During the dark days of the OPEC gas crisis and still doing damage control from the debacle known as the Vega GM and Chevy needed an answer to the small car question. VW, Toyota and Datsun were increasing the small car market share and Chevy needed to act fast. The answer came from GM of Brazil in the form of the Chevette.
Launched in 1973 in Brazil the Chevette needed very little to be upgraded to USA emissions and safety standards. In need of energy absorbing steering column GM borrowed one from the Nova. A quick fix in cost cutting GM style but till this day every Chevette has a cocked to the left steering column.
Chevy had the Chevette ready for model year 1976. The base 1.4 liter engine could give you up to 40 MPG on the highway. You could opt of the 1.6 “Rallye” edition with cool stripes, wheels and a blazing 60 horsepower.
Chevette’s sold well. In fact in 1978 over 300,000 Chevette’s were sold to economy minded owners. By 1981 GM and Chevy needed to increase economy to make Big Brother happy so the Diesel Chevette was born.
Again borrowing from GM owned Isuzu Chevy shoehorned the 1.8 liter clacker under the hood of the Chevette. Rated at a Model T like 54 horsepower you could reach 0-60 MPH in a casual 19.2 seconds. The Diesel Chevette was not about performance but economy. Rated at a 55 MPG on the highway the Chevette Diesel out-econos cars of today like the Prius and Jetta TDI. Not meant for highway use because of its top speed of 81 MPH (going downhill) your Diesel Chevette was the perfect commuter car.
Keeping in mind the 1.8 liter smoker would shake more than a vibro massage but it would last up to 200,000 miles with routine maintence. Try that with the battery pack in your Civic-Hybrid.
Not many Chevette Diesel's have survived so finding one for a Retro Road Test was tough. Our feature 1984 Chevette Clacker is a 122,000 mile road slug featuring the frugal but tepid diesel engine and a 5 speed. No A/C or power steering. So how does it drive? Sort of like a very slow Vibrating Chair.
Its kinda nimble but its slower than John Goodman at an All You Can Eat Buffet. As with most GM products of the day build quality is well ummmm bad. The glow system is not as reliable as the Benz diesels of the day and our little oil burner was slow to start on a 30 degree morning.Even with its odd flaws you get the feeling the Chevette Diesel in all its dash shaking glory will always get you were you need to be in a very relaxed slow frugal way..