This road test will interest many of you, given the comments to the X-cars’ post.
This was written while R&T still hailed the X-cars, which explains the sympathetic text… Again from 1980 February issue:
I knew there was a reason I stopped reading car magazines.
I dropped car and cycle mags at about the same time; a car mag article about a BMW vs it’s new, virtually indistinguishable replacement breathlessly blathered on about such minutia as the windshield being angled one more degree, and of course the cycle mag’s endless coverage of the latest crotch rocket’s “improvements” over the last model which read like there wasn’t a single nut or bolt or angle of anything carried over and the new one has hollow camshafts while last year’s P.O.S. is saddled with those horribly obsolete solid shafts.
And then there’s the advertising- more voluminous than that of the Sunday paper. Bleah.
Me too. All car / motorcycle magazines do anymore is swallow the choad of the manufacturer that pays for the airfare, and the 5 star hotel room. Hookers might be provided.
At one time in the ’80s and ’90s I subscribed to the 4 -5 most well-known auto magazines and, except for the ads, generally read them cover to cover. However, I let my subscriptions expire years ago in spite of nearly free renewal offers that went on for months. There was no point in having them sent to my house even for free (or next to it) if all I did was hold onto them with the intention of at least leafing through them at some point, but in the end throwing them away unread. Certainly the advent of the Internet and information-on-demand had something to do with it, but I also got tired of their schtick. Maybe it was partly a matter of growing up, but to me their articles became increasingly shallow and unreadable. Too much of their focus seemed to be on vehicles as vanity items or status symbols, and I have no interest in spending tens of thousands of dollars in an attempt to satisfy some inner need to “turn heads”.
Indeed, R&T was sure slobbering it on thick for the General
More evidence of the X-bodies being rushed into production. The poor driveability they complain of was routine then, but the hyperactive steering, braking wierdness and the “invisible hand” pushing the front end of the car around all should have been addressed in R&D.
This story acknowledges the handling, braking, and qualify issues that plagued the early Xes, but this has to be the first time that anyone has called the Iron Duke smooth. Chrysler gets made fun of a bit for the K cars, but they were infinitely preferable to the X.
I was all-too familiar with the “invisible hand” operating in my ’80 Skylark V6. I’ve always assumed it was because the whole front subframe was attached to the body with overly-soft rubber mounts, which allowed it move under torque, creating a whole new level of torque steer. It felt like the car had two main components: the body and the drive train/front suspension/wheels. And they often did not agree as to what the program was.
Also, that 0-60 time for the Iron Duke and the automatic seems suspiciously fast. But then ‘ringers’ were almost inevitable in cars provided by the manufacturers. Anybody have a CR on a similar X Body?
Also for the first 2 model years the steering rack was mounted to the firewall on the body which I think only made matters worse. This was corrected for the ’82 model year when the rack was moved to the front subframe, at least then all the steering, drive and suspension components were tied together somewhat better. The A-bodies never inherited this flaw, they had the relocated steering gear from the start.
The A-bodies still had a weird disconnected feel in the front end, something that the H-body ’92 LeSabre mom had and the 04 Rendezvous that I’ve got now have in common. I had an 86 6000-STE so I’m familar with the odd nose-heavy feel these cars have.
I much preferred driving my 76/77 Chevelles, the 00 Contour, and my beloved 95 Explorer to the GM X platform derivatives.
Well I remember my ’84 6000 being quite loose in the steering dept. but since the car was more than 10 years old at the time I assumed it was just age. Maybe it was this way from the start? It would be interesting to compare an ’80 or ’81 model with the ’82 to see how much difference this steering change really made.
The later A Bodies were a lot better, when better rack location and materials made for better steering feel. My 1989 Ciera FE3, although it looked awful, actually handled quite well, but as is always typical of the General, it took like a decade to sort things out.
The V-6 X cars were somewhat better, since the disconnected feel was caused by overly soft mounts and said mounts were like jelly for Iron Puke. I remember test driving a very early stripped Citation Club Coupe with the V-6, four on the floor and a bench seat, which my dad was thinking of buying. The steering seemed disconnected from the rest of the car. The shifter felt like an automatic, there was no feel of the gears clicking in.
He went inside and ordered an Impala.
