With a mission that has always held strong to the desire of being GM's value leader in the mainstream of the American car market, Chevrolet has continued to live up to this despite foreign brands that threaten to intrude upon this goal.
One of the most popular vehicles in the U.S. and Canada during 1981 and 82, the Chevrolet Cavalier has successfully continued in production all the way through 2005. Sold for much less than the Honda Civic, the Cavalier was eventually retired as a comparably affordable compact vehicle. Chevy's version of the compact GM J platform, the Cavalier was originally designed with an aim towards quality imports like the Honda Accord.
Hailed as the most successful of Chevrolet's long line of vehicles, the Cavalier was designed with the aim of combating the invasion of compact imported vehicles. The front wheel drive Cavalier was responsible for prosperously expanding Chevrolet's share of small vehicles.
In the U.K. the J-platform was utilized on the Vauxhall-badged version of the Opel Ascona C. All five U.S. divisions of GM, as well as in Germany, Australia and Britain offered the J-cars. Manufactured in Lordstown, Ohio, the Cavaliers have also been produced in Wisconsin, Michigan, Janesville, Lansing and Ramos Arizpe, Coahuila, Mexio.
The Monza, which was available as either a 3-door hatchback, 2-door coupe or a 3-door wagon, was replaced by the Cavalier. In charge of capturing the majority of domestic compact sales, the Cavalier even aided in upping lagging sales of the Nova replacement, the mid-size Citation. The Cavalier was featured in 2-door coupe, 4-door station wagon, 4-door sedan and eventually a 2-door convertible.
Over the years, car enthusiasts have complained and criticized over the quality control of the Cavalier, along with the interior design and the aging platform. Unfortunately having a reputation for poor crash test rating on the third generation models, this still did not impact the strong sales of the Chevy Cavalier.
Upon its release, the first generation Cavalier was discovered to be even more conventional in its time than the Vega. The 1982 Cavalier featured simple unibody with suspension that consisted of MacPherson struts in the front and a simple beam axle in the back on coil springs. A relatively small car in comparison with others of the era, the Cavalier had a 101.2 inch wheelbase and was a length of 173.5 inches.
A simple 1.8-liter overhead-valve four with a pushrod-operated valvetrain and two barrel carburetor was the only engine that was offered at first, which was rated at only 88hp. The Cavaliers' 1.8 transverse-mounted 1.8 fed either a three-speed automatic or four speed manual transaxle.
Upon its release, Motor Trend rated the Cavalier with a 0-to-60 time of 16.4 seconds, and the quarter-mile taking 20.7 seconds at a rate of 67.3 mph. Not considered up to par as a Sport vehicle, the Cavalier was still speedier than a sedan.
In 1983, the issue of the limited power was addressed, and a new fuel-injected 2.0 liter version of the OHV four was introduced. Though it still only rated at 88 hp, the torque characteristics were much more satisfactory. During this year, a convertible Cavalier was made available, as well as the option of a five-speed manual transmission. A total of 627 Convertible units were sold in 1983.
Creating a new contemporary and traditional look, the 1984 Cavalier featured a new grill, four headlights and revised taillights. In this year, the Chevy Cavalier became the most popular new car in America.
Two years following the Chevy Cavalier's introduction, the Type-10, the sport coupe version, was introduced in 1984. Standard on all Cavaliers at the time, the Type -10 was available only with the 112 ci 4cyl engine.
Not many updates were made for the '85 model year Cavalier. Minor changes like new taillights, revised seats in the two-door coupe, and a new steering wheel rounded out the design of the vehicle, while a new V6 engine was made available for the first time.
For 1985 the V6 which was to be featured in the new Z24 model instead was showcased in the Cavalier as the Z24 sports model was delayed. The same V6 found in Celebrity and larger Citation models, the engine was the same fuel-injected, 2.8 liter, 60-degree OHV power plant, and was rated at 125 hp. For 1985 the Chevy Cavalier continued to hold strong in the position of America's best-selling car.
The Z-24 was released soon after the Type-10 in 86, and was exactly what the public was craving. A sport Coupe Cavalier, with a lot more power, the Z24 carried a 2.8L V6 MPFI engine that was able to produce 130 HP. Other features included ground effects, special interior, a black vertical bar grille and digital dash display. Minor design changes were underwent in 1988, and these included new taillights and a more aerodynamic front end. Keeping the same engine as before, new silver ground effects and an upgraded interior were featured, as well as a black grill consisting of three crossbars and one center vertical bar. The bowtie emblem was also outlined in red in the center. The Z24 package was available in both the hatchback and notchback two-door bodies.
Unfortunately in 1986 the Celebrity took the status of America's best-selling vehicle.
For the 1987 model year, the 2.8-liter V6 engine and the 2.0 –liter four-cylinder engines were updated and newly offered with a new Getrag five-speed manual transmission. The V6's output was estimated at 125-130 HP, while the four now reached 90 HP. In this year the Z24 package was also made available on the convertible. A total of 346,254 units were sold in 1987.
The 1988 model year brought with it new sheet metal, which was the most obvious update. The three-door hatchback was deleted from the lineup, leaving behind the sedan, the convertible and the two-door coupe. All of these received a slimmer, more contemporary-looking grille, and updated noses. The interior of the '88 model was also revised and fashioned to appear more modern-looking.
The following year the Cavalier was offered with a self-aligning steering wheel that featured an energy-absorbing hub. A total of 376,626 units were sold in the 1989 year.
