Sandpiper Special: 1977 Chevrolet Chevette

“An uninspired dog cart” is how Jean Lindamood Jennings described a Chevette in Car and Driver magazine many years ago. Another pundit at that august publication referred to the oft-maligned sub-compact as a “bleedin’ garden tractor”. No respect. Nevertheless, Chevrolet managed sales of 2.8 M between model years 1976 and 1987 so they seemed to get the last laugh. Today we have a 1977 Chevette with the not so common Sandpiper option for review. It is located in Baltimore, Ohio and is available here on eBay for $3,201, reserve not yet met. There is a BIN price of $12,500 too.

I had the misfortune of owning a Chevette and while I was more familiar with the specifics of that car than I wanted to be, I’ll admit that I have never heard of a “Sandpiper” version. But it was real, there were almost 2,000 produced in ’77 and they are identified by a “reef” patterned interior, deluxe interior door trim, color-keyed deluxe seatbelts, cream gold or white paint, and a cute little sandpiper logo affixed to the quarter panel.

The seller lists this Sandpiper package as a Central Office Production Order (COPO) but it’s not. Chevrolet assigned the regular RPO (Regular Production Order) code of  Z79 to this option. And if it were a true COPO, it wouldn’t have been listed in the Chevette sales brochure. What’s so special about a Sandpiper Chevette? Nothing really.

While not so special, it is hard to deny the condition of this 50K mile Chevy. The finish, body, and graphic all look fine. While not listed as part of the Sandpiper package, this Chevette is adorned with wheel opening moldings. I’ve never noticed these on one of these entry-level Chevys so, as the seller claims, this car probably has about every option that was available. The body is nice and straight, the finish has strong depth, but it’s still a Chevette.

There is no reference to this Chevette’s powertrain or this car’s operating characteristics, but the engine is a 60 HP, 1.6 liter, single overhead cam, four-cylinder engine. And in this case, it’s attached to a three-speed automatic transmission. My 1980 version had 74 HP, driving through a four-speed manual transmission and it would barely get out of its way. While this Sandpiper’s driving prowess is not described, it’s not hard to imagine what the experience is like.

The interior is bright and clean, the “reef” upholstery is reminiscent of patterned upholstery, in general, that was all the rage in the late ’70s and early ’80s. A Chevette’s interior environment is pretty spartan but that’s in keeping with the car’s station in life.  The front seats are comfortable for tall drivers and the backseat is actually usable. The longitudinal engine/RWD architecture isn’t the best design for creating a commodious interior space in a subcompact but the Chevette did it pretty well. This Sandpiper is air-conditioned; it would be interesting to know how well the car performs when it’s running. Good to see in place is the original radio.

The seller claims that he’s selling this Sandpiper because he has another. Two? How bourgeoise! He further adds, “This is a once in a lifetime to own the rarest and cleanest Chevette there is.” That may well be true, but it’s still a Chevette. So, I’ve told you about mine (I could write a book about all of the trouble that I experienced but this is not supposed to be a “Rag on the Chevette” article), tell me about yours. Has anyone owned one, and if so, how did you like it?

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Comments

  1. Eric

    I drove a friend’s early 80s model regularly back when it was new. In a life of terrible junkers and spartan penalty boxes, it stood out as the worst driving experience. The steering was unbelievably heavy and both the braking and acceleration were dangerously weak and leaden. It was a tiring car to drive.

    Like 5
    • nlpnt

      Heaviest steering I ever experienced was in a firstgen Hyundai Excel I was test driving as a beater. I actually stopped and double-checked under the hood to make sure it was in fact factory-equipped manual steering and I wasn’t fighting a dead power steering pump. Needless to say I didn’t buy the car.

      Like 4
  2. dirtyharry

    I had an aunt who bought one. Her concern was the limited parking she had in the city. It got me thinking about how “parking spots” are like “women.” My thought was, all the good ones are taken and the rest are handicapped.

    Like 18
    • Ray Bennett

      Had a 78 my first car . Absolutely horrible had no options manual steering and a am radio only. Broke down every other day. What a tin can lol.

      Like 1
  3. mike b

    A 4 spd version joined our family just in time for my driving test. A bit easier to park than the departing 3 on the tree Nova, but a lot less pep. Also easier to do a Rockford turn with when the uphill traction lost out to freezing rain sending me sliding backward downhill on a narrow road. (Good thing I’d done all that “research” viewing.) More fun in snow than front drivers & probably the best use for it is sacrificial winter car.

