The Heartbeat of America starts pumping


The ’80s dawned with manufacturers downsizing and striving for better economy but in the aftermath of the global energy crisis, the improved availability and stable price of fuel created an opportunity for a return to high-output engines. But the 1980 model year saw Chevrolet drop the Chevy II (Nova) and introduce its first front-wheel drive car, the Citation, built on GM’s ‘X-body’ platform – and it promptly won Motor Trend magazine‘s Car of the Year award.

Chevrolet Johannesburg2011

The following year all engines received Computer Command Control electronics as Corvette production began at GM’s plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Emulating the X-body programme, the sub-compact Cavalier was launched in a variety of body styles and with a wide range of standard equipment.

Then in 1982, the third-generation Camaro appeared and the high-performance Z28 version kept the winning run of Motor Trend Car of the Year awards going: it was also the pace car at the Indy 500. The Cavalier and intermediate-sized Celebrity models were introduced but it was pick-ups that dominated the new model launches with the arrival of the compact S10. Smaller than the C10, the S10 was offered with either a four-cylinder or a V6 engine and the range sold an impressive 177 758 units in its first year. In South Africa, the Chevrolet name was dropped in favour of Opel on its models sourced from Europe.

In 1983 the S10 Blazer arrived with styling cues based on the K5 Blazer but without the removable hardtop. GM styling chief Irv Rybicki’s Chevrolet Aero 2002 was shown boasting a drag coefficient of 0,14, the lowest of any car of its size tested by the company. The Corvette GTP appeared at the F1 Detroit Grand Prix, and along with the début of the Ilmor-Chevrolet 265 engine in Penske driver Al Unser’s car at the Indy 500, signified the company’s return to racing.

1987 Chevy Corvette

The fourth-generation Corvette appeared in 1984 – and became Motor Trend Car of the Year, continuing a remarkable run of success in the magazine’s award programme. Adapted from the Aero 2002, the Citation IV appeared with an amazingly low Cd of 0,265 and a claimed fuel economy of around 4,0 litres/100 km (60 mpg US). Bob Burger became Chevrolet’s next general manager.

Camaro IROC-Z arrived in 1985 during which year Impala and Citation II were dropped. The rear-wheel drive mid-sized Astro van line appeared in a number of cargo and passenger vehicle applications.

Coincident with the new sales and marketing tag line “Heartbeat of America”, in 1986 Chevrolet began sales of three Japanese-sourced sub-compacts, the (NUMMI – a joint venture between GM and Toyota) Nova, (Isuzu) Spectrum and (Suzuki) Sprint. And just as people were forgetting the mid-engined Corvette concept, the Indy was shown to the public, albeit as a non-runner. A regular Corvette – driven by sound-barrier-breaking pilot Chuck Yeager – paced the Indy 500.

GM decided to divest from South Africa in 1986, and a local group, the Delta Motor Corporation, was established and eventually bought out GMSA’s operation to concentrate on building and distributing Opel, Isuzu and Suzuki brands under licence.

Back in the USA, the following year the Aero 2003A appeared with a drag coefficient of just 0,166. Chevette was dropped, but looking to the future, the experimental Express vehicle was revealed with a mid-mounted gas turbine engine designed to operate at a constant speed of 150 mph (241 km/h) and the Blazer XT-1 previewed what was the USA’s favourite SUV would look like in the 21st century. Mario Andretti won the Long Beach GP, recording the Chevy Indy V8’s first victory, heralding a win record of 64 out of 78 CART races over the next four years.

The Beretta and Corsica front-wheel drive compacts and the streamlined, sporty Venture four-door saloon were launched in 1988, and a working version of the Corvette Indy appeared. Eight different versions of an all-new rear-wheel drive C- and four-wheel drive K-line of pick-ups was introduced, all with independent front suspension and available in three trim levels: Cheyenne, Scottsdale and Silverado. Four cab/body styles were offered with engines ranging from a 4,3-litre V6 to a 7,4-litre V8 (3/4- and one-ton pick-ups only), including a 6,2-litre V8 diesel.

The decade ended with Chevrolet introducing the Geo nameplate to replace the Nova, Spectrum and Sprint and a mini-SUV Geo Tracker – developed by CAMI, a joint venture between GM of Canada and Suzuki – was launched. Designed in GM’s Advanced Concept Centre in California, the California Camaro IROC-Z was introduced along with XT-2, an El Camino concept that was essentially an IROC Camaro pick-up.

Next month: The 20th century draws to a close with more trendy awards.