Category Archives: Isuzu

Chevette: cheapstakes survivor


Yes, there is a cheaper way to get around

Yes, there is at least one cheaper way to get around

GM built the Chevette from 1976 through 1987.  In terms of sales, it was one of the most successful, albeit rudimentary, cars ever offered for sale in the United States.  It was the corporation’s entry level hatchback,  a front engine, rear wheel drive low tech showcase that found millions of buyers around the world in numerous badge-engineered incarnations marketed as a models of Opel, Vauxhall, Isuzu, Pontiac as well as Chevrolet.  Almost three million units were sold in the U.S. over that eleven year model run but the percentage that have survived seems to be miniscule.

Muscle machine

Muscle machine

Cheapness was Chevette’s calling card.  You could buy a new one for under $3,000; used cars were its main competition and, as a result, Chevette was thought of as something quasi-disposable in its day.  We can’t remember the last time we saw one on a city street so the sight of a first or second year (there’s no discernible difference) example in very presentable shape stopped us in our tracks.  The car is simplicity itself and powered by a 1.4 four cylinder motor that developed just 53 horsepower in base form. But Chevette wasn’t about 0 – 60 times (for the record: a glacial 19.6 seconds), it was about, well, being cheap and that it certainly was.  It had rear drum breaks and the headliner was made of cardboard but really who cared?

Hatch? Natch?

Hatch? Natch?

We’ll tell you who cared: a woman of our acquaintance who graduated from high school in the late ’70s.  Her parents told her to go outside and see what was in the driveway and there it was: a new Chevette with a bow on it,  a  graduation gift.  She burst into tears; her parents thought they were the joyful kind but we know otherwise.  The car, even in its day, was anything but aspirational.

Shining Starlet

Shining Starlet

Chevette was GM’s answer to two problems:  addressing the shortcomings of its predecessor, Vega and to staunch the tide of Japanese imports.  Vega had a well deserved horrific reputation. They were prone to self-immolation when the aluminum and iron in its ill-conceived motor  expanded and contracted at different rates, making engine cooling to an oft-times theoretical matter.  Speaking of metal, Vega’s body, especially in proximity to road salt,  was prone to rust within just a few months of purchase.  Chevette was more corrosion resistant and its cast iron motor swelled and shrank at a uniform rate.

Starlet bright, Starlet light...

Starlet bright, Starlet light…

As far as the Japanese imports were concerned, Toyota and Datsun, before it transformed into Nissan, had been major players in the automotive “cheapstakes” for many years.  Their products vanquished Volkswagen, the previous low price leader, and with good reason.  They were economical to buy, to operate and they weren’t all that crappy.  Sightings of vintage Japanese entry level cars are, therefore, a somewhat less uncommon sight than surviving Chevettes.

Datsun 'nuff!

Datsun ’nuff!

We were pretty thrilled to happen upon a Toyota Starlet, probably an ’82, the other day that beat Chevette at its own game.  It, too, was rear wheel drive and powered by a small (1.3 liter) four but seemed to have been put together with more attention to detail.  Starlet was only sold in the U.S. market for three model years and, as a result has something of a cult following.

OK, B-210, see if we care!

OK, B-210, see if we care!

We found a pristine Datsun B-210, probably a ’78, the other day and were taken with its strange proportions.  It seems like a tiny blimp on little wheels but who are we to throw esthetic stones?  It got 50 mpg and this one is in great shape so let’s call it a real value proposition.

We're not lying, it's really an Isuzu

We’re not lying, it’s really an Isuzu

Lastly, we found a late ’80s Isuzu I-Mark, a woeful little hatchback that had previously shared much DNA with Chevette. Despite appearances, this one was a more modern car with front wheel drive and was sold with different badging as the Chevrolet Spectrum and, later, as the Geo Spectrum.  A rose by any other name, eh? Isuzu was GM’s Japanese chattel brand for a time and turned tail and fled the U.S. car market by 2006.  There’s not much remaining evidence of the brand’s presence in the market save those Joe Isuzu commercials you can find on Youtube.

Blue- ish

Blue- ish

Just as this post was going to bed we happened on another Chevette so maybe they’re more durable than we thought.  This was a later (’84?) four door model that fairly defines the phrase “basic transportation.”

