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The "T"-Body Cars: Chevrolet Chevette and Pontiac T1000

Chevette 01 26 09 003 As you all very well know, General Motors and other car companies use an alphabet letter to denote a body style, usually used by two or more divisions. When the unreliability of the "H"-body Vega became obvious, GM went looking globally to replace the Vega by rebadging a "T"-body from elsewhere in the world. First built in Brazil in 1974, the "T" car was eventually made as the Vauxhall Chevette, Opel Kadett, Isuzu Gemini, and Holden Gemini. It was also called the Pontiac Acadian in Canada. Briefy, it was even made as a pickup truck, the Chevy 500.

Launched by the Chevrolet Division in 1976 as the Chevette and in 1981 as Pontiac's T1000, this is a truly "love-it-or-hate-it" car. I bought this then-new 1978 model for reliable transportation and easy campus parking, as well as something to remember my 21st birthday by. Originally available in America only as a 2-door, "Rally" and "Woody" packages were also offered. A 4-door came along in 1978, and those two trim packages were dropped. All were hatchbacks. There was a station wagon that was never available here, but I think it would have been a hit at that time. In 1978, the Pinto and Monza wagons were still available and selling strong--though their days were ultimately numbered.

Chevette 01 26 09 004 The Chevette/T1000 interior was, well, "sparse" at best. Vinyl seats were standard; the optional plaid cloth pattern featured in my car was both comfy and stylishly indicative of when Disco ruled the land. In fact, this was the first set of cloth seats I ever had. They convinced me that cloth seats are the way to go, since vinyl or leather seats are hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and usually don't last as long unless, of course, they are fine Corinthian. This was the standard interior; the upgraded digs were as scarce as hens' teeth.

All Chevettes had the exposed, hard, painted metal upper door edges to bang your arm on, a trait common to cheap cars and trucks. The one-piece plastic door panels were deceiving. At first they looked like stitched and padded panels, but any touch would find them almost as hard as the aforementioned door edges. The carpeting was nice enough, even covering the hatch load floor.

The mini console was handy, but the dash was a disaster. Only one size radio was allowed, and DIN-sized choices were very limited in 1978. Under-dash FM converters combined with the standard AM radio were the cheapest fix. How else could you hear "Funkytown" with no static? Gauges were also virtually non-existent. All "T" cars had the 85-mph speedometer, fuel gauge, and smaller holes for idiot lights and a place for a clock. There was an optional tachometer and volt gauge, but again, try to find a car with those options. Amazingly, on the 2-doors, the rear side windows were hinged and latched! So what was in the cabin seemed to be done fairly well. Squeaks and rattles were few except for the noisy, poorly fitted hatch area.

Chevette 01 26 09 008 Driving my T1000 was fun, but not exactly exciting. Very soon after buying the car, we put a set of Michelin radials on. From then on, I looked forward to a certain set of "S" curves on the way to work each day, as the "T" was one of the first GM cars to have rack-and-pinion steering ... basically the same unit that went into the "P"-body Pontiac Fiero.

I have to say that the T-body cars' traction in snow was amazing, especially considering they were real wheel drive. During "The Great Blizzard of 1978", I drove the first car with snow pounding the floor pan. The car made it up a steep driveway that a friend's Jeep would not conquer ... with bias-ply tires, no less! (These are not typical results, your traction may vary.) Please don't adjust your sets, that's a black & white picture I took of an ice-encrusted hubcap on the '78 Chevette. Powered by a 1.6-liter I-4, they made all of 70 horsepower at the rear wheels. Power steering and power brakes just weren't needed, as the cars were light enough to steer and stop easily without them.

Chevette 01 26 09 002 In 1979, the Chevette received a front-end freshening that would last till the end of production in 1987, including a new hood, rectangular headlights, and a chrome grille. The 1980 model year, the beginning of the Al Franken Decade, brought new rear quarter panels, hatch, and a tail light change, all very attractive for the time. In fact, I'm going to say it here ... the lines were quite similar to the first-generation VW Scirocco, and neither was a bad-looking car back then. As mentioned, in 1981 the Pontiac version was released, gussying up the Chevette by using Pontiac badges, a dark painted grille, lowered body side moldings, and the Chevette's "Custom Exterior" option of extra bright side window trim with matte black painted accents. In 1982, a much-improved hard cloth-covered headliner was used. The pinstripes on the silver car were my doing.

