Best Year to Buy: 1981 Chevy Citation X11

The Chevy Citation will never be confused with a car that set the world on fire or took home repeat trophies on a “10 Best” list. No, it was the epitome of poor quality control and questionable execution that has, at times, run rampant at GM, but the X11 at least appealed to the enthusiast market despite the model’s multiple shortcomings. This 1981 model year example is the one to buy, so check it out here on craigslist with an asking price of $4,400.

The first year X11 was just a name, using the same Iron Duke four-cylinder or V6 found in non-X11 models. 1981 saw the introduction of an X11-specific mill with the availability of a high-output 2.8L six-cylinder that churned out 135 b.h.p. and 165 lbs. ft. of torque, good for a sub-9 second run to 60. The raised hood featured cowl induction and the X11’s athleticism was enhanced by the model-specific F41 sport suspension. All in all, it was a tidy little package that even made the Citation competitive on the amateur motorsports circuit.

Inside, the same goofy vertically-stacked radio remained in place, but other X11 bonuses included the leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, bucket seats, a five-gauge cluster and not much else. You couldn’t spec these out much better than this car, as power levels entered a gradual decline starting with the 1982 model year when more stringent emissions standards took hold and choked off some of the power gains the ’81 model enjoyed. As it sits, this car is the one to buy if you’ve been hunting for an elusive X11.

It may seem odd to see a Citation at a collector car show, but it absolutely belongs here. Produced in limited numbers and near impossible to find today, the X11 made the Citation chapter a little less dark, especially since without this performance-oriented model, the Citation would truly be a blight on the General’s track record for building appealing small cars. With just one repaint in its past and otherwise completely original, this X11 looks to be worth every penny of its asking price. Have any of you driven a 1981 model-year X11?


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    My dad had an ’80 X11, black with red stripe, notchback. It was a great car; drove it for many years back and forth to work. Later I had an ’81 hatchback. It was seriously the worst car I have ever had. Had a wheel fall off, trans replaced twice, many problems too many to list. I always thought it simply chance that we got a good one. Ended up just leaving th ’81 at some mechanics shop…

    • Dave Member

      Love your Locort tail light!

  2. RC46

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this was just as quick as a Z28 of the same vintage.

  3. Skloon

    Best citation to buy ? That is like saying the best STD or if you were planning on gouging you eye out, use this spoon

    Like 1
  4. Fred W.

    They had a horrible repair record on Consumer Reports, but my sister got a good one- drove it ten years with few problems. However, she seldom drove over 35.

    • JoeR

      Back in ’81, my mother inherrited her aunt’s green ’80 2 door with green interior. Everything mechanical, with an AM radio. That car lasted at least 10 years until the tranny went.

      At that point, we left it parked in the yard and bought a used Chrysler Lebaron GTS 2.2 turbo with leather….not nearly as ugly as the Citation and way more fun, yet way more major repairs…turbo, CV joints, etc.

  5. David

    A citation is what law enforcement gives you when you’ve done something wrong.

    “Do you know why you’re getting this citation?”

    “No officer.”

    “Your life, up to this point, has been marked by poor financial decisions, an inexplicable distrust of superior Japanese compact cars, and self-destructive fashion choices. Enjoy your Citation.”

    If I found this car in a barn, I’d push it back in and not tell anyone.

    • JACKinNWPA Jack NW PA Member

      I say give the little guy a chance.

      Like 1
  6. Bob S

    I was curious bout these cars since I saw the Citation on the cover of Car And Driver in a hard corner back when they came out. I would bet that can be driven hard.

    • Dave Member

      I bought a 81 X-11 from the original owner who did quite a bit of modification to the suspension. I loved that car, plenty of room inside and good trunk space. It had plenty of get up and go too.

      Like 1
  7. Mark Hoffman

    I had a chance to buy a 1980 Citation 4 door in 1987. Cream paint and lower body in Cinnabar (red). Guy wanted 1800, I offered 1650, it needed a couple tires.

    Nope 1800 firm

    The next week I bought a 1977 Ford LTD Landau, triple dark Jade green. My mom actually found it for me. She was talking to a friend, and the friend said her uncle had a car for sale. Called uncle, bought car. Drove it 4 years, 2 of them delivering pizza. Best $1500 I ever spent

    • Chebby

      That 70’s Ford dark green was something else!

  8. Phinias

    We had them as news vehicles in the 80’s. Drove the crap out of them, way too hard and way too fast. Ours must have been V6s because they were fast enough. Yeah, we all thought they were POS, but they did take a beating. Unlike the earlier Ford Granada they replaced, the doors never fell off.