    Like 6
  4. alphasud Member

    I have a tough decision buy this “COPO” Chevette or that beast of a 70 Chevelle LS6! My physics teacher in high school had 2 of them he swapped back and forth to school in. Both manual transmission cars because he was the living definition of frugal. I can’t speak personally of the reliability but I thought the engines were Isuzu so they couldn’t have been all that bad. Just not the kind of car a teenager wanted to be seen in when I went to school.

    Like 3
  5. Jody Staples

    Yup, these are a bit rare, only about 2000 Sandpipers were produced. It was only an appearance package. I own one of these editions, not in as good condition though. I’ve only been able to locate about 8 others. This one is the nicest examples in existence. I know this car and the other one the current owner has… it is slightly modified… with a V8.

    Like 10
  6. Rex Kahrs Member

    About 35+ year ago, my wife’s friend, also a beautiful ballerina in Columbus , asked me if I could change the carburetor on her Chevette. Well, just try to say no to a 25-year-old ballerina.

    I opened the thing up and realized that there was a heating element sitting on top of the carb, intended to warm the incoming air I suppose. I touched this thing and it crumbled like overcooked bacon, falling into the carb. She returned the carb to Nationwise Auto Parts and got the heating element, and lo the problem was solved.

    Like 7
    • BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

      Rex, Chevy Chevette possibly the only car to equal the Volvo 240 in terms of durability & lack of maintenance needed to keep on the road.

      Like 2
    • Chris

      My ‘82 Chevette Scooter had a similar set up although I think it was at the base of the carb. But it had the little heating grid built in. I swapped the faulty original carb for a used one and just put a standard non heated base gasket in its place since the grids looked a little charred.

  7. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    Always good to see a throw-away car which has not only survived but is in excellent shape. Someone loved this Chevette for decades. That rare trim package with the period-correct striped upholstery makes it even more interesting. You’d have fun at Cars and Coffee with this.

    Like 10
  8. Uncle Leo

    Mother-in-law had a four door, two tone blue ’81.Traded in her husband’s ’77 Mercedes 450 S sedan. It was almost an even swap.I thought it was neat little zippy car,or go kart anyway. Ended up driving it to Florida for her when she relocated from New York. I was surprised that I could cruise at 80-85 mph. Noisy as hell,and uncomfortable,but she made it. Traded it in a few years later for a Ford Tempo.

    Like 4
  9. Keith

    12.5k way too much for this throw away car, heck the A/C compressor is almost bigger than the engine! Haha!

    Like 11
    • Steve R

      To think, the matching numbers 72 340 4spd Challenger featured on this site yesterday with a freshly rebuilt engine and a laundry list of new parts had multiple people comment it would be overpriced at $10,000. Yet so far, you are the only person to even question this cars $12,500 BIN. It sort of makes you shake your head in disbelief.

      Steve R

      Like 20
    • Don Page

      Not only would it be slow with the automatic, turning on the A/C would be like dropping an anchor.

      Like 11
      • BG In AK

        My father-in-law at the time worked at the Wilmington DE plant that built these things. They were loaned these cars for a weekend to get feedback from the assembly workers. He indicated that if he approached a stop light, you had the choice of shutting the a/c off and keep the car running or keep the a/c and stalling.
        Not the glowing report management was looking for.

        Like 5
  10. GBA47

    Drove both a manual and an automatic. Other than the fact that they were scary slow, they drove fairly well. I can’t believe how much slower it was than the gen 1 Fiesta that I owned at the time.

    Like 4
  11. Stangalang

    The reason these were so slow is that the carburetor choked the engine to death..there were several chevette owners back in the day who brought their cars into our shop and we would change out the factory carburetor for a Weber..get rid of the smog equipment and advance the timing a few degrees and give them more throttle response more power and fuel economy. The engines were actually pretty decent. This one may be one of the best ones left

    Like 10
  12. APerson

    In college, my then girlfriend had one, the orange beast was a manual – if you get over the offset steering wheel, the highly back breaking perch style of front seats, the tin-can rattle of the car, it’s propensity to eat starters and alternators – and the need to thrash the engine and clutch to get out of your own way – it was a decent car… No!… sorry!… I can’t do it!…. it was a total dog!!!… this car made me sure her father was trying to get rid of her either by marriage or insurance claim!!!

    Like 6
  13. DarkWolf

    Had a HS buddy whose Dad fitted a 454 into a Chevette Scooter… it could happen again if ya gots a spare engine laying around and know what’s to do to get fittin that joy box in there!

  14. Phlathead Phil.

    I’ve never forgiven GM for designing this car, nor, for putting it into production👺.

