Chevrolet Chevette


The Chevrolet Chevette was, upon its introduction for 1976, the smallest Chevy ever offered. But as you'll learn in this article, the Chevette was a big success among budget-conscious buyers.

The Chevrolet Chevette replaced the Chevrolet Vega as the entry-level Chevy. It was based on an Opel model from General Motor's European brand and was nothing fancy.

Classic Cars Image Gallery

1976 Chevrolet Chevette
Chevrolet touted the 1976 Chevette's "international design
 and heritage." See more pictures of classic cars.

The Chevette rode an uncomplicated rear-wheel-drive chassis and used old-tech four-cylinder engines that started at just 52 horsepower and never rose to more than 74 over the car's 12-year life. But simplicity was a virtue for the tiny Chevrolet Chevette, which came in two- and four-door hatchback body styles.

Prices were always very affordable. They started around $3,000 for the 1976 Chevette and hovered near $5,000 in the early 1980s. Prices even retreated to $4,995 for the 1987 Chevrolet Chevette as Chevy tried to milk the last ounce of value out of the model in the face of more modern competition, some coming from within its own showrooms.

The Chevrolet Chevette was painfully slow but proved reliable and was economical to run. With its gasoline engine, the Chevette rated as much as 28 mpg city, 40 highway. Starting in 1981, the car was available with a four-cylinder diesel engine. This got even better fuel economy but was slower still than the gas model.

The Chevrolet Chevette was mechanically out of date when it debuted, changed very little over its lifetime, and was long past any semblance of modern when it retired in 1987.

Check out the pages that follow, however, to see how being a bit old fashioned isn't always a bad thing.

1982 Chevrolet Chevette 5-door hatchback
The 1982 Chevrolet Chevette suffered from weak sales.

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

  • Classic Cars: Learn about more than 400 of the world's finest classic and collectible automobiles.
  • Muscle Cars: Look back at tire-smoking Chevys and scores of other machines from the golden age of American high performance.
  • Sports Cars: Discover the pleasure of sports motoring at its purest in these captivating articles on the best sports cars from around the world.
  • Consumer Guide Automotive: Here's your source for news, reviews, prices, fuel-economy and safety information on today's cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickups.
  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.

1976 Chevrolet Chevette

1976 Chevrolet Chevette
The Chevette, new for 1976, was ideal for city dwellers
and first-time car buyers.

The 1976 Chevrolet Chevette was as a "new kind of American car." As one ad stated, "You'll like the price and mileage" of the new subcompact, which was based on the T-car built by Opel in Germany.

To help combat Japanese imports as gas prices rose in the early 1970s, Detroit's automakers had begun to offer rebates, longer warranties, and small domestic cars that delivered greater gas mileage.

Not only was Chevette the smallest, most fuel-efficient car ever marketed by Chevrolet, it was the lightest American car then being offered, weighing in at under a ton. The EPA rated the base 1.4-liter engine at 28 mpg city and 40 mpg highway -- figures unheard of in past domestic models.

The sportiest Chevette -- if that isn't an oxymoron -- was the Rally 1.6, with a 1.6-liter (98-cubic-inch) engine substituting for the usual 1.4-liter (85-cubic-inch) overhead-cam four-cylinder, rated at 60 horsepower instead of 52.

The Rally also had a special suspension with rear stabilizer, along with special body graphics. A Chevette Woody wore simulated wood body trim, but that option would not last beyond 1976.

Cheapest of the lot was the no-frills Chevette Scooter, whose $2,899 sticker didn't even bring a back seat or glovebox door. Only 9,810 Scooters were built, versus 178,007 regular hatchbacks.

Buyers could choose either a fully synchronized floor-shifted four-speed manual transmission or optional Turbo Hydra-Matic. Chevettes had rack-and-pinion steering, front disc brakes, a front stabilizer bar, 13-inch tires, tri-color taillights, front bucket seats, and an onboard diagnostic system. Swing-out rear quarter windows were optional.

