The early 1990s were a distant 30 years ago and the era is getting farther away with each day. I know when I think “20 years ago” I’m still picturing dustbuster vans and Dodge Neons. Time has marched forward even if our brains have not, and so many of the cars from the 1990s are now well-used piles with hundreds of thousands of miles, rust, multiple colors, and missing parts. Over the weekend, I found a perfect example of a car that perhaps many of us have forgotten about. This 1990 Chevrolet Beretta Indy is a bright yellow time capsule ready to take you back over 30 years.
To show my age a bit, I was born in the early 1990s when cars like these were new. Family friends drove ’90s General Motors front drivers when I was in grade school. Today, I appreciate ’90s cars far more than I did as a kid.
Sadly, looking at them 30 years later means seeing many of these cars when they’re no longer in their prime. Worse, I don’t even remember what these cars looked like in good shape. Over the weekend, my wife and I took a stroll through the Volo Auto Museum. The museum is brilliant in that in addition to permanent displays, it’s also a classic car dealership. So, what’s on display is always changing, making Volo a great place to visit multiple times.
On this visit, Sheryl and I were taken by a beautiful DeLorean for sale in the halls of one of the classic car barns. Say what you will about its factory engine, but this look still rocks. That car was the highlight of our visit until we stepped into the modern car barn, which featured such interesting finds as a Chevy Blazer with just 21 miles and a Plymouth Prowler with just over 300 miles. As someone who never got to appreciate these cars as a kid, my mind was thoroughly blown.
But none of these cars captivated me as much as the yellow Beretta right by the door. I can’t even remember the last time I’ve seen one of these, let alone one that wasn’t on its last legs.
A Fan Favorite
Believe it or not, versions of the Chevy Beretta and its siblings have been nominated more than once for Holy Grails. Jack Trade and greatfallsgreen have collectively recommended the Corsica LTZ and Beretta Z26. Today’s Beretta is not the sporty Z26, but it’s still a rare variant and it might be one of the cleanest Berettas in the entire world.
The Beretta was a product of a struggling General Motors. As I explained in the retrospective on the Lumina Z34, the 1980s were not kind to the General. Ford launched its Taurus in 1986 and GM just didn’t have a worthy competitor. The Taurus looked like it came from the future while the Chevy Monte Carlo and the Chevy Celebrity were stuck firmly in the 1980s. In 1982, GM started development on the GM-10 program. This $7 billion program was intended to replace the Chevrolet Celebrity, Pontiac 6000, Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and Buick Century.
GM’s plan was to beat Ford simply by flooding the market with new models. However, during development, buyers weren’t swayed by General Motors’ wares, and the brand lost ground, from my retrospective:
In its 1984 reorganization, GM’s brands held 44.6 percent of the car market. By GM-10’s launch in 1987, GM struggled with a 36.6 percent market share. CNN explained that in the early 1980s, GM had redesigned its cars to be smaller, more fuel-efficient, and front-wheel-drive. It was a case of bad timing as fuel got cheap again and buyers weren’t all that interested in slow, small cars.
As the Chicago Tribune reported in 1987, General Motors was also developing a replacement for the maligned Citation. The N platform was Oldsmobile’s replacement for the X platform while the L platform was Chevrolet’s equivalent of the same. In 1987, Chevy’s L-body Corsica sedan was launched to fight a lengthy list of competitors including the Dodge Aries, Ford Tempo, Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Stanza, Mazda 626, Plymouth Reliant, and Mercury Topaz. GM projected sales of 600,000 units over 18 months.
The Corsica would have a platform mate in the form of the sporty Beretta two-door coupe. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Beretta’s foes were fierce and included the Acura Integra, Chrysler LeBaron, Ford Mustang, Toyota Celica, and the Nissan Pulsar NX. The newspaper also saw the Beretta bumping up against GM’s own Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, Chevy Camaro, and Pontiac Grand Am. My mind is a bit blown at the idea of the Beretta being seen on the same level as a Mustang. The Beretta and Corsica also had to convince buyers to step up from smaller compacts while getting people to forget the Citation.
