Lovable Loser: 1980 Chevy Citation

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Isn’t it amazing how some cars that were essentially throw-away vehicles when new are still out there kicking around? Take, for instance, this 1980 Chevrolet Citation here on eBay, supposedly with only a tick under 12,000 miles from new. That mileage claim could be spot on, what with the clean paint and steel wheels that still have some luster left to them. But is this preserved creampuff worth the $2,995 Buy-It-Now?

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Frankly, for under $3,000, it seems like a low-risk proposition, other than waking up and realizing you bought a Chevy Citation. It’s an odd scenario: I personally would applaud you for buying a car that is virtually extinct, but I’d actually be more impressed by your ability to blow cash money on things that are not that enjoyable or ever going to be worth more than the price of scrap. That interior sure looks clean, though.

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The engine bay still looks as new, with the exception of the rust on the air cleaner. The seller claims it was last tagged in 1983 and has been inside a garage ever since. This reeks of Grandma-owned, just being used for trips to church and the store before driving became more of a hazard than a pleasure. While I agree with the seller’s assessment that this could be an interesting fixture in a collection, I’m still not sure if that buyer is out there.

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A few months ago, a Citation had a cameo in the Johnny Depp movie, Black Mass. It was used in a shoot-out scene before slamming into a parked car. I found it ironic that the movie producers tracked down one of the last running, driving Citations on the road and then destroyed it in about three minutes of filming. Hopefully, despite its well-documented anomalies, this example enjoys a better fate.

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Comments

  1. Bill

    I love that interior.. reminds me of my Chevette back in the day… but while it’s amazingly well preserved, the notion of “waking up realizing I had bought a Citation” will keep me from pulling the “buy it” trigger.

  2. Stang1968

    I’ve always found these to be very attractive cars. I like it.

  3. CJay

    Even if you had to put another $1000 in tires belts and hoses. What could you find for a reliable 12000 mile daily driver for $4000.
    This doesn’t look like every other bubble backed piece of plastic out there now and would be easy to find in the parking lot.
    The 2.8 gives decent power, don’t expect phenomenal gas mirage (mid 20s at best).
    Fold down the back seat and they are great little haulers.
    I would prefer it to be a 2 door.
    FYI, If you forget the oil cap on the air cleaner and slam the hood it will show up through the hood.

  4. Charlie

    These were good cars don’t knock em.Very dependable.

    • Chebby

      They were a good DESIGN but fairly lousy cars due to atrocious quality control. My dad liked my grandfather’s Citation so much that he bought one in 1980, his first new car ever. It had tons of interior room, nice styling, and handled well. But it was plagued with recalls and even with the best of care only made it to 100k in 9 years before it was junk. I liked driving it (it was still the “good car” when it got my license), but man what a compromised piece of machinery. It’s a shame what it could have been.

  5. KO

    Thanks for the laugh Jeff. I’m actually proud of my ability to “blow cash money on things that are not that enjoyable or ever going to be worth more than the price of scrap.” It’s a gift.

  6. AMC STEVE

    There is nothing “Appealing” about a Chevy Citation. These were possibly one of the worst cars ever produced by Chevy. I was a new car porter for the largest Chevy dealer in the world in 1980. as a high school job I was great! I got to drive around in all of the new cars and got to know all of them intimately.
    The Citation was a giant turd of a car and built to last till you made the last payment on it, but usually didn’t last that long. They were rust prone and the transmission was junk. Cheap plastic parts didn’t hold up and broke right off in your hands.

    Total junk, ugly POS. I pity the fool how spends more than $500 on this, lemons race car fer sure

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  7. Dan10

    I briefly owned an 83 2 door hatch model with the 4 speed and HO 2.8 engine. Surprisingly quick and you could burn the front tires off by dumping the clutch in second from a stop. Lay the rear seats down and you could haul a lot of stuff.

  8. grant

    Yet another overpriced example of what should be a $1200 first driver for a kid to learn some stuff on.

  9. jim s

    the seller also has a 76 hornet sportabout for sale. both low miles, 6 cyl, automatic, and i think daily drivers. i wish this was a X11 with manual but the asking price would be much higher if it was. great find.

    • Texas Tea

      Jim s,

      I also checked out the 1976 AMC Hornet this seller has listed, which is much more interesting then the Citation. The Hornet is a really nice car with a very wild interior color. Everyone should take a look at the Hornet.

      As a Shop Foreman for a Chevrolet dealership in the 80s I remember the Citation very well. We seldom had problems with these cars and they did better than some of the other models. This is a nice looking car for a very fair price.

