Not their finest hour: Chevrolet Chevette

Celebrating the greatest cock-ups in automotive history. This week we look at the Chevrolet Chevette
By Sony Thomas, Deputy Editor
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November 27, 2016
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GM’s first response to the oil crisis of the Seventies was the Chevrolet Vega, but it didn’t live long. One would imagine the seven-year life-span of the Vega was enough time for GM engineers to come up with a better and more convincing model. But the Chevrolet Chevette that replaced it was one of the most haphazardly put together products in GM’s history.

One look at it and it was evident that no effort whatsoever went into the design of the car. It was as generic a design as seen in any automobile. The T-cars, or small cars built on GM’s ‘T’ platform, were already on sale in other markets by the early Seventies, including the Opel Kadett in Germany, Vauxhall Chevette in the UK, and Isuzu Gemini in Japan. As soon as a T-Car was approved for the American market, GM took the easy way out and chose the Chevrolet Chevette sold in Brazil as the template, and rushed it into production in the US with hardly any change.

This meant it was an ungainly subcompact with an ancient front-engine, rear-drive layout lugged by a lethargic little engine. Not nearly the right thing to do at a time when the sub-compact market was being transformed by peppy, well-built front-wheel drive cars such as the Volkswagen Golf and the Honda Civic from abroad, and Ford Fiesta and dodge Omni at home.

Perhaps potential buyers could have looked past the unremarkable looks and weak layout of the Chevette if it had been well put together or it handled well. But it disappointed here, too, with its rough suspension and shoddy construction inside and out. Add to this, GM’s refusal to update it, led to a slow but sure demise. And nobody missed it.