JUNKYARD THERAPY: GM Compacts From Three Decades

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Compact sedans have historically been central players in the automotive lineup, and these three GMs take us through three decades of them.

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Compact sedans are important to their makers, because they’re typically a buyer’s first entry to the brand. The hope is that as compact owners expanded their lives, they’d head back to the same brand for something bigger and fancier.

Of course there were smaller cars than the compact sedan; the 1964 Chevy II Nova above had the subcompact Corvair below it.

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

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The Chevy II a hasty response to the success Ford was having with the Falcon. Where the Corvair was a unique design with an unconventional rear-engined layout, the Falcon was a more common (and thus more profitable) front engine/rear drive car.

Find a Ford Falcon near you with BestRide’s local search.

If this is the Chevy II Nova 400 – it appears not to be the more basic Chevy II 100 because of the holes that would have clamped down the Nova 400’s shiny moldings – then it would have had a base price of $2,243, which adjusts to $17,267 in today’s dollars.

This is back when even seatbelts were optional – an adjusted $146 for two front belts, not including the rear seat – and power steering would be $577. Air conditioning would be a surprising $2,440. So while the Nova started low, it would have quickly added up to more if you added much beyond four tires and a steering wheel.

Speaking of that wheel: check out how thin and unyielding it appears. Of course, 1964 is still well before collapsible steering columns were mandated, so this would be your rib cage’s first stop in a collision.

The worn bench seat shows that this Nova was used way beyond the lifespans of the soft parts.

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

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The metal dashboard is as economical as it gets.

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All 1964 Novas had six-cylinder engines that displaced 194 cubic inches and produced 120 gross horsepower, which would be a bit less in today’s net measurements.

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Nearby was a 1973 Pontiac Ventura, which was the Nova’s kissing cousing.

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These shared their platforms with the contemporary Camaro/Firebird. Both employed a front subframe that attached to a rear unibody, and it appears that that’s exactly what the the junkyard’s patrons needed from this Ventura.

Related: STREETSIDE – The BMW-Cribbing 1975 Chevrolet Nova

Sad as it is to see a car in such ruin, it’s also encouraging to see it being harvested for parts so thoroughly. From the fender, we see that this Ventura had a 350 cubic-inch V8 with outputs of 150 or 175 net horsepower.

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This Ventura’s insides were stripped clean as well. It doesn’t appear to have Custom nameplates on the rear pillars, so this Ventura would have started at an adjusted $14K, which again represents as stark a car as you’ve ever seen.

Find a Pontiac Ventura near you with BestRide’s local search.

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Model year 1973 began the mandating of bumpers that could take a hit, and they got much larger as a result.

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Bet the exhaust on this one sounded pretty good.

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Then we head to the ’80s, skipping the embattled X-cars (Chevy Citation, etc.) to see its replacement, a late-decade Corsica. The Corsica was the sedan twin to the coupe Beretta.

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

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The Corsica was a way station in the journey of General Motors to transition from seeing compact cars as a necessarily evil to mounting them against world-class competitors, like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.

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It meant reaching for a unique style. On paper, we’re sure that this interior looked lean and modern, but it became something less when rendered in these cheap plastics.

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A 1989 Corsica LT V6 started at an adjusted $20,490, but it had many standards – power steering and brakes, AM/FM stereo with clock, Scotchgarded cloth seats, etc.

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

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These days, compacts are the end result for buyers; smaller cars are now so comfortable and well-equipped (and efficient) that the journey to larger cars in the lineup doesn’t happen as much. These three GM compacts are examples in the evolution that lead to that.

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Tell us in the comments – what do YOU think of these three GM compacts?

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