Home » ‘Are You Telling Me You Built A WRC Rally Car … Out Of A Chevette?’

‘Are You Telling Me You Built A WRC Rally Car … Out Of A Chevette?’

Topshot Chevettewrc Ts1

I hate plot holes in films as much as the next guy.

Let’s take the not-necessarily-a-Christmas-movie Die Hard for example. If Hans Gruber was really after those bonds or whatever was in the vault, couldn’t he just have cut the power to the building and taken them without the need for the whole hostage situation? Also, weren’t there plenty of deceased henchmen that John MacClain could have stolen shoes from after rendering them lifeless and no longer needing footwear? Bruce Willis’s character willingly letting his feet get cut up made about as much sense as his character in The Sixth Sense seemingly going about his day and somehow scheduling meetings with people even though he’s dead. (sorry to give it away, but the movie is twenty years old).

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Having voiced this disdain, I realize I’m possibly guilty of doing the same thing in one of my what-if stories. If you’re dumb enough to follow my posts, you might remember that I did a series on how the rear-engined Chevy Corvair line might have looked had it continued on and not died the death that it did in 1969. By the early eighties in my imagined history, the Corvair had transitioned into a Fiero-like wedge-shaped machine. However, there was a special version of this Generation 4 Corvair that seems a bit miscast in my scenario.

The Autopian

I proposed the Corvair Quadforce which had a second engine in front to complement the rear powerplant, giving the car a total of eight cylinders and power to each of the four wheels. With this monster, I proposed that Chevrolet take it on the World Rally circuit and show those fancy Audi UR Quattros a thing or two.



Looking back, I think that’s a bit too bold to expect that to happen so quickly, without any precedent or experience from GM in this type of competition.  It’s sort of like Nicole Kidman playing that 23-year-old brain surgeon or whatever she was in Days of Thunder. I think GM would have tried something else before the rather advanced QuadForce, and it would be similar to a bonkers creation from a different company.

Let’s say the magic words Gunther gleiben glauten globen and go back to the malaise era once again.

Le Rally Car

Rally racing was even less popular to Americans in the late seventies than soccer, but I believe that far more people would have taken a closer look if they understood that it was like The Dukes Of Hazzard on steroids (and with spectators standing five feet away from 100MPH moving cars, if not in front of them). No American companies seemed even slightly interested in getting into this part of motor sport; even if they decided to put their hat in the ring a manufacturer such as General Motors might not have had an ideal car to enter anyway. Thankfully, another large automotive corporation was theoretically in the same position, but that didn’t stop them from taking the plunge.

Renault might have been a large and powerful concern in the disco era (even owning a large chunk of American Motors) yet they didn’t seem to have any car model suitable to be a competitive rally machine. In particular, Renault had no mid-engined model to go head-to-head with the then-quite-successful Lancia Stratos; they primarily had small front-wheel-drive machines like the little Renault 5 (sold here in America as the Le Car):

052217 Barn Finds 1978 Renault Lecar 2

The only way this French firm could have entered a mid-engined race car would be if they did something stupid like, say, take this little hatchback and put the engine where the back seat used to be. Who would do that?


Well, apparently not Renault by themselves. To carry out the task of making what would be called the Renault 5 Turbo, in 1977 they called on that purveyor of strange concoctions: Bertone. After sending a standard Renault 5 to Italy, it was heavily modified by the coachbuilder with new lower body trim and humongous rear fender extensions. Moving a turbocharged 1.4 liter Renault 5 engine to the back of the car, engineers used a rear suspension from the rear-engined Renault Alpine A310 V6 sports car and a five-speed transmission from the large 30TX hatchback, rotated 180 degrees. The 158 horsepower of the “standard” car might not seem like much, but it was the most powerful French car built at the time, and that engine was popped into a car originally designed for a 782cc motor with 36 horsepower.

Race5 Front 2 14
4 Star Classics (car for sale)

Needless to say, the car was fast, and more importantly it worked as a race car. After winning the 1981 Monte Carlo Rally in the World Rally Championship in its first outing, several other victories followed before the new four-wheel-drive competitors started to appear and put paid to those with fewer driven wheels.

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What’s even stranger than the bizarre rally car is that Renault needed to make at least several hundred homologation “street” models to sell off the showroom floor to allow the thing to qualify for racing.

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Bring A Trailer (car for sale)

If the whole exercise seems rather insane, that’s because it was. The Renault 5 Turbo was hopelessly silly looking and absurdly fast for what it appeared to be; if there’s a better example of a true Autopian mobile I can’t think of it right now. Given a twenty car garage and unlimited budget, I would think that an R5 Turbo would be on the must-buy list of most site members (you’re a member, right? NO? What the hell, man?! Jason nearly DIED, dammit! The least you could do is…).


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Looking forwards from the driver’s seat, the car seemed rather standard until you turned the key and started up the swarm of angry whistling bees under thin covers just behind your head.

