Ready To Roll: 1981 Chevrolet Citation

By the time the 1980s arrived, the automotive industry was subject to strict insurance, safety, and emissions regulations, which often resulted in lackluster vehicles. However, because they are an affordable entry to ‘80s vehicle ownership, cars like this 1981 Chevrolet Citation that Barn Finds reader Jason F found here on Craigslist have gained appreciation from some enthusiasts in recent years.

This example is available in Lockport, New York with a clean title. The seller has a decent sense of humor about the vehicle, joking that “you’ll take command of the roadway, and regain respect with your grandmother when she sees you pulling into your next fun-filled family event in your new Citation.”

The exterior of this Citation has some blemishes, such as the badly blended paint on the rear trunk lid and the damaged trim on the rear left door. However, the seller is honest about this, noting that it has “rust and dings around the body, which just gives it tremendous character.”

It’s impressive that this car lasted this long, especially in northern New York. I’m sure ol’ Rusty Jones helped this Chevy endure the years, but I’d be sure to check for any serious rust that may be hiding out.

The cabin is the highlight of this vehicle. Though the contents are not lavish by any means, it is well kept and original, especially for a 38-year-old domestic compact car.

While the seller incorrectly labels this Citation an X-11 model, it does have the same engine under the hood: a “high-output” 2.8-liter V6 engine, which made 135 horsepower and 165 lb.-ft. of torque from the factory. While those aren’t impressive features, Chevrolet had to decrease the torque rating due to emissions regulations. The engine has 99,000 miles on it, and it pairs to a 4-speed automatic transmission to drive the front wheels.

The seller is asking $1,995 for this Chevy, also adding that it will have a fresh inspection at the time of the sale. Would you buy this entry-level ‘80s ride, or would you rather keep saving up for something from the era with more zest?


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  1. John Chaney

    I paid $50 for one with the 2.8/4speed manual. Had a rod knock. Drive that thing for months…

    Like 3
  2. Mike D

    I bought an 81 Citation new. Had it 5 years and 60,000 miles. Wanted an X-11 but couldn’t afford it, so I speced out a regular 2 door hatch as close as i could get. V-6, 4 speed, F-41, buckets, full instruments. I know that people like to say how crappy these cars were, but mine was fine, except for the steering rack issue and the weird vertical radio. BTW, the HO engine was only available in the X-11 despite what the author says. Regular Citations had a V-6 with either 112 or 115 hp.

    Like 13
    • Tim

      I guess I had a better job, as I bought a brand new X-11. Loved it for over 20 years! Still miss it. Also, unless this car has a newer transmission, it is not a four speed auto. Pretty sure those weren’t around until the mid to late ‘80’s.

      Like 8
    • CCFisher

      In 81 and 82, the HO was restricted to the X-11. In 83 and 84, it was available across the board.

      Like 2
  3. JoeNYWF64

    Is that 2.8 v6 in the fwd Citation swappable with the 2.8 v6 in the rwd S10 truck?
    I had no problems when i rented these.
    I believe the windows in the rear doors did not roll down at all! lol

    Like 1
    • Ralph

      That would be on the RWD A/G body sedans like the Cutlass, these do roll down and on some the rear most windows also vent out.

  4. Ken Neal-Rosario

    I had an identical one I bought in Dallas in 2004. I was pleasantly surprised with the performance. I flipped it to a classic car lot pretty quickly, but I enjoyed my time in it more than I expected.

    Like 5
  5. Brent

    Back in the day, I thought the Vega pretty much defined the term “Showroom Junk” ——– then the Citation came out.

    Like 14
    • Terry J

      Bought a new one in ’80. Great car. It was not
      the Toronado but the Chevy Citation that was the Grandfather of the FWD revolution in America. It was a significant car in automotive history. So when you drive your 2019 Impala, thank the Citation. :-) Terry J

      Like 5
  6. Phinias

    I worked in television news in Portland OR in the 80s, and we had these for news cars. We beat the CRAP out of them as you can well imagine. For the most part, they were reliable. I don’t ever remember one of us being stranded by one.
    The V-6 was peppy too…I recall racing from Central Oregon to Portland to file stories for the 5pm news, over dirt roads and curvy mountain highways hitting speeds well in excess of 90MPH over Mt. Hood. It always got us there. Never had a ticket or a close call…those were the days!!

    Like 10
  7. Superdessucke

    Hello Rusty Jones! Goodbye rusty cars! (Unfortunately in this case)

    Like 6
  8. TJohnson

    Who cares about this p.o.s.?!!!