The 1990 Z24 Cavalier received virtually unchanged, except for an upgrade in engine to the 3.1L V6 MPFI which was capable of producing 140 HP. The main difference in the new engine was a longer stroke crankshaft. The last design for the V6 powered Z24 was done in 91. The front end was made even more aerodynamic, and the taillights also received a minor update. A solid body colored panel replaced the grill, and a hollow, red outlined bowtie was placed in the center. For the 91 model year, the ground effects were painted to match the body color.
Even before the 1990 model year began, the Cavalier Convertible disappeared from the lineup. For this year, sales had unfortunately dropped to 310,501 units.
For the 1991 year, the Cavalier once again continued the convertible with a variety of options and option packages. Newly released was the Cavalier VL ('value leader' in either a coupe, sedan or wagon option. For 91 the Z24 was only made available in a coupe model, and the convertible was only featured as an RS. This year sales leapt to 326,847 units.
In 1992 the Z24 was once again available as a convertible and the output of the 2.2 liter engine was upped to 110 hp. Unfortunately the Cavalier was a decade old, and sales slumped to 225,633 units for this year. The price of the Chevy Cavalier was reduced for 1993, and the addition of detail changes helped reach the sale of 251,590 units. A total of 254,426 Chevy Cavaliers were sold in 1994. Additional updates included the 2.2 liter four being boosted in power rating to 120 hp.
Extensive redesigns were undergone on all J-Body's for the 1995 year. Though the Cavalier's body remained basically the same, a longer wheelbase was added, a newly redesigned body and upgraded suspension capabilities were also featured. A completely new 2.3L Quad 4 engine that was regularly found in N bodies was now found in the new Z24 with capabilities of 150 HP.
The interior of the 1995 Cavalier was also quite roomier with a much more sleek body that was both curvier and had a grille-free nose. The station wagon, convertible body styles and V6 engine were are missing from the '95 lineup. The DOHC, 16-valve, 2.3-liter Quad4 engine which made 150 hp were now standard engines in the Z24.The LS coupe and sedan now offered the Quad4 as an option. For the 1995 model year, total sales plummeted at 151,699 units.
Not much changed for the 1996 Cavalier except for the addition of daytime running lights, and the growth of the Quad4's engine to 2.4 liters. The 2.3 was replaced by the 2.4 Twin Cam in 1996, with the main difference being the modern balanced shaft construction. A total of 261,686 units were sold this year. For the following year, once again not many changes were made. For 1997 sales reach 315,136 Cavaliers, including 1,108 LS convertibles. For 1998, all Cavalier convertibles were Z24's. Sales dropped to 238,861 Cavaliers for this year. Sales went strong for 1999, and once again, very few changes were made.
For 2000 all Cavaliers received a new instrument panel that was much easier to read. Up-market radios included more power and the Radio Data System (RDS). A new much more aggressive rear spoiler was added to the Z24 in 2000. In 2001 the Convertible model was removed from the lineup, and the only additions were modifications to the available sound systems and a new sport package.
During the 2002 Cavalier model year GM's new all-aluminum Ecotec 2.2-liter, DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine was showcased for the very first time. The Z24 continued to receive the 2.4-liter Quad4, while base models continued with the OHV 2.2 liter four. The sporty LS Sport Sedan and LS Sport Coupe offered the available 140-hp Ecotec.
For 2003 the only obvious change was an updated nose grille. The Ecotec 2.2 liter four across the entire range as the sole engine offering was the most significant of changes. In this year the Cavalier lineup was simplified into only three trim levels on both sedans and coupes. These three were base, LS, and LS Sport. The Z24 was deleted in this year. Optional automatic had four forward gears, while standard transmission was a five-speed manual.
Not much was done with the 2004 model other than the option of a ‘sport appearance package'. In October 2004 the final 2005 Cavalier model was rolled off the line at the Lordstown Assembly Plant on October 6. The 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt was the new replacement for the Cavalier in the U.S. while the Chevrolet Astra was the new replacement in Mexico.
In the first year of production in the U.S. the Cavalier sold a total of 58,904 units. Sales nearly quadrupled in the following year. 1984 and 85 were the best-selling years for the Cavalier with number peaking at 462,611 in '84, and 383,752 in '85. Sales continued to remain high for the following years.
A small number of concept vehicle have been introduced by GM based on the J platform. These were showcased at the '01 Specialty Equipment Market auto show and included the Cavalier 263 Super Sport, the Cavalier Z24R, the Cavalier 220 Sport Turbo Coupe, the Cavalier Maui 155, the Cavalier Technic Z24, the Cavalier 425 A/FX drag car and the Pontiac Sunfire HO 2.4. The goal of GM was to show the public that the Cavalier had a greater potential than was being utilized. The vehicles features supercharged engines, highly customized interiors, exotic exterior styling and very top-notch audio/video systems.
Toyota released a version that they called the Toyota Cavalier coupe in 1996. This model was sold in Japan only for a short period of time. Toyota forged a company agreement with GM that allowed Toyota to badge the vehicle as a Cavalier with a few obvious differences. The Japanese version featured wider front fenders, a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, and the vehicle was a right hand drive. Other features included Japanese taillights, side turn signal repeater lights located on front fenders, power folding rear mirrors and carpeting on the interior of the trunk lid. Produced by GM in the U.S. the Toyota Cavalier produced a decent amount of sales during its five year production run.By Jessica Donaldson