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.
Chevy then augmented them in select markets with the Spectrum, which was sourced from Isuzu, and the Sprint, which came from Suzuki.
Contemporary car critics didn’t like Chevy‘s choices. The Spectrum was an Isuzu Gemini, and it had slick lines but a humdrum feel.
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.
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.
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.
This Sprint’s interior continues the theme of heavy use; the shredded upholstery tells the tale.
Door panels were literally cardboard-thin.
This one sports a five-speed manual.
Interior shapes were typically ’80s-boxy…
…and the instrument graphics aimed for a high-tech look.
Even with all the apparent wear, it seems this Sprint was a candidate for rebuilding, until it wasn’t.
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.