The cars we loved.
The beginning of the 80’s was a rough transitional time for General Motors. Having enjoyed success with big V8 powered rear wheel drive cars for so long, it was slow to adapt to consumer demands for more efficient smaller cars. One of its first attempts at a mid-size front wheel drive car came in the form of the X-body platform. Nearly all of GMs divisions had a version of the X-body, with Chevrolets being the first to launch. Dubbed the first car of the 80’s in its advertising, the Citation was GM’s midsized answer to cars ranging from VW’s Dasher to Chrysler’s K Cars. The innovative four door hatchback design (a common body style in Europe) improved aerodynamics and fuel efficiency, not to mention versatility. For all its newness, the front wheel drive Citation came with a sloppy bend of new and old style mechanicals. An old school suspension setup and a choice of an ancient 4 or new 6 cylinder engine rounded out the power train options.
Most cars were sold with the 2.5 liter “Iron Duke” inline 4, an engine got it’s start in 1977 and made it well into the 90s in Cavaliers and S-10 pickups. The more up level cars came with a 2.8 L V6. Horsepower figures were 90 and 115 respectively. Initial demand was very high and Chevrolet struggled to keep up. The pressure to supply what seemed to be a hit took its toll on quality control. Many early cars had fit and finish problems that tarnished Chevrolet’s reputation. Buyers were already in the process of moving from domestics to Japanese compacts (on the West and East coast at least), as their quality continually improved. But hey, USA #1 as the slogan went, and so buyers forgave the quality issues and gave Citation another chance. Fortunately, Chevrolet got its act together and addressed many of the issues from the early production runs. Car and Driver magazine had already voted the Citation as its 1980 Car of the Year, an honor it later regretted.
Chevrolet persevered and recovered from the problematic first year. Citations were offered in more variations than the X-Car variants from Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile with no less than 5 configurations. This diversity of DNA meant that the Citation outsold it’s corporate clones considerbly. With so many choices, Chevrolet set out to prove the performance potential of its new Citation with the introduction of the X-11. The X-11 was motivated by the either the 4 or 6 cylinder engines with the same power output as the standard cars. To distinguish them from run -of-the -mill versions, Chevrolet boosted the suspension, added front and rear stabilizer bars and used special gearing in both the 4 speed manual and 3 speed automatic. X-11 cars were only available as the awkward looking two door sedan and the rather attractive two door hatchback coupe. Other distinguishing features included larger 14 in wheels and tires, dual sport mirrors, rear spoiler, blackout trim and special graphics.
The X-11 received a engine performance boost, jumping from 115hp to 135 hp with the use of a 2.8 L high output V6 in 1982. Other improvements to drivability and the suspension made the X-11 a bonafied performance car by anyone’s standards, reaching 0 to 60 in about 9 seconds. That put it squarely in Audi /BMW territory, at least on paper. One American auto publication even pitted the X-11 against an Audi 5000 Turbo, which the X-11 held its own against. It’s hard to imagine that anything from GM at this time using front wheel drive could be considered a performance car, but the Citation was a good stab at it during a dark time for the General.
Production of the X-11 took a sharp dive after 1981’s high of 11,000 cars to 3,000 or so the next year and 1,500 to 1,200 in the following years that lead up to it’s replacement in 1986. The Citation was generally a good looking car, especially in its two door hatchback configuration. Unfortunately it like so many other GM cars used early buyers as testers as quality issues were resolved (if at all) as running production changes. Torque steer problems were never fully resolved, it would take another 10 or so years before any of GM’s mid-sized cars would solve that problem. The X platform was instrumental in introducing domestic car buyers to a mainstream, high volume front wheel drive platform that was reasonable dependable and economical to own and operate (on paper). For that reason it might be one of the most important cars GM produced in the 80. Although not the best ampassador for front wheel drive, the Citation X-11 It went a long way in making front wheel drive in a performance car acceptable to the American masses.