Chevette 01 26 09 006 Yes, we owned three of the cars cars shown here. For years we lived frugally, and have seen some payoffs lately by doing so. The two-tone 4-door here belonged to my mother; she drove the car for years, even with a peculiar shudder in the drivetrain. Between 25 and 35 mph, the car had a strange vibration, probably in the driveshaft. We never had it fixed because it was not chronic, and we didn't want to put a penny more into the car than we had to. We just lived with it. Hers was a three-speed automatic, both of mine had four-speed manuals.

All three cars had air conditioning; the heaters worked all right, except there wasn't a bi-level vent and floor setting ... it was either one or the other. So your tootsies froze while your upper body and face were warm or visa-versa, unless you fiddled with the air flow controls every few minutes. But at least her car had rear doors! Getting in and out of any 2-door coupe is tough; try it in one of these microbes. I have avoided buying any 2-door car that has a back seat since I owned a Chevette--even my last pickup truck has four full-sized doors.

HSRBilling OK, that's the good news. So, how could a car that was the best selling car in America in 1979 and 1980 take such a fall from grace? Simple ... in America, GM did virtually nothing to improve or update this car as the Europeans did (a Vauxhall Chevette is shown at left), and the competition simply overran it.

The "T" was hardly cutting-edge when it was new. Other than relocating nameplates, body-coloring bumpers, and adding the mandatory Central High-Mounted Stop Light (CHMSL) third brake light, almost nothing was done. In 1984, Pontiac dropped the "T" designation and simply called the car the "1000".

Dealers also carried only poorly-equipped models on their lots. Goodies like a 5-speed manual, tilt steering wheel, remote control mirror, intermittent wipers, rear defroster, rear wiper, roof rack, nicer interior packages, AM/FM radio, and better wheels were available, but have you ever seen them? If you got air conditioning, tinted glass, and a radio in your "T" car, feel lucky.

Had Chevy and Pontiac updated the cabin and used the items already available in their parts bin to upgrade the cars, the Chevette and T1000 cars would surely have gained more respect in the market. But, sadly, GM's strategy of chopping the price in 1987 to $4,995 to compete with the Hyundai Excel and Yugo GV only placed the "T" cars lower on the automotive food chain.

Chevette Scooter Then there was the Chevette Scooter. As if the regular Chevette wasn't spartan enough, GM decided to take off all of the exterior trim, cheaply paint the bumpers, limit colors and equipment, remove the glove box door, use unbelievably flat interior door trim, install vinyl flooring and vinyl hatch floor covers, and remove any plastic chrome from the dash. Mechanically the Scooter was identical with other Chevettes, but many options were not available. In 1976, the first year, a back seat was optional. Sigh, what were they thinking? Has a more plain-looking car ever been offered? Thankfully, Chevrolet dropped the Scooter in the 1984 model year.

Chevette Woody Quality was another issue. I really enjoyed and occasionally miss the little brown car ... enough that its memories prompted me to buy a T1000 as soon as Pontiac released them. What a mistake! From poor assembly and bad materials to criminally stupid dealer service, this is the car I've most regretted owning in my life.

Almost immediately after getting the car, I had to go to a dealer and receive a fender badge the factory forgot to put on--my first recall! There was not enough material in the headliner to fold over and finish. The dealer scratched the driver's inner door panel, then repaired it by painting the hard molded burgundy plastic which, of course, immediately flaked off. The carpet had a flaw, so the dealer replaced it--the new rug was installed crooked, and the dealer did not reconnect the hand brake lever when they gave me back the car. A strange dent appeared in the hood while at the dealer--it's as if somebody sat on it. The passenger's door had a wind noise, so the idiot at the dealer rolled down the window, put his knee inside the door, pulled the window frame in a bit, thus cracking the paint, and left a dent in the door where his knee was. The list goes on.

Maybe the increase in production volume between 1978 and 1981 explains why the second car was not as good as the first. Just spit 'em out, and we'll fix 'em later. Again, sigh.

Chevette 01 26 09 005 So, in my usually worthless opinion, with more standard equipment and a new interior, a "T" car could have been almost fun to own, maybe even springing a cult following. It drove well, was good on gas, and was sold incredibly cheaply. But with options difficult to find and dealers treating their customers and the cars like unwanted stepchildren, it seems like GM wasted a golden opportunity here.

My little brown car was a mountain climber. It's pictured here parked at Newfound Gap in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can see the stickers in the window if you look closely. The silver Chevette next to me is a 1976 or 1977 model.

