While just about everyone can appreciate a pristine Bel Air, a barn-find Mustang Mach 1, or an unmodified Supra, what about the common-yet-underappreciated vehicle models that somehow survived the test of time?
I recently came across a wintertime photo taken near the Teton Mountains of my mom in her then-new 1982 Chevrolet Cavalier two-door coupe. She and my dad purchased that car from Axtell Chevrolet in Logan, Utah right around the time I was born, and they proudly drove it around the Rockies for several years before trading up to a larger Celebrity.
The 1982 Chevrolet Cavalier Spencer transported from California to Michigan
Mom and dad were at the cutting edge of automotive technology at the time, since 1982 was the inaugural model year for the Cavalier. The car was underpinned by the General Motors “J-body” platform and went on sale in May 1981 with came with just one motor choice: a 1.8-liter L46 inline-four which could be mated to a four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic transaxle. The J-platform was widely used during this era for other rebadged Cavalier variants like the Buick Skyhawk, the Cadillac Cimarron, the Oldsmobile Firenza, and the Pontiac Sunbird.
Forty years later (yikes, that hurts to type!) mom has long-since moved on from the General Motors family (she currently splits her time between a late-model Acura sedan and a Lexus convertible). But just as we are seeing within other areas of the collector car world, the market for some 1980s and 1990s vehicles – even the Cavalier – has picked up momentum.
I caught up with Spencer Strucienski, a collector from Detroit who is a keen aficionado of these types of cars. Spencer and share a similar passion for 1980s boxy styles from General Motors. His current collection spans some unique nostalgia-inducing cars from that era including a Pontiac Grand Prix and an Oldsmobile Silhouette minivan – a vehicle lovingly referred to as a “Dustbuster van” for its iconic wedge shape.
Below is a 10-question Q&A session with Spencer about what it is like being a 1980s and 1990s GM collector.
The “Dustbuster” Van
How many vehicles have you owned?
Spencer: I’m currently up to 52 vehicles in the 15 years that I’ve been driving. They are vehicles ranging from model year 1983 up to 2018.
What vehicles are in your current collection? Which is a daily driver, or do you cycle through?
Spencer: This changes on a monthly basis, but currently I have a 1986 Chevy Cavalier CL, 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix SE, 1990 Pontiac Grand Prix STE, 1993 Chevy Cavalier Z24, 1995 Oldsmobile Silhouette, and my daily driver – a 2012 Ford Fusion SEL. During the winter months, none of my old cars get driven, so the Fusion takes up daily duties. Once the weather warms up though, I cycle through cars; usually driving them for one to two weeks at a time.
What first sparked your interest in 1980s GM vehicles?
Spencer: My dad was a Mopar guy, but I somehow wound up being a dyed in the wool Ford fanboy as a kid. Two of my aunts had Tempos growing up and for whatever reason, I was enamored by them and always wanted one to be my first car. Before I got my license, I would ride my bike through my neighborhood and “Tempo Spot.” Oddly enough, I still have all these photos I took years ago stored on an old laptop of mine. Anyway, fast forward to me being 15 years old in auto shop in high school. We had a 1993 Chevy Cavalier RS with a 3.1L V6 donated to our shop. My auto shop teacher decided that we were going to fix it up and sell it to buy tools/supplies for the shop. My 16th birthday was coming up soon, and I ran the car by my mom and she said she’d buy it for me as my first car. I wasn’t terribly enthused because at the time, I wasn’t a big fan of GMs. But that Cavalier is what sparked my interested in old GM FWD cars. The 3.1 V6 was very potent in that car and it was incredibly reliable in the five years I owned it; ferrying me to and from high school and eventually college. Rust finally did it in, but it still ran and drove to the junkyard. I owe a lot to that car because I think my life would’ve been vastly different had I gotten any other car.
What are some of the unique features that vehicles of that era had (digital dashes, the Grand Prix combination lock glove box, the Cimarron Symphony Sound audio system, things like that)?
