Home » V6s And Stickshifts: 1991 Chevy Cavalier Z24 vs 1992 Mazda MX-3

V6s And Stickshifts: 1991 Chevy Cavalier Z24 vs 1992 Mazda MX-3

Sbsd 6 24 2024
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Welcome to another week of crappy cars! This week, I’m braving the wilds of that other online classified site, Facebook Marketplace, to see what I can find. Both of today’s choices come from my former stomping grounds of Oregon. Both are small cars with V6 engines driving the front wheels through five-speed manuals, but apart from that, they don’t have a whole hell of a lot in common.

We ended last week’s musical adventure with a pair of $7,500 classics, and a couple of Joe Jackson albums. You all seemed to be with me on the musical choice but preferred the Alfa to the Ranchero by about two to one. Fair enough; I can’t say I disagree. For the record, I do think the Ranchero is kinda cool, but given the choice, I couldn’t pass up a chance at Alfa ownership.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

I do think I’m going to have to slip in more music references, though. I barely scratched the surface of my weird musical taste. We didn’t get to Iron Maiden, or Harry Chapin, or Toto, or Alan Parsons Project, or Earth, Wind, & Fire, or Black Flag, or Dire Straits, or the Bangles, or… hell, maybe I should find a music blog to write for, as well.

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For today, though, let’s stick to cars. Taking the engine from a larger car and cramming it into the next size down is a time-honored way of creating a sporty car. It’s the fundamental principle of hot-rodding, really, and the basis for the whole muscle car movement. Big engine make little car go fast. And while you don’t see as much of it today, with all the tiny turbocharged engines with hybrid systems already making little cars pretty speedy, it was a really popular trick among manufacturers in the 1990s. Let’s check out a pair of their creations from that era.

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1991 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 – $1,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.1-liter overhead valve V6, five-speed manual FWD

Location: Portland, OR

Odometer reading: 186,000 miles

Operational status: Runs great, but clutch is starting to slip

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Every GM car, regardless of vehicle type, body style, or size, has one thing in common: Regular Production Order codes, RPO for short. These three-digit alphanumeric codes, listed on a sticker usually found in the glovebox or in the trunk, specify every part of that car: drivetrain, trim level, appearance package, paint color, optional equipment, everything. Most RPO codes are unknown gibberish to most owners, but a few, usually denoting a package of options or a specific engine, have become famous enough to actually warrant a badge on the outside of the car: the Z28 Camaro and Z71 Silverado, for instance. In the 1980s, Chevy cashed in on the Z28’s fame and came up with an RPO performance package for the Cavalier compact, known as the Z24.

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Like the Z28, the Z24 package was mostly cosmetic, with ground effects, alloy wheels, and some other goodies – but it also included Chevy’s 60-degree V6 engine, a significant boost in power and torque over the typical Cavalier four-banger. Most Z24s I’ve seen over the years have had automatic transmissions, but a few lucky ones have a Getrag five-speed manual. This is one such car.

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This car runs great, the seller says, and has been a reliable daily driver for a long time, but now the clutch is slipping, and will need to be replaced. It happens. A new clutch is usually about eight hundred bucks if you have a shop replace it, or two hundred and a weekend if you want to tackle it yourself. With the low price of this car, if that’s really all it needs, it could be a really good deal – especially if you’re the DIY type.

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I don’t know what it is with red cars and bad clearcoat lately. This is the third or fourth one we’ve seen recently. I’m not a fan of red cars in general, but they seem to look especially bad when the clearcoat starts flaking off. But it’s a $1,000 car that needs an easy mechanical fix, so I guess it doesn’t have to be pretty.

1992 Mazda MX-3 GS – $2,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.8-liter dual overhead cam V6, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Jefferson, OR

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Odometer reading: 142,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives great

You have to hand it to Mazda. The Japanese automaker has never been afraid to be different, especially when it comes to drivetrains. It’s still the only make to really get serious about rotary engines. It offered turbochargers in just about everything for a while in the 80s. And in this funny-looking little hatchback coupe, the MX-3, it offered a teeny-tiny four-cam V6 that revved to the moon. The V6, known as the K8-DE in Mazda’s internal codes, displaces 1.8 liters and puts out 130 horsepower, nothing to sneeze at in a car this size in the early 1990s.

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Even though the displacement is the same as most competing four-cylinders, the engine’s physical size is the same as Mazda’s other K-series V6s. It took one hell of a shoehorn to get this engine into the 323-based MX-3. But I have seen this engine stuffed into an even smaller car: the Mazda 121-based Ford Festiva. I always wanted to try driving that particular creation, but the owner wouldn’t let me.

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This MX-3 is in fine mechanical shape. It runs and drives great, the seller says, and has new tires and current tags. It does need a couple of things, though: the passenger’s side window is inoperable, the driver’s seat belt needs to be replaced (though the seller doesn’t say why), and it has no radio. Overall, the interior looks good, though, certainly better than a lot of cheap cars.

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Outside, it’s a little rougher, but not terrible. The plastic bumpers both front and rear look well-used, and half of the front spoiler is missing. But again, cheap car. The good news is that the sheetmetal looks straight, and cars on the I-5 corridor aren’t prone to rust.