  9. Vegaman_Dan

    I had a Pontiac Phoenix, and I have to say it was a reliable and perky thing, plus with Pontiac style treatment of front grill, dash, and taillights, it actually looked good too. It went through upper engine dogbone mounts, but they were cheap and only took 5 min to replace.

    I quite liked my black Phoenix. Replaced it with a 4 door Euro edition Lumina.

    • Jason

      I don’t even remember the Pontiac Phoenix! Must have made even fewer of those.

      • Mark Hoffman

        My mechanic was a Pontiac tech/shop manager for 10 years. His dad and himself opened their own garage.

        Fall of 1979 he bought a Pontiac Phoenix.

        He liked the car, but someone ran into it and totalled it about 8 months after he bought it.

        He still drives a 66 GTO convertible he bought used in 1976 right before he got married.

        Another X Car story I remember was a very early Oldsmobile Omega was sold to one of my neighbors. My dad and I went over to see it. Neighbor popped the hood and the left inner fender liner was gone.

        Neighbor admits it was the first time he opened the hood

        How the heck did that get past final inspection or dealer prep???

      • Jason

        Probably the dealer took it out to fix another car.

  10. Marcos Unworthy Ambrose

    Now if this was Curbside Classic, you’d be treated to yet another rehashed, repeated, recycled “GM Deadly Sin”

    • Ralph

      Ugh, that site is such crap, 20 rerun articles from 2013 a day….”hey, lets b**ch about the Vega for the 345th time”

    • Keith

      Agreed, and let’s not forget the biweekly “The Aztec was the Ugliest Car Ever” article. Gee, that never gets old.

  11. Bradshaw from Primer

    at the time they came out in 1980, gas prices were increasing every day…the 390 1970 Monterrey we had got 11 mpg in town and 14 on the highway. We bought the 4 speed Phoenix hatch. Compared to the Toyota and Mazda…it had power steering, power windows and locks was wide and carried 4 people comfortably. With the 4 cyl, got 23 mpg in town and up to 28-33 highway. Drove with 4 people on 1800 mile road trips comfortably. I also had an Elan and tii, the braking was very good on the x car and the handling was good also. Worst thing was the sunroof, unlike Ford’s this had no interior cover, the sun always came in you. In the Mojave this meant making a cover out of cardboard.
    The dealer service really hurt the car. Came back with a/c refilled without pumping down, and with tires at 22 all around. Should have been 28-32. Ran over a curb with the subsequent understeer. Lasted us 12 years. Nice revvy engine.

  12. sir mike

    It takes balls to put a car like this in a car show.

    Like 1
  13. Rustytech Member

    I never owned one of these. My father though traded in 1977 Impala for one of these. It was the worst car he ever had. It had to be towed back to the dealer before he got it home! That time it was ignition related. He kept it 2 years and put about 35k on it. It never cost him any money, because it never got out of warranty, but it spend too much time at the dealer. Transmission issues, carburetor issues, ignition issues, charging system issues, hub &bearing issues, axle issues, and trim parts kept falling off of it. It was the last GM car he ever purchased!

    • Larry

      I bought one of the very first had a connection in GM and I thought I was going to love it. Well I was wrong scared the heck out of me when pushed hard (V6 / 4 speed) last new GM I ever bought.

    • Rob

      My dad traded in my mom’s 76 Buick LeSabre for one of these new. Biggest POS ever. Never owned a Chevy product after that. Had the car less than a year.

  14. Rick

    4 door version.. used in Driver’s Ed in high school (yes, dating myself..I know). Even then, not knowing a thing about cars, I thought “what a piece of ****”. Must have had the 4 cylinder in it since I remember the instructor saying ‘you can give it a little more gas’ and either myself or one of the other two instructees answering ‘I have it almost to the floor’. Fun times…


      OMFG We have led the same life: this was EXACTLY my experience 1979 in a 1980 model

  15. grant

    …It was the epitome of poor quality control and questionable execution…
    Then why on earth would you want to own one now?

    • Blyndgesser

      Because all the bad ones are gone now?

  16. Howard A Member

    I figured there wouldn’t be a lot of love for this car, but it was a very significant car. Aside from the Toronado or El Dorado, this was the 1st mass produced car, um, for the masses. It was Motor Trends “Car of the Year” (1980) and they sold over 800,000 of these in 1980. ( they couldn’t produce the 4 cyl. fast enough) It’s unfair to judge a car when so many things were changing, look where FWD went. Can you even buy a RWD car today? Like small foreign cars, American’s were used to big V8’s, and drove these hard, and never experienced “torque steer” before, of which, these were famous for. I think it is a sharp looking car, and every bit belongs at a car show. This is where it all began. I believe, the Chrysler K car killed this.

