Disappearing – 1981 Chevrolet Citation

Here’s another in the line of cars you wouldn’t give a second glance, but are becoming interesting because they’ve just about disappeared from American roads. Conceived as a response to poor sales of GM’s extra-large family cars, and heavily referencing the Lancia Beta sedan (as some will have you believe), the Chevrolet Citation debuted in 1980 to great acclaim. Motor Trend bestowed its Car of the Year award upon it, although we all know about their dubious choices. Before launching into full-scale mockery mode, though, let’s take a look at what this car really meant for GM – it was their first transverse-engined, front-wheel-drive family sedan, with a hatchback in most cases. It spawned the A-, L-, and N-body cars from GM. Sales hit nearly 1.4 million for the X-platform cars, with the majority of those going to the Citation. You can find this surviving 1981 Chevrolet Citation for sale in Salt Lake City, UT with no bids at $0 and one day left to go on the auction.


Not so bad, right? The car is said to have mechanical damage, but parts or even whole engines for these must be pretty cheap. Incidentally, who names a car after a traffic ticket? The ultimate cause of the Citation’s decline was a steady stream of recalls, including one for a loose transmission hose that could cause fires. And if GM was acting like GM in those times, their approach to such issues was likely deny, deny, deny.

1981 Chevrolet Citation for sale

Looks like there’s a minor rust spot near the lower left corner of the hatch, on the fender. Other than that, this car looks fairly straight and complete, even down to the often-missing plastic filler panels between the bumpers and body. Who else was making 5-door family hatchbacks then? Saab had the 99/900, VW had the Dasher hatchback, and perhaps we can count the aforementioned Lancia Beta sedan, even though this was technically a fastback sedan with a trunk lid that cut off just under the rear window.

1981 Chevrolet Citation for sale

The engine is the then-new 2.8-liter LE2 V6, with a road-burning 115hp and 135 lb.-ft. of torque. Surprisingly, this was enough to induce torque steer, one of the major issues in these cars. Under the hood, things look rust-free, which is probably not too surprising given the car’s location. Since there is said to be mechanical damage to the car, perhaps there’s an opportunity to swap in one of the later versions of this engine – say the LH7 with 135hp and 165 lb.-ft. of torque for some real torque steer. Just hang on to the steering wheel like a real man.

1981 Chevrolet Citation for sale

The interior’s seen better days. Supposedly the car has just over 73,000 miles, although this would be cause for doubt. You’ll definitely want to fully sanitize the interior, although the beige color helps show any dubious areas, like the back seat. Odds that a hooker has been inside this car at some point in its life are pretty good, although it *is* in Utah.

1981 Chevrolet Citation for sale

Not much more to say about this car, except Vertical Radio! That puts it up there with the Corvette and some Italian supercars! Now if you must have your Malaise-era iron in immaculate shape, check out this 1980 Chevrolet Citation 2-door in Downington, PA for $2200. And look, he’s parked it behind a Ferrari – perhaps they’re comparing radios?

1980 Chevrolet Citation right rear


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7 Responses to “Disappearing – 1981 Chevrolet Citation”

  1. James Langston Says:

    it is interesting how some cars dont become popular until they are gone

  2. steve in podunk Says:

    these cars will never be popular because they were absolutely terrible cars.

  3. Mike P Says:

    I was twenty years old, in 1981. And I remember thinking that these were terrible. Really terrible.

  4. Milo de Villiers Says:

    To answer your question, the Toyota Camry was also available in a five door hatchback. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e6/Toyota-Camry-Hatchback.jpg

    • Chris Keen Says:

      Good point – I hadn’t remembered the Camry was already out in 1983, and as such had a good three years’ overlap with the Citation, even if it wasn’t around when the Citation first came out…

  5. steve in podunk Says:

    It’s at CoPart too, add a few hundred bucks in fees to whatever pittance it sells for

  6. Steve Says:

    My dad owned an orange/tan Citation as his work car and as a young kid I loved riding around lying back and looking at the clouds through the hatchback. I wish I could restore a working model just for the nostalgia 😉

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