What do you do when you move in two weeks, you already dropped off your wife’s car at your new location (10 hours away) and your car dies suddenly?
Oh, and you have a budget of $1000, and your wife still needs to get to work for the next week?
Oh, and you live in an area that isn’t exactly full of people who have extra cars to sell.
For me, I had to scramble. I knew my car wasn’t going to be repairable in the driveway while also getting ready to move. I knew it probably wasn’t worth fixing, as the car had 280,000 miles, and was rusting out from everywhere.
I scoured Craigslist for a few hours, my budget set, cash in hand, ready to buy whatever looked promising, as long as it passed a test drive. My requirements were low: Had to start & run. Had to be safe enough to haul my wife and I 10 hours. Had to be able to be ready to drive for under $1000.
I borrowed a car for the day to go view what was available. The wife had the day off, and I had a short list of (at the time) one car. A 1994 Chevy Corsica 3.1.
Not the most exciting car, and somewhat of an odd choice, but the price was right at $500, and the guy was genuine when he described the issues it had over the phone. The interior was ulgy, the wheels were nearly bald, the engine made a nasty smell when you drove it, but he drove it a few times through the rockies and it was still running, so he thought it would last two weeks and 10 hours of driving.
At this point, I should probably point out that my dead car, sitting in the driveway with a fully functional engine, brand new tires with less than 2,000 miles on them, and a halfway decent interior was also a Chevy Corsica 3.1, although it was a ’95.
After a short test drive where we also discovered that it was throwing a check engine light (the guy said it always came on, but wasn’t important) I was sold. It was exactly the same as my dead car. The gutless 3.1 could get up and scoot when you mashed your foot to the floor, The nearly bald tires plus the curly on ramps of the local highway interchange made all the satsifying tire screechy noises, the headliner wasn’t falling in, and it did indeed make a pretty nasty smell when the engine got hot and you let it idle for a while.
Cash exchanged hands (twice, once when I first showed up, only to find that his roommate had cleaned and moved the title, so I took my cash back, gave him my cell # and told him to call me as soon as he had the title, and a second time when I finally got the car) and I was off with my second mid 90’s Chevy Corsica.
A little history and vehicle genetics on the Corsica before the review:
The Corsica is an L body GM vehicle. The 3.1 V6 comes with an option code of L82, and is usually paired with a GM 4T60e transmission. There’s also a GM 4 banger option, but those usually died out quick because they weren’t that great.
The Corsica has a 2 door cousin, the Beretta. This car was basically a front wheel drive Fiero. The Beretta has a GM prototype twin the Feretta which was designed to replace the GM F body cars, complete with V8, but a transverse FWD setup. The Beretta is a pretty boring car, sharing some design styles from the two door Lumina and Cavelier, just like the Corsica shares the same styles with the 4 door versions (and the Oldsmobile stuff and Buick junk too)
The Fiero was designed as a GM rear engine, rear wheel drive “poor man’s Ferarri”.
To put it another way, the Corsica is the offspring of an Arkansas style family reunion. You can tell that it’s from a certain family, but the genetic pool was a little murky to start with and nobody is really certain which donors there were.
Right, now for the review.
You thought I was reviewing the white one, didn’t you?
It’s an ugly boxy car. Initially sold to the rental markets as a fleet car and left unupdated except for basic trim and minor exterior updates, the design really didn’t have much to start with and couldn’t really go anywhere. It has a “chinese knockoff hotwheels car” feel to it. I’m not talking the exciting hotwheels, I’m talking the “Grand Theft Auto” style genericized car shape, style, and feel.
All that being said, with 23 years of sun and neglect, the paint and body has held up remarkably well. There isn’t any rust on the underside (which is doubly surprising since my ’95 was so rusted out, when I was changing the wheels and tires over onto the “new” ’94, the jack punched through the car in four places.) The paint could use some detailing, and the lack of driver’s rear 1/4 window doesn’t get any concourse points, but it’s a Craigslist beater, not a concourse show car. This thing isn’t getting anywhere near SEMA.
