Trouble & Trucks
A rising tide of imports presents fierce new competition in the 1980s, but the newfound popularity of trucks in the 1990s is a bright spot for U.S. automakers.
75. The Citation
General motors' X-car project initiated the massive, corporate-wide move to front-wheel drive. What began as a Chevrolet effort later expanded to include Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick. Equipped with a 90-hp four-cylinder or a new 115-hp, 2.8-liter 60-degree V-6, the Chevy Citation debuted in 1980 and replaced the Nova. Offered as a two-door coupe as well as two- and four-door hatchbacks, the roomy, efficient Citation had the best-ever first-year sales of any GM car. But quality problems surfaced almost immediately and sales swan-dived; 1985 was its last year.
76. INDIANAPOLIS 500, May 1988
The Chevy V-8 Indy-car engine, which had been developed with Ilmor Engineering -- a company Roger Penske helped found -- debuted in 1986. Two years later, Chevy V-8s finished 1-2-3 in the Indy 500.
77. The Cavalier
Two years after the Citation, Chevy launched the smaller Cavalier as a coupe, sedan, and wagon. Unfortunately, a lousy economy, poor performance, and high sticker prices made the Cavalier a sales disappointment. It lingered until 2005 with only one major redesign, which many saw as an indication of Chevrolet's disinterest in the small-car market, but its neglect also was a result of corporate resources that were diverted from Chevrolet to the fledgling Saturn brand.
78. REEVES CALLAWAY
Chevrolet chief engineer Don Runkle wanted to explore turbocharging the Corvette V-8, so he had the idea to reach out to racer and tuner Reeves Callaway. That led to the 1987 Callaway Twin Turbo Corvette, which could be ordered as RPO B2K. Callaway's association with Chevrolet deepened and his prominence grew when he began building and campaigning Corvette racing cars and adding more street cars. Today, Callaway makes special versions of the Corvette, the Camaro, and the Silverado.
79. NASCAR 1986/87: Monte Carlo SS Aerocoupe
After Bill Elliott's high-flying Ford Thunderbird dominated NASCAR in 1985, Chevrolet created a limited-edition version of the Monte Carlo with a more aerodynamic rear window. To homologate the car for Winston Cup, 200 Aerocoupes were built for 1986. NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt (80) used the slicked-up bodywork to win back-to-back championships and turn his number 3 stock car into an icon.
81. GM-10 PROGRAM
The GM-10 program undertook a redesign of General Motors' mid-size cars, bringing forth the Pontiac Grand Prix, the Olds Cutlass, and the Buick Regal in 1988 and the Chevy Lumina for 1990. Taking to heart the lessons of previous look-alike models, the GM-10 cars each had distinct styling. However, hideous delays and cost overruns meant that the corporation lost some $2000 on every car built, making the program a symbol of dysfunctional product development.
The New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc., factory was a joint venture between GM and Toyota located in a previously shuttered GM facility in Fremont, California. In the highly unusual partnership, GM would learn the Toyota production system (the key to building high-quality cars) and Toyota would learn how to build cars in America. UAW workers were flown to Japan to be taught the Toyota system. Production started in December 1984, and against all odds, NUMMI was an immediate success. The cars it built -- initially Toyota Corollas and largely identical Chevy Novas -- had quality numbers that equaled those of Corollas built in Japan. Unfortunately, GM had difficulty transferring the lessons learned at NUMMI to its other production facilities; it wasn't until Jack Smith (who had helped broker the NUMMI deal) became chairman in 1992 that the Toyota-style manufacturing system began to be implemented on a widespread basis. GM pulled out of NUMMI in 2009, and Toyota closed the factory a year later. It produced nearly eight million cars.
83. Get to know Geo
In an acknowledgment that many import-minded small-car shoppers would not consider a Chevrolet, GM took Chevy's import-based subcompacts (Nova, Spectrum, and Sprint) and rebranded them as Geos for 1989. The Storm sport coupe and the Tracker SUV also were added, but the Geo experiment was abandoned in 1998.
84. 1990-95 Corvette ZR-1
The ZR-1, which came out in the summer of 1989 as a '90 model, was the first ultra-high-performance Corvette in years. Its 5.7-liter LT5 V-8 -- a thirty-two-valve, DOHC unit with an aluminum block and heads -- was codeveloped with Lotus (then owned by GM) and built for Chevrolet by Mercury Marine. The LT5's 375 hp far eclipsed the standard Vette's 245 hp, and the chassis was upgraded commensurately. Beyond a restyled tail panel, however, the ZR-1 differed little visually. The ZR-1 commanded a hefty premium ($27,016 in 1990), and only 6939 units were produced over six years.
85. Jeff Gordon & 86. Jimmie Johnson
The modern era for Chevrolet in NASCAR dates from 1995, when Jeff Gordon -- a California-born former open-wheel racer who was cast as the anti-Earnhardt -- won the first of his four Winston Cup titles, all achieved in Monte Carlos. The last five championships have been won by other Chevrolets, all driven by Gordon's SoCal protege, Jimmie Johnson.
87. "Like A Rock"
Chevy's long-running ad campaign for its trucks, which used the eponymous song by native son Bob Seger, debuted in the fall of 1991 -- two years after Chevy's trucks began outselling its cars (88) -- and ran for thirteen years.
89. The Tahoe
The big Chevy Blazer sport-utility was redesigned for 1995, gaining a fresh four-door body style and a new name: Tahoe. The Tahoe, particularly the four-door, was perfectly timed to ride the SUV boom and immediately began notching six-figure sales and bringing home big profits as well.