Created in the same design studio as the Corvette and the Camaro, the Chevy Beretta was a front-wheel-drive coupe sister version of the Corsica sedan produced by the Chevrolet division of GM. Both the Beretta and the Corsica made their official debut in February of 1989 as early 1988 models. At first the Beretta and Corsica were introduced quietly and not sold to the public but instead to rental agencies like Enterprise, government agencies and driven by GM employees. Without any advertising from Chevrolet, thousands of these models appeared on American streets in an attempt at real-world testing. Chevrolet was able to check refinement and reliability issues and how they stacked against the competitors. It didn't take long before the public was soon enamored with the unique and sporty Beretta and Chevrolet dealers began to sell the Beretta on GM's official launch date, March 12th, 1988.
Late in 1987 many of these new L-bodies were built in advance and tagged as 1988 models so that dealers would have plenty ready for the public. GM took two factories, the Wilmington, Delaware assembly plant and the Linden, New Jersey plant and gutted them both. With the help of 600 million dollars the two factories soon featured new, state of the art assembly equipment. Sharing the same wheelbase, the Beretta and the Corsica rode on a 104.3' wheelbase and shared much of the same drivetrain options.
Beretta gun manufacturing company apparently had an issue with General Motor's choice of name and initially attempted to sue GM for name rights. Eventually an 'out of court' both parties reached settlement, and GM and Beretta exchanged symbolic gifts: a Beretta GTU coupe and a pair of Beretta shotguns. GM donated $500,000 to a Beretta-sponsored charity that was affiliated with the GM Cancer Research Foundation. In 1989 Car and Driver magazine poked fun at the lawsuit with testers staging a 'comparison test' between a Beretta handgun and a Chevy Beretta.
Featuring plenty of innovative features like double-sided galvanized steel and a distributor-free ignition, the Beretta came with a refreshing body design, sporty look and feel. The design allowed for the elimination of front and rear end caps and a limited number of body seams. Costing less in the design the headlights and the grille, and the taillights were integrated into the body, which gave it a much cleaner look. Adding to the aerodynamic look and design the window frames on the doors cover the 'A' pillars and the door handles are 'tapper' style and flush mounted. One of the first GM models to use GM's new pull-down 'beer-tap' exterior door handles, the Beretta also featured different exterior body panels than the Corisca.
In 1988 the Beretta came standard with F41 sport suspension and rode on 14-inch tires. The Beretta and Corsica were designed to sell for less money than domestic and import rivals. The front wheel drive Beretta helped usher in aerodynamic-inspired styling for Chevy's compact lineup.
A 2.0 liter four cylinder engine that provided excellent fuel economy while the torque filled 2.8-liter V6 engine provided smooth acceleration and sleek performance in any driving conditions powered the Beretta. The Beretta when equipped with the four-cylinder engine was inexpensive to buy and quite inexpensive to run. With an imposing 'shark-like' demeanor, the Beretta was exceptionally sport with an impressive number of standard options and comfort/convenience features.
In 1988 race car driver Tommy Kendall raced a Chevrolet sponsored Beretta GTU in the IMSA GTU racing series which helped garner interest in the new Beretta. One of the sponsors of this vehicle was Cars & Concepts of Brighton, Michigan, an aftermarket conversion company to GM, and Kendall won three championship events in just 1988. Chevrolet produced a Beretta GTU street version to honor this event, which was a GT updated with 16x7 aluminum wheels, specific GTU trim and decals and custom ground effects and spoiler. Available in 1988 and 1989 at Chevrolet dealers the modifications were done by Cars & Concepts.
In 1990 a new GTZ performance coupe with a high output Quad 4 and FE7 sport suspension was introduced that replaced the GTU model. GTZs were only offered in red, white or black and featured a blanked-off body-colored grille and body-colored 16' rims. The GTZ featured a new engine, one that wasn't shared with the Corisca, the 180 hp 2.3L DOHC 'Quad 4' engine. This engine was offered with either the 5-speed manual or 3-speed automatic.
The GT and base Berettas continued on the same but did receive all-new engine choices an all-new 95 hp 2.2 I4 standard in base models, and a 140 hp 3.1L V6 optional yet standard in the GT models. This 140 hp model was available in the GTZ as a credit option. New in 1991 was a driver's side airbag and an updated dashboard. The following year anti-lock brakes became standard and the base I4 gained 15 hp for a total of 110 hp. In 1993 the Quad 4 engine lost 5 hp due to strict emission controls to 175. The automatic transmission models received a brake-shift interlock that prevented being shifted from PARK without the brake pedal depressed.
GT & GTZ models were soon discontinued in 1994 and were replaced by the Z26, which was an effective split between the GT and GTZ. Either the Quad 4 or the V6 engine powered the Z26. Debuting this year was a brand new rim design and the V6 engine also was boosted 20 hp to 160 (the base I4 got a 10 hp gain to 120). The Quad 4 dropped 5 more hp this year 170 hp. New safety features this year included door-mounted seat belts and the V6 was now available with the 4-speed automatic transmission only.
In 1995 the Beretta received new daytime running lights, which was the first Chevrolet model (alongside the Corsica) to offer this. The Quad 4 engine went away and the top engine option for the base and Z26 was the V6. With 100,000-mile change intervals the Beretta received platinum-tipped spark plugs. For 1996 the Beretta received no updates.
The Beretta was also picked as the official pace car for the 1990 Indy 500. Big plans were underwent by Chevrolet for the Indy 500 as the pace car would be an updated version of a brand new prototype planned for 1990 production, the Beretta convertible.
Numerous magazines displayed the new convertibles and prototype cars appeared at car shows. GM began to prepare five convertibles to be the official pace cars for the Indy 500 with the assistance one again from Cars & Concepts. Painted bright PPG yellow, the 5 convertibles had GTU style ground effects and 16' wheels with yellow accents. Powering the convertible was a custom 3.4-liter pushrod V6 using a 3.1 block. Updates and tweaks were made to every aspect of this engine including a custom intake from a Corvette L98 engine. A few special models were tested by the press and various auto magazines at the track and met amazing performance expectations.
On May 27, 1990 the bright yellow Beretta convertibles appeared at the Indy 500. These five models were used in various functions that included the parade alongside green hardtop coupes that were driven by the press and parade officials. Two of the five convertibles were powered by the production 3.1 liter V6, like the green coupes, while the three other pace cars were powered by the impressive 3.4 V6.
Chevrolet produced 7,500 limited edition Beretta INDY pace car replicas, which were sold before the Indy 500, at Chevrolet dealerships to commemorate the special event. 6,000 of these models were painted green and 1,500 were painted yellow and featured special interior trim and badging. None of these special models were convertibles. The 1990 Indy 500 was won by Arie Luyendyk who received one of the pace car replicas.
Unfortunately the end of the Beretta was looming as Chevrolet announced in September of 1990 that it would be cancelling the Beretta convertible project. The Beretta convertible failed rear impact tests and also suffered from serious body flex with its roof removed. The basket handle style roll bar didn't add much stability to the vehicle. Chevrolet attempted to add a model number and RPO code for the convertible, and did much to advertise the car at car shows, dealerships and magazines. Chevrolet even began taking orders for the cars, which was slated to begin production in mid-summer 1990.
During its nine seasons the Beretta didn't undergo many changes and was considered outdated. The Malibu replaced the Corsica though there was no direct successor to the Beretta.
By Jessica Donaldson
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