10 Forgotten Classic Chevrolet Cars That Probably Deserved Better
Unjustly forgotten Chevrolet models that deserved more credit
Updated May 28, 2018
As GM’s volume brand, Chevrolet has produced more cars than any other American automaker. This means most Chevrolets are widely known and often acclaimed vehicles with almost cult-like following. Certain Corvettes, Camaros, Tri Fives, El Caminos, Novas, and Chevelles certainly fit this description. But not all classic Chevrolet models were good. It’s understandable that Bow Tie brand has had a few strikeouts here and there, since they marketed myriad of models in their history spanning across more than 100 years. More than a few, actually. Some Chevrolet Cars like Chevette, Vega, Citation, and Corvair were far from sound. But people still remember them. Even for their shortcomings.
We won’t be explaining why these aforementioned Chevy models are considered black sheep of the family for the hundredth time. Instead, we’ll focus on Chevrolet cars that weren’t that bad, but ended up being forgotten. For some reason, the following models never got a fair chance. They came, they saw, and they quickly went off the stage. Had they arrived at different time and place, they might have fared much better. Guess we’ll never know.
One more thing. If you think you know Chevys, you might want to test your knowledge on our Chevy trivia quiz here.
Back when most Chevrolet cars used to share the same platform, one hit wonders like Yeoman were actually possible. More like one hit wagon since only choice Yeoman offered was the choice between two or four doors. Wagon body style was in its DNA. Named after yeomen – medieval helping hands who were synonymous with hard labor – Chevrolet’s entry level wagon was based on the same blue collar philosophy. Its interior was fully washable with water and a sponge. Courtesy of vinyl upholstery, rubber floor mat and linoleum-covered cargo area.
Standard engine behind the 1100 series Yeoman wagon was the 235 cu in Blue Flame straight-six. 1200 series models, on the other hand, were equipped with 283 cu in Turbo Fire small-block V8’s. Finally, for 1958, Chevrolet even offered their very first production big-block V8. Needless to say, a few 348 cu in Turbo Thrust V8’s have found their way into Yeoman wagons.
$2,520 2-door Yeoman is especially prized these days. Mid-range Brookwood and top-tier Nomad wagons were offered with four doors exclusively. Who would reckon that $54 saved back then (4-door model’s price was $2,574) would have actually made the Yeoman even more exclusive? Sadly, one year only Yeoman was dropped alongside Delray, and Brookwood took over both the 2-door body style and entry level duties for 1959. Almost forgotten by most, but not by all. Paul Currie has reminded us how sublime Yeoman resto mods can look given some love, means and good old fashioned yeoman’s work. His two-tone Yeoman graces our cover.
1991-1993 Lumina Z34 Coupe
It’s arguable whether Chevrolet Lumina has been forgotten or whether people still remember it now. Since it only got axed in 2001, I’d say people still remember it. Furthermore, third and fourth generation models have been built for export in Australia until 2013. But very few still remember how good Chevy’s answer to Ford’s aero design was. Although criticized for being almost 5 years late, Lumina was still a capable car. Especially the Z34 performance version.
Z34 edition debuted during Lumina’s second year in the market. It was exclusive with the coupe, although sedans received equally powerful Euro 3.4 Sedan trim for 1992. Both 4-speed auto and 5-speed manual were available, but manual managed to squeeze more out of 3.4L LQ1 V6. It delivered 210 horsepower while automatic only managed to put up 200 ponies. Manual was removed from the options list for 1994, but Lumina Z34 coupe was still available with the auto that year. Parallel to Z34 coupe, Lumina Euro 3.4 Sedan also lost the manual. Only, sedan lost it in 1993.
Impressive power for early nineties front-wheel drive car wasn’t the only ace up Lumina’s sleeve. Z34 also featured standard FE3 sport suspension package, anti-lock brakes at all four corners, dual exhaust, and more aggressive aero body. Sadly, Z34 badges migrated onto Monte Carlo for 1995 model year.
1961-1965 Greenbrier Rampside
Ah, the unlucky Corvair. Chevrolet’s unibody disaster deserves more credit than it gets nowadays. Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed was more than a little biased. In truth, Corvair wasn’t any more unsafe than either one of its competitors. But the damage was done. Before the book destroyed Corvair’s reputation, unibody compact’s architecture found extensive use in the auto world. Corvair 95 platform, which debuted during Corvair’s second year, underpinned Corvair-based utility vehicles.
Named Greenbrier, these obscured Chevy vans and trucks came in numerous forms. Vans could have been ordered with the side windows (Sportwagon) or without them (panel van), while trucks came in Rampside and Loadside forms. Although Loadside is rarer, being produced for two years only, Greenbrier Rampside is our pick of the day. Rampside shared Corvair’s rear, air-cooled engine setup and had two tailgates. 2.4L or 2.7L flat-six engine was mounted below slightly raised rear tailgate area, while side tailgate served as a ramp.
