?
I also find it hard to believe that your 18 year old Corolla has never had a problem. Did you buy it new? Nothing other than oil changes?
I also would bet that not every car in the service bay area at a Toyota or Honda dealership is only there for oil changes or filter replacements.
Had a brand new 1988 Beretta GT – 5speed Getrag, Red Cloth.
It was a sharp looking car and it drove really well.
However, my experience was just like Dan’s. It ran on 4, 5, and sometimes all 6 cylinders. Two warranty stops at the dealer never remedied that.
The A/C quit after 3 1/2 years.. leak and subsequent seized compressor.
The interior did not hold up at all.
I was always fond of these cars, for their honest, clean and sensible design. They offered a combination of economy car blended with some sportiness. I especially liked it’s rare sister/cousin, the 1989-1991 Corsica 5 door hatchback!
These had some appeal in their day, but Chevy didn’t get the beltline right. It was too low (I know, I know, they ARE much too high today), and the sharp corners at the front and rear edges of the windows looked awkward. I didn’t take much time with this, but here it is with a slightly adjusted beltline.
I’m STILL attracted to these, to this day. Hard for me to think of a better-looking car in that class, at least until the current Cruze or Sonic before its current facelift.
And as I stated above, they were fun to drive. Even the 4-cyl had plenty of scoot and 34mpg wasn’t uncommon highway mileage.
Sadly, and also as stated above, the build quality was just like most GMs of that era – substandard.
Chas108: Agree on the facelift of the Sonic and Cruze.
I saw the Cruze at a customer clinic before it’s release and thought it looked expensive, and the Sonic had great round headlights and distinctive tails.
Sonic was bungled in the re-muddle.
Wrong end of the horse front fender lines and cliched universal tail light design on the Cruze, as well as longer length ruins the new one for me.
I looked at trading my 86 Olds Calais on a Corsica two different times. One was a OHV 4, the other a v6 [used, both].
The V6 transformed the car. The 4 was like driving the N Body Iron Duke [Tech 4] Calais, almost to a T.
I never went through with either. The dealer offered $500 on the Calais which had less than 50,000 miles and which I thought an insult, as the car was immaculate.
The only problem with the Beretta IMHO was the size [my reference points being the Citation and Calais @ 175-178″. The Beretta was right at 185″. Needlessly long] and the name. The name always brought to mind guns or Robert Blake and a parrot.
Still good looking all these years later and the visibility must be vastly superior to current vehicles.
There was also a close out, end of year special on a white new one I considered. A little over $11,000 after all rebates and incentives. It had the Quad Four and a pretty good list of options on it as well.
My friend had one. Red with a 4 cyl. It was OK liking in red, but not an exciting design. Better than the tempo, not as good as acclaim. The inside was cheap ad kind of wierd. It had some really strange cloth that had a wierd texture. It also had those wierd self moving seat belts and odd switches. It was reasonably comfortable for a compact. The 4 cylinder was glacial lyrics slow and loud if you put 5 people in it. I don’t like the back. I don’t know how reliable it was long term. Overall impression is bland and boring and probably not the most reliable thing. Is the sunfire Pontiac a derivative of these? I knew people who drove those. Not my kind of car at all. I feel it’s cheaper and nicer to drive a fulsized v8 rearwheel drive car. You spend the same and would rather it go to gas vs repairs.
I just saw 1 of these for sale recently on a local Craigslist, and in typical CL fashion, the ad is light on details (like which engine or transmission it has), but since it looks similar to this car, I’ll guess it has a 4 cylinder engine with automatic transmission.
Never owned or drove a Beretta but my father and 1 brother had several with 4 cylinder and 6 cylinder engines. They are okay cars, in some ways slightly better than the same year Cavalier….but that’s not saying much.
As a previous poster has pointed out, the interior develops….”problems” as it ages. The grilles (?) on the ventilation system crumble apart and cannot be glued back together as the design is too fragile. The dashboard design on the featured car has rotary knobs for wiper and light control instead of the more common stalk-mounted control. Eventually the knobs come loose and must be VERY carefully glued back in place. And those “beer tap” door handles break, too.
