Remebering the Chevrolet Chevette

By Casey Williams

(October 1, 2014) The first car I ever drove was my grandfather’s Chevy Chevette. I wasn’t even 10 when he took me into his field and moved to the passenger seat. I thought I was really something romping around the “bottom 10” in that little beige two-door ‘Vette with vinyl seats, automatic transmission, and AM radio. It didn’t have power steering or brakes.

Chevette was introduced in September 1975 and ran through the 1987 model year as a competitor to popular Japanese and German models like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Dodge Colt, and VW Rabbit.

The car’s 1.4- and 1.6-litre four-cylinder engines sent all of 53-70 horsepower to the rear wheels through three-speed automatic, 4-speed manual, and 5-speed manual transmissions. An efficient 1.8-litre Isuzu diesel engine arrived in 1981.

GM entered the compact car market with the 1960 Corvair, which Ralph Nader loved. Chevrolet replaced the car with the Vega and its poorly-engineered aluminum engine, which nobody loved. Compared to those cars, the Chevette sported a smart design, was the best-selling small car in America during the early ‘80s, and was handsome in its day.

Scooter models offered basic transportation, but Chevettes could be equipped with power everything, high-quality cloth bucket seats, tilt steering wheels, and cassette players.

It’s hard to believe the earliest Chevettes have been officially antique for eight years and the newest ones will reach classic status in only three more – just in time for a new round of Korean-designed Chevy subcompacts to hit the road.

As with Pintos, Gremlins, and Darts, young drivers are bestowing a certain cult status on this ‘70s and ‘80s classic. It’s funny how time shines new light on old wheels.

The plan was for my grandfather’s Chevette to become my first car on my 16th birthday in 1990.

Unfortunately, he passed in 1987 and my grandmother sold the car to my uncle. I ended up with a brand new 1989 Geo Spectrum, a direct replacement for the Chevette. Having lived through the ‘70s and ‘80s, I know I got a MUCH better car that served me well for 125,000 miles.

Still, in the back of my mind, I wish my grandfather and I could drive his little Chevette another round.