    Like 4
  15. Vance

    The parking comparison was spot on, I am still laughing. My future and now ex-wife drove one of these. I saw her in a history class, and was immediately snake bit. Still remember her plate number 819-UTV, that was 1987. Followed her home to see where she lived, she doubled back and caught me. I was very embarrassed and she forced my hand. Got a date, then married, then divorced. Still laugh everytime I see a yellow Chevette, which isn’t too often anymore.

    Like 12
  16. Bob

    We sold quite a few of these grocery getters, not a performance car but a pretty efficient package for a rear wheel drive, also found them to be quite good in the snow considering the RWD configuration.

    Like 4
    • Joe

      They were good in the snow because it was impossible to spin the tires on slippery or dry pavement!

      Like 3
  17. angliagt angliagt Member

    After test driving a new Chevette in 1975,I realized
    that I could keep my ’71 Corolla save about $1500,& still
    have a better car.
    The Corolla had a 1200 cc engine in it,but was faster
    than a new Chevette!

    Like 4
  18. Lj Gillmer

    I had a 1982 chevette with a izusudiesel engine that carhad 140,000 on it when i got it.

    Like 5
  19. Benny B

    My friend had a 4 door Chevette in the early 90’s. When we would go to night clubs trying to pick up women we would brag to them we were driving a 4 door Vette!!!

    Like 3
  20. Kevin Standing

    I had a 1980 silver Chevette. It has a red interior. The only options were an AM radio and tilt steering. I bought it off a pastor who drove all the way from British Columbia to Bew Brinswick. I paid $1200.00 for it in 1984. I bought a rivet gun and immediately bought some galvanized sheet metal and put in a new floor in the front. Tough little car.

    Like 6
  21. GTL

    My brother had one; a truly wretched vehicle.

    Didn’t they make a stripped down version with no back seat?

    Like 1
    • Bob S

      They did, I believe it was called the “scooter “.

      Like 5
  22. wooky

    I had an ’80 model, bare bones and a 4 speed, no A/C. I was in the Military and got it from my ex when I returned from overseas (an SS454 ElCamino I had was sold while out of the Country) I put 150K miles on the ‘Vette and about once a month had to change clutch cables (the cheap aluminum adjuster piece couldn’t hold up). Towards the end of it’s life I was doing good to get 45mph out of it until it was completely warmed up

  23. MarveH

    The difference between a small car with a stick shift versus the same car with an automatic is like the difference between terminal cancer and the sniffles.
    The hunting and lurching of small engines hooked up to a slush box would make anyone consider walking or just moving closer to work.
    The same car with a stick can feel sporty and fun. With the manual transmission the car and driver feel like a team, with an auto box they feel like adversaries.

    Like 8
    • lc

      I would agree. I had a 76 Chevette with manual transmission, and it was a sporty little feel to the car even though it didn’t have much hp. I owned it for about 6 years, and bought it with only 30k on the odometer. Sold it with about 45k on od.

  24. jerry hw brentnell

    years ago I had the misfortune between jobs getting hooked into flying to florida to drive one of these crap cans home to toronto ontario as the owners got sick down there and flew home, this started my hate for general mistake cars and never set foot in a gm dealership since now gm has shut the plant down on oshawa ontario putting a lot of people out of work! I never will! let mexicans by their crap!

    Like 4
  25. Bruce

    I remember my grandfather rented a diesel Chevette. maybe 1980 or 1981. It took most of the block to get it to the posted speed limit of 25 mph. I don’t recall if I even bothered to get it out on the 40 mph street. That would be a rare find today.

    Like 2
  26. Maestro1

    0-60 in three months, very good for groceries and running around town, make
    sure its parked where no one will hit it, the price is absurd.

    Like 3
  27. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    LOL at the bidding – someone is shill bidding this one big time.

    It went from 4K to 6K to 10K

    Like 3
  28. ACZ

    Better just to play taps and bury it.

    Like 1
  29. Gerald

    I bought a ’79 Chevette in 1988. My wife was rear ended a month later. Insurance company wound up paying me $400 more for the car than I purchased it for, and I kept the car. Used a bumper jack as a poor-man’s Porta-Power and bent it back into shape. Car still tracked straight.

    Bought the car with a little under 80k miles. Sold it seven years later with a bit over 250k miles. Only sold it because I got a good deal on an ’85 Continental, and I wanted something nicer.

    Yeah, the car could have used more power, but compared to the 1960 Corvair with two speed Powerglide I learned to drive in, it was a hot rod. A set of Michelin tires and heavy-duty shocks, and it stuck like glue to the local mountain roads north of Los Angeles. And tires rotted out before they wore out!