A fingertip Smart Switch operated the turn signal, dimmer, wiper/washer, and "flash-to-pass" signals. Buyers even got a do-it-yourself service manual, with instructions on how to perform minor service work.

Chevrolet claimed that a Chevette's turning circle (30.2 feet) was one of the smallest in the world and that it was essentially a "metric" car, "international in design and heritage."

1976 Chevrolet Chevette back
The 1976 Chevette was a model of practicality that offered
good value and a solid design.

1976 Chevrolet Chevette Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Chevette

1,870-1,927

$2,899-$3,098

187,817

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

  • Classic Cars: Learn about more than 400 of the world's finest classic and collectible automobiles.
  • Muscle Cars: Look back at tire-smoking Chevys and scores of other machines from the golden age of American high performance.
  • Sports Cars: Discover the pleasure of sports motoring at its purest in these captivating articles on the best sports cars from around the world.
  • Consumer Guide Automotive: Here's your source for news, reviews, prices, fuel-economy and safety information on today's cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickups.
  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.

1977, 1978, 1979, 1980 Chevrolet Chevette

1977 Chevrolet Chevette
The modest yet practical 1977 Chevette
racked up impressive sales.

The 1977 Chevrolet Chevette's engines gained a few horsepower in their second season: 57 in standard form, or 63 for the optional powerplant. The low-budget Scooter hatchback added a back seat, but few appearance changes could be noted.

Sales brochures described the Chevette as "the kind of car you tell a friend about." In fact, a survey revealed that 63 percent of Chevette owners had recommended one to a friend. A total of 120,278 regular Chevettes headed toward dealerships in the 1977 model year, along with 13,191 Scooters.

Prices dropped and more standard equipment was added for 1978. But the big news was that a four-door hatchback model joined the lineup riding a 97.3-inch wheelbase -- two inches longer than the two-door -- and this version accounted for more than half of Chevette's nearly 300,000 sales.

The lowly Scooter continued to languish, with only 12,829 demanded by customers; apparently subcompact-car buyers liked to save money, but not enough to drive a stripped-to-the-bone model.

Chevettes enjoyed a power increase for 1979, as the base engine rose to 70 horsepower and the optional version to 74. A one-piece grille replaced the former split design, while "modern" square headlights took the place of the traditional round units. Sales continued to rise, reaching 369,109.

Chevy's subcompact remained largely unaltered for 1980, though new wraparound taillights sat in a revised tail panel, resulting in a slightly different look -- at least from the rear.

In a down year for the industry as a whole, Chevette sales were up significantly over 1979, totaling more than 451,000 units -- a figure that would rank it second only to Chevy's new Citation, which had a much longer model run (sales had started in April of 1979).

While more and more economy-car rivals were moving to front-wheel drive, Chevy's subcompact remained rear drive. Despite its recent power increase, a Chevette struggled to produce even modest acceleration, but economy was terrific.

Consumer GuideĀ® testers managed "an honest 29 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway." Though the editors also bemoaned the car's inefficient use of space and generally outdated design, there was no question that the Chevette continued to be a strong force in the subcompact-car marketplace.

1980 Chevrolet Chevette
The 1980 Chevette provided affordable transportation
for first-time car buyers.

1977 Chevrolet Chevette Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Chevette

1,898-1,958

$2,999-$3,225

133,469

1978 Chevrolet Chevette Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Chevette

1,932-2,035

$3,149-$3,764

298,973

1979 Chevrolet Chevette Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Chevette

1,929-2,057

$3,437-$4,072

369,109

1980 Chevrolet Chevette Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Chevette

1,935-2,048

$4,057-$4,736

451,161

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

  • Classic Cars: Learn about more than 400 of the world's finest classic and collectible automobiles.
  • Muscle Cars: Look back at tire-smoking Chevys and scores of other machines from the golden age of American high performance.
  • Sports Cars: Discover the pleasure of sports motoring at its purest in these captivating articles on the best sports cars from around the world.
  • Consumer Guide Automotive: Here's your source for news, reviews, prices, fuel-economy and safety information on today's cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickups.
  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.