Sorry about the multitude of pictures here, but these things came in a lot of different varieties! Wikipedia supplied the European Vauxhall Chevette photo. The Scooter and 1976 Woody are from The Chevette Photo Gallery. Also at the Chevette Photo Gallery, you can see pictures of Australian Holden Geminis, the Down Under Chevettes. It's fascinating to see how they are both familiar and foreign.

--That Car Guy (Chuck)

Comments

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Back in college, a guy I knew drove a Chevette Sprint. His dad traded a cow for it (this was at Texas A&M University, naturally).

Another guy I knew had a T-1000. It wouldn't make it up steep hills if the air conditioner was on, which is usually was during most of the year in Texas. Good thing we didn't have many steep hills.

This page is pretty sharp. I enjoy the comments and pictures. I just Bought a 1980 4-door chevette w/ 60,000 original miles off the original owner. Just two options auto and radio, I appreciate its simplicity and can readily find parts and can fix most everything myself. Dumped my '05 Malibu, too many sensor/computer problems. I can't believe the shape this thing is in, the old boy certainly took care of it. The spartan accomodations and lack of gadgetry are refreshing.

@SullyAg: The T1000 came out in 1981, the same year GM started messing around with engine-management systems. The car was so programmed to save gas that the more you floored it, the leaner it ran, the less power you had. I had the same lack-of-power problems in my second T-car, another reason I didn't like it.

I'm not surprised at all that you couldn't make it up a hill.

Oh man the dreaded Chevette. My father traded a 1974 2 door ford LTD with a 460 in it for a used 1980 Chevette with 850 miles on it in the summer of 1980. I hated that damn car from the moment I first seen it. It was a Light brown 2 door with a four speed and an aftermarket a/c. I remember my dad briefly turning off the a/c so as to have enough power to pass another car on the highway. I spent many, many miles cramped up in that backseat as a teenager and it also was the car I learned to drive with as well.

He got well over 130 k miles out of the motor before it expired even though he didn't change the oil but every 8K miles or so. It was still going strong with it's new motor in 1989 when my dad offered to sell it to me cheep but I never felt safe in that car from day one so I declined and later that year he was involved in an accident in it in which a teenage driver pulled out in front of him attempting to go the same direction as my dad. It was more of a glancing blow but the Chevette folded up like a tin can killing my father and seriously injuring my sister who was riding in the back seat. The Chevette was an extreamly unsafe car and I absolutley cringe when I see one.

My (then girlfriend) wife was looking for something new back in '83 or '84. At the time her dad was working at GM, and got her a deal on a Chevette. I don't remember the price but she arranged the financing so the payments were under $100.00. It might have been a higher model, since it was a hatchback with a five speed trans. To say it was underpowered is an understatement. If it had been an automatic, the accelleration would have been atrocious. Even with the five speed, the mileage and mid-range speed levels were mediocre. One its' selling points was the low price due to its' plain/spartan appearance, both interior and exterior. If I remember correctly, a surprising part was how narrow the legroom in the passenger front seat was. To keep it neat, I happened to have some carpet remnants which I cut to the very size for floor mats. Overall, it was rather disappointing, and when it was sold (within two or three years of purchase), it was not missed.

We had a 1976 Chevette and it ran great for years. Then one day on a trip to apple country it just stopped beside the road. Quick diagnosis showed that the timing belt broke. I had my tools in the car and a two mile walk to an auto repair store got me a new timing belt. I removed the broken belt and slipped the new one on in about a half hour. It started right up and ran perfectly until I traded it in on a Citation. That is a story for another day.

where can i find a center support bearing from

I still have a 1981 Chevette, diesel, that runs like a charm. original owner, 15,000 original miles. it was my mom's, the typical go to the supermarket vehicle. love it to death!
anyone know where i can get parts? need the plastic exterior window hinges for the back windows, 4 each.

Hey, I've always wanted to put a stout Buick V6 in a Chevette. I've been lusting after my parent's neighbor's 'Vette for 10+ years and finally bought it for $100. It's in need of paint, but is all there, including power brakes and A/C. It's a restorer's dream. Unfortunately, I'm not a restorer, and it will probably wind up with a ~300 hp Quad 4 or 60 Degree V6 and 5-speed if my wife doesn't claim it. Oh, did I mention that it's a 50K mile example?

