Since I’ve noticed in recent years that first-generation Chevy Cavaliers have all but disappeared from both street and junkyard on our continent, despite the millions sold here, I’ve made it my mission to document examples of the now-rare 1982-1987 Cavalier when I see them during my wrecking-yard travels. We admired a Yooper-owned ’85 Cavalier wagon in a Colorado yard in November, and I found today’s factory-hot-rod ’87 Cavalier Z24 in a Northern California yard in December.
In fact, this car was parked just a couple of rows away from another 2.8-engined GM sporty machine of the middle 1980s: The ’84 Pontiac 6000 STE that we saw last week. If you want to find unrusted Detroit machinery from 35 years ago, head west!
Now, that 6000 STE was built on the midsize A Platform and the Cavalier lived on the compact J Platform, plus the 6000 STE was the most expensive car offered by Pontiac at the time, so we shouldn’t look for too many parallels with the much cheaper Cavalier Z24 (in 1987, the 6000 STE started at $18,099 while the Z24 Sport Coupe listed at $9,913— about $45,760 and $25,065 in 2022 dollars, respectively).
The Chevrolet Division had been selling Z28 Camaros for nearly a decade when the first Z24 Cavaliers hit the showrooms for the 1986 model year; eventually, we would see Z26 Berettas and Z34 Luminas (it is my dream to convince a 24 Hours of Lemons team to run a four-car effort with one apiece Z24, Z26, Z28, and Z34). In 1987 the owner of a new Z24 got this 2.8-liter pushrod V6, rated at 160 horsepower. That was good power for a car of its era that scaled in at just over 2,500 pounds.
Better still, the Z24 came standard with a five-on-the-floor manual transmission (a three-speed automatic cost $415 extra, about $1,050 in 2022 frogskins), and the original purchaser of this car bucked prevailing transmission trends and chose the three-pedal setup.
The five-speed manual had become fairly mainstream by the middle 1980s but still seemed racy enough; today, Americans can still buy four new 2022 models with five-speed manuals.
The Cavalier Sport Coupe came standard with this futuristic digital dash (which looked a bit stodgy next to the offerings from Mitsubishi and Subaru); other Cavalier shoppers could get this dash for a mere $295 extra (about $745 now).
I’m not sure if the trip computer came along with the digital instrument cluster, but all 1987 Z24 buyers got an AM radio as base equipment; if you wanted to upgrade to AM/FM/cassette with equalizer— a necessity for listening to the most famous song of 1987 in all its glory— the price tag was a brutal $479 ($1,210 now).
The 1987 Z24 could be purchased as a sport coupe with a proper trunk, and that’s what 42,890 Chevy shoppers did. Four thousand and five-hundred seventeen Cavalier Z24 buyers decided to hop onto the hot hatch bandwagon, however, and drove home in new hatchbacks (I’ve managed to find just one Z24 hatch in all of my junkyard explorations).
Since this car has a full complement of Z24 hardware elsewhere, I’m going to assume that the decklid from a lowly CL got swapped on long after it rolled off the line at Lordstown and that we’re not looking at a Z24-ized Cavalier CL coupe.
The inspection stickers show that this car was in North Carolina in 1991 (where it was approved for daylight use only, and I’d like to know more about that restriction), then in Connecticut in 1996.
Definitely the most interesting Cavalier of its time, and soon it shall face the cold steel jaws of The Crusher.
A new Cavalier with the bloodline of Corvette and Camaro. A quick little fox… raised by wolves.
Cavaliers were everywhere by 1987.
This commercial is for the second-generation ’88 Cavalier Z24, but it does such a perfect job of showing us who The General’s marketers saw as the Z24’s target market that I must include it here. I’m sure glad the bandanna-around-the-wrist fashion never caught on because the 1980s were already sufficiently embarrassing for those of us who were there at the time.
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