      • Jim

        I owned a 1980 2 door hatchback. Never had a lick of problems except for the CVU Joint boots cracking and eventually one of the CVU joints had to be replaced in the mid-eighties.. Really expensive repair back then it seemed.
        To this day I will say those cars had the perfect dash set up for roominess. Today’s cars are like cockpits with the dash way to large; sucking the space out of the car.
        My 1980 Citation was a good car and good driver. 179k on mine when I traded it off.

  10. MH

    It’s worth 3K all day. I want it!

  11. boxdin

    Had two of these in Olds form. Terrible cars, with the steering rack mounted to the body not the cradle made for very interesting handling abrupt changes. Rear brakes locking up sent the then wife into a lurid spin in the middle of an intersection. We were sucked into GM hype that time but never since.

  12. Terry J

    Bought a brand new one off the truck at the Chevy dealer in 1979. “First Chevy of the 80’s” was the national advertising. With a “Chevy 2 / Iron Duke” cast iron 4 banger it was rock solid for the 36,000 miles I put on it. I always thought them as great looking cars. Mine was a 2 door, 2 tone light/dark gray with oyster vinyl interior. An engineering point was that they were designed so a mechanic could disconnect the linkages/wires and with I think 4 bolts drop the entire drive train and it’s frame section and front end out the bottom. Mine developed a paint blister and I took it back to the dealer. They actually flew in techs from Detroit to use my car in a Regional dealer seminar about the new “Base Coat/Clear Coat” paint system. :-) Terry J

    • Carguy

      Terry J
      I had the same car, except where yours was dark gray mine was burgundy. Loved the 4-speed, rally wheels and raised white letter tires. Drove it until our first child was born and traded it in for a new dark blue 82 4-door (easier for a big guy to get a little kid in a car seat in the rear seat).
      If I needed reliable transportation, I’d buy this car!
      CarGuy

  13. redwagon

    not what i learned to drive on (72 impala) but i got to put some miles on one of these that my parents owned a 1980 version like this one. the biggest diff was that it was front wheel drive before that was common from the big 3. that allowed for superior traction but alas no hoonage – unless you were going in reverse! if i recall there was an option for yellow turn signals that made it more ‘european’. i went overseas in 1981 and soon realized that the yellow turn signals on the back were not as european as a pair of yellow tinted headlights would have been. those headlights were on every car in europe in 1981.

  14. dave

    30.000 miles X-11 sold for 6500.00 couple of years ago

  15. Joe Nose

    It may not be the ideal car for virtually everyone, but for once it’s nice to see a car that actually has been washed and vacuumed to its best potential.

    • Juan

      That´s exactly I was thinking!

  16. Mike

    These and K-cars were popular as fleet vehicles back then. They were cheap, simple utility cars. My sister bought one at an auction after it served its time in government fleet service and drove it for years. It served her needs for a grocery-getter and kid hauler. Not the kind of car you travelled too far from home in though. I don’t know what kind of collection this would be desirable in – not the car I would roll up to a show’n’shine in. This one is well preserved, but I can’t see why or for what.

  17. dave57210

    Had one as a rental for a week “way back when”. My main memory was the gawdawful torque steer if you got on the gas while turning. A very scary thing to drive.

  18. Norm

    I owned an X-11 for about 3 years and logged over 60,000 miles. It was still going strong at over 100K when I traded it in. For the day, performance was not bad.

  19. Chris N

    My dad had one of these X-Body sh*t boxes. Kept it for 6-mos and go rid of it.

  20. JW454

    These served their market pretty well. A basic “A” to “B” car that did it’s job as well as anything else in it’s class back then.

  21. Terry J

    The main point is that these were revolutionary cars for GM and Detroit. Though GM had built the Toronado and FWD Caddys, there was little about those that translated into a transverse small front driver platform. If you disdain the X car you must ignore that it was the Grandfather of virtually ALL GM built cars. So when you are tearing down the road today in your Impala, thank the Citation. :-) Terry J

  22. fred

    My sister bought one used in the late 80’s, drove it for many, many years following with few problems. But she never drove anything over 45mph.

    This one isn’t worth 3K, but 2K might be within reason. Would be fun to drive to shows and watch people who have never seen a “brand new” 1980 car.

  23. Howard A Member

    I agree with Terry. Like it or not, this car was revolutionary for GM.( took years to develop) While it did have it’s shortcomings, it was the beginning of the end for rear-wheel drive. Oddly enough, the Citation was a target for an unsuccessful lawsuit by the NHTSA for loss of control under hard braking and steering issues. Great example here. Should be in a museum.

