1981 Chevrolet Citation Hatchback Sedan

The advantages of increased interior space and weight savings from front-wheel drive became impossible to ignore by the automaker in the mid-1970s, and so General Motors made the decision to replace the aging rear-wheel-drive Chevy. Nova with a spacious and economical family car using a brand-new chassis. This eventually became the Chevrolet Citation (and the Oldsmobile Omega, Pontiac Phoenix, and Buick Skylark sibling), introduced to the world in 1979 as the 1980 model. Despite over 1.6 million Quotes sold, you’d be hard pressed to find one today; Today’s Junkyard gem is the only (non-X11) 1980-1985 GM X-Body I’ve seen with both optional V6 engines. and ground floor four manual transmission.

On paper, the Citation looked like the car to take GM back to the top of the world, making Ford and Chrysler hit the kidney with a tire iron while repelling the pesky Japanese and European invaders. It offers far superior fuel economy, interior space and ride comfort than the 1960s Nova it replaces, while looking like the original Detroit iron plate. Plus, the ’80 Citation was just a few hundred dollars more than the ’79 Nova and a lot cheaper than imported narrow front drivers like the VW Rabbit and Datsun 310. This car should have been General Motors’ biggest hit since then. ’55 car.

Unfortunately, all that great engineering and marketing work was marred by a series of published manufacturing defects and recalls during the first few model years. Better than 1.2 million Quotes were sold during the 1980 and 1981 model years… and then sales dropped drastically and never recovered. For the years 1983 to 1985, sales of the Citation never reached 100,000 units per year. Meanwhile, Lee Iacocca at Chrysler had masterminded the creation of a wide range of sharp-looking modern front-wheel-drive cars based on the K platform, which entered showrooms in the late 1980s and immediately captivated countless potential Citation buyers; The new front-wheel-drive Toyota Camry appeared soon after. In 1986, the Citation disappeared, replaced by Corsica/Beretta the following year.

I happen to know a little about the history of this car. It was one of more than 250 vintage vehicles (including 38 classic Mustangs) that were auctioned near Denver last fall, and several winning bids were placed by LKQ Pick Your Part. A salvageable ’66 Mustang coupe retails for $540, and this Citation is getting an auctioneer’s hammer at an even-ticket 500 bucks.

It’s pretty rusty (by Front Range Colorado standards) in regular places, so it’s unlikely any Citation restorer will want to save it. After all, they were looking for a coupe and an X-11.

The base engine in the Citation is the Iron Duke 2.5 liter straight-four, essentially a single cylinder bank from the Pontiac 301 V8. In 1981, the Duke made 84 horsepower, which isn’t much in a car weighing nearly 2,500 pounds but gets the job done. The car has an optional 2.8-liter V6, rated at 110 horsepower and costs an additional $125 on a $6,523 car (that’s about $410 and $21,270 in 2022 dollars).

Nearly every Citation buyer who opted for a large engine also paid an additional $349 ($1,140 now) for the three-speed automatic, but this one has a basic four-speed manual. Americans could buy a new car with a stick four on the floor all through 1996 and a three– the speed manual was still available on the new Malibus and Camaros in 1981… but it was still considered a fairly outdated transmission in the early 1980s. No five-speed manual was ever offered from the factory on the Citation.

Even most late 1970s Novas buyers got the automatic with split-bench seats, but the cabin of this car is outdated by 1981 standards.

It doesn’t have air conditioning, but that To do using a good Delco AM/FM stereo radio with an unusual vertical orientation. This is a $100 option, which becomes about $325 after inflation.

It was a nightmare to get an aftermarket radio in a vertical dash slot, plus thieves targeted high-efficiency cassette players during the 1980s. That’s why the owner of this car installed an Audiovox cassette deck in the glovebox. I did the same with my 1968 Mercury Cyclone during the mid-1980s, but the radio still broke.

The upholstery appears to be a “Sports Fabric” option in a GM color called Camel. This item is scratchy but durable.

This rear seat will feel comfortable in the 1961 Biscayne.

Keep your spirits up! Transportation, uh-huh! Recreation, yes!

Citation Worker is a bespectacled superhero who drops everything to tease her friendly office manager.

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