Design of the Beretta was performed in the same GM design house behind the Camaro, Corvette, Monte Carlo, Cavalier, and Corsica. Overseeing the design was Irvin Rybicki, who led GM’s downsizing plans through the 1980s. Rybicki rose from chief designer in the 1960s to eventually taking over vice president of design in 1977, taking the position that was held by Bill Mitchell. From a design perspective, the Beretta was a step forward for GM. The vehicle’s lighting was better integrated with the sleek body and those metal panels were galvanized to help battle rust.
A Time Capsule
In 1988, Chevy sold 275,098 units, proving to be a popular volume seller. It also caught the attention of Fabrica D’Armi Pietro Beretta SpA, the centuries-old owner of Beretta guns. As the Los Angeles Times reported in 1989, the arms manufacturer demanded $250 million in damages. The parties settled and the terms involved a $500,000 donation from GM to the Beretta Foundation for cancer research as well as acknowledgment in GM materials that the Beretta name would be used with permission from the gun manufacturer.
The Beretta continued to sell hundreds of thousands of units and even spawned its own performance versions from the GTZ to the Z26. Today’s car came from 1990 when Berettas were paraded around the Indy 500. The real pace car was a yellow Beretta convertible featuring a 3.4-liter V6 and was driven by General Manager Jim Perkins. Unique to the Indy 500 concept car was an intact B-pillar and roof section, which kept the unibody intact. Other Indy 500 Berettas were used at the track as well.
To commemorate this event, Chevy sold limited edition Indy 500 pace car replica Berettas. The convertible concept was never put into production, but Chevy did make coupes. Reportedly, just 1,500 of them exist in yellow. The rest are turquoise and the number built ranges from 3,000 to 6,000 depending on who you ask. An alleged GM brochure claims 6,000 for the turquoise version. That doesn’t matter as much here because this one is yellow!
This one is for sale at the Volo Auto Museum in Volo, Illinois. According to its CarFax, the car was first sold new in Alabama during the summer of 1990. Reported mileage was 44 miles back then. Aside from a recall issued by GM, there wasn’t a single other record until March of this year when the Volo Auto Museum acquired the car. I was not able to get the owner’s story, but someone bought this car new, apparently financed it, and then just never drove it for over 30 years. It looks like the seat belt retractor recall from 1991 wasn’t even fixed.
The vehicle’s window sticker indicates the Indy edition is based on a Beretta GT, a sport trim. Power comes from a multi-port fuel injection 3.1-liter V6 making 135 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. Those thoroughbreds gallop through a five-speed manual and the front wheels. This car is capable of hitting 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds. Not quick, but also not painfully slow!
That said, when Car and Driver put a Beretta GT in a 12-car sport coupe shootout, it placed 9th place. Testers apparently liked the car as a sort of highway cruiser, but the suspension fell flat on rough roads. The magazine says that “despite good test-track numbers, the Beretta is a low-excitement, low-stress, low-aspirations car.” Oof. So, this isn’t a car you’re buying because you want a hot compact.
Also unfortunately, if you want a brand new Beretta Indy today, you’ll have to pay Volo $38,998 for it. Including a destination charge of $445, this car was $16,900 in 1990. That translates to $40,829 today. Hopefully, the owner didn’t save the car as an investment. If they did, these numbers would suggest that they lost money on the car.
Really, this is the sort of car for someone who wants to experience the 1990s again, or maybe have a car they’ve always wanted to buy new but never could. For me, this car was an incredible time capsule. I wasn’t even born yet when this car was new, and most of these today are piles of rust that probably smell like cigarettes.
This car still has new car smell, and wow, new car smell from three decades ago hits different. This car doesn’t have a ding in sight, not a crease in the seats, and not a speck of rust anywhere. It’s as if the car entered a wormhole in 1990 and just emerged today. I am normally a person to say a car should be driven, but I’m glad someone decided to keep this car in perfect shape. A Beretta may be a crapbox today to many, but this one is a total trip.
(Images: Author, unless otherwise noted.)
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