  24. MountainMan

    Seems odd that some people commenting say they were crap an others say they were good for what they were. I was only 7 when this car rolled off the assembly line but I seem to remember them as decent cars or what they were. what some of you may not be remembering is this car is 36 years old now and it has just over 10000 miles. No matter how much of a crap box it is or isn’t that in itself makes it interesting to me. Three grand won’t get you much these days so considering what the other options in that price range may be this is likely cleaner and in better shape than most other cars offered. It’s a beige, 4 door front wheel drive A to B car so it was never meant to be a thriller. I would think it will be pretty reliable and will surely be a conversation piece.

  25. grenade

    I like stuff with low miles, it’s cool. Would I spend my own money on it? Nah.

  26. Coventry Cat

    3k is cheap for a neat old car like that with low miles. Too bad the hobby feels it needs “cool car police” to make sure we’ve got the “right” car to impress people with. Somebody took pride in owning it – they spent hard earned money on it, why wouldn’t they take care of it?

  27. cyclemikey

    I always thought it would be a neat idea to have a museum full of cars like this – low-miles, well-preserved examples of cars that once were everywhere but that absolutely no one thought to save.

    At some point, you’d have all the rarest cars around.

  28. Marty Wilke Marty Member

    It’s cool to see such a well-preserved example of a car that is otherwise practically extinct. It does belong in a museum. If I had three grand to spend on a car, I can think about a million other cars I’d buy before this one.

    I knew some folks who bought one new, was actually a demonstrator. It began breaking down almost immediately, and they tried so hard to get the dealer to take it back, to get GM to make it right, to sell it and get most of their money back, and they were ultimately successful at neither one. They ended up taking a huge hit when they sold it dirt cheap.

    My grandmother had one that lasted longer than 10 years. I remember visiting her in San Diego one summer, and driving hers to Tijuana in the middle of the night. I was living dangerously and burning the candle at both ends and all that.

    Many years later I took a chance on one for $50. It turned out the engine was shot. I kept the battery, sold both tail light lenses out of it on ebay for $25, and then called a salvage yard to come and get the rest of it for $40. Still living large on the huge profit and the good, good times.

  29. Mark

    I drove one to 238,000 miles here in Pennsylvania and it never had a bit of rust on it. It was a great car!

  30. John

    I learned to drive on its sister car(Buick Skylark) with the 2.8 and a manual tranny. It took no small share of abuse until it caught on fire at 173k. I have to disagree with a previous post. You CAN engage in hoonage if sufficiently motivated

  31. Terry J

    My Citation had the 4 cylinder engine. The entire X car project had a number of associated developments. After building the Chevy 2 four banger for years, then selling it to Mercruiser, then buying it back and re engineering it as the Pontiac “Iron Duke” they redesigned the venerable engine with a cross flow head and a different bellhousing pattern. Why? To prepare it for the transverse FWD X car. They developed the 60 degree V6 for the same reason. Big undertaking at the General. :-) Terry J

  32. charlie

    Owned an ’83 Pontiac version with the 4. Only major failure was steering rack. At 136,000 miles 16 year old son (don’t worry Mom, I’ll be careful) slipped on the ice and kissed a utility pole. Front fender and grill gone, but mechanically OK. Took him out to practice driving on the ice in a supermarket parking lot at 10 pm. Cops stopped us, to find out what was going on, sliding and spinning around. Then distributer shaft broke. Has never happened to me in 60 years of driving at least 30 other cars. It was a good car, two teen aged drivers, standard transmission, would have fixed it, but for the same money (about $1500 then, mostly body work) bought an ’81 Cimmeron.

  33. Paul B

    OK, I’ll be the Devil’s advocate, partly, for a minute. My take, from the Citation 4-door 4-cylinder with manual gearbox my mom owned: This was a great car in concept, but GM didn’t finish its engineering work. Because of that, it became tragedy on four wheels. I found the body design quite futuristic and attractive. The car’s body integrity was excellent, with heavy steel and good assembly quality and paint, though rust became a problem due to inadequate rustproofing. It had true full size room in a compact. Not since the Studebaker Lark had a compact sported such great seating room. The seats were high enough for adults and very comfortable — especially the back seat, which was much roomier than in any car of similar size today. The cable-operated shifter was a little odd but not outright bad, just notchy. The steering was good, tracking down the road was truly excellent and handling was actually very good. We never had any problem with the brakes, and the ride with that long wheelbase was exceptionally nice. BUT … Citations had numerous designed-in engineering flaws, and most of the cars would not go 100,000 miles without several expensive repairs the Chevy mechanics all expected. I don’t recall what they all were, but a friend who was a Chevy dealer mechanic recited them to me because he knew them cold, and he said they were inevitable. We had never owned a GM car before this, and we never owned another one as a result. The car itself was great. I thought GM had hit a home run with it. And then things started going wrong. Again and again. What should have been GM’s triumph became a poster child for shoddy Detroit engineering and haphazard workmanship. Such a shame. The reason most of them are off the road is that the unavoidable repairs eventually became too expensive to justify on a car of such limited value. It was more economical for people to buy new. As in a new Toyota, Nissan, Honda or Mazda. And that’s what they did.

