Unexceptional Classics

Unexceptional Classifieds: Chevrolet Cavalier

by Antony Ingram
12 May 2023 3 min read
Unexceptional Classifieds: Chevrolet Cavalier
Photos: eBay

Price: £776 (final auction price)
Mileage: 60,000
Condition: Probably better than you’d find in its home country
Advert: eBay

If you’re reading this on the Friday when our Unexceptional Classified stories go out you’ll have only around a day let to bid on this week’s choice, and it’s one we guarantee will stand out from the crowd at the Festival this summer… as much as unexceptional cars, can stand out, anyway.

It’s a Cavalier, but not as you probably know it. Because General Motors didn’t just use the badge on Vauxhalls back in the day, but also Chevrolet’s entry-level model, sold between 1981 and 2005.

The first Cavalier was one of GM’s infamous “J-body” cars. While we did actually get a J-body car here in the UK, in the form of the second-generation Vauxhall Cavalier, the platform debuted during the US car industry’s “malaise era”, when government mandates on emissions and safety led to some of the least inspiring cars the country ever produced.

Malaise-era cars were typically underpowered and underwhelming to drive, but the period also coincided with an era of less dramatic, less attractive styling, characterised (not unlike cars in the UK at the time) by boxy lines, earthy colours and dumpy proportions.

Early Cavaliers had all these characteristics in spades, but to add insult to injury, GM also indulged in more cynical rebadging exercises than any carried out by British Leyland, transforming – in the loosest of terms – the Cavalier into models like the Buick Skyhawk, Cadillac Cimarron (surely Cadillac’s nadir), and the Pontiac Sunbird.

The car mellowed but became little more interesting with the second-gen Cavalier in 1987 – a year before Vauxhall ditched the J platform and brought out the truly modern and competitive Cavalier Mk3 – and was then replaced again in 1994 with the third-gen Cavalier. This, finally, at least looked relatively slick and modern, if less interesting than the Dodge Neon launched a year earlier, though underneath it still sat on effectively the same underpinnings as those first, early-1980s Cavaliers.

This back-story though makes our find pure Festival of the Unexceptional gold, as worthy of attending as any Allegro, Montego or indeed Vauxhall Cavalier, despite it being the more rakish coupe (that’s “coop”, of course, to use the US pronunciation).

It’s in a suitably low-end specification too, though true to US-market form it’s not powered by some undernourished 1.3-litre, but a 2.2-litre overhead-cam four cylinder, amusingly to UK sensibilities the smallest and least potent engine you could get. And at 4.5 metres long, it’s still bigger than a Vauxhall Cavalier Mk3. It’s longer even than the Vectra that would have been around when this car was new in 1997.

Chevrolet Cavalier interior

The 2.2 makes a modest 110bhp and a more useful 130lb ft through that other US staple, an automatic transmission. Having come across in 1999 with a military owner however, it’s avoided being run into the ground as so many Cavaliers have (they’re popular first cars and next-to-no-budget cars in the US), and has only 60,000 miles under its wheels.

We reckon it looks rather good as a result. Not perfect, but better than you’d expect, and the interior is tidy too, complete with the egregiously ugly airbagged steering wheels used in period. Under UK driving conditions the understressed engine and auto ‘box will probably last indefinitely while the paintwork and interior plastics are unlikely to succumb to sun damage, as they might in warmer US states.

As we write on Thursday afternoon, bidding is up to only £675, so it’s sure to go for very little money – maybe even less than a tidy Vauxhall Cavalier or Vectra might these days. If you buy it, and if you see this, please do bring it along to the Festival.

Editor’s note: The Cavalier sold for £776 in the end – an absolute steal, we reckon.

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  • Stephen+Pye says:

    From some angle s this reminds me of a Vauxhall Calibra , but the rear as some elements of a Nissan 100 coupe. Interesting car, wont be another on Sainsburys car park I bet!

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