    Like 8
    • Terry Johnson

      I DO TJohnson. Terry J( a different T Johnson)

      Like 4
  9. Oregon_Guy78

    My parents bought one new, V6 automatic, 99% positive that’s a 3 speed auto, not a 4 speed

    Like 3
  10. grant

    For what they were in the day, they weren’t bad. I’m confused as to why this is here though. It isn’t a particularly nice example of it’s kind, and nobody’s going to restore it. I don’t know why anyone would want to own this for anything other than a work beater, and for two grand I would think you could find something with airbags and decently supportive seats.

    Like 7
    • TimS Member

      Right on, man. It isn’t like anybody could be drawn to unique cars, which on today’s roads, this definitely is. And of course as the comments prove, nobody ever owned or drove one and made memories in one like it. Give me another Respray Red first-gen Camaro or a bombed-out ’69 Charger husk for $20k anyday, dude.

      Like 7
      • grant

        I think you missed my point. This would be intriguing if it were preserved, but its… not. Its a typical, beat down, run-hard-and-put-away-wet econobox. A common used car hooptie.

      • Mitch Ross Member

        The significance of this car can not be overstated. I remember when they were new and nothing compared in design to them. They out handled any domestic car and most imports, the interior was huge. I would wager more bac seat legroom that an Impala. Sadly engineering was not up to snuff yet with polution controls and automatic transaxles and it became the car everyone traded for Toyotas and Hondas and the beginning of the end of American dominance on American roads

        Like 1
      • JoeNYWF64

        Mitch, sounds like the FWD Citation, Phoenix, Skylark & Omega had more room inside than almost any mainstream sedan you can buy today!! Certainly much better visibility than today’s sedans, plus a decent looking 2 door variant & some available with hatchbacks! I wonder if the 4 speed automatic or 5 speed manual in the later Corsica, etc. could have been swapped in, instead of junking those cars.
        At least, i can’t believe the aftermarket didn’t quickly come to the rescue, improving the 3 speed auto trans …

        Like 1
  11. BarnfindyCollins

    I was going to comment more on the Citation such as it not having a 4 speed auto but a 3 speed TH125…and then I see the “free” birthday card offered. Car sales with a slice of humor; what a concept.

    Like 2
  12. JMG

    My dad had the ’80 Pontiac hatchback of this turd, with a manual and the Iron Duke 4. So many people had quality and engine issues with these things when they first came out… I swear that this car alone spurred aggressive lemon laws. LOL
    But I do have fond memories of myself and my best friend at 8 years old, playing in the back with the seats down on our drive from OH to FL and back. It was like a big play room. But as a dad now, I look back and think: “Damn what were my parents thinking! I could have died!” LOL

    Like 4
  13. EJB

    My Mom had one of these back in the day. Maroon with a 4 spd. I remember my friends commenting that they had never seen a Citation with a stick. It served my Mom well enough at least.

    Like 4
  14. Karl

    These cars were just about the true definition of of the term LACKLUSTER, Sitting on the showroom floor they still fit that word to a “T”

  15. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

    This Citation is a pretty ratty example and worse yet, it’s the color of a sun-baked turd. I see a couple of hundred bucks at best and that’s being generous. I have no doubt there are some folks with fond memories of these throw-away cars but I’m sure the folks who dislike them because they owned one outnumber them by the thousands.

    To me, it literally has nothing going for it.

    Like 3
  16. Nailz15

    I remember when my Dad brought home a brand new 1980 Pontiac Phoenix, pretty much the same car and color combination as this Chevy version. It was a brand new model and supposed to be the cat’s pajamas in the automotive world for 1980. Within the first week, troubles began. Wouldn’t start, electrical issues, on and on. Thankfully, my dad knew the owner of the dealership, and let us return that lemon for a leftover 1979 4 door Bonneville Brougham a few weeks later. Metallic brown, wire wheels and detachable fender skirts in the rear. Many great memories in that Bonneville. Long, wide and comfortable. A sea of crushed velour. It left about 4 inches of clearance on each side of the tandem 2 car deep garage, and I learned to drive in that beast, guiding it carefully without scraping those big chrome bumpers on the walls pulling it in out for my parents…

    Like 4
    • AMCFAN

      That seems true that GM still had a stranglehold on the media when these came out. Yes the greatest engineering marvel. You would think GM would have learned something from the Corvair and Vega fiasco (Motor Trend Car of the year) Don’t half ass make a car and throw it on the public and let them test it.

      This single model helped propel the Japanese import market more then any other vehicle.

      Yes save this car it is very historical

      Like 1
  17. Bakyrdhero

    One of those cars from my childhood that was literally on every block until seemingly overnight they disappeared.