i had three of those ....my first was a 86 4 door ....ironically while i was looking for a replacement motor the car(oil sending unit pissed out the side of the block) i found a 87 with a tilt coloumn and power steering.... so i put it in the 86 ......wat a difference that made move a finger fight to get the car back on the road.....toooooo sensitive.... unfortunatly i never did keep the car to long i found a 87 with a sunroof installed and perferd to drive that one.....86 and the 87 were identical but the 86 had power steering and power brakes with am/fm radio and the 87 had nothing power..... both cam with 3 speed automatics. the last on i owned was a 85 t1000 with the chevette grill and tail lights..the cat was also converteted with a 5 speed (instead of the auto) and had a rare h/o 1.6L motor with factory 2 into 1 header...GM clamed 105hp but the car actually only had 95 to the rear wheels...peppy little $hitbox....all of them were owned within the last 6 years....curently looking for another just because im miss the over sized go cart........

My first car was a little silver 1976 Chevette, and I miss it so much! I could drive in the snow when no one else could. Got wet plenty of times since there were many large holes in the driver's side floor, the heat was stuck on ALL THE TIME, but I could park it anywhere and drove forever on a tank of gas. I'm looking for another '76 chevette now. Great memories!

I enjoyed your comments and the article you put together. I now own my second Chevette. the first one I had in high school was a 1976 Chevette with a manual transmission with no floorboards. Even though i had to put some plywood on the floors, I purely enjoyed the little car. my mom made me get rid of it and when i gave it to the junk man i crunk it up and drove it on the tow truck. i said then that i would get another one someday. So about 3 years ago I cam across a simply beautiful vehicle. It is a 1978 Chevette w/automatic transmission, air conditioning, pulse wipers, and rear vented windows. The vehicle currently has 27,000 miles on it. i found it literally in a barn in North Georgia and had been there since the previous owner parked it back in 1981 after his wife died. The car still its original tires on it and all paper work including window sticker. It runs like a champ and I drove it on the 2009 Power Tour and averaged about 32 miles a gallon with the a/c running. I currently have my eye on another 78 'Vette and is planing on doing some major upgrades. The main one being a engine swap of a 2008 Pontiac Solstice Turbo Ecotec 4 cylinder.

I can't say I like the front-end styling of the earlier Chevette, from 1976 to 79, I do like the later car, from 1979 on. I'm especially interested in the diesel-powered models.

Nice looking car. It's too bad they got such a shitty reputation. I've never owned a Chevette (gasoline or diesel), and my parents would kill me if I bought one, but I refuse to believe that they're as bad as people say they are. If properly maintained, any car, no matter who built the car, will continue to run indefinitely. Neglect them, drive them like a lunatic, then they'll deteriorate.

That said, I like the front end styling of the 1980 and later better than that of earlier Chevettes. I'd buy a good diesel Chevette if there was one for sale.

I agree, the bad rep comes from GM letting it rot. For 1977, it was a good small car, by 1982, was excrement.

GM had a new FWD S-car replacement coming, but Roger Smith cancelled it. Yes, that Roger. Instead, we got the imported Spectrum and Metro in mid 80's, along with the FWD Nova. Roger said the S car would have lost money, but then he spent $$ like a diva on Saturn, etc....

My first car was an '84 4-door silverish Chevette that I bought from my high school auto shop for $50 in 2001. Manual steering and brakes, its only option was A/C and it didn't work. It was rusty and beat up but after a 1/2 gallon of bondo and a rattle can paint job it was presentable from 100 feet away.

IMO it was a crazy durable car. I beat the hell out of it like any 16 year old kid would and it never quit. The downside was that it was excruciatingly underpowered(plus it was an automatic, which didn't help matters much) much to my parents' delight. It couldn't tackle a hill on the interstate over 55 and I lost a drag race to a 150cc moped. It couldn't even do a brake stand under its own power. I did, however, get it up to 85 once and I'd have to say that's about all she wrote.

I ended up selling it to my friend who put it on its side in a ditch, destroying what was left of the body. He did drive it home though.

I wouldn't have traded any memories from that car for the world, it was MY first car and looking back, nothing beats the feeling of being young, flat broke with the AM radio cranked, Four friends crammed in the car and $5 in the tank, cruising downtown and looking stupid in the crappiest car at my school. I want that car back.

I'd love to find a decent Chevette and stick a somewhat more powerful 4-cyl in it. I was thinking a 2.4 Twim Cam(Quad 4). From reading comments above I see that I'm not the only one thinking of a Quad in a Chevette. I have the motor, I just need the car and some time to do it. Someday...

