Road and Track was a champion for small and efficient cars from way back. So it may not be surprising to see them calling the Chevette “An impressive new small car from Chevrolet”. Obviously, there’s a tendency for journalists to be optimistic and positive regarding new car introductions, and it can be hard to properly gauge one in lieu of more seat time and comparisons. And realistically, for late 1975, the Chevette, although no VW Rabbit in terms of its technical ambitions, was pretty much representative of many small cars at the time, excepting the more ambitious European ones.
Well, compared to the small American cars that most of us had experience with up to that time (Pinto and Vega) the Chevette was a giant leap forward in space-efficiency. And, for Chevrolet customers, of quality and durability as well. The Chevette may not have been the greatest thing on the road in the mid 1970s, but it was a darned sight better than the disaster that had been named Vega.
And in an era when Toyota, Datsun and Honda dealers were not all that well distributed through the country, a pretty-good car that could be serviced out in the boonies was not a bad thing.
I am not a huge fan of 1970s GM, but I think they got a lot right with the Chevette.
I agree. The Chevette was a perfectly good car for its time, and a revelation for domestic car buyers after the disaster that was the Vega. Given that the Vega disaster was still fresh on everyone’s mind, Chevrolet really did go the extra mile to ensure that customers were not disappointed in the reliability and rust-proofing of the Chevette.
The main sin GM committed with this car was keeping it on the market for too long. It should have been replaced with an all-new, front-wheel-drive version by 1981.
But for 1976, this was a perfectly good small car.
Or maybe bring others improvements like a bigger gas engine or turbo-Chevette or even an AWD setup.
In Brazil, they did lots of improvements to the Chevette who had soldiered more longer. http://vauxpedianet.uk2sitebuilder.com/vauxhall-t-car—aka-chevrolet-chevette-brazil
I disagree, I had 3 in the early 80’s, a 77 Scooter which couldn’t break 65 mph on level ground, then an 82 4-door which was much better until it kept breaking timing belts and finally an 80 4-door with air conditioning and automatic transmission
Why someone thought it was a good idea to put air conditioning with an automatic transmission on one of those gutless engines is beyond me, it also had a nasty habit of killing the alternator on long trips usually at the wrong places. I’ve never bought another GM car since
It was a fine car for its time, its just that GM kept it in production too long without a small FWD successor
I read the spec sheet, and am amazed at how awful this car wound up being.
The Chevette was the car the Vega should’ve been in the first place. It overstayed its’ welcome and should’ve been replaced by ’83 or so at the latest but was a “good used car”, usually for less than anything else in the ’90s.
Paul, do you have that issue of Road & Track, or just find it online? Unfortunately it disappeared from my collection years ago. Elsewhere in that edition there’s an article about one of their editors’ foray into SCCA Showroom Stock racing in a Datsun 710, and one of the photos in the article, of the car making an off course excursion at Laguna Seca, was an unsolicited submission of mine. I think they paid me $5 for it. I was 18 at the time and that was real money then 🙂
I have the issue. But I’m on the road for a week. If I don’t remember, shoot me an email at the Contact form next week or so, and I’ll dig it up.
When the Chevette landed in showrooms I was still a rabid Ford fan, and I was also a definitely anti-Japanese car kind of guy. To me, the Chevette looked good, but it hit right between the introductions of the VW Rabbit and the Ford Fiesta.
I never drove a Chevette, but drove several gas Rabbits and 1 diesel Rabbit, owned an Audi Fox, and eventually owned a Ford Fiesta. The Chevette may have been a decent car for the “average” Chevy customer, but the average Chevy customer in 1975 (probably) didn’t care about things like FWD as much as they cared about the various trim packages. And they certainly didn’t care all that much about driving dynamics.
And yes, it should have been replaced by the early 80s when all the major competition moved on to their 2nd generation of FWD small cars.
The early Rabbits had lots of bugs as VW switched over to front-wheel-drive, while the Fiesta wasn’t available with an automatic transmission in this country.
