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Monday, September 6, 2010

1980 Chevrolet Citation

Billed as “the most thoroughly tested new car in Chevy history,” and “a whole new kind of compact car,” Citation certainly didn’t look anything like the venerable and much loved Nova it replaced. For starters, the new kid on Bowtie Boulevard topped the scales at 360 kilos less than the Nova and was a whopping 50 centimetres shorter. “You’ll like the space it doesn’t take up in your garage,” was a great line that prospective customers heard from salesmen.

Riding a 2664-millimetre wheelbase, Chevrolet launched the compact 1980 Citation in April 1979. It replaced the Nova, first  seen in 1962 as a model in the Chevy II series.

Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick salesmen used the same clever line because the Citation had siblings named Phoenix, Omega and Skylark, respectively. Chevrolet’s variant was originally intended carry the Condor name, but Citation won out. The X-Body programme cost GM a cool US$50 billion to develop; fortunately all of the new compacts were a big hit with the public, initially, anyway. Workers couldn’t keep up with demand and waiting lists for a new Citation grew to be nine months long.

Designed for the 1980s, this new breed of bowtie was sleek. In fact, Citation’s Slipstream Styling registered a .417 drag coefficient in wind tunnel testing and promised to delight driver and passengers with “impressive fuel economy, plus reduced wind turbulence and noise.”

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Not a popular model, the Chevrolet Citation Club Coupe carried a list price of $5,681 in 1980.

Citations could be ordered in Beige, Black, Dark Blue Metallic, Light Blue Metallic, Light Camel Metallic, Medium Camel Metallic, Cinnabar, Dark Claret Metallic, Grey, Dark Green Metallic, Red, Silver, White or Yellow. Any of these colours could be set off with attractive pinstripes, at extra cost, of course. The X-body envelope lent itself nicely to striking two-tone colour combinations and stylists whipped a baker’s dozen of them to delight and dazzle consumers. 

Chevrolet’s compact car arrived with front wheel-drive, a transverse-mounted engine, rack-and-pinion steering, front and rear stabilizer bars, unit body construction, and acoustical ceiling arches. While these features had appeared on many other vehicles, Chev’s designers and engineers brought them together for Citation in a package attractive enough that Motor Trend named it Car of the Year.

Interiors were finished in a Sport Cloth Weave, though optional Custom Knit Cloth or Custom Vinyl upholstery was also available. Colour choices for the cabins were Black, Blue Camel, Carmine, Green or Oyster. Colour-keyed safety belts were an extra cost item.   

Citation’s standard interior was attractive. Bucket seats with centre console were extra-cost equipment on the compact Chev. Power steering added $193 to the tab, power brakes another $90.

  Extremely functional, the Citation’s instrument panel was driver oriented. The speedometer maxed out at 130 kilometres per hour. Automatic transmission was a $399 option and air conditioning was $666 plus the Ottawa’s $100 luxury tax.

The instrument panel was straightforward and understated. All gauges were housed in front of the driver in a functional, rectangular pod. The turn signal stalk also did duty as the headlight dimmer, windshield wiper and washer switch, in the European style.

The standard power plant for Citation was the tried and true 2.5-litre four-cylinder mill, sourced from Pontiac. The Iron Duke sipped 11.6 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres on the highway when tested according to the rules laid down by Transport Canada. The optional 2.8-litre V6 generated 115 horsepower. Either engine was mated to a four-speed manual transmission but could be had with an extra cost automatic.

Options included air conditioning tinted glass, the Comfortilt steering wheel, speed control, colour-keyed safety belts and colour-keyed floor mats. Then there were the extra cost power goodies: power brakes, power steering, power windows and power locks.

Transversely mounted, the Chevrolet Citation’s 3.6-litre V6 engine was a $267 upgrade. It was sourced from GM’s factory in Tonawanda, New York.

One could order bumper guards, bumper rub strips, an electric clock, a centre console, bucket seats, an electric rear window defogger, Quiet Sound rear compartment d├ęcor, a gauge package, custom interiors, a day/night inside rearview mirror, a left-hand remote-control outside rearview mirror and a pair of sports mirrors with a left-side remote control switch.

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Then there was the removable sun roof, a reclining seat for the front passenger, the sport steering wheel, a roof rack, swing-out side windows for the rear, an intermittent windshield wiper, dual horns, a heavy duty battery, heavy-duty generator and heavy-duty cooling system.

Of course, there was entertainment. Although an AM radio was standard equipment, Citation could be optioned with AM/FM radios and stereo speakers, and add a cassette deck, 8-track player or a citizen’s band radio. The latter came complete with a power antenna.

Production of the 1980 Citation got underway in the spring of 1979. The first Citation to roll off the line came from GM’s Oklahoma City plant. The compact Chev was shipped to Canadian showrooms immediately as none were built in domestically. Compact bowties also rolled off the factory lines in Willow Run, Michigan and Tarrytown, New York. Demand was sufficient that there was a second shift at the Willow Run plant.

Citation sold well, Canadians had already registered 18,262 of them by the end of January 1980. Sales were nip and tuck with the Ford Fairmont and Plymouth Volare throughout the year, sometimes within 20 sales of each other at month’s end.

Citation's Legacy

Citation was a milestone achievement for Chevrolet and executives had high expectations for it. They certainly waited long enough for the innovative car to arrive. Most new models were created within three years. This one took nearly twice as long, having been in development since 1974. The first prototypes appeared in 1976. Despite the long gestation period, Citations were not trouble free.

  Within its first six months on the market, the car was recalled nine times for defects ranging from steering failure, suspension failure, problems with the structure and automatic transmission problems. Virtually every Citation built was affected by one of the recalls. Despite improvements and modifications, Citation’s second year on the market was little better; the car was red flagged with four more recalls. 

Originally planned as a five-passenger vehicle, Citation was intended to come only with bucket seats and have the parking brake centrally located between the seats. In a bid to attract more customers, a last minute decision was made to offer bench seats instead of buckets. That decision would be Citation’s downfall.

 The brake handle had to be moved. Now located under the instrument panel, the new position did not provide sufficient pressure to hold the car on a hill. Engineers quickly fitted the rear drums with beefier brake linings. The quick fix held the car but an undesirable side effect cropped up: now the brakes had a tendency to heat up at highway speed, then lock up unexpectedly, throwing the vehicle sideways. Drivers suddenly lost control of the vehicle.

The US National Highway Traffic & Safety Administration launched a lawsuit over the poor brake design. Although it did not win the case against GM, the litigation was hot news. Citation’s reputation was brought into question with the public and irreparable damage was done.

Sales slid precipitously. By the time production ended in 1985, the word “ill-fated” seemed to be part of the Citation’s name. The unfortunate compact took the dubious honour of being the most recalled automobile in history. The entire X-body programme was deemed a failure. Chevrolet did not field another car in the compact segment until 1987.

Today the Chevrolet Citation is a collectible vehicle and there are several clubs dedicated to the compact. 

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 Copyright James C. Mays 2005. All rights reserved.


Roselle Used cars said...

I am big fan of Chevrolet models and about this model i like its features. I have also decided to buy a Citation model for my family.

78 CHEVY EL CAMINO said...

I am in need of a radiator fan shroud (upper half) #459273-2 for my 1978 Chevy Elcamino! I think it was made in Canada! 78 or 79 Chevelle shroud should work but 80 thru 87 are made different!

Stan Snyder

James C. Mays said...

Canadian Citations were blessed with the 3.6-litre engine option.

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