Maybe it's not such a dog..

Maybe it’s not such a dog..

We looked far and wide for Chevettes for sale but drew a blank.  We did find a great commercial for Chevette from an Elmhurst, IL dealership.  The “Shee-cah-go” accents are worth clicking to hear.  You can get this pretty swell ’81 Toyota Starlet in nearby El Paso, IL for a mere $2400.  It has under 78,000 miles on it so there’s lots of life left in this little number!

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting consideration please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com OR through our Facebook page.

Note: While we strive for factual accuracy in our posts, we readily acknowledge that we we sometimes make inadvertent mistakes.  If you happen to catch one please don’t sit there and fume; let us know where we went wrong and we’ll do our best to correct things.




Montero has flair-o

Bitchin' Mitsu

Bitchin’ Mitsu

Feral Cars fan Byron Laursen writes to tell us about his 1990 Mitsubishi Montero. It was Mitsu’s entry in the burgeoning market for Japanese-built SUVs a few decades back when everybody and his uncle fielded a contender.   Remember the Isuzu Trooper?  The Daihatsu Rocky?  Suzuki Sidekick?

We’ll let Byron jump in here.

The Vietnam War was a real good thing for Mitsubishi. They built our armed forces a passel of Army Jeeps for the Southeast Asian Fog-of-War Follies, and then had beaucoup R&D funds for their subsequent stabs at America’s domestic market.

            Probably inspired by Ford’s Bronco and International Harvester’s Scout, and thoroughly schooled in building rugged off-roaders, they engineered a four-wheel drive machine with discretely feralicious macho appeal. Not so much hip as square of line in a Range Rover-emulating way, stealing Brit influence years before the Mazda Miata riffed on the Lotus Elan shape.

            To suggest it had lithe, big-cat manners crossing rugged terrain, they called it the Mitsubishi Pajero, after the South American Pampas Cat – or Leopardus Pajero to biology majors. Then someone told them about Mexican slang, that fecund zone of the Spanish language, in which “pajero” means “he who pummels his own pestle,” “he who wrassles his own wombat,” or “he who massages his own monsignor.”

            Pajero badges disappeared, and instead the Mitsubishi Montero (meaning something like Mountain Man) was shipped to most Mitsu-selling destinations. In the UK, showrooms held  Mitsubishi Shoguns.

            The breed lasted from 1982 to 2006 in the US. This 1990 example loiters in Santa Ynez, a Sideways country town north of Santa Barbara, where its a “valley car,” a hauler in semi-retirement, approaching 200K on the odometer, running local errands and seldom traversing the mountains for which this former rock-crawler is named.

            Mitsubishi sold about three hundred thousand of these first-generation models, then sheepishly rounded off the square corners in 1991 and onward, until their Montero eventually began to, like everybody else’s Cute Ute, be drained of its former feralocity.



  It’s powered by a three-liter V6 and features a dash-mounted Tilt-o-meter, essentially a painted orb bobbing in fluid, only able to give accurate readings when the car is stock-still. So it can’t tell you when you’re about to tip over, but it will let you know when you already have.

Different breed of dog

Different breed of dog

            The jokey license plate frame describes the niche Mitsubishi was trying to grab –something jaunty, yet much cheaper than the notoriously unreliable Brit snob wagon, which was equally squarish but designed to make owners come off like Country Squires, and not the FoMoCo variety. The firefighter decal dates to a previous owner, but remains as an effective ticket-deflector. What local cop would ever write up a volunteer fireman?

Did you know that Chrysler offered a badge engineered version of the Montero?  They called it the Dodge Raider and, despite conjuring up the most macho NFL-sanctioned thuggery, it found virtually no buyers.  A Montero by any other name just didn’t smell right.   Our friends at Bring A Trailer found one on Ebay.  Get your bid in now if you’d like this anomaly in your carport and here’s a period  TV commercial for Montero that makes the case that its off-road attributes are appropriate for the urban jungle.  Cute but, ahem, we have no truck with that assertion.

If you’ve stalked (or own) a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting consideration please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com OR through our Facebook page.