I had an ’83 A-body (Celebrity) I drove as a work car for eight years and don’t recall noticing any weirdness in the front end, but torque effects may have been mitigated by the fact it was an anemic four banger. It was cheaply made and the paint fell off it like so many other GM products of the ’80s and ’90s, but it was fairly reliable and simple. I later owned a ’92 A-body (Ciera S wagon) purchased like-new used with very low mileage, and it was a big improvement over the ’83 on many levels. It had the 3.3 V-6 and was plenty peppy for a grocery getter, but I never noticed any torque steer or drivability issues, at least compared to other cars of the era. Perhaps more surprisingly, the (clearcoat) paint actually stayed on it and still looked great when I reluctantly sold it with only 72k miles in 2004.
Anybody have a CR on a similar X Body?
I don’t have a full road test. The 82 CR auto issue says “the fuel-injected 2.5 liter four started quickly and ran smoothly. the automatic transmission shifted smoothly. This front wheel drive model handled well. Very good brakes”
Amazing what a couple years of using customers as beta testers can do for a car.
Automobile-catalog.com gives the 0-60 for a 2.5L Citation as 12.2 with a stick and 14.6 with the automatic.
The 1982 was the first year of the updated Iron Puke, which was rechristened “Tech IV.” The really big innovation was roller lifters and a serpentine belt, which reduced NVH considerably and TBI, which massively improved drivability. Even GM couldn’t make carbs work anymore, and who would want to go back to them?
The Tech IV was a lot smoother than the Duke. It was still a crude lump, but less crude.
I recall in that CR 0-60 and quarter mile times were always significantly slower than the car magazines. I also noted that Car & Driver usually, but not always, was a few tenths quicker than the same car in Road and Track.
I also recall that, at 17, when I was able to have access to either of the family cars, I’d do a 5-60 test (many years before Car & Driver started), and I struggled to hit the CR time for our Fairmont 4-speed, which gave me some perspective, either my driving skills needed improvement, OR the C/D drivers were really good!
As to this Phoenix Road Test, great pick, excellent topic. I think this R&T test was as objective as it got–I don’t recall C/D commenting on the loose connection between the drivetrain and the car. I do recall reading some where, either C/D or CR, that the rear end tended to “come out” in hard braking.
The strongest memory I have of my father’s Citation is how dead the thing felt. dead steering, dead performance. I never before or after drove anything which was like this. How on earth could they produce these after having studied the Lancia Beta, the world’s best handling FWD sedan back then is beyond me.
They didn’t really “study” the Lancia Beta; the just used it as a test mule to mount their own chassis and drive train because it was the right size. The Beta did not have a front subframe like the X cars. GM did that to make them quiet and smooth like a big American car.
Paul, that to me is even more damning. To look at the Beta as no more than something to gut out is heresy. They could have garnered a thing or two for sure (just not how to rust proof a car).
I’m sure the Beta handled well, but what’s your basis for saying it was the world’s best handling FWD sedan? I can think of some other good candidates.
I have the Consumer Guide Auto Test ’80, where they tested a 1980 Phoenix 4-door hatchback with the Iron Duke and Automatic. Like all of their cars, I assume it was sourced from a dealer. 0-60 acceleration took 15.8 seconds on their test car, so noticeably slower. However, 60-0 braking was 156 feet, so similar to the Road & Track results.
To add a little more perspective, from the same issue of CG Auto Test ’80, here are the other X-car test results:
Buick Skylark 4-door sedan, I-4, 4-speed manual, 0-60 acceleration: 13.7 seconds, 60-0 braking: 164 feet.
Chevrolet Citation 2-door hatchback, V6, 4-speed manual, 0-60 acceleration: 13.1 seconds, 60-0 braking: 144 feet.
Oldsmobile Omega 4-door sedan, V6, 4-speed manual, 0-60 acceleration: 11.0 seconds, 60-0 braking: 146 feet.
Also note that the weights of the test cars were relatively similar (149 pounds variance from lightest to heaviest of CG’s test cars), with the lightest being the Buick at 2506 pounds, then the Citation at 2533 pounds, the Phoenix at 2551 pounds, and the heaviest (and fastest) being the Omega at 2655 pounds. So there was a fair amount of variance in the acceleration results, even though all cars were fitted with “corporate” drivetrains.
