History was firm but fair to the Chevrolet Citation. It was a great car, the biggest-selling car in America in its first year; but when it got found out, it had to pay the price of public failure. General Motors’ new generation of modern, front-wheel drive cars was known as the ‘X-family’.
Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Chevrolet all created models that shared a basic mechanical layout —an efficient unibody with a transverse four- or six-cylinder engine —but Chevrolet offered more body styles of its come-hither Citation. Olds and Buick kept the four-door sedans for themselves, while the Citation had the three- and hugely popular five-door hatchback. The Citation was a generational change, of car and market.
For example, it was much shorter than the compact Nova it replaced, but had much more room inside; and to direct its appeal more specifically to a younger buyer, Chevrolet gave its coupe and three-door hatch added value as the X-11 models, with a considerably improved suspension package (so the said buyer could kid him or herself that he or she was being thoughtful) and ‘bold exterior graphics’ (beads and Manhattan come to mind). It wasn’t so very different from other Citations, but then they were very good cars to begin with.
The point is that with targeted marketing proving so successful, the smug manufacturers became a bit careless. The Citation’s transmission hose was liable to leak, and a number of engine fires prompted the recall of 225,000 cars. It was the first of many, until the Citation became one of the most recalled cars in history. Beefing-up the X-11’s engine stemmed the tide, but not for very long.
Serious faults kept surfacing, reinforcing the sense of waste — and General Motors didn’t really help themselves by sending specially-engineered models for professional testing, deliberately concealing major problems that existed in the production vehicles. In fact, the story of the Citation is worthy of Aesop.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1980 (until 1985)
ENGINE: 2.81 (173cid) V6
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 108 mph (174 km/h);0-60mph (97 km/h) in 9.6 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: Ifs a measure of how good the Citation looked when it was first introduced that Motor Trend magazine declared it to be 1980 Car of the Year.