    Like 5
  18. Doug

    The name ” Citation” was perfect for these cars, because Uncle Sam forced so many recalls on them. ( I worked for GM Parts Division, and we’d get new parts in every time there was a recall issued. ) One of the more serious defects was that the engineers didn’t understand the difference in vehicle dynamics between a front drive car and a rear drive car, so the incorrect brake bias would cause these things to spin out under braking, especially on wet or icy surfaces, or when going downhill.

    Like 2
  19. sluggo

    Here in Oregon, East of Portland the City of Troutdale had these for police cars for a while, They were laughable, and with all the gear and demands on the charging system even with uprated alternators they stranded officers often and I saw more than a few getting a jump or towed. Conversely, I was on delayed enlistment for the military (Early 80s recession had more enlistees than slots) and went to Dallas Texas area to stay out of trouble and work till I had a slot at Basic training.

    So, I was shocked and amazed that the suburbs of Dallas, one of the towns had Turbo charged Volvos, Handling packages, Euro air dams and serious power. Everything the Citations were not. The contrasts were striking, While Oregon was hurtin’ fer certain, Much of Texas was booming and this town felt the Hot rod Volvos were worth the $$$$.

    I know guys who worked at dealerships during this time and the 1980s was not a happy time for domestic car makers. Glad to see Detroit is putting out better stuff.

    (In the Air force, we had tons of Dodges as well, Trucks staff cars, vans,,, all part of the bailout, but they were not great either, Nothing like the starter on a Dodge V8 to take me back in time)

    Like 3
    • grant

      We used them for patrol cars on Fort Gordon, GA until 1993! Then they got replaced with Plymouth Acclaims. Seriously.

      Like 1
      • TJ Sessions

        I owned 10 citations,all types,X-11 was a two door only, XS was a trunk type. None ever came with an automatic overdrive.Still have the cowl induction from my last one in my garage.

        Like 1
  20. Bruce

    Nobody wanted them them, nobody wants one now. The only way to give it any value other than scrap metal would be to have the only remaining one on earth. I can’t think of anything else GM put out worse. The Aztec maybe but that was only a style issue.

    Like 1
  21. Billy

    Believe it or not, THIS WAS MY CAR! I drove it for over 6 years, mostly as a beater work vehicle. Yes, I always got looks in it, and took to a few local cruise nights. I am shocked to see them asking so much for it, considering its well over double what I sold it for, and 7x what I paid years ago. It served me well, and I was sad to sell her, but glad not to keep fixing her! It has some floor rot, and door bottoms are shot. It survived WNY for several reasons: storage and living in NJ for some years. I bought it in 2012 after it was parked since 1989! Started right up, and needed hardly anything. It even ran on the fuel in the tank, yes I was astounded too! To clarify: it is a 115 hp 2bbl 2.8 V6. Also it is a generic TH125 3 speed that tends to click from side cover in park and leak from torque converter seal when hot. It still had all original lines and fuel tank which suprisingly did not leak and fuel gage was accurate. Subframe is 100% rust free and I always fluid filmed the vehicle in the 4 winters I did drive it. I replaced the terrible GM steering rack, struts and shocks, hub bearings, fuel pump, muffler and pipe, and pad slapped it once. I even drove it with the Sears Roadhandler tires it had from the late 80s for some years. I was stunned to see it for sale again, and it looks the same except some tires and a battery. The car always started in the cold, even the one -12F night we had years ago. Drove decent compared to any 80s X body with usual rattles and smells. It was a beast, but Im glad I moved on. Oh it left me stranded only once, when the HEI module died.

    Like 7
  22. sluggo

    Billy thats an amazing story that its yer old car! Eh, flippers, whatta ya gonna do? At least its not still on the flatbed from where they bought it.
    The only way anyone can eclipse your story is a juicy tale about someone they know or family member and then see them on a COPS or Hot Pursuit TV Episode.

    *Fair disclosure, I have a family member who was with PPB and was on the first season of Cops TV show, He was filmed kicking in a door and charging into a house during an arrest. All my nieces and nephews grew up singing the Theme song. He still has the Tshirt and a wrist watch the show gave all officers that first season who were on the show. I also saw 2 people I thankfully did not know well but sadly DID know them in years since including a woman who is a frequent flyer in the justice system.

    Like 2
  23. joebazots

    Dad had an 81 Phoenix with the 4 spd. Drove that thing all over western Kansas to the tune of around 240K miles and still running when he sold it. Those things were pretty bulletproof in my experience.

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