As I’m writing this, there’s one of these sitting in my neighbors driveway across the street, which has been sitti there for about 5 years. It says SC on the back, which I can’t find any info about, probably some dealer package.
In August of ’97, after I arrived for a Labor-day weekend buisness-trip to Oklahoma City, Enterprise informed me they were out of the Cavalier I had reserved. They offered a red V6 Corsica upgrade at no extra charge, or I could save a bit on a two-door Geo Metro. I wisely chose the Corsica.
Of course the car was fairly new then, so I didn’t have to live with it long-term to endure the biodegrading paint and interiors, or any mechanical ills.
It was a great car for that weekend. Lots of power, great on the freeway, and cold AC!
And as much as I prefer Toyotas, I’ll admit one chronic problem with many ’90s Toyotas is the paint, and broken plastic door-handles!
Happy Motoring, Mark
This post brings back fond memories. I bought a ’90 Beretta GTZ right after graduating from college. In all white, it was a real head-turner, and with the HO Quad 4 and 5 speed, a great performer for the time. 8 months after I bought the GTZ, I won another Beretta in a raffle, this time a base ’91 in red just like the one in the 2nd picture. The new interior was much nicer but I quickly sold that one to help pay for the income tax.
My GTZ and I had a long and happy relationship. It was my first new car and I ran a few SCCA Solo events and track sessions and driving schools at mid-Ohio. People commented about how great the Quad 4 engine sounded at full throttle from outside, although from the driver’s seat that engine was pretty raucous. Despite my frequent flogging of it, the Beretta was pretty trouble free, with no major problems, a nice surprise for GM cars at that time. I sold it after 6 years and lots of great memories.
Properly equipped (V6 engine, 4 speed automatic tranny, stiffer aftermarket KYB struts/shocks, better-than-stock tires), the unique-to-Chevy coupes were not all that bad of a choice, given the time period.
A friend of mine had one, equipped as I have described above. I found it a surprisingly satisfying car to drive. With it’s slowly burning out rear muffler/resonator, the V6 engine gave a low pitched, pleasing growl when you stomped it.
Even with this coupe’s generous window area, GM’s typically excellent HVAC proved effective even here in hot & humid New Orleans.
That type of door handle in the Alfa Romeo 156 caused a big fuss, but GM used it long before and it’s totally unknown outside US! If GMB have brought the Beretta to Brazil to replace the Chevrolet Comodoro coupé I bet it would sell as hot cake!
The Beretta and Corsica were certainly better looking, maybe even sporty if compared to the dumb-looking Chevy Citation.
As for the ‘CC effect’, late this morning, I needed to visit my local Pep-Boys auto-parts store, and parked in a space to the right of me was a faded silver Chevy Beretta!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Ah the Beretta
I have not seen one of those in years. I had a 1990 for about 3 years from 2000-2003 and it was well equipped with power everything. It was a manual transmission car. i bought it from a mechanic at the first dealership I worked at. It was a former customer’s who had it towed in due to a blown head gasket. On the 2.0/2.2l engines this was common and required a replacement head. The guy had all the parts for it but lost interest so I gave him $700 for the car and on my day off I put the new head on and put everything back together. It was a good car for commuter purposes.
I wanted a 1988 Beretta so bad as a first year college student! In my then naivite I never would have suspected it was just a two-door Corsica. It looked so futuristic to me, along with the larger Olds Cutlass Supreme and Buick Regal of those model years.
I admired, and still do, the ‘low-sill’ window belt line trend at GM in the late 1980s – especially after seeing where beltlines went -skyward! – on cars from the late 2000s onward. I once rode in a 1991 Corsica, and while I felt the view outward was fine, I never got to experience the effect of the added visibility as a driver of one.
Looking back at cars like these, it makes today’s typical bread and butter sedan look like one of those cartoonish renderings you might see in pencil on a classroom desk back in high school – with giant wheels tilted in at the tops, rear end up and nose within inches of the pavement, and slits for windows – Bbbblech!
My perception of passenger automobiles manufactured after 2010….