By 1978, the word was out regarding VW’s reliability problems, while the lack of an automatic transmission option meant that the Fiesta never made many shopping lists. Given those two factors, the Chevette made sense to a fair number of small-car shoppers in the late 1970s.
By 1978 most of the Rabbit’s reliability issues had been addressed, especially with the introduction of Bosch fuel injection. This made the VW the best performing small car on the market winning virtually every comparison.
The downfall for the Rabbit was first price….Due to exchange rates, German cars grew more and more expensive and then in an effort to stabilize prices the opening of the Westmoreland PA plant here in America. Build quality and materials quality plummeted and so did Vw’s reputation.
Yes I had a used Westmoreland Rabbit in the mid 80’s. The Second worst car I have ever owned. (First was a very beat up Dodge Omni, which I’m still not over) I swore the rabbit was Germany’s revenge for loosing the war..twice. EVERYTHING broke on the car, one thing at a time. Car needed to have a bullet through it’s engine block and put down like a horse.
In actuality Bosch k-Jetronic F.I. brought new sets of reliability issues to the Rabbit until sorted out later. My 1977 F.I. Rabbit (aka Golf for the rest of the world) experienced two under the hood fuel injection fires as well as unfortunately repeated routine electrical failures/alternator failures before I was able to escape Rabbit ownership in a less than a year gruesome ownership experience. I never knew day by day if the unreliable Rabbit would get me to work. It was a heady Las Vegas type gamble every day, the House and the Rabbit always won, and I typically, too often lost the bet.
Additionally I came to hate the Rabbit’s on throttle torque steer and power on wheel hop ( probably a variant of a bunny hop and thereby maybe appropriate for a rabbit). The Rabbit was the worst car of my lifetime, nicknamed “The Yellow Turd”.
I had previously owned an Opel GT(smile) for the six years prior to my Rabbit misadventure (Ugh). Because of my favorable Opel experience, when it became very obvious that the Rabbit had to go, I test drove and actually enjoyed the Chevette, and other than feeling like a relatively underpowered Opel, I seriously considered purchase, and had no doubt that the Chevette would have been a much better experience than the Rabbit.
The Chevette had a relatively light SOHC engine with a typical GM type iron block and iron head with an improved cross flow design compared to the reverse flow Opel CIH engine and the reverse flow Vega engine. Additionally it had engine reliability shaming the Vega.
However, in the automotive world, product is king, and timing is everything. Rear drive small cars, no matter how good and reliable, were being challenged by new front wheel drive Asian products exemplified by the Honda Civic and the Honda Accord, newly introduced in 1976. The rear drive Chevette and others like it were being considered technologically rearguard in the automotive press by the mid to late ’70’s.
Instead of purchasing the Chevette, I opted to test drive and then put my name on the waiting list ( hard to imagine now, but true in 1976 and 1977) to buy a 1977 Honda Accord, the first of many Honda products in my family, and I never looked back at GM products for decades.
Additionally VW lost me for a lifetime. Some day ask me about my older son’s 2002 Jetta for amusing(?) stories of another rolling disaster. My son has learned his versions of my old VW lessons.
The Chevette was not a bad car, but timing left it behind by superior, concurrent FWD competitors. Better that the Chevette or another Opel product had been introduced by GM in the fall 1969 in place of the disastrous Vega. If introduced even five years earlier, I have no doubt that we would have considered the Chevette one of GM’s better hits, especially in the environment of the first oil embargo in 1973. As I said, timing is everything. Technology marched on, and the Chevette was left behind, especially in the later years.
I had a 1983 Chevette Scooter coupe back in the late 1990’s. It was a good car for what it was.
If you were looking for a fast sports car like feel, then this was the wrong car for you. But if you were looking for a gas friendly commuter car that did have a good amount of room to carry things and was somewhat reliable then the Chevette was a good car for you.
They sold well new (up till about 1985) and they made excellent second cars, commuter cars and first cars for a new drivers.
