I Used to Own One of Chevrolet’s Biggest Flops!

A recent article in USA Today celebrates the 100-year birthday of Chevrolet. It contains a few surprises. For example, did you know that the first Chevy Suburban was sold in 1935? That makes Suburban the “longest-lived automotive nameplate in continual use.”

What I found most ironic, however, was the list of Chevy’s biggest losers. According to USA Today’s auto team, there are three cars that constitute Chevrolet’s “terrible trio”: Vega, Chevette, and Citation. I never had the privilege of owning a Vega or a Chevette, but I did drive a Citation for a couple of years. Actually, I had two of them. But, before you judge my taste (or lack thereof), please allow me to explain.

A Chevrolet Citation, care of WikiCommons. I wasn't privileged to have one of those nifty two-tone models.

When the Citation came out in 1980, I though it was the ugliest car on the road. No joke and no exaggeration. I hated the look of the Citation, and couldn’t figure out why anyone would buy one. Then, in 1984, I joined the staff of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. As a full-time member of the ministry team, I was given a “company” car (in lieu of additional pay). My first care as a nifty Honda Prelude, complete with a sunroof. But, alas, I only drove this car for a couple of weeks before the lease was up. Then, I became the proud driver of . . . yes, you guessed it . . . a Chevy Citation. My first one was reddish brown. Then, a year later, that was swapped out for a white one. I must say that I had relatively good luck with these cars, if you don’t count their appearance.

In retrospect, I had a pretty darn good deal with those church cars. I never had to think about buying, leasing, or fixing a car. All of my expenses were paid. We had an excellent garage just a short walk from the church, and I never once worried about the bill. Plus, the fact that I drove what I considered to be an ugly car was probably good for me from a “learn to be humble and grateful” point of view. Besides, before I was given a Citation to drive, I owned two other cars: a 1964 Rambler American with “three on the tree” and no radio, and a 1964 VW Bug with no radio and windows that rattled like an old subway car. So, in a way, I moved up in the world when I was provided with one of Chevrolet’s biggest flops.

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  • I owned both a Vega (my first car) and a Citation (my second). I hit a deer with my Vega, necessitating the purchase of the Citation. And during the time I was driving my aforementioned vehicles, my sister drove a Chevette.

    No grumbles on my part with either the Vega or the Citation. 

    Just wish I hadn’t hit the deer.

  • Ray

    Mark, you have definitely lived an automobilically challenged life.

    The first car my wife and I bought after we got married was a 1985 Honda Prelude.  Loved that car!  Kept it for 20 something years until the carburetor died (yep, back then they still had ’em), and found that they don’t make carburetors for that engine any more.  Found a rebuilt junk one, but the guy wanted 700 DOLLARS!!!  We gave the car a proper funeral and sold it for $200.

    My little sister’s first car was a Vega, which I helped her buy by writing a check that I hoped I could cover before it hit the bank.  Seems to me that the deposit and the check didn’t quite time themselves correctly…but I’ve repressed that memory.

    Then, in my first job after college graduation…in the REAL world…I got a company car.  A Chevy Chevette.  It quit running on the I-20 bridge at Vicksburg eastbound from Louisiana.  That’s a pretty big bridge.  It has to be, because sometimes the Mississippi river at Vicksburg is a few miles wide (as it was earlier this year).  And they don’t make places for you to pull over.  Let me tell you, that bridge looks HUGE when your car is dying on it!

    I’m proud to say that I’ve never owned a Citation.

    My favorite vehicle was a ’77 Chevy C10 pickup with vinyl seats, no carpet on the floor, and a 3-on-the-tree transmission.  I bought it to replace the first car I ever owned…a mighty Ford Pinto (’73).  I had a ton of fun with that truck in college.  I kept it until I figured out that infant seats aren’t made for trucks, and I gave it to my father in law.

    I have a question about the Suburban.  Where did the name come from?  I don’t think we even had “suburbs” in 1935, did we?

  • My mom had a Citation the color of root beer. She liked it. And when my brother went off to college, it was in a Citation X-11–the “souped up” model. 

    One day about a year ago my nephew, who was 4 or 5, grew restless at the dinner table once he’d finished eating. My brother told him to go look at his Matchbox cars and pick out one that would be a good car for daddy. Craig came back with a Citation in his hand. It was downright eerie. 

  • Anonymous

    Root beer! Yes, that’s it. That’s the color I had too. Perfect description.

  • Annie K

    In 1985, when I graduated from Westmont College and headed off to grad school in Pasadena, my family decided that the best car for me to buy with my summer’s earnings was my grandmothers lightly-used 1980 Citation.  I had the sporty two-toned version:  white, with a red underbelly.  Yes, an absolute flop.  It used to regularly cough up all of its automatic transmission fluid out onto the road.  I was so happy on the day I sold it and picked up a new 1990 Toyota pickup, which was still running fine when I finally sold it two years ago.
    Annie from IPC

  • Anonymous

    Hi, Annie. Sounds familiar. I’ve had two Toyota pickups in the last 25 years. Been very happy with them.