Yes, 3/100. The glue in the headliner has let go in the past year of owning this car. There was a leak allowing water into the cabin when it rained (now fixed, but the carpets are stained). There is NO TILT WHEEL. The dash is cracked. The rear seat is destroyed (thanks dog) and the rear “headrests” are sunbaked and cracked. The front passenger seat has a nice hole in it (again, thanks dog) and the driver’s seat is so beat up that even seat covers can’t hide it all. Even when it saw better days, the interior was basic. Any more basic and you could probably hose it down with a pressure washer. The center console has both collapsed, and broken. The ash tray was still full of ash (I think it’s empty now?) The air vent louvers are either broken, missing, or stuck in one position. It’s a mess. There’s also no passenger airbag. It did come with a fancy crocheted blanket to hide the rear seat with, courtesy of the previous owner’s grandma (hence the 3 points).
I may be biased here but for a 23 year old engine, it’s doing amazingly well considering. Water pump had to be replaced, as did the alternator and belt. Air conditioning still works. Power steering is on it’s way out, but that’s on the schedule of repairs this summer. The lower intake manifold gaskets failed probably around 90k (it’s at 150K right now) and still need to be replaced, but for whatever reason, GM made this motor to be a dog that just won’t quit. Yes, it’s gutless. Yes, it has all the charm of a homeless guy standing on the corner trying to sing for a meal. Yes, it’s crammed in the engine bay and a pain in the butt to do any work on because of how tiny the bay is, but it just won’t give up. My dead car had 280,000 miles, knocked more than a haunted door warehouse, and had a cracked radiator, and yet it held up and was still running when some kids bought it off me for the engine to throw on a good transmission for a derby car. When you stomp on the gas it does actually get up and go. If you give it enough oomph it will actually lift up, and torque steer. I’d love to dyno it but have a feeling it’d probably just fall apart on the dyno (And I’d have to fix that gasket first). The bad smell I talked about? that’s the smell of coolant leaking out the block and cooking itself with some oil. The more that builds up, the less it leaks, but the stronger it smells. it’s a difficult balance.
Can you imagine driving a pile of cooked spaghetti? That’s basically the experience you get when you steer this. The front struts were replaced with “ready struts” earlier this year which is nice. The rears are factory, which is not so nice. The brake rotors are warped and I should probably change the fluid because it’s probably also factory. If this car survives another year and doesn’t explode and I get the engine repaired, there’s a really good chance I’ll try to autocross it at least once. Expect hilarious results. It makes a great commuter car though because I only have to drive about 5 miles to work and 5 miles back, so I never really get annoyed with it. I also drove the moving truck for 10 hours and my wife had to suffer driving this monstrosity, so for long trips I’m going to say it’s just absolutely amazing and conveniently forget to ask my wife about it.
No this isn’t the muffler on the blue one. It’s from the white one.
The power steering pump is dying, so there’s a constant whine that sounds nasty. You can’t really hear anything else, but the exhaust works properly and there’s no knocking. So once that pump is fixed, there’s not gonna be really any noise. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. There’s also a 2005 Walmart Special Pioneer head unit and speakers wired in. They make quality sounding noise, but that’s not gonna help it much in review land.
it’s not amazing. It was named the “most meh Car Ever” by Jalopnik (not officially, but seeing as it was their first “meh car Monday” pick, I’ll take it as being so “meh” that it was the first to come to mind. There are certainly worse cars to use as a commuter car (for example, a V8 swapped Jag) and the average 23mpg isn’t something to sneeze at. If you approach it with the attitude of “it’s actually cheaper to drive this than take the bus, even after insurance” and factor in that you don’t get cup holders on a bus, plus you get to blast your music as loud as you want without looking like a douche, it’s actually quite nice. As a disposable car, I was surprised has lasted me a year so far, it’s decent, but nothing really helps making it special.