I bought mine to use as a cheap gas friendly commuter car. It served me well. There were some not so rosy things about it. The car was slow. It did keep up with traffic well but god help you if you were coming off an off ramp and trying to beat out another car. The car had ice cold AC but when you turned it on, the car would not go higher then 40mph.
Still in my case there were more positives then negatives
Nothing really went bad with my “vette” and the few small things that did go bad on me were easily fixed(parts were very easy to find)
Over the years, I have run into many folks that had a Chevette over the years and all look back on them with fond memories. I miss mine and if I found a good condition used one for a good price I would buy it.
I do think that it should have been replace in 1984 or 1985 or at least the engine should have been updated to fuel injection
I think they were made so long because GM was making a profit on every one due to the tooling having been paid for a long time ago.
GM was scrambling to update the rest of its US product line, which was paying off with record US sales in the mid 80s. They didn’t have a super economy car in the Chevette class, but they had many other smallish cars that were selling very well. The FWD A, C, H, and N cars were big hits.
The article mentions an optional vinyl roof, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Chevette with one. Even Google Images (mostly) draws a blank: I did find this one image of a Chevette with what appears to be a partial vinyl roof (doesn’t cover the C-pillar)
I wondered about that myself. Saw a lot of Chevettes over the years but none with that option. Perhaps it was a pre-production feature dropped at the last minute, or a first-year option that nobody bought and was subsequently axed.
Came here to post the same thing. I’ve never seen a Chevette with a vinyl roof. I also wondered if it was something that was dropped prior to production.
According to the catalogs at http://www.oldcarbrochures.org, the vinyl roof appears to be a 1976-only option.
The vinyl roof is mentioned as an option in the 1976 brochure but not in the brochure for 1977. I remember a lot of Chevettes from my youth, but cannot recall ever seeing one with a vinyl roof (something I cannot say about Pintos). As Paul said above, it was either dropped before many (or any) were made or it was so unpopular the first year that Chevy gave up on it thereafter.
There were two versions of the ’76 Chevette brochure. The one at oldcarbrochures.org is the earlier one which portrayed the Sport (blackout and stripe appearance package) and Rally (mild performance upgrades) models. In the later brochure, the Rally and Sport models were replaced by a single Rally Sport model which combined the features of both packages. I don’t have a revised brochure to look at but am curious if the vinyl roof option was still mentioned. I never saw a vinyl-topped Chevette either (I perused the dealer lots when my family bought one in 1976) and suspect it didn’t make it to production. Does anyone here have production breakout figures for the Rally, Sport, and Rally Sport models? I wonder whether the first two were ever produced, and if they were, when the switchover occurred.
I started college in ’76 and there were very few Chevettes in the parking lot during my 4 years at school. Most of my generation was once bitten (Vega) and twice shy (Chevette) about GM compacts. By this time, Corollas and Datsuns were the major focus with an occasional Mazda or Mustang II thrown in for good measure.
We had a 78 4 door, which turned out to be the first car I ever drove, so I do have some nostalgia for them. It was much larger in back than a Pinto or Vega (having sat in the back of all three). It was lousy in the snow and not happy on the highway, and we had the 3 speed automatic, so it was very slow. The Escort that replaced it seemed like the ultimate in refinement by comparison.
Yes, the 4 door had approx 3″ more leg room in the back seat as opposed to the 2 door [ 30.6 vs 33.5 ] and the visibility and headroom were probably better in the Chevette as opposed to the Pinto, especially.
The 4 door was only 3″ longer than the 2 door, so that added length was put to good use.
As I 14 year old long legged passenger I sat in the back seat of a Gremlin on a trip from IA to PA and back, as well as a 78 Subaru DL 2 door from IA to AZ, so I am still fanatical about rear seat room, even as a driver.
Childhood trauma never quite goes away.
The Chevette didn’t try to be what it wasn’t, and it wasn’t a BMW. It wasn’t meant to be and probably lasted longer under the kind of maintenance the typical American gives his car, than a BMW would have.
It was cheap and cheery and reliable.
