The Rare Rides series is a friend to the General Motors J-body. In 2018 we featured a 2000 Sunbird from ’83, in 2020 there was the ’84 Oldsmobile Firenza Cruiser, and earlier this year a ’91 Cavalier wagon.
But we’ve never featured the OG J-body main event, a first-gen Cavalier. Let’s go.
Introduced for the 1982 model year, the J-body lineup was both very important for GM and very extensive. A global platform, the J was branded as no fewer than nine different marques. Overseas Js included the Opel Ascona, Vauxhall Cavalier, Holden Camira, and Isuzu Aska, plus an additional subset of badge jobs. Domestically the J ventured outside Chevrolet to Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and that most sinner-y of J-bodies, the Cadillac Cimarron. Cimarron should be covered separately.
Cavalier was GM’s second contemporary offering in the compact class, alongside the unloved Citation which we’ve covered extensively in previous articles. Cavalier existed alongside Citation for only a few years, until Citation’s replacement by the Corsica and sporty two-door Beretta. And because it was not Crossover Time, there were several different body styles from which to choose. In two-doors there were coupe and convertible cavaliers, a three-door sporty hatchback, and four doors of sedan and wagon shapes. All Cavaliers regardless of body style rode on the same 101.2-inch wheelbase.
Worth noting, the convertible Cavalier was not a launch model but arrived in 1983 with a very limited production run of 627 examples. All were made by good old ASC of Lansing, Michigan, and were notable as the first Chevrolet-branded convertible since the Caprice Classic of 1975. In 1983 a Cavalier convertible asked about $11,000 ($30,500 adjusted), nearly double the $5,880 ($16,492 adjusted) of a base model.
At Cavalier’s launch in ’82 there was but one engine on offer, a 1.8-liter inline-four with carburetor. The 1.8 was immediately supplanted by a 2.0 with throttle-body injection (’83-’86), which was supplanted again for ’87 to ’89 by a more advanced 2.0, the LL8, good for 90 horsepower. From 1985 to 1989 the best engine choice was the 2.8-liter LB6 V6 which had real fuel injection and managed 130 rowdy horses. The Z24 package was available from 1986 onward, but was only offered in coupe and hatchback Cavaliers. Other versions made do with the lesser RS trim, but Z24 was granted to the convertible in ’87.
Cavalier was new for 1988, and adopted larger and more rounded looks, and looked a bit more sure of itself in convertible guise. The unpopular three-door hatch was a casualty of the shift to a second generation. Today’s Rare Ride is from the end of the first-gen Cavalier, and reaches high with 2.8-liter V6 and RS trims. Faded yellow paint puts one in mind of an old Volvo 850 T5-R, a Rare Ride we need to cover. The interior is a symphony of slightly dirty beige colors and has a stellar digital gauge package. Yours at $4,050 in Pittsburgh, where at least one of TTAC’s frequent commenters lives.