The Carchive: '81 Pontiac Acadian

I received an exciting telegram from the expedition team last weekend- while charting the cave we have come to know as the Lesser Chamber, a fissure was found in the rock which opened into a hitherto unknown void, and they could scarcely believe what they found in there. Welcome back to The Carchive.
We remain west of the Atlantic for today’s crawl among the loose rocks of motoring history with a look at the ’81 Pontiac Acadian.

Click the pictures for a better look at a GM’s small car for a big country.


“One tough small car that’s really going strong. That’s Acadian”
Acadian was the suitably ethnic name given to a badge-engineered variant of the Chevy Chevette sold north of the International Boundary. In turn, the Chevette was the wholly North-American built spin off from the Project 909 T-Platform World Car which has been seen around the globe with badges as disparate as Saehan, Isuzu and Daewoo, as well as providing a mechanical basis at one time for the baffling Uraguayan Grumett Color.
Replacing the reputationally challenged Chevy Vega range called for a clean break, and a non-nonsense, technologically undistinguished machine was definitely what GM needed at the time. And that time didn’t finally elapse until 1987.
“Acadian’s small but it packs a big punch! Since introduction just five years ago, Acadian has been a North American built value alternative to the imports”
In the USA the Chevette Scooter sat at the very bottom of the range- one step up from walking, it had the very barest of bones. The Acadian equivalent wasn’t quite as specificationally malnourished as the Scooter, but the Acadian S Hatchback Coupe was aimed at the “especially budget conscious” and stood out from the crowd by its lack of exterior chromework and its fixed rear side windows. Moreover, there was a “Tuned absorber (damper) on all transmissions to help improve smoothness (except on Acadian S)”
Furthermore, with the S you were prohibited from ordering certain extras. There would be no custom two-tone paint, no sport mirrors, no stereo radio or rear seat speaker and certainly no side window reveal mouldings for you, skinflint.
“A seat inside Acadian can certainly brighten up your outlook”
The interiors could actually be made to look quite plush, especially if you went for the custom interior package (not available on Acadian S) with high-contour bucket seats trimmed in deluxe cloth or vinyl, better door mouldings, addid acoustical insulation, various deluxe doo-dahs and a pair of ashtrays to the kids could smoke in the back.
A tachometer was optional (except on Acadian S), or you could have the world’s biggest fuel gauge as standard equipment. Also standard on all models (aside from Acadian S) were a sport steering wheel and shifter, a locking glove box, reclining bucket seats and a deluxe color-keyed instrument panel.
“It all adds up. To a hefty sum of sporty good looks, long lasting quality and dependability- without a hefty price tag”
Motivation for the Acadian came from a 1.6 litre four-banger with cams whirling away on top working eight valves. According to the brochure it was rated at “good” horsepower, and the acceleration is given as “peppy” (these are manufacturers figures).
Over in England our own variant on the 909 theme was the Vauxhall Chevette, which could be had with various engines including, in the fearsome rally homologated HS, a tuned sixteen-valve varint of the 2.3 litre slant-four boosted to 135hp by twin Strombergs. Alas, there was no Performance Acadian, as far as I know.
Got any spellbindingly exciting, tolerably happy or outright miserable memories of Chevette or Acadian ownership? Feel free to share your memories in the comments section.
(All images are of original manufacturer’s publicity material, photographed by me. Copyright presumably still belongs to GM. The name Chevette made a lot more sense as a Chevrolet than a Vauxhall, don’t you think? And I wonder whether any badly hand-written Chevelle order-forms were misinterpreted?)

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  1. Citric Avatar

    I wonder how many Acadian S models they actually made. I assume it was a traffic driver and salesman were all ordered to push customers into something else, but the incredibly limited spec makes me think they just made a short run at the beginning of the model year, all exactly the same, and figured nobody would want one after that.

  2. desmo Avatar

    Pontiac….Pontiac…..much more Pontiac….

  3. mrh1965 Avatar

    Wow, a Canadian T1000.

  4. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    And don’t forget the Australia/NZ Holden Gemini
    The Grumett? Wow, that is obscure. They had the perfect model for the pick-up truck obsessed US market as well. Who will be the first to import one of these?

    1. fede Avatar

      the grumetts have not been treated kindly…

      1. Rover 1 Avatar
        Rover 1

        Wouldn’t this be the ideal vehicle for ‘1977 Chevy Truck’ ?

  5. nanoop Avatar

    A bolder introduction for a rock of a car!

  6. fede Avatar

    Quite strange to read about the grumett here (I’m from uruguay)…. I have to ask, how did you get to that?

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      I came across them a few years ago when I was following up Uraguay’s BMC models and the fibreglass minis, (see while researching a comment to Autocar(UK) about how Britain was becoming an automotive assembler rather than a manufacturer. The same people were involved with the Chevette and earlier Viva based utes. I also worked with a Uraguyuan here in NZ and had talked to him about your country’s strange assortment of cars. Chris, who wrote the article, does good research and the Grummett is mentioned in the Wikipedia article on the world’s GM ‘T’ cars. It’s also covered on Vauxpedia which is a very good website.

      1. fede Avatar

        yep, our market is quite strange.
        we’re a small country with a small market, so we don’t get any attention from manufacturers, and it’s impossible to design and build cars here, because even if it’s a hit, you will not sell many…
        but fiberglass was quite popular in the 70s here.
        also, the chevette was hugely popular in uruguay. and chevrolet has been among the sales leaders for many years, but it’s reputation is falling fast…

        1. Rover 1 Avatar
          Rover 1

          Did you get a version of the Holden Commodore or Opel Omega over there?

          1. fede Avatar

            not sure about the omega, maybe a few (it would have been big and expensive), but we did get rekords in the 60s-80s

    2. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Ha! I’ve long been fascinated by the Grumett and will do a piece on it at some point. It’s one of those cars, like the Turkish Anadol which comprises a fascinatic mix of imported mechanicals and home-grown engineering ingenuity. The switch from Vauxhall Viva to Chevette oily bits just adds flavour to the mix.

  7. 1slowvw Avatar

    My whole fathers side of the family are Acadian. Why couldn’t we have a nice vehicle named after us? To make it worse the new GMC Acadia isn’t much better.

    1. hubba Avatar

      It isn’t my cup of tea, but the Acadia is a pretty nice way of getting around.