The cars we loved.
The American auto industry was settling into deep in denial as the 80’s concluded. Sales were still good, but market share was being chipped away at by the Japanese on the bottom and the Europeans at the top. The emerging trend towards ‘Euro influenced’ cars had already begun in America. Mostly a marketing ploy, most of these cars were nothing more than stripe and blackout trim packages. GM like (Ford and Chrysler) was guilty of falling prey to this phenomenon as if just being American had no sporting virtue to the performance oriented driver.
The Camaro or Mustang driver would disagree, but the Big Three wanted to court the young sophisticated urbanite who tended to choose BMW over Buick. On occasion a car would rise above the fray to best a European competitor. Chevrolet’s compact Citation X11 did it in the early 80’s by outperforming the Audi 4000S. Now Chevrolet would give it a try again with the ultimate version of its Celebrity mid-sized sedan. Pontiac already had a respectable 6000 STE based on the A body, now it was Chevy’s turn.
The ideal was to build a limited edition halo car for the Celebrity line. Chevy teamed up with Autostyle Cars Inc. to produce a concept car that toured the American auto show circuit in 1986 called the Celebrity RS. The RS was an immediate hit with showgoers. It’s lowered, streamlined ground effected look was more like the latest from Japan than Europe, but had nice touches that Chevy assumed were European by nature of their absence on most American cars. These included flush headlights, monochromatic bumpers with matching wheels all in a package wrapped up with a red stripe and black out trim. There was even a functional front air dam and rear bumper diffuser that was far more advanced looking (and tasteful) than anything on a Pontiac (the king of American 80’s ground effects).
The car’s popularity prompted Chevrolet to work with AutoStyle to make a limited production run of cars. The name was changed from RS to VR, presumably because of the inclusion of the new high-speed rated 16’ VR tire that would be standard on the now named Celebrity Eurosport VR. Besides, the RS name was applied to cars by Chevy that were sporty but lacked the substance (power) or a Z28 or Z24. The show car had an all-aluminum 3.6 litre V6, but the production cars would have the standard 2.8 shared by so many other GM cars. The V6 used multi-port fuel injection and made 140 hp. Not a lot of power for a V6 by today’s standards, but for the time it was a small step up from what was available in run of the mill Eurosport/6000 STE. Like the Celebrity from which it sprung, the VR came in coupe, sedan and wagon form. In the debut year only the sedan and wagon were available with the coupe following in 1988. Interiors went from being custom to being more standard Celebrity fare. Inconsistencies also occurred with the painted accented wheels availability, which proved to be too expensive to manufacture and gave way to a more simplified design in 1988.
In an effort to reduce the cost of production Autostyle agreed to set up shop just down the street from the facility where the Celebrity was built in Oklahoma City OK. Oklahoma was chosen because of the five plants in North America producing the A body cars (Century/Ciera/6000), Oklahoma City had the highest quality record. Eurosports were driven about a mile to leased AutoStyle facility and ground effects, interior bits and other appearance parts were added. The finished cars were sent back to the GM plant for finishing. The VR was available in four colors including a special red paint used only for the Corvette and Camaro.
Except for red stripes, the interior looked like any other Celebrity after 1987. Because the VR came with so many equipment options, it was possible to get one without expected kit like air conditioning, power windows or locks. A five speed manual transmission was offered but nearly all VRs came with a four speed automatic transmission. With an independent front strut suspension and rigid rear axle with trailing arms, the VR was sprung like the Eurosport and had similar handling. Originally with 14in wheels, wide 225/50 VR16 would later increase the VR’s road holding abilities. For all of its looks, the VR could only manage a 0 to 60 time of 9 seconds and a top speed of 118 mph (governed). When the chance came to defend the bowtie’s performance crown from Audi, the VR was trounced. Although not a direct test comparison, the specs and performance numbers favored the Audi. To make matters worse, the VR placed firmly at the bottom of a comparison in Car and Driver between the Audi 4000s, Nissan Maxima SE and Chrysler LeBaron GTS Turbo.
Oh well, the VR did look good. Because it was the best looking of all the A bodied cars and less than 2,000 were made over two years, the VR is one of the most sought after 80’s era Chevrolets. If only it featured the geewhiz interior of the Pontiac 6000STE with some Camaro suspension tuning, the VR could have been a real competitor instead of yet another stripe and blackout “Euro inspired” package. Interest in VR poroduction was short lived partly due to the enormous success of the Beretta. Chevrolet asked Autostyles once again for help, this time to produce the Beretta GTU, a car with a bit more promise.