    • Howard A Member

      sorry, 1st mass produced American FWD car, it was early.

      • Tim Rusling

        I don’t know what the accepted definition of “mass-produced” is, but I’m going with the 1929 Cord [front-wheel drive].

      • Bryan

        Nope, first American mass produced front wheel drive economy car was the Dodge Omni/ Plymouth Horizon twins. They debuted in 1978 and we’re Motor Trend’s car of the year as well. GM X cars debuted in 1980, followed by fwd Escort/Lynx and fwd Aries/Reliant in 1981.

        Subaru (since 1966), Audi, Datsun F10 (1974), Honda Civic (1972), and the VW Rabbit (since 1974) greatly popularized the fwd trend in the small and sub-compact market…but all followed the landmark British Mini (1960) with its transverse engine/fwd layout.

        The Cords were the first fwd American cars of course, and the fwd 66 Toronado and 67 Eldorado were legendary. But these luxury cars did little to popularize fwd in America…it was promoted more as a distinguishing feature to set these cars apart from the crowd. Remember the flat, spacious floors of those Toros and Eldos?

  17. CCFisher

    I had an ’80 X11 hatch. Silver with black X11 trim, V6, 4-speed, A/C, sunroof, custom interior, gauge package, intermittent wipers, power windows, power locks, rear defroster, AM/FM/CB with power antenna, courtesy lights, and these neat mechanical remote controls for the swing-out rear windows. You rotated a handle on the headliner next to the driver’s or passenger’s head, and the window swung out. All this sounds like nothing today, but in its day, it was very unusual to find a low-end car with so many options. Contrary to what the article suggests, the ’80s were a bit more than just a name. They did come with some suspension upgrades.

    Say what you will about the reliability and quality control of these cars, but the basic design was amazing. 175 inches long, yet easily seated 4 adults and 20 cubic feet of their luggage. Handling was very good for the day, also. The basic chassis was good enough to underpin the Pontiac 6000STE, considered by many to be the first successful American emulation of a European-style sport sedan.

    Like 1
  18. Kincer Dave Member

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when it comes to the X car you either got a good one or you got a complete disaster. My mom had a 81 four door v6 and it was one of the best cars she ever had, never let her down and she racked up the miles selling real estate.

    Like 1
  19. jcs

    A “special” or “rare” sub model of a pile of junk is still a pile of junk and GM X platform cars were/are piles of junk.

  20. Mark Sherman

    I owned a 1981 X-11 in the late 1980’s, think I paid around $1200 for it.
    It was a fun car to drive, even though the 4 speed was a bit notchy.
    I lived on the upper West side of Manhattan at the time, and it was the only car I owned there that was never broken into ( can’t say same for my Isuzu Impulse, which was stolen).
    Believe it or not, I went to Lime Rock Park back then and they were racing X-11’s and Oldsmobile Achieva’s in showroom stock class, so there was some interest in these cars.

  21. Glenn

    The factory rims were also unique to the model and had X/11 cast into the lip of the wheel.

  22. CJay

    For as much as I despised my AMC Eagle. I loved the two Citations I had. Bought them cheap, used them like trucks, sold them for a profit!

  23. Mercuryman

    Two things. First, am i the only person that likes beige performance cars? Secondly, the Citation et Al were proof of how badly G.M. management misjudged people’s perception and tolerance for an entry level car. Released to great acclaim, magazines were forced to backpedal their initial enthusiasm when the reliability woes became apparent. However, not everyone experienced issues with them and the X11 was truly a bright spot in the line up. I am not a fan of tape and graphic special edition’s and the engineer’s at GM made sure there were real changes to the car. I remember when they brought the car out wishing Ford would bring out a competitor. Years later they released the Tempo GT V6. Quick, reasonably reliable but devoid of soul. The X11 was fast and fun. It showed that someone was shining a light in those dark days. Kind of like the Cosworth Vega, a carrot to keep enthusiasts going. The X11 should be shown the respect it deserves. And I’m a Ford guy.