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There is no reason an even bigger company like GM couldn’t have entered into World Rally racing in the same way back in the day. Formula 1 has always been a tough nut to crack for America, but the GT40 proved that if money and effort was put into the right place they could at least come to be competitive in other forms of the sport. Like Renault, in 1977 the General didn’t have stock hardware to compete in this arena at the time; the Camaro and Corvette were heavy, hopelessly outdated objects by the late seventies. The only thing small in their arsenal was a relatively new compact hatchback known as the T-Body. Oh, Lord Almighty, you can’t be thinking that we’re going to make a rally car out of…a Chevette? You’re damn right we are, and even though I did this as a flat out joke the end result turned out to be something I want, and you’re gonna wish it existed.

Little Red Chevette, Baby You Just Ain’t Fast

The Chevette seems to be a rather unfathomable product from what was then the world’s largest car maker- a company that helped to develop the Lunar Rover years before gave us…this? At the time, the rear drive, live-axled T-platform car launched in 1976, the rest of the world had already moved on. Even Volkswagen had ditched the Beetle and gone front wheel drive a few years before; companies like Renault, Fiat, and even Ford (with the soon-to-launch Fiesta) had seen that this was the way small car design was headed. What’s even more amazing about this clunky-but-lovably-simple little dope was that it continued to be sold by Chevy for a decade until GM finally pulled the plug in 1987. If you’re a GenXer you’ll remember that at one point in time these were fucking everywhere, even in the few years we lived overseas in the West Midlands of the UK (but they were better looking Vauxhall variants there). This is one of those cars that nobody loved but everybody bought.

1976 Chevrolet Chevette 100517417
General Motors

Chevettes initially came with a 1.6 liter 60 horsepower four cylinder under the hood; since it was the American market you could even get automatic transmission and air conditioning as options which rendered the car capable of sort of building momentum instead of accelerating. Versions ranged from the hilariously decontented no-back-seat-or-glove-box-door Scooter up to more posh models like the one above with fake woodgrain on the sides. There was even a “Rallye” version you can see below, a sticker package special which despite the name was never, ever going to compete at Acropolis or Pike’s Peak.

We’re going to change that.

Chevrolet Chevette 1977 Images 1
General Motors

Chevy Goes To Monte Carlo

Let’s say it’s 1978, and engineers at a GM Detroit area outside contractor like Cars and Concepts are gathered around a stripped-out new Chevette with the insurmountable task of turning this thing into a rally car (and the needed at-least-200-car homologation run of street units). Renault used the 5’s engine as a starting point, but there’s no way that the Chevette’s standard little four cylinder can ever be made competitive. Thankfully, at this time GM was developing a drivetrain to be introduced in the next year that could be a perfect fit. This engine and transmission was like nothing GM had done before; it was the future of the whole company.

The drivetrain in question was the 2.8 liter 60 degree V6 and front drive transaxle to be used in the upcoming new GM X-Cars like the Chevrolet Citation, and it could certainly use some pre-production trial-by-fire testing if it was going to replace small block V8s as a mainstay. In retrospect, the Citation and its brethren sorely deserved far more before-launch durability development than it received. The X-Cars sold like hotcakes when launched in 1979 but ended up being the most recalled car in history, taking the title away from what was thought to be the Mike Tyson of automobile recalls, the Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare.

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General Motors

For the rally car, this entire new drivetrain and suspension seen above could be slipped into the back seat area of the Chevette. An AirResearch turbocharger and a four-barrel carburetor could pump the 115 horsepower of the standard X-Car V6 up to at least 170 or so on street models, though competition cars would likely be able to dyno well over 200 with constraints such as longevity, emissions, and pump gas thrown out the window. I sure hope that Citation four speed manual transaxle could handle it. Up front, the standard T-Car suspension would be usable with modifications. Wait, that sounds almost exactly like the ingredients of the Pontiac Fiero’s mechanicals, right? It sure does, and this would have been a great proof-of-concept and testbed for that much-maligned sports car as well. A turbo V6 in a Fiero right from the 1984 launch? Let’s just say that that Pontiac sports car would no longer be the brunt of quite as many jokes anymore.


Anyway, let’s work on the outside now, starting with our bone stock subcompact:

Screenshot (1704)
General Motors

I’m using Corvette alloys since we wouldn’t want to tool up for a 200 or so car production run.  Once we’ve added decent rolling stock the little Chevy would look a bit like a kindergartener in toddler’s clothes, so heavily flared front fenders and add-on rear fender extensions would be in order. Vent slots on these extensions offer cooling air for the motor and the intake. My guess is the nose would be mainly fiberglass for weight savings (and we could easily produce different versions in case GM wanted it to race under the other brands that sold the T-Cars such as Opel or Vauxhall).  Blacked out trim and a new lower fascia panel with fog lamps and brake cooling inlets completes the look. By 1979 Chevy had added the new rectangular grille and headlights to the little ‘Vette but that look just seemed too generic and lacking in personality for me to use; I kept the cute 1976-77 face for sports cars to see in their rear view mirror.