I too was baffled that R&T was able to rip off a 12.1 0-60 time with the Iron Duke and automatic. I figured the acceleration specs would more closely approximate the Pontiac Phoenix that Consumer Guide tested that GN referenced above.
That sounds about right. The Phoenix 2.5 automatic being quicker than the Citation V6 stick is absurd. That engine had obviously been massaged.
1980 Citation from regular 80 model year, not early 79 model.
1981 1st page
Spec page…hope these help..and you get them.
Thanks! 0-60 in 16 seconds sounds much more like reality.
The soft engine mounts on my Citation broke causing the engine to twist and beat the water pump housing into nothing. That car was one wild ride.
“…acceleration reasonably brisk: 0-60 mph in 12.1 seconds”
How times have changed. To find something that slow today I don’t believe is even possible.
If you want a 12.1 0-60 to seem fast, try a 2015 Prius C.
The Prius C is faster: 0-60 in 10.4.
I always thought the Pontiac version was the best looking of all the X’s, too bad the quality was so abysmal and the design so flawed. I also didn’t like the orangey-red instrument panel lighting, which was common across Pontiac in the 80s. My ’84 6000 had that and it just hurt my eyes a night.
My cure 98 grand am still has the red/orange lights. They don’t hurt my eyes But I don’t drive long trips at night.
*current* and my 95 grand am had them too. How long did pontiacs use the red lights on the dash?
Right until the brand was discontinued, I believe. My 2008 G5 has the red lights.
Fun fact, the very last year G6’s have white LED’s in the gauge cluster and the other interior lights are all white.
I know Vibes had them in ’03 MY and then switched to a red and blue/white combo that Toyota Matrixes also had.
The variations of instrument lighting color through the years seems like it would be another topic worth of CC exploration. Some recent manufacturers have even gone so far as to allow the instrument lighting to be user adjustable. I’ve had vehicles with red, blue, and white, and the white lighting always seems to be the most easily readable at night, while the others show no appreciable difference as being easier on the eyes, even after long distances.
The theory of using softer lighting shades sounds good, except for the fact that the bright white light of oncoming traffic and/or street lighting essentially negates any benefit.
Back in the 80’s I got a ride in a friends Pontiac T1000 and to all you know it all who says T1000’s were just Chevetts with a split grill Pontiac went to the bother of using red gauge lights 🙂 I thought the red gauge lights were inspired by Naval movies–using red lights to not spoil night vision.
Actually, they were copying BMW, no matter what else they claimed.
It can be two things. While it certainly was most likely to copy BMW, BMW’s reason was to copy naval and aviation practice, which was to use red lighting to preserve night vision. That said, as has been mentioned below, this benefit is negated if you’re coming upon a lot of other cars or are in a well-lit area. There’s a LOT less light at night at sea or at altitude, so it’s critical there
What I have seen criticized is the use of red or orange needles on orange gauges. I’ve personally not seen it myself as all of my 1980s Mazdas had white needles on orange gauges.
I’ve never understood the complaints of red or orange instruments causing eye strain; the research is pretty clear that light toward the red end of the spectrum is much less disruptive to night vision than the blue end, and my experiences driving some cars with blue lighting (*cough*VW*cough) from the early 2000s bears this out.
Maybe the brightness was set too high? I know that if I’m in an area with little traffic or ambient light, I turn the brightness way down on my instrument panel, and while light green works well here, I think the red and orange lighting remains legible to me at lower brightness.
Right now, my biggest pet peeve has been the use of LCDs for center screens and now instrument panels. LCDs, unless they’re totally shut off, do no have dark blacks; they always maintain a strange gray illumination that I find really bothersome at night. They really need to move these screens to technologies like OLED, which has much blacker blacks.
My understanding is that Pontiac was imitating BMW with their red cockpit lighting. I don’t really care what color the lights are, as long as I can see the instruments…my only beef is that it’s tough, if not impossible to get the display on an aftermarket stereo to match the color of the existing instruments.