    Yeah, in 180k miles and seven years, things broke. But it was so easy to work on that it didn’t matter. And parts were cheap and easily available.

    So, while the Chevette may not be the car that dreams are made of, it was a competent, and dare I say actually enjoyable little car.

    Like 9
  30. Graham Line

    All these replies and no mention of Opel. Shopped these and ended up with a ’78 Fiesta S instead.

    Like 2
    • angliagt angliagt Member

      I bought a ’79 Fiesta Sport new.Comparing
      it to a Chevette seems like a really bad joke.
      The Fiesta was actually fun to drive,& got much
      better fuel mileage.

      Like 2
  31. Lampy

    0 to 60, sometimes…makes me think of the Audio Adrenaline song “Chevette”

    Twenty years ago I watched in awe
    As my Dad drove up the driveway.
    More than proud to have a brand new family car.
    Thirty miles to the gallon
    0 to 60, sometimes.
    I remember putting down the back seat
    And lying in the hatchback.
    Looking at the sky watching trees go by.
    I was the son of a preacher
    And he was a rich poor man
    No a.c.
    And no FM
    And no regrets
    In my Chevette
    Yeah
    In my Chevette
    The winter cracked the highway
    And we tried to dodge the pot holes.
    He never promised us it would be a gentle ride.
    He never had a problem though,
    Keeping it on the narrow road.
    No a.c.
    And no FM
    And no regrets
    In my Chevette
    Yeah
    In my chevette
    Yeah
    In my Chevette
    Yeah
    In my chevette
    Poor thing is up on blocks
    But that car still
    Rocks

    Like 2
  32. Bob Member

    Had a1982 company car with the automatic. Two speeds: off and on. Scary brakes and lousy ergonomics. But at least I didn’t pay anything for it.

    Like 2
  33. Fitz

    My ex mother-in-law had one. Traded a 73 cutlass in on it. They brought it home & for some reason, they were quite proud of it. She threw me the keys & told me and her husband to take for a spin. Thing had to speed up to stop. I pulled over, threw Jack the keys, and told him I’d walk back, as I was in a hurry. He got it. She was not amused..

  34. CJinSD

    Round headlight Chevettes vanished from the streets so fast that you’d have thought Chevrolet recalled them and fitted rectangular headlights to all Chevettes in 1980.

    Like 2
  35. K. R. V. Member

    Ok rag on the Chevette all you want, but remember what else was available back then. They were miles ahead of the Vega, although not as sporty looking, especially the Vega Wagons were kinda cool. But my Dads brothers family, with 6 cousins of mine like my family between 3 girls and 3 boys, that were party animals! That had a Chevette their Mom had used, before one at a time handing it down to each one of the six kids, to do their worst. Oh did I mention this one was a diesel? With a 4 speed! That got an easy 40 city 55 hyw miles per! Well over the course of 12 years, all six had their turn! In wet an salty Rhode Island! Where at 180,000 miles the youngest was finished and my uncle finally sold it! Oh they never had anything but batteries, alt, water-pump and AM/FM radio crap out! But the rest of the car was fine! As hard as they all were in the poor car, everyone of them always kept it cleaned an waxed, as uncle Larry made that clear to them if they wanted to use it to get their license and road tests done with it an use it daily! After all that he sold it to a family of 4, that as far as I know used it for a couple years before the trans finally broke down. But that car never failed them!

    Like 6
  36. Vincent

    My dad bought on second hand with 4 speed and a/c. It ser ed him well for the 5 me drive e to work. Dad said he’d only fill the tank every 3 weeks, it snapped a couple clutch cables, but was easy on tires. For around town errands I thought it was fine. The vinyl interior smelled foul on hot summer days. Oh there was a flag that covered the odometer because of a emissions svc. interval, dad always too cheap to care.

  37. Julian Rex

    GM Holden used the duco/panel-graphics on their Isuzu-sourced Geminis. It appeared like they were chasing spend of women with a beach/surf interest. Unaware whether they got hold of the interior fitout, nor if they were finished this way locally in Oz, or back at the Suzie ranch.

  38. 370zpp

    There are certain cars you never wanted to get stuck behind and in the 70s and 80s this was one of them. It never ended well.

    And in this century, for a while it was the PT Cruiser that for me was the Chevette of the new millennium.

