The Carchive: The '77 Chevrolet Chevette

The Carchive has its fair share of spangly, high-buck automobiles accounted for amid its dusty, cobwebbed shelves. But it’s the down-to-earth, blue-collar, working guy’s everyday transport that’s, in so many ways, more interesting. These are the cars that litter the streets one week, and are all gone the next. There’s no mourning, no sadness, just out with the old, in with the new. This brochure has out-lived the vast majority of the cars it represents.
Last week we peered at Ford’s economy champion of the 70’s, and now it’s the turn of The General. It’s the rapid-selling Chevy Chevette.

Click on the images to make ’em bigger.

“You can show your best friend how roomy the Chevette is. Even if he’s 6’3″”
Well, that’s me out, then. However, smaller folk would find plenty of space inside Chevy’s smallest car – because it really wasn’t very small at all. At just over 4 metres long, it’s not far short of a first-generation Ford Focus. It took a Mk1 Fiesta to show people how small the Chevette wasn’t.
Its low price came from its simplicity, not its size. The Chevette was as conventional as they came, with coil springs all round and a torque-tube live axle at the back. All you needed to get you down the road.

“If you know somebody who likes getting compliments for his efficiency, tell him about Chevette. They’re made for each other”
Do people like that exist? You don’t get catchy crossheads like that any more.
Anyway, you got a choice of a 1.4-litre or an Isuzu-sourced 1.6-litre OHC motor. 57hp for the former, 63hp from the latter. Not a ball of fire, the Chevette, but that’s not what it was about. Mechanical inertness was the deal here.
That and practicality. It may only have had three doors, but it wanted to be a wagon.

“There are a lot of reasons for recommending Chevette as a wise buy. One very good one is the people you bought it from”
Again, unless you’re shopping for domestic insurance or a mortgage, you just don’t find advertising copy like that any more. Chevy knew it would be futile to convince anybody that Chevette was a lifestyle product. There was little fantasy that your humble hatchback was an aspirational machine.
It didn’t have to be miserably basic, though.

“Some final, friendly persuasion from Chevy dealers everywhere, who have all these 1977 Chevette choices and options available for you.”
Oh, so there was a little hard sell. And why not?! Check out the choice! You could opt for anything from the bare-bones Scooter to a jaunty Rally Sport with a front passenger assist grip (a grab handle?), a volt meter and a rev counter! Or, there was the Sandpiper special edition, in Cream Gold or Antique White.
It’s funny how dissimilar the Chevy Chevette was to its T Platform cousins elsewhere on the globe. And I’ve never really understood why the uniquely-styled British interpretation of the model (which looked totally different to the rather more square-cut Opel Kadett), was also called Chevette. In the USA, the name had traction, being close to Chevelle, Corvette and translating to “Baby Chevrolet”. In the UK, it really didn’t mean much at all. But this didn’t prevent it from selling very well indeed.
Anybody have any Chevette tales of note?
(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me on my doorstep, in between thunderstorms. Copyright remains property of General Motors)

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26 responses to “The Carchive: The '77 Chevrolet Chevette”

  1. Alff Avatar

    I agree. True friends don’t tell you about the Chevette.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      True friends tell (warn) each other about the Chevette.

  2. Victor Avatar

    They were exactly what they were designed to be. Low budget grocery getter. Cheap car for the masses.

  3. longrooffan Avatar

    After all of us kids had moved out of my folks home, Mom sold the huge Plymouth Gran Fury Sport Suburban Station Wagon and bought one of these. I never drove it but she loved it. As Mom was the only driver it probably would have lasted her forever had she kept it but three years later she upgraded to a Pontiac T-1000! That lasted her until she got a Honda Accord a few years later. I guess after having driven huge kid haulers for years, she loved her “small” cars and telling anyone she didn’t like that she didn’t have room for them. She was pretty smart afterall.

  4. Lokki Avatar

    As I’ve stated elsewhere, I always viewed the Chevette as an overreaction by GM to that disastrous flirtation with various advanced technologies called ‘The Vega’. Management’s knee-jerk solution to that fiasco was to return to Cretaceous Period technology and design. Like the (other) cockroaches from that period, Chevette were ugly and crude, but indestructible.
    It’s tempting to dismiss them as the little POS cars they were, but they almost always started and ran.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      I agree; after the Corvair (independent suspension, unit body, aluminum heads and crankcase but iron cylinders), and the Vega (all aluminum block), Chevy retrenched and went for overly simple. It may have been more profitable and led to fewer problems, but caused GM to fall behind the competition.

