Greetings, future Autopians. I’m writing this from the past, last Friday, to be exact. So whatever the news was that you’re all talking about this morning hasn’t happened to me yet. I hope it’s something good.
Let’s first have a peek at last week’s Shitbox of the Week results:
The XT6 wins, and let’s all be honest about why: this manual shifter:
What’s certainly good is that I’ve got some USDA-certified Grade A crap to show you, courtesy of the netizens of Opposite-Lock, that marvelous not-quite-always-off-topic car forum that rose like a magnificent phoenix from the ashes of the old Kinja blogs, and more recently served heroically as Carpathia to DriveTribe’s Titanic. I told Opponauts that I wasn’t going to have much time to shop for cars and asked them for help, and boy howdy did they come through! Thanks to one and all for the suggestions. I was spoiled for choice.
So let’s see what our crack team of advisors has found for us today:
Engine/drivetrain: 2.8 liter V6, 3 speed automatic, FWD
Location: Spokane, WA
Odometer reading: unknown
Runs/drives? Runs, but electric cooling fan is out, so won’t drive far
According to the seller, this car started out as an Avis rental car, and was used in print and television ads for Avis in 1979/80. I did a little digging to see if I could find the ad, but came up empty-handed. (Maybe I should “Try Harder.”). It’s common knowledge to never buy a used rental car, because you know how you drive rental cars and you assume everyone else does the same, but for a car that was last turned back in when Reagan was President, I don’t think that warning matters much anymore.
But for anyone who has ever been disappointed to be handed the keys to a Nissan Versa at the rental counter, just imagine being stuck with one of these beauties. The Citation was Chevy’s latest and greatest in 1980, and although it sold like hotcakes (more than 800,000 sold that first year) and met with critical acclaim (Motor Trend’s 1980 Car of the Year), it didn’t take long for the bloom to come off the rose, and for all those owners to realize the Citation was a gigantic piece of junk. Not only was the build quality and reliability subpar (which is really saying something for 1980 Detroit), but the front-wheel-drive chassis engineering was half-baked, and the car suffered from horrible torque-steer and rear wheel lockup under hard braking. Recall notices flew thick and fast into owners’ mailboxes, and sales tanked.
Really, this car has no business looking this good in this day and age. Most Citations looked tired and haggard by the late 1980s, and by 1995 or so, they had all but disappeared. This one must have been stashed away in a garage and forgotten for a couple of decades. I hate to think of anyone considering a Citation as a “classic,” but I guess there’s an ass for every seat, and if someone really wanted the nicest Citation left, this might well be in the running.
The odometer in this car probably still works, but it has a yellow flag over the first three numbers that says “CATALYST.” What little information I was able to find says that these flags popped up at a certain mileage to tell the owner that the catalytic converter should be replaced. I tried to find out at what mileage that might happen (50,000? Less?), but couldn’t get a straight answer. I did find instructions on how to reset it, but it involves disassembly of the dash, presumbaly to prevent owners from resetting it themselves and ignoring the converter maintenance. Also note the Federally-mandated 85 mph speedometer, with 55 clearly indicated. When we say “malaise era,” kids, this is what we mean.
[Editor’s Note: This 2.8-liter V6 was considered an absolute pile when under the hood of a Jeep Cherokee XJ, though Chevy folks seem to think it’s fine. I always find it interesting when one motor is great in one application but just doesn’t hold up in another. -DT]
Engine/drivetrain: 3.4 liter V6, 4 speed automatic, FWD
Location: Rochester, MN
Odometer reading: 162,000 miles
Runs/drives? Yes, but transmission is going out
Twenty-four years is a long time. Kids whose parents hadn’t even met yet when the Citation rolled off the assembly line could have been old enough to receive this Pontiac Aztek as a college graduation gift. GM spent those two and a half decades learning how to make a proper front-wheel-drive family car. And also the Aztek.
What’s remarkable is how much of the old Citation’s basic architecture made it this far. The 3.4 liter V6 in this Aztek is the same engine family as the Citation’s 2.8 liter V6, stroked and bored, fuel-injected, and refined. The suspension is still McPherson struts in the front and a beam axle in the rear (at least on 2WD models like this one). The Aztek, and basically every other front-wheel-drive GM vehicle for decades, was an evolution of the old X-body Citation.
The Aztek’s styling is, of course, controversial. Personally, I have always liked it, particularly the earlier versions than this one with the gray plastic lower body cladding. But I also know I am nearly alone in that opinion. Again, there’s an ass for every seat.
Speaking of seats, this Aztek “has seen a lot of use” and “has stains on the floor and seats.” Best not dwell too much on the precise meaning there. It does still have all the “active lifestyle” goodies such as the detachable cooler:
and waterproof storage bins:
But I do wish the seller had cleaned them out a bit better before taking photos. I do not want to know what is in that black garbage bag. [Editor’s note: It’s dog shit].
The slipping transmission is of course a problem, though these have been known to limp along for a long while after they should have dropped dead. And it may be a whole lot rustier than it looks; remember that the bottom third of the bodywork is plastic, and we have no way of knowing what horrors lurk beneath.
This really is a choice of the lesser of two evils, I realize: a still-somehow-nice example of an absolute disaster from day one, or something decent but hideous and nearly used-up. But just imagine standing in front of these two cars with your worst enemy. You get first pick of the keys. Which set do you grab?