Sure, it had its rough edges, but so did anything in its class from Japan when it was introduced. But as the years went on, the Japanese competition became more refined and more advanced, while the General kept playing the same old hand. Perhaps they thought it would be better for the Corporation to save money on research, development and design, and reap short term profits. We have seen the result of that philosophy…it did in the Corporation.
“Sure, it had its rough edges, but so did anything in its class from Japan when it was introduced.”
Couldn’t disagree more…My Dad owned a 1975 and a 1978 Corolla. Both were far superior in features, quality and comparable in price. The Chevette was for those who had to have an American car and refused to buy Japanese. Car for Car the Corolla was vastly superior.
“But as the years went on, the Japanese competition became more refined and more advanced, while the General kept playing the same old hand. Perhaps they thought it would be better for the Corporation to save money on research, development and design, and reap short term profits. We have seen the result of that philosophy…it did in the Corporation.”
The problem is that most of the US corporations still subscribe to that model, 4 or 5 years down the road, I will let the next CEO deal with it. I am out of here with my golden parachute. The days of CEO’s being in place for 20-30 years is long gone. Creative accounting and revolving door CEO’s has replaced the the slow but steady growth and the stability of the past. The 1929 crash was brought on by all these modern ideas. And it hasn’t got much better for most people except the rich. There were crashes before but they only lasted 2-3 years as opposed to the modern ones that just linger on longer..
I’m impressed by the relative Chevette love in the comments. I turned 11 when these hit the showrooms, so they were a bit ahead of my time. By the time I was part of the car buying pubic these had become a punch-line in 1983 when gas was cheap. In the import adverse Midwest, you were most likely to see my cohort driving a Camaro or Monte Carlo, or something similar. The few small car buyers were actually more likely to be in an import than a Chevette, and that’s saying something about how uncompetitive they had become.
As I’ve mentioned before, even by 78 the dealerships weren’t enthusiastic about selling either the Chevette or Fairmont.
Their treatment of my Dad was so shabby he went out the same day and bought a Subaru. His only non domestic car purchase. A definite protest vote via foot and wallet.
The hot rodder in me wonders if the less restrictive exhaust and the larger carb of the 1.6 would have fit the 1.4. The final drive ratio of 3.70:1 with the 4 speed would be much, much more highway friendly than the 4.11:1
Or just swap in the 1.6, it has a slightly larger bore but the same block.
Swap in a Chevy 2.8 V6….. especially the 135 hp version from a Camaro.
They were an easy swap, pretty much straight bolt – in, and used the existing Chevette transmission and accessories.
Even a stock 2.8 greatly improved the Chevette. Back in the 80’s a couple of cam mags discussed the swap. It was so clean and effective, they thought it should be a factory option.
It would had been a good opportunity to create a “Phantom” Chevette SS. 😉
I wonder if a 3.4 liter version would work, or would it over-power the transmission?
I suppose there’s always an S10 five-speed.
I agree that a 2.8L V6 in the Chevette would have made a world of difference. In fact, I think Chevrolet actually did one or two prototypes of a V6 Chevette. All I can figure is that it’s an example of GM simply having very little interest in improving the Chevette, simply because the profit margin was so small. They were more interested in the larger cars where the return was much greater.
One of the car magazines managed to get hold of a Chevette that had gotten a personality transplant from the V6 Blazer, plus a bit of suspension work to keep it between the fences, by a group of GM engineers. A couple of the the guys took it out looking for unsuspecting BMWs or whatever and brought some pretty hilarious stories home with them. Everyone seemed to agree that this is what they should have started with.
One person who would not have agreed was the only guy I knew who owned one, a Vanderbilt Divinity School professor – renowned Augustinian scholar, effective neighborhood activist, beret-wearing peacenik, lovely man in every way, and living proof of my thesis that some cars are actually anti-cars, vehicles specifically designed for drivers who would rather not drive but are forced to by circumstances. G. was NOT a driver, but a born passenger who was forced into being in charge of his car’s progress. I don’t think he had ever had an accident, but riding with him was an exercise in shared misery. He had chosen this wretched conveyance for the same reasons anyone buys Metamucil: yes, it’s dreadful, but it’s good for you. G. and his car shared aspirations, I would say. The notion that driving could be fun would never have occurred to either of them..