Chevrolet expected this practical setup to become instant success. Only it never had. Instead, Greenbrier Rampside ended up becoming one of the rarest and most obscure Chevrolet cars in history. Only around 20,000 were produced over the short four-year production stint.
1973-1976 Chevelle Laguna
Although one of the most remarkable Chevrolet cars in history, Chevelle practically ceased to exist with the introduction of new emissions and safety regulations. It soldiered on for four more years under different Bow Tie brand’s monikers. Base models were dubbed Deluxe, while mid-range and top tier received California beach resort’s names – Malibu and Laguna respectively.
Sitting atop the Chevelle lineup, Laguna sported such refinement options as woodgrain trim, deep-twist carpeting, and all-vinyl upholstery. It also featured body-colored urethane front end masking the awkward 5 mph safety bumpers, which distinguished them from other Chevelle models. Furthermore, 350 cu in V8 was standard. Although it only made 145 horsepower for that particular year. Options included 4-barrel version of the 350 delivering 175 ponies and 454 cu in 4-barrel V8 worth 245 horses.
Chevelle Laguna was initially available in coupe, sedan and wagon body style. As of 1974, however, only Laguna Type S-3 Colonnade Coupe was available. Other body styles migrated to Malibu trim level. 1974 also saw the introduction of optional 400 cu in V8. On the other hand, big-block 454 mill got axed in 1975. Chevelle Laguna even made a lasting mark in NASCAR. Cale Yarborough managed to win two consecutive Winston Cup championships with Type S-3. But all that wasn’t enough to keep Chevelle Laguna alive for more than four model years.
Actual name of the original was Suzuki Cultus. Chevrolet Sprint was only captive import based on the Japanese supermini. And it wasn’t the only GM’s model based on Cultus. However, Sprint came first (before Geo/Chevy Metro, Holden Barina, and Pontiac Firefly). As such, Sprint marked a turning point in GM’s compact car strategy.
But here’s a twist in the tale. Sprint’s M platform was actually conceived by GM engineers. GM brass never found the home-made subcompact series of cars enticing enough in financial way, so they sold the platform to Suzuki for 5% stake in the company and, of course, the badge engineered Sprint model itself. Powered by 1.0L 3-cylinder, Sprint never produced more than 48 horsepower in its base form, but it compensated with extremely good efficiency figures of 44 mpg in the city and 53 mpg on the highway. There was also Sprint Turbo available for 1987 and 1988 which produced 73 ponies. For a car weighing around 1,600 pounds, Sprint’s power to weight ratio was… well, fun.
Problem with Sprint was – there simply wasn’t any room to fit anything in it. Safety features were almost non existent, and so were convenience options as well. At least they had four doors. At least 1985 and subsequent models had them. For 1984, Sprint was offered with two doors less, and exclusively in select few western states. Remarkably, Chevrolet still has the same strategy regarding subcompact cars. Only their current supermini imports are called Sparks.
1955-1958 Cameo Carrier
Why do people – when it comes to classic trucks – still almost exclusively talk about first two Ford F-Series generations, and Advance Design and Task Force Chevrolet pickups? Why indeed when Chevy Cameo Carrier is readily available? Limited number of them, at least. Part of the Task Force generation of Chevy pickup trucks, Cameo Carrier was produced in slightly over 10,000 units over 4 years.
Cameo Carrier is not exactly forgotten. It’s still one of the favorite American classic trucks. It’s just that it never received recognition it deserves. And, as revolutionary truck that reduced the gap between old school blue collar trucks and passenger cars, it certainly deserves more credit than it gets. Cameo Carrier is where fleetside bed debuted. Optional radio and power steering were also new concepts for pickups back then. And so were V8 engines. 265 cu in V8 for 1955 and 1956, and 283 cu in V8 for 1957 and 1958. But standard mill was still 235.5 cu in straight-six.
1955 year models, of which 5,220 were produced, were limited to Bombay Ivory exterior, and Commercial Red interior and bed color option. 1,452, 2,244, and 1,405 units found their new owners for ’56, ’57, and ’58 respectively. These could have been had in a number of new colorways. Despite the newfound rainbow, Chevy decided to discontinue Cameo Carrier two years prior to Task Force generation getting the axe. Thing is, Cameo Carrier succeeded in doing what it was supposed to. It revolutionized the pickup truck design unlike any other truck in history. It set up the template and went to well deserved retirement. We are only here to keep its legacy alive.
1959-1960 and 1969-1972 Kingswood
Kingswood was one of the most unique and original classic Chevrolet cars ever produced. Built upon GM’s B platform, it featured all new body frame with low-slung headlights up front, and wing-type tail fins with cats-eye tail lights at the back. Furthermore, it was the longest low-priced car in Chevrolet’s portfolio. Although visually imposing in every sense of the word, Kingswood is still forgotten now.