I did like SAAB’s old set up where you could kill everything but the speedometer backlight, unless a warning light came on…made for relaxed nighttime driving. Unfortunately, with the SAABs I owned, you could count on warning lights popping on unexpectedly.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I have real trouble reading red and to a lesser degree Orange instumentation. I’ve found white or the light green favoured by a lot of Japanese makes to be the best.
Did the 1980 Phoenix already have the orange instrument lighting? My 1985 Sunbird had it, but I didn’t realize they were doing it that early. I’m guessing it started with Firebird (or maybe Fiero) and then spread to other models. I’m pretty sure the 1980 Bonneville/Catalina, LeMans and Grand Prix didn’t have orange lighting.
Actually, the first Pontiac with red instrument lights was the 1979 10th Anniversary Trans Am, it filtered to the 1980-81 Turbo Trans Ams, but I think the lesser Firebirds and Esprits still made due with white illumination.
The 1982 Firebird had red dash lighting, so did the new 6000 and J2000, it was added to the Phoenix then too, Fieros had it from the start, though other cars didn’t get them until later or at all, I’m not sure if the non F-body RWD Pontiacs(Bonneville-Grand Prix-Parisenne) ever got it at all.
I know the 2 Grand Prix’s from that vintage that I’ve ever driven didn’t have them in 81 or 82, and I recall seeing 83-85 vintage Grand Prixs at the Pontiac dealer I worked at, and neither one of those had it either.
A 2.5 Phoenix would have blown away the auto 4000 while still being much cheaper and quieter. No doubt why they held off on the auto until the five could be stuffed in. Perhaps the 2nd gen Passat/4000 could have learned a few things from the General.
People underestimate what a challenge it was to shrink on the outside while growing on the inside and ratcheting up mileage while maintaining acceleration and making the car quieter. These cars were an achievement and the later As proved how reliable they could be. When exactly did the Passat become reliable?
A four speed is not offered in California because the engine stalls out. A clutch would actually be better to keep a engine that stalls out running. The performance chart rates brakes “good”. The text complains of mild to moderate slewing, rear lock up, poor pedal modulation and long 290 ft stop from 80 mph. This kind of reporting is why I haven’t botherd with car magazine subscriptions for many years.
The text complains of mild to moderate slewing, rear lock up,
The 80s were recalled for a dangerous propensity to rear lockup.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4— Tens of thousands of 1980 General Motors Xcars now on the road have a hazardous tendency to lock their rear brakes, two Government tests indicate.
GM tried to save money by not using a proper load sensing rear brake proportioning valve. And, thanks to CC’ers finding old tests in other magazines, GM appears to have supplied Road and Track with an engine that was about 3 seconds faster 0-60 than others bought off the lot could achieve.
What I’d like to know is how they did it.
There were some modifications done to give the Indy Pace Car Fiero some extra power. Perhaps they did some of those things to the car they gave to the magazine for testing?
This owner’s 1980 Omega with the brake problem nearly killed him:
There is a great story in this joe sherlock blog where the author tows his ’67 Beetle with his new ’76 Scirocco along with his family from New Jersey to Corvallis, Oregon. Click on the Scirocco story link on the Bad Omega story.
In early ’81, I bought a loaded new V-8 Caprice and soon after delivery returned to the dealer service department to have a few “we owe” items taken care of. While waiting in the showroom, my salesman saw me looking at new Citation, which was the first one I had seen close up. I had heard and seen a lot about them (Motor Trend Car of the Year!) but I had no interest in owning one, and had not looked at them when I bought my Caprice. I asked a few questions about it, and since it was in the middle of a weekday and business was slow, he asked me if I wanted to drive one. Being bored, I accepted, and he gave me the keys to a new Citation sitting outside. I don’t remember what engine that particular Citation had in it or if it was an ’81 or a leftover ’80, but I was shocked at how poorly it drove. Other than possibly the amount of interior room and outside visibility, there was nothing good about it. It felt cheap and plasticky, the engine felt and sounded rough and wheezy, the steering and suspension seemed oddly disconnected, and the brakes were grabby and nonlinear. To me, it felt like an early pre-production test mule that hadn’t been fully sorted out, and I couldn’t believe they would put such a poorly engineered and/or assembled mess into production. It made me appreciate my Caprice even more that I already did, and I was very glad to drive it home instead of that Citation.
