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Rollin’ Coal: 1982 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel

This honey-colored oil-burner is a 1982 Chevrolet Chevette Diesel and it’s on Craigslist for $2,100 or best offer. It’s actually in fairly nice condition for being 35-years old. It’s located in one of the last areas on the planet where I would think of seeing a smoke-belching, polluting diesel from the 1980s: Oakland, California. Cool.

Chevrolet made the Chevette for the 1976 through 1987 model years, believe it or not. It was the best-selling small car in the US in 1979 and 1980, believe it or not. It’s hard to believe that statistic now, but it’s true. The diesel version was available from 1981 to 1986 and they used an Isuzu 1.8L 4FB1 inline-four with around 51 hp, again, believe it or not.

Thankfully this car has a 5-speed manual instead of the 3-speed automatic. The seller says that they bought it a few years ago from “from a nice fellow near Portland, OR. I drove it home to Oakland without issue. I used this car as my daily driver for the past few years and it gets a lot of compliments and many folks get all nostalgic when they see it.” The interior looks like a mish-mash of seats and dirty finishes, but if it all works that’s all a person can ask for in a cheap, efficient commuter car.

Here’s the bro-truck-rolling-coal-like (not) 51-hp diesel! Isuzu knows a thing or three about diesel engines and these are reportedly about as tough and dependable of a mill as they come. Here’s a great, period Chevrolet training video on YouTube about this engine. The seller says that it “gets about 50 mpg on the freeway and the engine purrrrrs.” They did the timing belt, clutch and transmission when they got it, so that’s great news. The transmissions are sometimes known to go out so it’s good to know that it’s been gone through. I think this would be a unique commuter for probably under $2,000. Have any of you owned a Chevette diesel?


  1. motoring mo

    A ‘vette you can drive without gold chains and a comb over..

    Like 2
  2. Rustytech Member

    I bought and sold hundreds of Chevettes back when these were plentiful, only sold a couple diesels, they were the only car I ever drove that could lose a race with a bicycle. Roared like a lion, ran like a snail.

    • Adam T45 Staff

      Hey Rustytech, I heard that these had a potential terminal velocity of 200 mph. However, this was off a cliff and was very terminal!

      • JCW Jr. Member

        My son had a gas model. Going down a large mountain on 19 in W. Virginia he got pulled over. Cop said he had him on radar at 100mph. As the car sat there blowing some oil and chugging some the cop said something must be wrong with my radar, no way this would do a100. So he let him go. When my son told me about it, he said I probably was going that speed. He said I was giving it all she had down that hill. Thing was that car had very high gears and though running rich at idle really did run very well.

      • Adam T45 Staff

        My brother-in-law’s first car was a Hillman Hunter. He was pulled over in that for speeding. When he told his father the response was, “They booked you for speeding in THAT? They should’ve given you a medal!”

  3. joeinthousandoaks

    Drop an LS7 in it.

    • John Bigbooty

      Good One!

  4. irocrob

    It seemed in the 1980s every 3rd car was a chevette.I even had one for a beater for a few months. Dirt cheap to buy and great on gas. The diesel version was rare.

  5. Vegaman_Dan

    Sadly, the engine is the real value here. I sort of want to snag it for a 3 wheeler Cushman. Good simple power plant for projects.

  6. Big Mike

    I have a 83 Luv Long Bed, with a 2.2 Isuzu Diesel in it, the truck has over 300,000 miles on the engine, some body parts have been replaced, like most of them.
    All I have ever done to the motor is replaced the timing belt and 1 injector. I would take Little Blue to Florida in a heart beat, but the Wife does not like it so I take Big Blue the Suburban instead.
    I have run Little Blue to look at some car shows and to go look at cars sometime when it is just me, last week I drove it to Piggott, Arkansas to look at car I was wanting, a 63 Chevy Impala SS, but sadly to much gone for the money the guy was asking, another story.

  7. geomechs geomechs Member

    We went through lots of these back in the day. The bulk of our sales were the diesel variety so we had our share of them through the service department. The glow plug system was designed by someone who was obviously drinking his own bath water. It had fast heat then, instead of cutting in and out like the 350 and 6.2 systems, the power tapered off as the engine warmed up. In short they came on, went off and never came on again. GM DID manage to get them a trifle more reliable but we wired in some of them with a manual push-button, along with strict instructions for no more than (9) seconds cold, or you’d burn them out. And they were NOT covered by warranty!!!! The injection pump was primarily a VE distributor type, licensed from Bosch and built by Diesel Kiki (now ZEXEL, a wholly owned subsidary of Bosch). It was/is similar to the one used by Dodge/Cummins from ’89 to ’93 on the 5.9 diesel. Worked good but was prone to throttle shaft leakage, which is (relatively) easily repaired. I might add that there were a few that escaped from the factory with a Lucas-built DPC pump that was temperamental at best. It was prone to leaks from everywhere there was a gasket or seal. Parts and service for that pump is limited to about half a dozen fuel system repair shops scattered throughout the country, mostly on the east coast. Also one in Quebec, Canada.