For a long time, I’ve wanted to swap a 2.8 MPFI into a Chevette (along with other goodies) and then add tape stripes that mimic those of a Camaro. Presto! Chevette T2.8! 😉
Hooker Headers made a kit to swap a Buick V6 into a Chevette…I saw one a while back with a Grand National turbo V6! Many people have swapped V6-60s, which fit easily. Saw one on the Power Tour in 2010…it had a full 3400 V6/4L60E swap from a Firebird. That engine in that tiny car would move!
I owned a Vega GT during the early Chevette years and while I would have appreciated rack and pinion steering, better rear axle location, and a roomier backseat (not to mention an aluminum head and iron block), what killed any interest in the Chevette for me was the lack of any sporty configuration. Vega had the GT (and Cosworth!) and Corolla the SR5, and within a few years there was the Escort GT, VW GTI, and Omni GLH, but Chevy neglected that sporty, economical, youth side of the market. Maybe not quite a deadly sin, but bad planning in my opinion.
Did you even read the article? Not that I’m a cheerleader for the Chevette, but there was a “performance” model of the Chevette as outlined in the article under Optional Equipment. The Rally 1.6 included the “larger” 1.6 liter engine, a rear anti roll bar, turbine-style wheelcovers, and had the option of adding a tachometer and a few other gauges. It was no equivalent to the Rabbit GTi, but apparently no one bought into a “performance” Chevette, as it was discontinued after 2-3 years.
1.6 ‘performance’ model? – nah, you want one of these:
I had a 1980 Chevette 4 door, bought in 1985 for 500 bucks. It wasn’t great, and wasn’t bad. It got you there, just not quickly. I’ll always remember the hubcaps, changing a flat in the rain, I couldn’t get the stupid F#!*%ng hubcap off. They are a two piece affair consisting of a dog dish with a trim ring. Installed it looks like one piece. It is shown on the woody pictured above. Prying on the trim ring won’t get it off. I moved on to a Plymouth Valiant after the ‘vette which felt like a Rolls Royce by comparison and got better mileage.
I remember those weird dog dish/trim ring combos that looked like full wheel covers; after prying the dog dish off, the surround trim would just fall off the wheel. The ’80 model was the last to use them; the ’81 had styled steel wheels with center caps surrounding the lug nuts.
I made the mistake of buying a new 1976 1.6L. 4 spd. Firethorn (red metallic) Chevette. It rapidly earned the nickname SHOVEit….one of the WORST POS cars I’ve ever had out of 40+ autos I’ve owned.
From the third day of ownership it had problems. Definitely was a very poor Winter car; my 4 Novas were better! GM’s ser4vice/attitude did help drive me from the (then) GM fan, to my first Civic in ’88. Co$t GM @ 20 sale$ over the years……..DFO
Oddly enough, I have never actually seen a Chevette in person. I’ve seen more Yugos than I have seen Chevettes. I asked my father about them, and he just started laughing and cracking jokes about them. My mother says they test drove one in the late 70’s, and they both hated it. It wasn’t that it was small, it’s that it was so abysmally slow. My father ended up buying a Fiesta that day, which he kept until 1986 when it was totaled.
Flash to pass on the turn signal stalk . . . pass what exactly?
Isettas, Amphicars, Cozy Coupes….
Horse and buggies, small children on bicycles, old ladies in Impalas…that’s about it
Funny story I once towed a bass boat with my 76 Scooter, made it 50 miles to the lake always running between 3rd and 4th gear (couldn’t stay in 4th), got it in the lake fine but pulling it out was another matter, had to have someone with the door open hold the clutch down while I was on the brakes keeping the car from being pulled into the water, rather amusing orchestrating the friend lifting the clutch while I lifted the brakes and gave it gas, transmission emitted a lot of blue smoke but we managed to get the boat out of the water and back home with no problems.