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General Motors

The empty-except-for-the-battery-and-radiator engine compartment would be filled with the gas tank and spare tire.

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Like the Renault 5 Turbo, inside the whole engine would be walled in with some soundproofing (for street models) and leave a tiny area behind the motor for a short luggage space. As with the Renault, you can remove the whole cover in sections for more major service.


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The interior forward of the front seatbacks would remain relatively stock Chevette with the exception of a Camaro Z28 steering wheel and Recaro seats to replace the awful originals. The giant gas gauge and idiot lights on the normal Chevette would be supplanted by a tach and water temperature instruments. Considering the likely price of this car (and the heat from the motor behind your back) I wanted air conditioning to still be available in the “road” version so instead of ripping out the center dash vents I just built an add-on instrument unit above for oil pressure, oil temperature, alternator gauges and a clock. There’s a strip above the main cluster that includes a series of lights for turbo boost monitoring and a line-of-sight oil pressure light. The console is modified for switches to control the fog lights and 12 volt sockets for auxiliary equipment.

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Which ‘Vette Is Better ‘Vette?

General Motors being General Motors, there’d be only one thing limiting the performance of the street version of the Chevette Turbo: a little something called the Corvette. Despite the fact that this would be a homologation special and not even remotely cross-shopped with America’s famous fiberglass sports car, the powers-that-be would never let a version of their cheapest car hole-shoot their flagship. An L-82 equipped Corvette (fastest they offered then) could reportedly do the zero to sixty dash in around 6.6 seconds, and there’s no way that this Chevette wouldn’t be faster off of the showroom floor even before your greasy aftermarket tuning hands could touch it (hint: there’s room behind one of those rear fender vents for an intercooler). Still, like the Buick GNX, there have been exceptions to that unwritten rule. It’s likely that the Chevette Turbo would cost as much as that L-82 Stingray, if not more, making it not much of a threat to that icon. Thankfully, there wouldn’t be that many little mid-engined Turbo ‘Vettes to go around anyway, and instant collector status would jack up prices.

1979 Chevrolet Chevette Turbo V6 (street)

Engine: 170HP 2.8 liter 60 degree V6; four barrel carburetor, single Garrett AirResearch turbo
Transaxle: 4 speed manual
Front Suspension: unequal length control arms, coil springs, anti roll bar
Rear Suspension: MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti roll bar
Brakes: Vented disc front and rear, vacuum assist
Steering: Rack and Pinion (non-assisted)


0-60: 5.68 seconds
Top speed: 137 mph
Skidpad: 0.81G

Given the choice between a similarly-priced Chevette and Corvette, which would you select? Ask yourself this: do you want a car that could possibly make you feel good, or one guaranteed to give you the kind of shit-eating smirk you’d get from putting firecrackers in a mailbox every single minute you’re behind the wheel? For me, the little ‘Vette is gonna win that one hands down.





A Daydreaming Designer Imagines The Corvair Surviving Into Days Of Disco – The Autopian

Our Daydreaming Designer Takes The Chevy Corvair Into The Eighties By Borrowing Features From The Pontiac Fiero – The Autopian

Our Daydreaming Designer Takes The Chevy Corvair Into The Eighties But In Van And Pickup Truck Form – The Autopian

Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines A Chevy Corvair As America’s First Hybrid, Even Before The Honda Insight And Toyota Prius – The Autopian

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Myk El
Myk El
2 months ago

Look, I would be willing to do unspeakable things to get my hands on a Renault Clio V6 (phase 2, specifically) now. This is right up my alley.

2 months ago

Next you’re going to tell me that Ford could have made a GT version of the Escort.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
2 months ago

I am sure I am not going to be the first one to point you in the direction of the Vauxhall Chevette HSR – Pentti Airikkala had some minor results in WRC in this little beastie.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
2 months ago

I recall reading somewhere that GM had considered the 2.8L V6 for the Chevette, but nixed it. But it would have been in Front-engined, RWD.

Piston Slap Yo Mama
Piston Slap Yo Mama
2 months ago

Are you sitting down? This is the UK’s version of our sad Chevette but dressed to kill and with an engine that’ll eat your face. This was found at the British Leyland Motor Museum – an amazing destination for any gear head.


2 months ago

Fantastic: thanks for posting it.
I’m particularly struck by how much the body-colored bumpers with black trim accentuate the overall much sleeker look than that of the stock version
As a lover of shitboxes, I drool.

Christopher Warren
Christopher Warren
2 months ago
Reply to  The Bishop

I seem to remember car and driver (82-86 era issues) did a review on a aftermarket conversion kit V6 Chevette, using the 2.8L, and loved it, but also figured since it would likely be faster than the Corvette if GM produced one, GM would never do it. IIRC it seemed to be a very inexpensive conversion concept that car and driver wished dearly for GM to make even though it would have been near the end of the Chevette model years.

Taxi maniac
Taxi maniac
2 months ago

Chevette rally car!

I need one so bad.

This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life

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