Monday, February 10, 2014

Chevrolet's Front-Drive Citation

General Motors dipped its corporate toe into front-wheel drive technology in 1966 with its oddly-named Oldsmobile Toronado, but the 1973 fuel crisis forced it to get more serious about downsizing its product line.  One means of keeping passenger compartment size close to what American buyers expected was to use front-wheel drive, which eliminated the need for an intrusive drive shaft hump on the compartment's floor.  This took shape in the GM-X platform to be used by the Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile Omega, Pontiac Phoenix, and the subject of this post, the Chevrolet Citation (produced 1980-85).

Sales were encouraging the first year, but the GM-X was a troubled product, as the above link indicates.  I drove a rental Citation once, in 1982, and recall that I wasn't pleased with it.  But after 30 years, I've forgotten why.  So let's deal with the styling.

The images above show the Citation line: a four-door sedan, a two-door sedan and a coupe.  The sedans featured a hatchback rather than a trunk configuration, so are sometimes referred to as 5-door and 3-door sedans.  For some reason, comparatively few American buyers liked hatchbacks (I owned two, so don't understand the antipathy).  The styling solution used  for the Citation and Phoenix naturally had to be a fastback; the Buick and Oldsmobile X-cars were not hatchbacks and sported bustle-back trunks.

Citation styling, aside from the fastback feature, is in line with general 1970s American fashion.  Simplicity of form and comparatively little ornamentation were fairly common on lower-priced cars.  (On the other hand, upscale automobiles often had gimmicky details such as "opera windows" and vinyl-clad roofs.)  Roofs were thin -- not much higher than the tops of the side windows.  And the windows tended to be large, as was the ratio of greenhouse height to total body height.  All that glass tended to counteract the relatively long greenhouses on the sedans, making the cars look lighter than if there was more sheet metal above the belt line.  But larger glass area added weight, hurting fuel economy a bit.

I characterize Citation styling as practical, but not exciting; another case of Car As Appliance.

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