Looks like a mini Grand Prix, so it’s still hard to believe that these sold as poorly as they did.
If nothing else, it’s amazing that a stopping distance of 290 feet didn’t attract Ralph Nader’s attention. Then when you add in the feeling of being on the outside edge of control with that squirrelly steering…..
Believe it or not, I have nothing but good memories of my Phoenix.
The Dodge Phoenix I presume?
’82 or newer? The X-cars were typical GM in that they got fixed, slowly but surely, so that towards the end of the model run they were the cars they should’ve been all along.
In 81 a friend of mine would periodically bring his girlfriend’s new v6 Phoenix in for service where l worked. Sometimes we would hang out together after work. One night we’re in her Phoenix. He had discovered something about that car he wanted to show me. On a deserted stretch of road traveling 30-35 mph he would smack the brake pedal and the rear brakes would instantly lock up. With a little left steering input it would do a perfect 180 degree spin out ,Hollywood stunt driver style coming to a stop in the opposite lane. To prove this was no fluke this process was repeated a number of times. Each time ending in tire smoke and laughter of the crazy young hoons we were at the time. This was before the recall and our first experience in FWD. My friend said “How in the hell can they sell a new car like this?”
On a deserted stretch of road traveling 30-35 mph he would smack the brake pedal and the rear brakes would instantly lock up.
My POS 78 Merc Zephyr was about the same. Anything sharper than a normal level of braking would lock the rears and the rear would slide out to the left. The couple times it did that, there was no one in the neighboring lane.
On the other hand, the Renault that replaced the Zephyr had a proportioning valve linked to the rear suspension, so rear braking force varied with load. The one time I had to really jump on the binders, the car stopped dead straight, which was fortunate, because the neighboring lane was full of stopped cars that would have been sideswiped if I had been in the Zephyr.
I’m wondering when GM ever fixed this. Certainly not in 1982. I had a 1989 Celebrity and a 1990 6000, both did this. Once I learned about the 6000 STE rear disc brake swap, I did that to both. And two more A-bodies after that.
Anyone else notice that the X11 performance version got two (2) better mpg’s than the 4? (24 vs. 22)
It truly is amazing how a company can build something brilliant like the ’66 Toronado, then produce udder rubbish like these, which, in the grand scheme of things, was not that far apart, time wise. Complete and total waste of metal the X-Cars were. And yes, the subframe did what ever it wanted to do.
Brakes that worked were optional on the ’66 Toronado.
There has been a lot written about terrible build quality in many recent (an really all) CC articles. Other than the fact that they could get away with it does anyone have an in depth analysis of why in the world the Big 3 did not fix the problem? Only when the precipitous loss of market to the Japanese forced their hands did they react. I know there have been several books on the subject. I wonder if there is a an article that really explains what was going on? If so please post it or at least a link. Thanks.
This article by a former GM engineer and the 250+ comments would be a good place to start. There’s a lot of info and perspective in it:
I have read the article and it is interesting. I agree with much of what he said. In particular I do think the big three were overwhelmed after the oil embargo (1973) with the fuel consumption standard on top of emissions standards. Spending enough to balance the national budget is all very well and good, but spending enough to pay off the national debt would really be something.
One thing that I do disagree with is what the import market might have been without the oil crisis. Imports were gaining market share during the 50’s and even more in the 60’s, so my opinion is that they would have continued to gain. Imports were found to be quality cars by those who bought them, so there was no stopping them.
I forget what the article states, but I’m wondering if there is any mention of the un-fireable workers showing up stoned and drunk to work to then throw screws and nuts down into inaccessible areas of the cars to create permanent rattles, while getting more stoned and drunk as the day went on…
I wonder if that had anything to do with any of the issues?
Excellent suggestion Many thanks I am also interested in why quality collapsed in the 1950s when the Big 3 really did not have to let that happen.
Buick’s quality collapsed because they were building far too many cars for the factory capacity. When you build 700,000 cars in factories designed for 400,000 something has to give.
If any cars can make a good case for walking, the X cars can.
I’d say “kill it with fire”, but it would probably just come back.
Unlovable front end styling, Chevy did it so much better.