  34. moosie Craig

    Sorry, WTF is “HOONAGE”

  35. Bingb

    My 1981 was built 10/30/80 as a G.M. company car..It had a seats from a Cimarron and the computer “prom units”? ETC. were not where the book said they should be. My Mechanic hated it and it got to the point the dealer service manager would do the sign of the cross when I drove in..I got it through my dad’s State of Michigan employee buyer program.It made it to 80K..

    • Blyndgesser

      That’s a neat trick since the Cimarron didn’t come out till 82.

  36. Paul R

    The rear axle works great for a home built utility trailer! Made many of them.

  37. John H Bell

    These predated the Chrysler K car. I worked at a Chevy dealer as a teen in ’79 when the first one rolled in off the truck. The entire service department walked over to check it out. Quizzical, but not impressed. I drove a few X-11 models with manual trannys and had some fun in that first year, but the car just did not last in the catalog very long. It was so different at the time! An American car with front-drive and a transverse engine? WOW. I like this one offered, but not enough to buy it…

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  38. Doug Towsley

    Ahh, the X11s, strange days of attempts at performance in the early 80s. One of our family friends and neighbors was the senior service tech at a local Chevy Dealership, He thought they were pretty good for the time and what they were. He bought one new. Then, a local town (Troutdale Oregon) Bought a fleet of them for Police cars. We laughed and laughed at them. They JUST didnt look right as Police cars. Plus, the base Citations were not really very fast even specced out for Police duty. It became sport to taunt them in our 70s era muscle cars.
    Finally, the charging system was not up to the demands of police equipment of the time and they had many charging problems and electrical with all the Police gear added on. Frequently saw them being towed which made us taunt them even more. I dont think the police liked them much. Conversely, I went and spent some time in 1984 near Dallas Texas and there was a town with a lot of tax money to burn and what a shock to see their Police cars. Fully outfitted Volvo 4 door sedans with performance upgrades. Never saw a Euro car as a Police car before or since in the US. What a striking difference to the Citation as a Police car.
    I think this example is an excellent posting for this site. Would i buy one? Hell no, But if i could borrow this car for a weekend, I sure would!!!! Rent some old 70s and early 80s movies and look how people dressed and looked back then. Retro is super cool with the young millennials. Even if you are crusty old fart, you showed up in something like this dressed like a time warp of 1982 with a Ronald Reagan Bumper sticker and you are going to get a LOT of attention.
    Remember when Debra Winger was the hottest thing around (Go look up Urban Cowboy) Remember WKRP in Cincinnati? Find some old leisure suits and dress up Like Les Nessman (his narration of the radio station turkey drop from the helicopter still makes me laugh, Who knew Turkeys cant fly?) Or even Worse Dress up like Herb. I used to know a girl who was a dead ringer for Loni Anderson. This car could be a lot of fun for somebody with a sense of humor.

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

      I think the WKRP turkey drop is literally the funniest moment ever on television. Ok, back to your regularly scheduled Barn Finds car stuff…

      • Doug Towsley

        Im sure there is a You tube clip somewhere, But I agree, That Turkey Drop scene still has me chuckling. No special effects, just really well done and echoes something we all have seen where a well intentioned situation goes REALLY REALLY badly. I have used that scenario a number of times at jobs pointing out
        “Have you really thought about this? What could go wrong??”

        Its an obscure moment of trivia, but if you havent seen that episode or that scene, look it up.

    • boxdin

      I always liked; “if its happening in Cincinnatti its news to Less”. One of the best shows ever. And Less mis pronouncing of various things… priceless.

  39. Lionel

    I just realized we had those sold in Europe as Simca 1307/1308. My parents had one, but they did not keep it for long. Lacked personality, power, etc….

    • Blyndgesser

      Simca was owned by Chrysler.

    • boxdin

      A french modified version of the Omni/ Horizon.

  40. Juan

    Here in Argentina they had a little success (GM left the country in 78 and paid dealers with trucks and cars) they were more like our taste for european look and size cars (NOT my case), most of them died for lack of spare parts and you listen love/hate oppinions: I saw cars with 400000 kms with 0 rust, no mayor repairs and still going strong and some well taken cared and serviced wich didn´t pass the 80000 kms with transmission problems (we can´t blame the car in this case, mechanics had little on no experience with them) electrical problems and some with body problems (the cars fell apart very fast, our roads and streets were not the best at that time but this was no excuse for that).

