The cars we loved.
If you are old enough, you might remember the Chevrolet Chevette. It was one of my favorite small cars while growing up in the ’80s. That was before the Civic came along and changed my mind about America’s early attempts at small cars. While the Chevette was not as advanced as a Civic, it did have rear wheel drive. That alone would make it special.
The modest sub compact was sold in Canada as the Pontiac Acadian. The Acadian name was once used on a Nova clone based on the Chevy II platform . The whole ideal of the Acadian was to give GM’s Canadian division something smaller to sell in it’s Pontiac-Buick dealer network.
It was designed in W. Germany by Opel and eventually rolled out globally under various badges like Opel, Vauxhall and Holden. Usually cars designed in Europe that were destined for the rest of the world usually got dulled when they arrived in North America, but in the case of the Chevette, I think we got the best looking variant. Canada got it’s U.S. built version in 1976, just a year after Chevy sold its first Chevette to accepting audiences in America.
With the introduction of the Acadian in Canada, there were now three versions of the Chevette available in North America alone. Which one you got depended on what side of the U.S./Canadian border you were on. In America the Chevette and Pontiac’s T 1000 were popular choices despite being rear wheel drive in a world rapidly turning to the front wheels for motivation. In Canada the Acadian was identical to the Chevette save for the Pontaic badge and the Acadian script on the quarter panels. In fact the American offshoot of the Chevette, Pontaic’s own T-1000 was distinguished from the Arcadian by it’s more sporting vertical grill. Eventually the Acadian would look less like the Chevette and more like it’s American cousin.
All Chevette offshoots in North America be they in Canada or American used the 1.6 liter four cylinder engine. These engines used an overhead cam and made around 57 hp with the standard dual carburetor system. Some had more sporting pretensions with a high speed cam, a performance exhaust and a sport appearance package. These were the most attractive Arcadian (or is that Arcadia), especially in two door coupe form with a pop up sunroof, stripes and a black rubber rear spoiler. You could even get a 5 speed manual transmission. Most however were 3 speed while the most stripped down Scooter version had automatics or a four speed manual transmission.
With 14 seconds needed to reach highway speeds (60 mph), no Arcadia would be confused for a performance car. With 13′ wheels and rear drum brakes, even the most capable versions used the same full coil suspension with front stabilizer bar as the base Arcadia. Most people bought these cars for the their claimed 34 mpg, which was boosted by the inclusion of a 1.8 liter diesel option. That engine with hardly 50 hp offered an impressive 46 mpg on the highway.
Still, for a simple car, the Arcadia filled an important void in GM Canada’s small car line up. When Vauxhall Frenza sales stopped in 1973 at Buick dealerships, GM had no small car to sell, leaving it open to the likes of the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.
While not as sophisticated as imports like the Honda Civic or even Ford’s Escort, the Acadia sold well. Sales were so good that the Acadia helped GM of Canada acheive a banner sales year in 1980, despite competitive wave of domestic and import competition.
If you live in the Upper Midwestern states, there’s a chance you might see an occasional Arcadian. In the last few years the Arcadian and Pontiac T 1000 names became interchangeable with GM using both names in some of its sales literature.
Like the Chevette, the Acadian was at its best in its final years. Drivability and power had been bumped up to 65 hp. The body colored bumpers, integrated front spoiler and black out trim was complimented with the select use of bright-work, giving the car a subtle sporty modern look. Despite being a dated throwback to the rear wheel biases of the past, the Arcadia was a good value to the end, offering reasonable style and efficiency. As a bonus, if you were so inclined, the rear wheel drive setup had more performance potential than any Escort or Corolla of the day.