Mid-range Bel Air 9-seat trim Kingswood sat between the Parkwood and the Nomad. It was discontinued in order to consolidate the complicated lineup and new 9-passenger option on low-range Brookwood was brought in to replace it. Like other models from the era, Kingswood too could have been ordered with standard 235 cu in straight-six or optional 283 cu in V8 and 335-horsepower 348 cu in V8 complemented by trio of dual-barrel carbs for 1960. During 1959, 348 came with optional fuel injection that helped Kingswood reach 315 ponies.
Chevrolet would reintroduce the Kingswood nameplate a decade later. This time it would survive for four model years between 1969 and 1972. Based on Impala, Kingswood wagon again sat above the likes of Townsman and Brookwood in terms of refinement. There was also Caprice-based Kingswood Estate which sat atop the Chevy wagon’s segment. The most luxurious models could have been distinguished by their exterior wood grain paneling. And they only came with V8’s under their respective bonnets. 350 cu in, 400 cu in, and even 454 cu in V8 served as their motivating factors. As the first time around, Chevy discontinued the Kingswood in order to consolidate their over complicated lineup. Townsman and Brookwood also made way in favor of simpler naming strategy. All future wagons would carry their model’s actual name from then on.
Spectrum might look like another fish in the sea of uninspiring Japanese captive imports. Maybe it is, but there’s a back story behind this Isuzu Gemini compact. Isuzu commissioned the famous Italian car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro for this one. He delivered his version of the economy R-platform car, but Isuzu went ahead and asked for GM’s opinion. Needless to say, tasteless brass at GM decided to make it more demure without Giugiaro’s approval. They got what they wanted, but at price of Isuzu and Giugiaro ending their long-lasting fruitful relationship in feud. Insulted Italian miracle worker even denied any involvement with the design until full decade after its discontinuation.
Spectrum definitely could have been something else had GM simply imported it the way it was intended. But, even with drab changes to its design, Spectrum was still a fun car to drive. Available in hatchback and sedan body styles, and with 70-horsepower 1.5L naturally aspirated four cylinder or 110-horsepower turbocharged four banger counterpart, Spectrum had enough power to move its light frame around. However, it lacked many optional features of its Isuzu I-Mark twin, most notable of which was 125-horsepower 1.6L mill.
Chevy Spectrum survived until 1990, but under Geo badge. Isuzu redesigned and continued building it until 1993 when it was replaced by rebadged version of Honda Domini. Had Chevy known how to treat Giorgetto Giugiaro, Spectrum might have been a classic now. This way, it’s almost forgotten.
Here’s another product of the Isuzu/GM cooperation. Known across the globe as Isuzu Faster, Chevrolet’s version of the light pickup was dubbed LUV – Light Utility Vehicle. Unlike its Isuzu role model which survived until 2002, Chevy LUV was axed after 1982 model year when sales dried up and S-10 came to replace it.
LUV served as GM-badged import for people who simply couldn’t force themselves to buy a foreign product. Never mind the fact it was assembled in Japan. Badge engineered compact sported the same powertrain as its Isuzu twin. 1.8L 4-cylinder with two-barrel carburetor generated a modest 75 horsepower and 88 lb-ft of torque. It was enough for 1,400-pound payload. Identical to that of its main rival, the Ford Courier. Total first gen LUV sales accounted to more than 400,000 units, but by the time 1980 came, pickup was already extremely outdated. That year’s refresh didn’t help much. Aside from making 80 ponies this time, and sporting some cosmetic changes, LUV remained pretty much the same. Another 20,000 models were sold over the following two years, but Chevy knew it was time to move on.
Had GM decided to build it at home, and given it stronger optional engines, LUV might have been a success. Not that it did bad this way. Luckily, LUV’s shortcomings were directly responsible for the arrival of S-10 pickups.
1988 Nova Twin Cam
And, while strategy behind most captive imports is open for a debate, fifth gen Chevrolet Nova has set the template on how to approach this delicate procedure. Chevrolet has combined two iconic nameplates in order to create the car. Chevy Nova and Toyota Corolla. With that kind of available firepower, there was very little that could go wrong.
Corolla-based Chevy Nova made its debut in 1985 and survived until 1988 after which Chevrolet ceded it to Geo which renamed it Prizm. The most lovable version of fifth generation Nova was introduced during its last year. Twin Cam Nova had the same engine as previous year models. Only, 1.6L Toyota in-line four delivered 110 horsepower instead of 74 ponies which was single cam model’s output. 5-speed manual was standard with Twin Cam models, while 4-speed auto replaced single cam’s 3-speed unit as optional trans. Apart from more potent engine, Twin Cam Nova also boasted sport suspension, disc brakes on all four corners, wider tires and aluminum wheels. Although impressively fun to drive, it was around $2,500 more expensive than its single cam sibling.
Another reason why this almost forgotten classic Chevrolet deserves more credit is absence of color choices. All Twin Cam Novas were black on the outside with single red bumper and side stripe, and red badging. At the same time, they were all grey on the inside. To this day, it remains one of the best captive imports General Motors has ever marketed.
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