    2. WinstonSmith84 Avatar

      There are still people today saying that instead of foisting the Vega on the American people, GM should have Americanized an Opel. That’s what the Chevette is; an Americanized(or at least Detroited) Opel. European cars are only exciting from a few thousand miles away.

      1. outback_ute Avatar

        Dull but competent beats self-destructing and impractical.

    3. Maymar Avatar

      I worked at a place that had a fleet of 20+ year old Chevettes – all had somewhere north of 150k miles (the point where the odometer stopped working), and as much as we had a mechanic on retainer, those things survived plenty of abuse and neglect.

      1. WinstonSmith84 Avatar

        The Chevrolet Chevette’s odometer only went to 99,999.9 miles.

        1. Maymar Avatar

          You had me worried for a second I was going senile, but no, I’m Canadian, and it looks like we really did get six digit (and a tenth) odometers on metric cars.

          1. WinstonSmith84 Avatar

            Interesting. I confirmed my suspicion about US Chevette odometers by looking at instrument panel photos from a variety of model years.

    4. Joe Btfsplk Avatar
      Joe Btfsplk

      Chevette was the world’s best pizza delivery car… so cheap that you could keep a couple out back for parts cars. The diesel version was to be avoided because it was so slow that the pizza would get cold before the delivery person could get to the customer destination.

  5. Scubie Avatar

    Crashed my mums car in my last year of high school (1990)… My parents bought a 1979 Vauxhall Chevette GL – with the Ross style wheels and rally stripe, one previous old lady owner and 45,000km on the clock – for me, and subsequently my sisters to use while at home. Ours was in maroon, and in mint condition. The 1256cc engine -like the one found in other English cars of the time – was good for 140 km/h flat out. Different nose to the US spec cars. Great memories…

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        Somewhat reminiscent of the Manta:

        1. Scubie Avatar

          Just a big GM parts bin merry-go-round…

  6. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    mandatory RCR link

  7. CraigSu Avatar

    My sister had a Chevette as her DD while in high school. To this day (some 35 years later) she will launch into an endless rant about how much she hated that car. I think she just resented driving a manual. I absolutely loved thrashing that little car. It was somewhat like a cockroach in that it wouldn’t die and would take whatever abuse you threw at it.

  8. Rudy™ Avatar

    Egads. Here in Detroit, and especially in Warren where I grew up (merely a mile from the GM Tech Center), these miserable little crap cans proliferated like cockroaches, as many of the GM employees and their family bought them under the employee plan. My buddy’s dad (not a GM employee, although they had one in the family) had one, and I only rode in that little death trap once. The doors were very thin, and you not so much sat in that thing than you wore it (the door was, literally, up against my side). Being that my one lone “thrill ride” in that contraption was in the dead of winter, on our icy side streets, I started to wonder if I would ever get back home alive. It had, like, no traction whatsoever. Absolutely terrible car. Their old mustard yellow ’73 Nova (with 3-on-the-tree) was more accommodating, and at least had its own special sort of charm in a crude way.
    They later had a diesel Rabbit and they finally sold it, still running, with 180k miles on the odometer. That car was literally The Thing That Would Not Die. Still a crap can, but a more reliable and somewhat safer crap can that took us all sorts of places cheaply.
    Corvair…Vega…Chevette…Citation…arguably GM never could get the “small car” thing right. (And given the poor quality of the Chevy Cruze a family friend owns, GM still can’t figure it out…)

    1. Tank Avatar

      I grew up near where they were built in Wilmington, Delaware. Those things were everywhere as were the Chevy Beretta/ Corsica that was built there afterwards

  9. Vette - Cha-Vette Avatar
    Vette – Cha-Vette

    Had one – First car in fact. The plywood floors, terrible electrical system and carbon-canister emissions filter made it a POS of the highest order. I have appreciated every car since abandoning that death trap

  10. cap'n fast Avatar
    cap’n fast

    these things were/are the preferred target in charity “sledgehammer a car” events. i can honestly say these little cockroaches had their uses.