    Now to the car itself. Nice car! Definitely NO powerhouse. My ’49 Chevy with 216 will wax it in a quarter mile. But like my ’49, it will take you anywhere you want to go and bring you back. Just don’t be surprised if you get passed by a lot of cars whose drivers are waving at you with that all-too-common single digit wave….

  8. Jay E.

    I’ve got one with a bit of “patina” if someone really wants one to restore (?), or for parts. $250.00. No idea if it runs, but it has title. Contact me thorough Jesse so BF gets their $50.00.

    • Bill

      where are you? before i get excited and contact etc…

      • Greg

        Location should be the first thing given. Fail.

      • Jay E.

        Sorry for the fail, I’m in Southern Oregon.

      • Jay E.

        Here is a photo.

        Like 2
  9. Spence

    The kind of car one buys with a stop at Home Depot on the way home to buy 10ft of hose, to park in the garage and whimper “I give up”.

    Like 3
    • Chebby

      Damn, that’s dark.

      I gave you thumbs up anyway :)

      Like 1
      • Spence

        We boys gotta get our laughs in any way we can during the daily grind. Am I right?

        Like 1
  10. Dovi65

    I’d be thrilled to own this little devil .. no worried about anyone ever stealing it, and it’d be a great conversation starter [once you moved far enough away from the car to HEAR anyone over the clatter]

  11. Howard A Member

    This, and many other diesel cars of the time, were simply a “stop-gap” measure to give Americans super fuel economy, until the gas technology caught up. ( Foreign makes were already well on their way) These weren’t bad cars, and aside from the lackluster acceleration, they did cruise at highway speeds pretty well, and delivered 40+ mpg to boot. And somebody did just that, with 156g’s. The biggest problem for diesel cars in 1982 was GETTING fuel. Many gas stations didn’t offer diesel yet, which meant fueling up at those scum-ridden, diesel spills truckstops ( kidding, but true) and most people didn’t understand diesels, and I’m sure more than one of these succumbed to the head blown off, by someone using ether with the glow plugs. I’d have to think, this engine is getting tired, but probably could see many more miles. These engines far outlasted the bodies ’round here ( after they bodies fell away, many of these motors were used as early APU’s on semi’s) Great find for cheap transportation. Collectible? ,,,,Maybe.

  12. 'mario

    I had two in my high school years . Very good mileage about 50 mpg but slow ,my first one had 155000 when i bought it i sold it with 320000. The second one got rearended and we usde the engine to make a 20 kw generator that’s still running today 25 years later

    • grant

      You managed to put 165k miles on a car in 2ish years while in high school?

      Like 1
  13. 68 custom

    another example of when ultra rare does not equal valuable, still with the Isuzu diesel and a good body plus fairly cheap I would consider this an excellent pizza delivery vehicle.

    Like 1
  14. JCW Jr. Member

    He says he has the truck version of this for sale, a Chevy LUV. So I assume it must be a diesel. Would have been nice to have back to back write ups on the Cevette and the LUV. Had both of them in gas form. Put a 350 in the LUV.

  15. Oingo

    Rolling coal? maybe coughing and sputtering.

    • 68 custom

      Usuzu make very good diesels motors, ever hear of the Duramax?

  16. Woodie Man

    Man, the car hobby has really hit the skids when people get “nostalgic” about a Chevy Chevette…. LOL. Crazy.

    Geomechs and Howard ought to get together and write the “BarnFind Primer On Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Anything Old Cars and Stuff”

    We ARE NOT worthy…….

    • Howard A Member

      More accurately, geomechs,,, I’m just a “regurgitator”. ( with some applied knowledge) geomechs ( and I hate this phrase, but) he’s been there and done that. I’ve just been there. :)

    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Hi guys. The car hobby is always changing. I remember not too long ago hearing the joke: “What’s the rarest antique in the world?” Answer: “A three year old Japanese bike.” Yet they’re coming into their own with enthusiast groups popping up all over the place. Ten years ago who would’ve thought that a ’59 Ambassador would win ‘Best of Show’ at a show-n-shine? Yet I went to a show where one did. It’s whatever turns your crank. Being in the repair trade (for 45 years last fall) has given me a lot of experience; some of it good, while most of it I’d rather forget. Despite repairing for a living I love wrenching on old cars and talking about them. That makes the likes of me pretty shallow but I like to share stuff I’ve learned in hopes that it might help someone else out down the road. Been there and done that? I’ve been a few places and done a few things but I haven’t yet earned the T-shirt. Howard made a living driving trucks and I made a living fixing them. I’m sure we’ve both experienced trying to get gelled diesel fuel to flow in 30 below weather; something neither of us would want to do again. I love this site and with the sun setting on my career, I certainly enjoy rubbing shoulders with others who share similar interests. If I’m coming on too strong, I’ll gladly dial it back. The last thing I want to be known as is a know-it-all; I worked for too many of them….