Strictly speaking, I hate Facebook Marketplace. It’s hard to search, and even harder to browse, and the fact that it’s free to advertise makes it easy for less scrupulous types to spam. But I have to admit that there are some fantastic cars to be found if you’re willing to put up with the bullshit. I’m willing to put up with it – for a week, anyway. These both seem like good deals for the right person. Which one is right for you?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
23 days ago

The Z24 was the “first car” for a lot of people in my neck of the woods, but those little Mazdas are brilliant.

The fact that they accept the 2.5 from the MX6 and its more exciting Japanese variants makes it even more brilliant.

My only gripe is the teal, but it’s certainly period correct.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
23 days ago

Definitely the MX-3…it sure looks great and would be a lot of fun…I sure like that hatch…the Z24 is still pretty good and is a great deal though

Timothy Swanson
Timothy Swanson
24 days ago

Both. But voted Mazda just for the tiny V6 and the better interior.

VermonsterDad
VermonsterDad
24 days ago

Really sad the Cav’y didn’t the the square center wheels 🙁

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
24 days ago

That Mazda must be a lot of fun.

Tartpop
Tartpop
24 days ago

Mazda all they way for me! I’ve had friends with Z24s, and they were awful to ride in, and worse to drive.

Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
24 days ago
Reply to  Tartpop

My friend’s Z24 of this era also featured subwoofers worth more than the car, so it was a pretty awful experience to ride in there no matter what the car was designed to do.

Mike F.
Mike F.
24 days ago

To me, the Mazda is actually uglier than the Chevy, and that’s saying something. Nonetheless, a Z24 Cavalier is still a Cavalier and what I saw of them back in the day means that I want nothing to do with them. Mazda it is.

RoRoTheGreat
RoRoTheGreat
24 days ago

The 3.1 v6 and 5 speed manual in that Z24 will allow you to do big smokey burnouts of the front tires in 1st and 2nd gear.

The 3.1 ran out of steam quickly but had a lot of torque right off the line.

You can’t have more fun for 1k.

Z24 all day!

Rob Schneider
Rob Schneider
24 days ago

I had a ’91 Z24 convertible. Electric blue with a white top. Automatic. Pretty to look at, but objectively NOT a great car. Can’t imagine how much it would suck with a manual. It’s just not the kind of car that should have one.

I voted for the MX-3.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
24 days ago

I have a soft spot for the MX-3… so it gets my vote. I like the colour, I like the style and I know that V6 is silky smooth.

The downside is it will be worse to deal with in terms of repairs and maintenance.

Jonee Eisen
Jonee Eisen
24 days ago

I like the little Mazda, but am I crazy, or was it involved in a head-on crash at some point?

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
22 days ago
Reply to  Jonee Eisen

I think what your seeing is normal for the hood latch but with rust bubbles underneath.

MattyD
MattyD
24 days ago

Interesting. My first thought was Mazda all the way, but the overall price difference and the condition of the Mazda tipped the scales for me (slightly) towards the Cavalier.

Black Peter
Black Peter
24 days ago
Reply to  MattyD

Looks like that to me too

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
24 days ago

Just here to vote for the MX-3 without even reading about the condition.

ReverendDC
ReverendDC
24 days ago

The minute I saw “Cavalier” it was easy to choose…the other vehicle. It could have been a Bricklin as far as I’m concerned, anything but Cavalier.

XLEJim700
XLEJim700
24 days ago

That little Mazda has that loose, good-time vibe. And I can always use more of that.

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
24 days ago

The MX-3 is one of the best looking cars of the ’90s, up there with the Eclipse/Talon (1st and 2nd gen) and it’s own sisters, the Miata and RX-7.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
24 days ago

As long as the timing belt has been changed, the Mazda is the only way to go.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
24 days ago

I went for the Zoom, Zoom instead of the car with the clutch that’s about to go Boom, Boom. 😉

JaredTheGeek
JaredTheGeek
24 days ago

In high school a friend had a convertible Z24 and it was a lot of fun. For the price of this hard top I would take a chance. The 0-60 is almost 9 seconds in this performance version, we sure are spoiled today.

Last edited 24 days ago by JaredTheGeek
Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
24 days ago

For the first time ever on these, I didn’t even read before voting. I freaking love the MX-3 and while I do enjoy the Cavalier as well, I skipped straight down and smashed the Mazda button. Then went back up and read about it. I stand by my choice.

Roger Pitre
Roger Pitre
24 days ago

The Z24, for nostalgia and nothing else.

DialMforMiata
DialMforMiata
24 days ago

I don’t know if I’ve even seen an MX-3 in person in the 21st century. Going for the Mazda, I’ve always liked that little sucker.

Toecutter
Toecutter
24 days ago

The engine in that MX3 is quite unique. Plus it has a relatively slippery CdA. That gets my vote.

Autopizen
Autopizen
24 days ago

Mark – time to update your profile perhaps? Otherwise, 2 interesting & not-way-overpriced examples today.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
24 days ago

I drove the Pontiac version of this for a little while in the 90s and it was fun. Noisy and flexible, but fun. We’ll take the Cavalier, fix the clutch, and find a pair of Beretta buckets to swap in.

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