Sunday, November 9, 2008

Chevrolet Corsica - Designed To Be A Beater

In the early 1980s, General Motors was enjoying nice profits. They had introduced downsized full-size cars in 1977 (LeSabre, Electra, Impala, Caprice, Delta 88, 98 Regency, Catalina, Bonneville, Parisienne) which quickly became best-sellers. They brought out downsized mid-size cars in 1978 (Century, Regal, Malibu, Monte Carlo, Cutlass, LeMans, Grand Prix) which also quickly became best-sellers. In late 1979, they introduced the new compact front-wheel-drive X-cars (Skylark, Citation, Omega, Phoenix) and sold hundreds of thousands of those. By 1985, these cars were showing their age and it was time to come up with a new compact car. GM enjoyed such great sales to the rental car companies with the X-cars (and the J and A-cars that came out in 1982 to supplement them), that they wanted the next design to be tailored to them. In 1985, GM introduced the N platform (Skylark, Calais, Grand Am) but did not introduce a Chevrolet version.

For 1987, they introduced the N-derived Chevrolet models (called the L platform) of the compact front-drivers. The Chevrolet Beretta was the 2-door model and the Chevrolet Corsica was the 4-door model. These two cars were offered initially as fleet-only models for large companies and rental agencies. You couldn't go into a Chevrolet dealer in 1987 and buy their newest car! For 1988 they were offered to consumers and were the 2nd best selling cars in the United States that year, largely due to their volume fleet sales. These models continued with minor changes through 1996. The Corsica was replaced by the now popular Malibu, and the Beretta was not replaced by anything. Beretta owners were encouraged to buy Cavaliers and Camaros.

The Corsicas are simple and plain. Base models started out with a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine and 5-speed manual transmission. Optional was a 2.8 liter V-6 and 3-speed automatic transmission. Most models had no trouble acheiving 20mpg in town and 30mpg on the highway. A 4-door hatchback Corsica was offered from 1989 to 1991. In 1990, both engines were enlarged, the four to measure 2.2 liters and the V-6 was now a 3.1 liter. In 1991, the dashboard was redesigned and now featured a driver's side airbag. In 1992, the hatchback was dropped and anti-lock brakes were made standard on all models. In 1994, bumpers were now all body color and V-6 models now had a 4-speed overdrive automatic. The V6 remained the same size but was now the 3rd generation model, known as the 3100. The cars were dropped after 1996.

More detailed information on the Corsica is available at the WikiCars entry. is another great place to read specifications and technical data. A photo of a Chevrolet Corsica can be found at Wikipedia.

Even though almost 150,000 Corsicas were made each year they were built from 1987 to 1996, you don't see nearly as many of them today. The cars are definitely function over form as a beater should be, and for that reason, few people are willing to keep them running or take good care of them. This is why they make great entry-level beaters. No matter what part of the country you're in, there is likely an early 90's Corsica with peeling paint, torn upholstery, and broken air conditioning for sale in the sub-$500 range. I have not owned one myself but I see them daily for $300 to $800. Things to look for in a Corsica are the later models. The 1994 to 1996 models with the 3100 engine and overdrive automatic are probably the most forgiving, comfortable, and reliable Corsicas you can find. The 3100 engine and 4T60 transmission was still in use in many GM products up until a few years ago. There are literally tens of thousands of these and similar cars in junkyards to pull parts from. And when you're done with it, it's a very popular demolition derby car because of the short wheelbase.

I heartily recommend the Chevrolet Corsica as an official "Beater" car. Don't pay too much for it. But enjoy the savings of buying a sub-$500 car and not having car payments, interest, full coverage insurance, or having to worry about it being stolen.

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