I have a 1987 Chevette with about 44,000 original miles. It was not driven much for the last 10 years, but now we are running it a bit each day. Just recently I was driving about 60 MPH and the Service Engine Soon light came on. I let off the gas and within a few seconds the light went off. I pulled into a service station, checked the oil and it was about 1/2 quart low. I added oil and got back on the road. At 55-60 the light came back on, but under 50 it didn't light up. I changed the oil and filter the next day, but still had the same problem. Any ideas? Thanks

RD, it may be O2 sensor time. That's a place to start. Some of the auto parts stores will give you a free computer diagnosis.

Might start there. Good luck!

Everyone can hate the Chevette if they want, but EVERYONE has some Chevette story or had one as their first car. For the price you couldnt be them. I had my first encounter when I was in middle school. My parents bought a 1986 CS 3speed auto with 40k on it for 800 bucks. Mom was not happy, I didnt care because I was young and all cars were the same. It was the car I took my driving test in and drove for quite some time. we drove it to 85k before the radiator blew and my dad parked it. I always wanted to fix it up. Last year I pulled it out of the garage with a busted passenger window, windshield, busted water pump, leaky tranny, and other little problems. Mind you 3 years of sitting and some starting fluid and a battery brought it from the dead! I drive it around all the time and tinker with it as my project car. Its nothing special but I love it and I get excited when I see one anymore. Not much rust on it and it does peel out if I hammer the gas haha. The Chevette will always be one of my favorite cars. While I have nothing spectacular to say about it, I also have nothing bad to say about it. Easy to work on, good mileage, and just about impossible to speed in.

This is what GM should have done.
1976 Chevrolet Chevette.
"V6CHVET"
The Plate should be a warning
3.4 Chevy V6-60, 207cid 8.5/1 (1995 Camaro)
Ross Forged Racing Pistons
Dual 4" Ram Air Intake
Roots Supercharger 6-11psi
Nitrous System 50-125hp
Race port and polish heads
.448/.448 208/216 cam, Holley 450cfm carb
Home made headers, True duals and H-pipe, Header Dumps
16" electric fan, 4-core aluminum radiator
Nordskog/Cyberdyne Digital Dash----Speedo, Tach, Fuel Pressure, Oil
Pressure,
Fuel level, Water/Oil/Trans Temp and Voltmeter. Boost/Vacuum
MSD-6AL, MSD 8.5 Wires, MSD Coil
Snow Performance Stage 2 Water/Methynol Injection
TH700R4 trans. 2700rpm stall (1991 Camaro)
7.5" POSI rear 3.23 gears (1990 S-10 Pick-up)
245/60-14's rear 175/70-13's front
Custom aluminum 18.5 gallon fuel cell
Total weight 2405 pounds
300 horses on engine 13.008 at 110 mph at 6 psi
350 horses with 11.5 psi
and 350+with Nitrous...1/4 mile mid 11's.???
75mph is 2500rpm gives 27+mpg
Not bad for 35 years old
A blast to drive.......
I HAVE PICTURES ALSO. Please contact me at phatzos@comcast.net

Still driving my bought new '82 Chevette, Saturdays mostly but it still starts up quickly.
Needs a new radio.

I have a 1982 chevette and I have a vibration in the drivetrain. It only has 39000 miles and have had the u-joints changed out, the tires balanced and driveshaft checked. There appears to be a carrier bearing in the front of the tourqe tube type aluminum housung the the driveshaft fits into. It seems to be the culpret. But I can't find one. Anyone know where I should go next? Thanks, Warren.

Warren, is your car a 2- or 4-door? Our 4-door had a vibration like you describe.

Thanks, --Chuck

I have owned my 81 'Vette for a year now. It had a new timing belt and windshield when I got it; only had to fix the radiator. It has 2 oil changes and a tune up in since I've had it and all I do is dump gas into it. Say what you will about "Ramona", but that old girl gets ridden hard and put away wet and still has desire to wake up in the morning. You just can't kill them. If you're like every other American that is into upgrading, then this car is not for you, but if you are and intelligent money saving person who doesn't care about "personality" (which she does have) then you will LOVE this car. I'm never getting rid of "Ramona."

Picked up a '80 Light Blue 4 speed 3 door a few weeks ago with 88,350 miles on her. Runs, and is pretty clean for its age (some floor rust and wheel well, but this is Wisconsin). It's getting a Quad4/Twin Cam and T5 Trans, along with bigger front brakes and S10 rear end. It's my little project car after building fast J-bodies for 10 years, and playing with my daily driven '04 GTO.

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Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

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