    Like 2
  39. Dovi65

    It was built to be basic, affordable means of transportation. Commute to the train station, to the grocery, or errand runs. It’s great to see such a humble, entry-level Chevy still around. That said… $12.5k? Dream on

    Like 3
  40. DeeBee

    I was acquainted with one Chevette, it belonged to a girlfriend. The only thing I remember about the car was the day we were driving to visit some friends and somehow the bolts holding the rear shock absorbers had BOTH managed to loosen and fall off, letting the little beast start bouncing like an underinflated basketball! I managed to get it to the side of the road and get things back together, but, as soon as we were home, I added a second bolt in an attempt to avoid that surprise ever again.

    Like 1
  41. 454RAT Member

    Talk about a deal. A real COPO Chevette for $12,500.00? This should be a $150,000.00 or $200,000.00 car. That is what other COPO cars sell for. Either he doesn’t know what he has, or something is fishy. Hmmmm, probably doesn’t know what he has.

    Like 2
  42. Kevin Ryan

    As a Certified Licensed Mechanic I worked on a lot of these back in the day, they had the worst brakes and steering ever. The repeated heavy force of the drivers foot in trying to stop these cars often resulted in heavily fatigued/cracked/broken firewalls where the master cylinder was mounted. The 1.6 was a noisy, oil leaking piece of junk. Interior fit and finish was definitely high on the cheap side. G.M. dropped the ball in producing a car that did not meet the basic essentials of safety in braking and steering, producing a low end economy car that was pretty much a death trap.

    • 454RAT Member

      I always wanted one of these with a small block installed. Seriously. After reading your comment on the brakes, I realize I will probably have to do a little updating to the brake system. Thanks for the heads up.

  43. Jim

    Wow! Don’t see any Chevettes anymore, especially round headlight models. This is a real museum piece.

    I don’t get why these get such a bad rap. My aunt had one which I drove many times and it was a tough little car. Not fast, not good handling….but a real tank. It could take a licking and keep on ticking.

    Sure hope someone buys this and preserves it. It always amazes me that the most common cars of years ago are so scarce nowadays.

    Like 2
  44. Walter

    Have to comment here. Had one in college and part of my first job with a 70 mile round trip. It was reliable, good on gas and got me where I needed to be. Still a soft spot in my heart for Chevettes. Mine was pretty much identical.

    Like 1
  45. Stephen Coe

    Got my sister a desil about 84 used it got 40 mpg And drover it till 287,000 when a woman ran a red light & killed it, ins paide her 1600 whit h was twice what she paid 6 years before

    Like 1
  46. Matt

    I never had the sand piper. I had the base white 1977 in 1993.I paid $30.00 for it with a blown head gasket. I but a 1984 that wash trashed with a good engine for $25.00 from a guy i knew. once i had the 2 together I swapped out the good parts off the 84 to the 77 with new gaskets, filters and timing belt and fan belt. so the total cost of the car after everything was $164.00. drove it everyday for a year without trouble. parked it when i bought a new car. it sat for 7 months. then the wife drove it from 1995 to 1998 everyday without any trouble. when we were able to get new car. it was parked again. only being used as a back up car. when we moved from indiana in 1999 to florida. we gave it to a friend that needed it to get to work. they drove it until 2007 with only regular maitanance. after that it went to the local junk man that sold it for scrap metal.

    Like 1
  47. R.Lee

    The most comments on a car in a loooong time. I got a free 79′ with the mighty 98 ci High Output. The head gasket went bad and hydrolocked a piston and busted the ring land. Blue hatchback with black interior. The car had 37,000 in 91′.

    Removed engine and bored it 40 over for grins. Cylinder head porting, valve work and decked the head because of the headgasket thickness. Minor intake port matching and a Holley 2 barrel. Yea buddy cut the exhaust headpipe back to flange and two two and a half pipes welded to bend out, exit under the door. 4 Wide Michelin tires 1 size taller and the car ran great on the highway. The car drove pretty well at 75 mph all day long.

    I wheeled it a few years then job changed and so did the ride. Never regretted owning the Chevette.

  48. Stuart B

    Brown 1977 base–not Scooter. Looked at two at the dealer one with 1.4L and stick, other a 1.6L auto. Our other car was an automatic Datsun B210, so both felt fast. Looking for low cost, so bought the manual.

    Really pretty reliable, but rear brakes a problem. Adapted the manual adjustment from old Opels to automatic and the adjusters broke. Later models apparently went to adjustment more like other American cars used.

    Had a timing belt go somewhere around 100,000, and didn’t realize till later that GM had designed it so valves don’t hit the pistons when that happens, unlike almost every other manufacturer. Friend with a 2.0L Pinto lost an engine when hers broke.

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