      Like 1
      • Woodie Man

        Not in the least.bring it on!

        Like 1
    • Duaney Member

      Consider that the Ford model T was the cheapest car ever, at the time critic’s wouldn’t even consider it an automobile. Ever hear of the Model T Ford club? There are many people nostalgic about the Chevette, they were rugged and dependable, and fun to drive. In their day, great rally cars.

      Like 1
      • Woodie Man

        Not in the least.bring it on!

  17. Woodie Man

    To regurgitate accurately is a lost art, Howard.

    After all we are in the era of” Drumphian Alternate Facts”. Happily the old car hobby is more grounded in indisputable facts than some politicians are.

    A Solex is always a Solex. Except when it isn’t :) I couldnt resist

  18. grant

    Not surprising to me that Howard and Geomech are old truckers. I’ve learned a ton from them, starting with my dad. As for the Chevette, I’m still a bit flabbergasted that we’re discussing one in a collector context again, but heck. Some people golf. I had a gas powered ’84 twin to this car for a bit in high school. It couldn’t get out of its own way. It wasn’t a bad car, really. It was treated as you would expect by a teenager. One thing to note, if you try and smoke the tires on dry pavement you will either blow the clutch, or strip the spider gears. Or both…. :-)

    Like 1
  19. nessy

    Oh boy, a dirty old Chevette, in puke gold, with a mismatched dirty interior, a missing hubcap and missing moldings, a stick shift, with a diesel…. I want it!

  20. KevinW

    I had the pontiac version of this as a company car once. Call me weird, but I liked driving it.

  21. David Miraglia

    A bland diesel rattletrap. Never cared to much for Chevettes.

  22. Tacoma, Washington

    Sweet looking Chevette. I’ve always liked 1981 and later Chevy Chevettes over the 1980 and earlier. I’d buy one if the price is acceptable, the body shows minimal rust, and it drives safe, and everything works. I’d also also want mine with a diesel engine.

    • grant

      Well, we’ve found d you your car then!

  23. John

    Wonder what the Diesel Brothers could do with that.

  24. Clinton

    Well you could keep it in California and since it’s a diesel you could swap the motor and avoid smog. Then use the little diesel in the above mentioned Cushman.

  25. Bryan

    Lucky me, I once owned a stripped 1980 Chevette 4dr (gas) and a 1981 Isuzu I-Mark LS diesel/5sp with air.

    The Chevette didn’t last long….totaled when a truck ran a stop sign. I replaced it with the much nicer I-Mark LS diesel. The Chevette was cheap and crude by 1980 standards….I hated it (I was 19), but it was economical. I really liked the I-Mark diesel; well optioned and extremely reliable….but probably the slowest car I have ever driven!

  26. BRAKTRCR Member

    My brother had one… I still love him. The poor thing trembled when it saw a hill. Sitting at a traffic light while driving it one day, when the light turned green, I nailed it. Guy in a wheelchair flew past….

    Like 1
  27. Lion

    Bought my wife a 1983 4door hatchback (gas and automatic) new off the showroom floor….well, no, they didn’t use up space for these inside. She drove it to work for years until our oldest girl needed a car. Then our son got it, then our youngest daughter. During that time it failed once. Needed a new battery. Then the Wife’s sister got it for her three kids. Became one of those boom-box thumpers for a while for our nephew, but their youngest girl refused to drive it. Brat ! Our brother-in-law then used for his commute to work and refused to give it back. He passed 5 years ago and I now use it as a winter beater. It failed me once. Needed a new starter. Last year it turned 162,000 kl. (100,000 miles), looks worse than Jay E.’s post but still reliable and fun to drive. And, yes they do go, My daughter got a ticket going 120….75 MPH.

  28. George

    my dad bought an 81 2 door in dark metallic green with a saddle interior and a diesel 5 speed. it was an excellent car. got like 43 mpg

  29. Tom

    No one mentioned the Scooter, my brother had one.

  30. Keith C

    I had one. 60 mph on the highway, mid-40s around town. Slow as molasses in January…and I learned to ignore the obscene gestures as people drove around me an eighth-mile after the green light.

    • Keith C


  31. Ryan

    I am now the owner of this car. Not just any Chevette. The one in the article.
    I now daily drive it in sacramento. Ask me anything.

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