1981, 1982, 1983 Chevrolet Chevette

1981 Chevrolet Chevette
Chevrolet built more than 360,000 Chevettes in 1981.

The 1981 Chevrolet Chevette was little changed and looking pretty long in the tooth -- yet it sold as well as ever. This was undoubtedly due more to the bow tie on its grille and the low price on its window sticker than to any technical or styling achievements.

Again offered in base three-door and five-door hatchbacks and the stripped-down three-door Scooter, Chevette added diesel-engined versions at midyear. The diesel displaced 111-cubic-inch versus 98 for the gas engine, but output was a paltry 51 horsepower.

Since acceleration was none too spirited with the 70-horsepower gas engine, diesel-powered Chevettes required tremendous patience on the part of their owners. Along with the diesel came a newly optional 5-speed manual transmission, which was available on gas-engine cars as well.

By 1982, the Chevette was desperately in need of updates that were not forthcoming, and its sales figures bore that out. From a heady 433,000 in 1981, output fell to 233,000 for 1982 -- though that still led Chevy's growing fleet of models.

Nevertheless, the drop in sales signaled that the Chevette was falling out of favor with small-car buyers, who were increasingly gravitating toward front-wheel-drive models -- most notably the new Ford Escort, which replaced the Chevette this year as the number-one-selling car in America.

Chevy's subcompact was a virtual rerun for 1983, though buyers opting for the new $95 Sport exterior decor package enjoyed a huge appearance transformation (at least by Chevette standards) in the form of black-finish moldings set off by red accent stripes and decals.

In an effort to rekindle sales, most prices either stayed the same or dropped, but it didn't help; production sank some 27 percent to 169,565 -- the worst performance since 1977.

1982 Chevrolet Chevette
In 1982, Chevy introduced a five-door hatchback Chevette.

1981 Chevrolet Chevette Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Chevette

1,945-2,063

$4,695-$5,394

433,600

1982 Chevrolet Chevette Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Chevette

1,959-2,064

$4,997-$6,727

232,808

1983 Chevrolet Chevette Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Chevette

2,029-2,148

$4,997-$6,683

169,565

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

  • Classic Cars: Learn about more than 400 of the world's finest classic and collectible automobiles.
  • Muscle Cars: Look back at tire-smoking Chevys and scores of other machines from the golden age of American high performance.
  • Sports Cars: Discover the pleasure of sports motoring at its purest in these captivating articles on the best sports cars from around the world.
  • Consumer Guide Automotive: Here's your source for news, reviews, prices, fuel-economy and safety information on today's cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickups.
  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.

1984, 1985 Chevrolet Chevette

1984 Chevrolet Chevette five-door hatchback
The Chevette, like this five-door hatchback,
continued to be popular in 1984.

The 1984 Chevrolet Chevette was more of the same. Again. Yet for the first time since 1980, Chevette sales were up -- though certainly not to 1980 levels. The tally at year's end came to just under 244,000 units, better than a 40-percent increase over 1983.

Chevy had held the line on prices, and a Chevette starting at $4,997 in 1984 dollars was beginning to look like a bargain; after all, price of entry to a Ford Escort was more than $5,600 by then.

But there was another reason for this seemingly great comeback. In order to bring GM's 1984 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) ratings closer to mandated levels, the 1984 Chevette was produced well into the fall -- making the production tally for the extra-long model year look more impressive than it actually was.

Of course, this also had the effect of shortchanging the 1985 total. There were again few product changes, but this time the Chevette was not the sole subcompact to carry Chevrolet's bow-tie emblem. Joining it in the small-car battles were two imports from Japan: the Spectrum, built by Isuzu, and the tiny Sprint from Suzuki.