I considered the Chevette the Bic lighter of cars, cheap to buy used then dumped em when they were used up
This is me and my 82 4-doors in early 1984, some drunk ran into the back of it the night before I left for Texas, turned it completely around and banged up the back left side but it still made it to Texas from Indiana,
Old, used Chevettes were a lot of my peer’s first cars. I almost had one as my first car (a brown 78 2-door), if the brake master cylinder hadn’t broken during the test drive. I thankfully thought to use the handbrake when the pedal went to the floor, but I still knocked over the sellers mailbox when I couldn’t stop in time… Things like Omnis and Escorts seemed miles better in comparison. My neighbor had a green 4-door and I remember them having brake issues with it.
In 1980, I found a used ’76 Chevette 1.6 four-speed for my wife to be. She was OK with it, but it was a piece of junk. Floor pans were rusted out by 1982; clutch went at 50k, and then again at 110k (we have never replaced a clutch on another car: 178k on my AMC Hornet and still going, 181k on my wife’s Beetle and still going; 230K and still going on the Rabbit we had…so it wasn’t the driver!)
These had that silly Vega air cleaner, where you had to replace the whole unit.
The engine was OK. People with the Turbo-hyrdramatic found those to be very troublesome.
This is an example of GM in the 1980’s….not much to rave about.
My family had a ’76 Chevette when I was a kid, purchased new off the dealer for a pittance. The Chevette was already regarded as somewhat behind the times given that it had already been on sale elsewhere for four years and longitudinal-engined rear-drivers were clearly on the way out for cars this size. Still, it was reasonably up to date in 1976 and overall was better than its reputation. Many aspects of the car were quite impressive, then or now, including great road feel from the unassisted rack-and-pinion steering, a very tight turning circle, excellent outward visibility, and air conditioning that blew colder than in imports of the era. It was adequately reliable.
It was also dog-slow, even with the larger engine. Ours had the 3-speed automatic and it struggled to maintain 50mph on steeper hills. Its other problems mostly stemmed from the driveline layout. The center tunnel up front seemed huge, my right leg rubbed against the carpeting. Rear legroom was tight. The trunk floor was high to leave space for a fuel tank and full-size spare underneath. As you can see from the R&T interior shots there was no luggage area cover, since there would be only about 9 inches below it. The steering column wasn’t quite straight from back to front, something they tried to disguise by putting a compensating sideways kink in the steering wheel itself. This made it seem normal when pointed straight ahead, but in sharp turns you’d notice an inch or two of shimmy in the steering wheel rim as it spun. BTW the optional “sport steering wheel” was just the standard wheel with an silver trim piece added to the spokes.
I debated contributing to this post; I was a former Chevette owner (yes, I admit it). I actually ordered a 1980 model because I wanted one with the “extra squirrel” motor (H.O. option) which yielded an additional 4 net horsepower.
I owned the car for just shy of three years and managed to encounter: a leaking differential, a leaking transmission,a stripped clutch cable, a bad water pump, a bad alternator, an incurably rough idle, side body molding that dried out and fell off, plastic “turbine” wheel covers that cracked around the hubs, a tachometer that at a steady 2,900 RPM would suddenly bounce the pointer all over the place, a mis-matched painted hood (on one side only) and two headlights that decided to prematurely give up the ghost. Other than the headlights and the clutch cable issue, all of this happened during the warranty period, which is good I guess but it’s a real back-handed compliment.
How did it drive? Jean Lindamood (now Jennings) from “Car & Driver” said it best, like an “uninspired dog cart”. In cold weather (40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower) it never delivered better than 20 MPG.
I don’t know how competitive Japanese models fared by comparison back in that era as I never owned one until later (a Celica finally in 1983) but I would be hard-pressed, based on my experience, to refer to a Chevette as anything other than a turd on wheels.
My girlfriend’s father was outraged when she paid FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS for one with automatic and factory A/C.
The way to go with Chevettes was to get a later model (’82 or so) with manual transmission and no power options. Install upgraded shocks and tires, if not already equipped.