I have spoken before in this blog of my ’80 Phoenix, bought new. The Californians were lucky to be denied the 4-speed/4 cylinder.
“Take the 405 north, hang a careful right onto Ronald Reagan so you don’t spin, and hold the shifter in 4th when you accelerate onto 5 so it doesn’t jump out of gear.”
At the time, I wanted to like the engine because I was taken in by it’s faked nickname. Mine had to be replaced short of 100K. The car handled like the Warner Bros. bulldog cartoon character, Marc Anthony, who sometimes ran only on his front legs.
For few times [back in the day] when this kinda Phoenix had been a bit easier purchase than now even that I looked on at least a dozen of them, for different reasons I had never made to own one… Almost all of those were overused and in salvage condition… Desperately I had found a same gen Skylark 2.8 Litre V6 in drivable condition which proved that this GM line might be a comfortable and quite reliable model. Anyway Buick’s appearance had not matched my taste then…
Earlier today I’ve seen a Pontiac Phoenix hatchback driving around a country road and the car appears to be in good shape.
Price as tested was 58% higher than base. Got only 22 MPG on 91 octane gas. Judged against an Audi 4000 it was more expensive to buy and run, but I wonder which would have been the better car until the warranty ran out.
That’s a tough one. Both would inevitably break, but the X-body would be theoretically be cheaper to repair and enjoy greater parts availability.
One advantage in Audi’s favor is it has a nicer interior to sit in while waiting for the tow truck. Another would be resale value would be greater with the Audi.
In the early nineties a lot of low-income folks the Xes and Hyundai Ponys. A friend’s dad had both. An ’80 Citation (with the sideways deck) and an ’84 Pony.
The Pony actually gave them good service. In fact, most people seemed to like their Pony and had minimal problems.
On the other hand, the Citation spent much time at the nearby Simmons Tire undergoing repairs. After a few years, the dad simply gave it to the shop. When I asked him why he didn’t sell it he shrugged and said that the mechanics did a lot of free work to it and fixed a lot of bugs. His reason didn’t really make sense to me and still doesn’t. It was still worth a few hundred bucks.
Presumably, it was henceforth used as a courtesy car, as many were.
Im beginning to see why sales dropped off after the initial excitement nobody wanted a second one slow off the mark poorly adjusted automatic choke so the engine stumbles making it even slower not much in the braking department and handling was better than some land yachts but still awfull unless the road was pool table smooth and weird steering and this was a press car jesus how bad were the regular production cars people actually bought.
It was just too much to expect a Pontiac buyer to simply jump from a 1978 LeMans to a Phoenix. GM expected their return customers to go from RWD to FWD, from intermediate sized car with a long hood, transmission hump and vinyl roof to THIS?
GM convinced itself that what they did with the X-Cars was so awesome that none of their traditional buyers would have a problem. Hubris. Corporate hubris. What GM did here was dramatic and anyone who was a traditional brand customer shouldn’t have been assumed to embrace the X-Car.
The gas shock that hit during this time didn’t last, but the investment GM made here was so enormous it needed to take a generation to pay off. Within a couple of years, buyers who held off getting a FWD X-Car was ready for a larger car, but GM was committed to the same engineering, same design and same look regardless of division or brand. GM lost those buyers. Worse, the damage of the X-Car in the market was so well known, that even GM couldn’t sell even their larger FWD cars.
From this –
I know a family who went from a 1976 LeMans to a 1977 Ventura to a 1979 Mazda GLC wagon to a 1982 Oldsmobile Firenza to a 1985 Caprice, 1987 Delta 88, 1990 Cutlass Ciera, and 1992 and 1997 Devilles before dying in 2009. So people did make some drastic changes during that era of high fuel prices. I just wonder if GM and Ford’s plans to go entirely EV by 2035 will end up turning off buyers the same way?
The Gas Crisis I & II, even more so in 1979-81, made many trade in 70’s big cars for compacts, in a panic.
Relatives traded a ’75 Cordoba for ’79 Chevette and were “relieved” to be able to “save gas”. Later in ’84, they got Nissan Stanza and then Maxima. This was repeated over and over with other car owners.
While some who had bad experience with small GM X/T/J cars went back to Caprices, or trucks*, many went to Asian cars and never looked back.
*Whole different story
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