    Like 1
  24. gbvette62

    I had a new 82 X11, and loved that car, as did everyone else who ever drove it. It handled fantastic, and was about as quick as most other “muscle cars” of the era. I autocrossed it, scoring quite a few class wins, and drag raced it some too. In basically stock form, it ran mid 16’s, about the same as Z28’s and Mustang GT’s from that era. X11’s dominated the SCCA Showroom Stock B class, in the early 80’s.

    Mechanically, the X11 shared very little with the regular Citation. The HO V6, clutch, subframe and mounts, steering rack, rear axle, exhaust, springs, struts and shocks, were all unique to the X11.

    I drove my X11 60,000 miles in 3 years, and other than a clutch, the only other work ever remember being done on it was regular maintenance. As a new car in 1979, the 80 Citations had a lot of “teething” problems, but the Citations built in subsequent years were pretty reliable.

    Like 1
  25. jaymes

    the shifter felt like jelly, decent first try i guess

  26. rustylink

    It’s a shame the Iron Duke gets drug into this, as it really is a good motor. My dad had one in his boat and we abused it daily – always started – always ran reasonably well. The motor essentially outlasted the hull….

  27. Chuck Farley

    I had one of these miserable li’l POS’s as a rental way back when they were new. My only memory of that experience was the sphincter-tightening Torque steer

  28. Brian64SS

    Had a silver ’81 4-speed for many years, and my brother had it for many years before me! An absolutely fantastic car, fast, handled great and hauled everything under the sun in that huge hatch. Never needed any engine work and never used oil up to 193,000 miles when I finally donated it to charity. I could write all day about this car, a few bad things but a lot of good.

    By the way, a correction to the description: The ’81 X-11’s didn’t have F-41 sport suspension, they had heavier suspension as part of the Z-19 (X-11) package. I tried to buy front sway bar bushings from the local Chevy dealer and he could only get them for the smaller F-41 bar.

  29. That Guy

    My first and only new car was an ’82 X-11 with a 4-speed and a medium-high option level. My experiences tally with what others have already said. It was pretty quick for its era, handled well, and was generally pretty fun to drive. The shifter was described by one car magazine as like “a gearbag, not a gearbox,” and that was accurate. The rear wheels locked up under hard braking. By the time I sold it at 90K miles 9 years later, the alloy casting at the front of the engine where the coolant exited was corroding and peeing coolant. I bodged up a fix and hoped it would last until the buyer left the driveway.

    It was a good-looking car, lousy materials and build quality, a credible sports coupe when new but not durable.

    • Jason

      gearbag, LOL

    • Keith

      You got 90k miles and 9 years out of a car designed for 50k and 5 years of service….I’d say you came out on top.

      • Tim Rusling

        My goodness, my ’79 Pacer wagon is still going strong – rust is minor and original driveline – I’d be horrified if any car I had only got less than ten years and 90K miles.

  30. G 1

    Believe it or not, but a 13″ Mopar rim from like a Valiant would fit on these cars.

    • Paul Allen

      Uhh, the X-11 had 6.5×14 wheels with 215-65 tires, I don’t think 13″ Mopar wheels would be an upgrade.

  31. jackthemailman

    You pay ME $4400, and I’ll take it. No other way.

  32. Chebby

    My parents had a 4-door. It was a car you wanted to like that kept letting you down. Great basic design, but lousy execution. That stupid radio meant very few options to replace it. The X-11 was supposed to be something special and for this price, why not.

  33. Paul Allen

    I traded in a six month old RX7 for a new 81 X11, loved that car. Great autocross car, too, and I even took it to a DE at Mid-Ohio with the BMW club.

    • Danton J A Cardoso

      What we’re you thinking?

  34. half cab

    It was “the first car of the 80’s”

    Anyone remember that jingle?

  35. Brian

    I stand corrected. The X11 is the 2nd affordable, pactical, sporty car from GM. Decent power, good handling, foir seats, low price, and plenty of trunk.

    The first was any of the sportier Corvair models.

  36. slickimp

    Wow that’s quite the find and plenty of comments on it too

  37. Joseph Wayne Haddock

    Always thought that Chevy should have used the Beach Boys “Good vibrations” as the song tho advertise this car as the only change would have been to the line “she’s giving me X Citations”. Lol

  38. Jeremy Donaldson

    My grandpa gave me an 81 Citation, 2.8 v6,4 door,hatchback. Plastic covered seats,perfect interior. He just put the 2nd motor in it. I put number 3 and 4 in it before I gave it to my brother. Those early 2.8 liter motors sucked!! Oh damn,my buddy had the X11. His was silver w/black ss stripes and sported a 4speed manual. Only one I’ve seen like that.

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