My own ’84 Chevette 2-door was a 4-speed with power nothing and it gave great service. Bought it used at 2 years old and 34K miles. Did mostly routine maintenance and traded it in about 100K miles later in ’93. The body was still rust-free, which is a feat for central Ohio.
Other commenters mentioned timing belts. The adjusting mechanism was rather “fiddly” and easy to get the belt too tight. I replaced one water pump and timing belt prematurely due to this.
My ‘vette remains one of my most fondly remembered cars!
I was in college in 1976, and there were an assortment of small new cars around. The Banker’s son had a Corolla SR-5, which was impressive in terms of quality, and fun to drive. Another friend had a Pinto with the larger engine and a 4 speed; it also seemed a nice car, and it accounted respectably well for itself on our local mountain roads. I had a 74 Civic, which seemed tiny, tinny, and underpowered but had great quality. Finally, another friend had a new Chevette with the automatic. The first day he brought it to school, four of us got in the car and failed to drive away. The car was parked on an uphill slope, and was unable to move roughly 600 pounds of boys. It was not a good first impression. The car was never fun to drive, and the lack of engineering and the cheapness were all too apparent. It was, however crude, reliable, in the sense that it would start. It was obviously a disposable car- the first I had ever seen (excluding a Renault Dauphine, but I don’t think French cars count).
Our considered impression was that the Chevette was an over-reaction by GM to the Vega fiasco where every new idea failed. So, we called the Chevette “The car GM knew they could build.” There wasn’t a single piece of technology newer than 1950 in those cars, and at the same time, every penny-pinching idea since 1950 was incorporated. Cheaper to build it with the steering column at an angle? Let’s do it. Cardboard interior panels on the base model? Well, they can pay more if they don’t like it. Tractor-rough underpowered engines? Hey! If they want horsepower they should be buying Camaros.
The Chevette seemed like a very cynical admission by GM that they couldn’t do new technology at all. The Rabbit, however many problems with execution, was clearly the future, and in my college crowd, everybody wanted one. The came next, then Datsuns. The Pinto was a fine choice. Nobody had a clue about Honda so it was a distant fourth. The Chevette was a car you settled for, because it was cheap.
It would have been interesting to see how the Omni/Horizon twins from Chrysler would have done had there been no constraint in the number of engines available, which the contract with VW capped at 300k per year. In 1978 the L body sold about 2/3 the level of the Chevette. The 1979-80 L body (maxed out by engine availability) still sold about 2/3 of Chevette numbers. Considering how much better GM’s reputation was than Chrysler’s at the time, that is not very complementary to the Chevette.
By the time I was in college in the early 80s these were very common teen/young-adult transportation. So I rode in more of these than I can count. And they were fine little basic cars. They all seemed to be better built than the other little basic US cars my friends drove – Monzas and Sunbirds and Pintos primarily. They were not as precisely built as the Japanese cars some of my friends had, but they felt more solid somehow.
These cars’ big fault was their lack of power. Even with the larger engines, they struggled to get to speed, and top speeds were fairly low. Many of my friends who drove Chevettes kept them off the Interstates as a result. But that meant we got to take lots of fun drives on the lesser-traveled US and state highways, and that was always a win in my book.
’81 T 1000 1.6 gas engine 3 speed auto. 0-60 30 seconds. 1/4 mile 23.3 sec. 25 MPG. Motorweek test say’s it’s the slowest car they ever tested, Diesel cars included.
A friend had an automatic ’79 Chevette. It was one of the slow ones. Most of the time, 55 mph was all it could achieve. It had cruise control by floor mat. Just tuck the gas pedal under the mat, and you would be driving along at somewhere near the speed limit, and almost never over it. I don’t know if there was something wrong with the car or not, but it was slower than pretty much anything I’ve ever been in. It was slower than a 1940 Packard 110 and a UD 1100 diesel box truck I delivered fitness equipment in. It was slower than my 240D, slower than a VW Beetle. I remember being shocked at how long it took to get anywhere.