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Chevrolet introduced the Chevette subcompact for the 1976 model year, which brought Chevrolet's subcompact total that year to 3 (the Vega and Monza being the other 2). Unlike the Vega and Monza, however, the Chevette was based on an existing T-body European design and also sold as the Vauxhaull Chevette in the United Kingdom, Opel Kadette in Europe, Isuzu Gemini in Japan and the Holden Gemini in Australia. And, unlike other subcompacts introduced in this era, the Chevette was a rear-drive model, bucking the front wheel drive trend that cars like the Honda Civic and Volkswagen Rabbit were following (and others that were very soon to). The Chevette soldiered on for 12 seasons with very little change after its introduction, finally being discontinued in the middle of the 1987 model year. Although the Chevette was never universally loved, it was nonetheless respected, and was staggeringly popular in its first few years.

Chevrolet Chevette
Production 1976-1987
Class Subcompact
Body Style 3-Door Hatchback
5-Door Hatchback
Length 158.7"
Width 61.8"
Height 52.3"
Wheelbase 94.3"
Weight 2000-2300 lbs
Transmission 4-Speed Manual, RWD
5-Speed Manual, RWD
3-Speed Automatic, RWD
Engine 1.4L (85 cid) I4 (1976-1977)
1.6L (98 cid) I4 (1976-1987)
1.8L (111 cid) Diesel I4 (1981-1986)
Power 53-70 hp
Similar Pontiac T1000/1000
Platform T

Here's a quick year-to-year rundown:


Premier 1976 models were treated to great fanfare, and a big reason why was that the Chevette largely ensconced the Volkswagen Beetle philosophy: cheap to run, cheap to maintain and most importantly - cheap to buy. Chevettes were definitely built to a price, on a very inexpensive rear-drive chassis and offered very-little-frills to no-frills-at-all. Base engine was a simple 53 hp 1.4L (85 cid) 1-bbl I4, with an optional 60 hp 1.6L (98 cid) 1-bbl I4 as an option. 4-speed manual transmission was standard, with a 3-speed automatic optional. There were actually five models available: the base model was called Scooter, which was about as basic as a car could get - rubber floor mats, painted front and rear bumpers instead of chrome, and an optional back seat. From there, there was the "regular" Chevette, the Sport Coupe, the Rally and Woody models (which had faux-woodgrain side panels).

1977 models didn't have any exterior changes to speak of, but the standard 1.4 I4 engine got a slight hp increase to 57 and the 1.6 increased to 63. 1978 models got a small grille restyle, which was chromed along the edges just like the headlight bezels. A 5-door hatchback model was added, further adding to its appeal, and sales greatly increased as a result. The Woody package was dropped, as was the pokey 1.4L I4 engine, leaving the more-popular 1.6 as its sole engine choice. 1979 models got a front-end facelift, the hood was now flat and no longer extended down to the bumper. Headlights were now rectangular and the grille was a tight eggcrate design with the Chevy bowtie emblem in the center. 2-barrel carburetors replaced the 1-bbl, but transmission choices remained the same as before. Sport Coupe and Rally models were dropped this year, but a Custom model was added. The base Scooter and "regular" Chevette carried on as before. The Chevette was now the best-selling small car in America.

Since the 1979 Chevettes got a new nose, the 1980s got a new tail with larger wraparound taillight lenses (but unfortunately lost their separate amber turn signal lenses). Chevettes continued their reign as the best-selling small car in America this year, but it would lose it in 1981 with increasing new competition that made the already-outdated Chevette look even more so. Since the Monza now gone, the Chevette was now (temporarily) Chevrolet's lone subcompact. Like all 1981 Chevrolets, Chevettes acquired GM's new Computer Command Control system for the gas 1.6 engine. And speaking of engines, for those not in the least bit of a hurry, an Isuzu-built diesel 1.8L (111 cid) I4 engine was now an option, with either a 5-speed manual as standard or an optional 3-speed automatic. The Chevette acquired a Pontiac corporate twin this year, the T1000, which was identical with the exception of a lower body-side molding and a blacked-out grille. The diesel was not available on the T1000. The Custom model was axed, leaving only the base Scooter and "regular" Chevette, and two-tone paint schemes now became available. Not much changed for 1982 other than the Scooter now being available as a 5-door model, and a 5-speed manual finally became available on gas-engine models. '82 T1000s got a new vertically-finned grille.

1983 Chevettes got a slightly restyled nose with a body-colored front air dam and blacked-out grille. An "upper-level" CS model was added, and an S package got red exterior trim instead of black. The T1000, in keeping with Pontiac's newfound tradition, got red dashboard lighting but was otherwise unchanged. The base-level Scooter was dropped for 1984 and the T1000 was renamed 1000. For 1985, all Chevettes were now CS models. The 1.6L gas and 1.8L diesel engines continued with no changes, and a 4- and 5-speed manual and 3-speed automatics were still available. This year, a front wheel drive Suzuki-produced Chevy-badged subcompact debuted, called the Sprint, bringing Chevy's subcompact total back up to 3 (including the Cavalier). 1986 Chevettes and 1000s got the newly required Center High-Mounted Stop Lamp atop the rear hatch. The diesel was dropped for 1987, but there were no other changes as they were finally discontinued shortly after the start of the '87 model year. Sales had been falling off for years as the Chevette and 1000 had now gotten embarassingly old and outdated compared to the modern front wheel drive competition, not the least of which were Chevy's own Cavalier and Sprint models.

Pontiac replaced the 1000 in 1988 with the wretched Korean-built front wheel drive Pontiac LeMans that was based on an existing Daewoo design. Chevrolet, however, had no direct replacement for the Chevette, but the Suzuki-built Geo Metro, which replaced the previous Suzuki-built Chevrolet Sprint in 1989, could be considered at least a spiritual replacement.

Main Competitors

See Also


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