No surprise then that the 1985 sales figure dropped by about half to 123,500. Still, sales of that magnitude were not to be sneezed at, even by Chevrolet, so the Chevette earned the right to return for 1986 to start its second decade.

1985 Chevrolet Chevette five-door hatchback
The 1985 Chevette five-door hatchback
was a step up from the base model.

1984 Chevrolet Chevette Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Chevette

1,999-2,320

$4,997-$6,161

243,900

1985 Chevrolet Chevette Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Chevette

2,085-2,320

$5,340-$6,215

123,499

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

  • Classic Cars: Learn about more than 400 of the world's finest classic and collectible automobiles.
  • Muscle Cars: Look back at tire-smoking Chevys and scores of other machines from the golden age of American high performance.
  • Sports Cars: Discover the pleasure of sports motoring at its purest in these captivating articles on the best sports cars from around the world.
  • Consumer Guide Automotive: Here's your source for news, reviews, prices, fuel-economy and safety information on today's cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickups.
  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.

1986, 1987 Chevrolet Chevette

1986 Chevrolet Chevette
The 1986 Chevette saw no significant upgrades
as the model neared the end of its run.

The 1986 Chevrolet Chevette had seen sales that dwindled rapidly, but the antiquated rear-wheel-drive Chevette remained in the Chevy lineup -- despite a spate of new front-drive rivals that would join it in dealers' showrooms. These included the Sprint built by Suzuki, the Spectrum from Isuzu, and the Nova, which grew out of a joint venture with Toyota.

With sales expectations low, there was little point in changing the Chevette much for 1986, and Chevy didn't; just a new bow-tie emblem for the grille and some additional standard equipment.

Powertrains were a rerun, except that the 51-horsepower 1.8-liter diesel was no longer welcome in California. Prices went up by about $300 to an opening bid of $5,645. But among its front-drive showroom rivals, only the tiny Sprint cost less, at $5,380. The Spectrum (which started at $6,658) and the Nova (at a whopping $7,435) were clearly in a different price strata.

As a result, the Chevette managed once again to top the magic 100,000 mark in sales -- though just barely -- which was enough to keep it alive.

In a final attempt to spark sales, Chevy dropped the price of admission to just $4,995 for 1987, lower than it had been since 1980. It also dropped the diesel engine option, which had attracted only 324 buyers in 1986. But despite the cost reduction, sales fell to just more than 46,000, and the Chevette had reached the end of its rope.

In its dozen years on the market, Chevette had earned a reputation for being a simple, straightforward car offering high fuel economy and steadfast reliability. But it also suffered from a cramped interior, poor ride and handling (at least by a mid-1980s yardstick), lazy acceleration (by any yardstick), and a lack of general refinement.

Still, it left in its wake a sea of happy owners, and many no doubt mourned its passing.

1987 Chevrolet Chevette
Sales for the 1987 Chevette plummeted,
despite a price reduction.

1986 Chevrolet Chevette Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Chevette

2,080-2,320

$5,645-$6,487

103,244

1987 Chevrolet Chevette Facts

Model

Weight range (lbs.)

Price range (new)

Number built

Chevette

2,078-2,137

$4,995-$5,495

46,208

For more picture-packed articles about Chevys and other great cars, see:

  • Classic Cars: Learn about more than 400 of the world's finest classic and collectible automobiles.
  • Muscle Cars: Look back at tire-smoking Chevys and scores of other machines from the golden age of American high performance.
  • Sports Cars: Discover the pleasure of sports motoring at its purest in these captivating articles on the best sports cars from around the world.
  • Consumer Guide Automotive: Here's your source for news, reviews, prices, fuel-economy and safety information on today's cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickups.
  • Consumer Guide Used Car Search: In the market for a used Chevy or virtually any other pre-owned vehicle? Check out these reports, which include safety recalls and trouble spots.