JUNKYARD THERAPY: 1985 Chevrolet Sprint – The First Chevy With Three

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As 1980s US car buyers bought more Japanese cars, Chevrolet turned to Suzuki to market a three-cylinder hatchback that aimed to appeal to them.

Back in the ’80s, small cars were still a sore spot among the Big Three. Their tiny margins made it harder to make a profit, and the leaner production techniques of the Japanese helped them sell better-equipped competitors for less money.

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So rather than sink money into designing a new small car, Chevrolet kept the ’70s Chevette in production and formed a joint venture with Toyota to produce the Nova, a rebadged Corolla.

Find a Chevrolet Nova near you with BestRide’s local search.

Chevy then augmented them in select markets with the Spectrum, which was sourced from Isuzu, and the Sprint, which came from Suzuki.

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Contemporary car critics didn’t like Chevy‘s choices. The Spectrum was an Isuzu Gemini, and it had slick lines but a humdrum feel.

Find an Isuzu i-Series pickup near you with BestRide’s local search.

The Sprint’s basis, the Suzuki Cultus, was bemoaned as an utterly average econobox, with none of the spice of, say, the German-designed Opel Corsa.

But it didn’t make economic sense to import the Opel; Japan’s lower labor rates made the Suzuki more attractive.

Find an Opel near you with BestRide’s local search.

And so Chevy‘s first three-cylinder car hit its US lineup for 1985.

I’d show you that engine, but the hood-mounted release on this example was DOA. That it lacked an interior hood release is also a measure of how basic the Sprint was.

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On the other hand, it was neat that the Sprint’s hatch door included a latch button you could leave unlocked if you wanted easy access on your errands. From the degradation of the trim plate/grab handle below, it appears this hatch door was lifted many, many times.

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This Sprint’s interior continues the theme of heavy use; the shredded upholstery tells the tale.

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Door panels were literally cardboard-thin.

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This one sports a five-speed manual.

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Interior shapes were typically ’80s-boxy…

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…and the instrument graphics aimed for a high-tech look.

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Even with all the apparent wear, it seems this Sprint was a candidate for rebuilding, until it wasn’t.

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The Sprint was important to Chevy, as it tried to appeal to small-car buyers without a large capital investment. It was jarring for some to see a Chevy so small, but if they were all as durable as this example, those who stepped up to buy likely got what they were hoping for – a reliable Japanese car.

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Find a Suzuki near you with BestRide’s local search.

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3 comments

  1. Girlfriend’s dad had one. Loved the 3 cyl snarl and it used next to no gas. Had a soft spot for 3 cylinders since.

    1. Yep, ‘snarl’ is a good way to describe the sound it made.

  2. This was the car I learned how to drive stick on. A couple things, first of all the engine was 3 cylinders and when you had it up in 5th gear it was REALLY LOUD. The car was also paper light, it felt like you were flying in the higher gears. It was also indestructible. I drove it off of a mountain side the week after getting my license, and the only thing that saved me and the car were branches sticking of the side of the mountain. When we pulled the car out, the only dent was near the tailpipe. It was a good car for driving around in Anchorage, Alaska.

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