  41. Bill

    Who would take it to a show and shine? Well let me throw this out there.. A few years back, a fellow I know picked up a “MINT” condition, lil’ ol’ lady owned Chevette. It was seriously pristine. I think I change a vacuum hose on it. That was it. clean, rust free (garage kept) and collector plated. Park it over with the corvettes and 57 Chevy types, and see which car gets the most attention. I would totally roll out to the show and shine with this (if you cleaned up under the hood etc…)

  42. That Guy

    I owned an ’82 X11, the only car I ever bought new. For its day it was fun to drive and a pretty respectable sports coupe, but all the shortcomings others have listed are absolutely true. Shifter was awful, build quality was awful, gas mileage was mid-20’s at the very best. Rear brakes would lock solid in a panic stop; I left massive skid marks a few times when I had to jam on the brakes. At 9 years old and 90K miles a section of the water jacket had corroded through, it was pissing coolant, and was essentially unrepairable. I bodged together a patch which lasted long enough for me to sell it.

    I like that this car still exists and it deserves to be preserved. But I think an ironic hipster is the best owner for it. Those of us who lived with them new probably are so over them.

  43. Joe Moss

    My mom had a “Factory Rep” ( Kalamazoo, Mi) 80″ she bought almost new. These were VERY HARD to get when new “Car of the year” I believe? The car had every option offered I think. 6 Cly, deluxe Int, ETC, really loaded. That car would go through snow when most everything else was stuck. It was quiet and Very reliable. She sold it to get a 92 Skylark and the “new” owner drove it several years. I used to race my girlfriend in her stick 79 Toyota Supra.. The Chevy one every time. I sure do miss that car and my Mom—..

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  44. Doug Towsley

    Im cleaning out my Magazine collection and just saw an old Motor Trend? must have been 1980s or so, Had a Citation on the cover. Im pretty sure it would be 1980 as the reason I had saved it all these years is it also had a feature on the 1980 Nissan/Datsun (Last year called Datsun) 200SX which I also owned. (Still have one)
    Sure is funny looking thru these old magazines and seeing period ads and articles. Also amusing to think of one of these Citations as Magazine cover material

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  45. Ed P

    Doug, Consider what else was on the market at that time. It did not take much to stand out in a crowd back then.

  46. dave

    dash

  47. Von Vavoom

    To me, the Citation is like a mullet. It looks alright in front, awful in back. I will admit, however, the optional silver/grey two-tone paint with maroon interior adds a bit of class, like Joe Dirt wearing a tux.

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  48. charlie

    I owned the Pontiac version, hatchback, 4 cyl, was big enough for wife and me and 3 teen kids, lived in flat land, so power was adequate, hatchback was good for hauling stuff, but only went 135,000 miles before it needed brakes, clutch, wheel bearings, struts, rust was starting to eat floors, and then, son slid on ice into telephone pole, “easy hit” as the used car lots say, so drivable and then distributor shaft broke. It went to junkyard since cost of repairs was much higher than cost of a year newer, much maligned, used Cimarron, which in fact was a much better car. It went over 250,000 miles with a steering rack, and head gasket being the only major repairs.

  49. ICEMAN from Winnipeg

    Car & Driver proclaimed “GM Blows the Competition to the Weeds” when the X cars came out. Their editorial said a year or two earlier, they were impressed by the Fairmont/Zephyr, but the X cars would destroy Ford. Ironic that the X cars became infamous junk, while the Fairmont FOX platform soldiered on for decades ie Fairmont, Futura, Thunderbird, LTD LX, Granada, Zephyr, Z7, Cougar, Cougar XR7, Marquis LX, Lincoln Continental, Continental Mark VII, and of course, the Mustang and Capri. FoMoCo had the last laugh.

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  50. sluggo

    Eh well, as for Car & Driver, we all say and do things we later regret. I have photos of myself and friends from back in that time period that reflect some questionable decisions on taste and “Whats cool” that viewed today are laughable,,

    While every brand had its ups and downs, FoMoCo had its share of losers as well, and I cant recall any car made in those years I would rate highly. But I still laugh today about the local police department that bought a fleet of Chevy citation cars and they were laughable.

  51. Ron

    Had my new purchase 1980 citation 2dr.hatchback 2.8 V6 manual trans,
    for 19yrs. and 235,000mi. still ran great when I sold it to friend.
    great car!

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