Spencer: I am really big on any digital displays, like the 88-91 Cutlass Supreme gauge clusters, info center/compass displays in the Grand Prixs and Bonnevilles. Basically, all the gimmicky stuff that doesn’t add much to the car, other than overwhelming nostalgia for what it was like living in the 1980s. Quirky steering wheel controls in the Pontiacs were also great. I still get a kick out of naïve people who get concerned about the buttons flying everywhere if the “airbag” deploys. I guess we’re entering the age where people don’t realize not all cars had airbags back then. On the topic of safety, while a lot of people find them annoying, I loved the motorized seatbelts of this era too. I have owned a couple Tempos and I like that feature.
Old GM gadgets
I noticed you recently had a Cavalier transported from California to Michigan. What made that vehicle desirable and what are your plans for it?
Spencer: This was a bit of an impulse buy. As I’ve gotten older, I have less and less patience for rusty vehicles and when this car popped up on marketplace, I couldn’t look away. It’s a very highly optioned car in a cool color combination – it’s only a couple options short of being a Cadillac Cimarron. Luckily, the seller was super chill and patient with me setting up the shipping and paying him online. I never even talked to the guy on the phone – we did the whole transaction over text. In today’s society, that’s probably going to make some people cringe, but it worked out for me! I’m very happy to have the car now, it’s a native California car and it shows. The underbody is as clean as can be, just the way I like.
What are one or two of your dream cars – either from within your current “scope” or far beyond it?
Spencer: This is a tough question because I’m a simple guy. I basically own all of my dream cars at this point. I really love this era of FWD cars and own most everything I’ve wanted. Still on my bucket list is a Dodge Omni GLHS and Dodge Charger (the FWD Omni based one). I know, they’re Mopars but they’re so 1980s and I love it. GLHS’ are selling at a premium because of their desirability and the Chargers are incredibly hard to find.
If you had to make a prediction, what do you think is a currently underappreciated future collectible?
Spencer: Unfortunately, I think these eras of cars aren’t going to appreciate by much, at least the normal mundane cars anyway. I believe they will perhaps appreciate to very low five-figures once availability drops to near impossible to find, but it depends on the car. Generations X and Millennials don’t seem to be doing as well financially as baby boomers who can afford to pay 6-figures for classic muscle cars. Gen-X and Millennials enjoy these cars from a nostalgic standpoint, but not too many of them have the disposable income to pay big-ticket prices for these cars. Also, the shift in electrification I feel is slowly killing off car culture.
1982 Chevrolet Cavalier
Are any specific parts for these vehicles getting difficult to find?
Spencer: Any vehicle-specific parts are starting to get hard to find – body parts, interior parts, etc. Mechanically, I haven’t had much issue finding parts for my cars. My 1993 Cavalier Z24 for example has sat for almost 20 years – it needs a lot of random bits and pieces that really can only be rectified with a junkyard donor car, but they’re just not showing up in yards anymore. Also, front struts are very hard to find for these cars. That’s really the only parts I’ve had a hard time finding.
What community resources are available to someone looking to get into this niche?
Spencer: Facebook groups are absolutely the best resource for someone trying to get into this community. I co-run Classic GM FWD Society which focuses on any GM FWD vehicle 2001 and older. We’ve built a community of 15,000+ members since 2015 and we’re always willing to help people with their related vehicles. Other clubs like Underappreciated Survivors and Malaise Motors are great for showing off your rides as well. There are also more focused groups depending on your type of vehicles like the Cimarron Owners Club, First/Second Gen J-body, 5th Gen Grand Prix Owners, Club APV (For the Dustbuster vans), and a ton more if you want a more specific club.
Pontiac Grand Prix
What’s your favorite period-correct 1980s or 1990s song or album to blast while you’re road tripping?
Spencer: I make it a point to listen to period-correct music whenever I am driving my old vehicles. I don’t have a specific song or album that I like, but I have curated a 1980s playlist on Spotify that I often like to listen to. Given that recent Cavalier is a 1986, I’ve been listening to the GTA: Vice City soundtrack while I’ve been driving it. I love getting in the mood of the time when driving my old cars so it’s definitely something that helps me enjoy my cars even more. I’ve also curated a 1990s R&B playlist for when I drive my ‘93 Cavalier or ‘95 Olds Silhouette.
It was great to connect with Spencer about his love-affair with 1980s GM cars.
Incidentally, the Chevrolet Cavalier made it through two additional generations after the one my parents owned and was sent off into the sunset after 2005. (Worth noting: The Cavalier nameplate still lives on in other parts of the world. It is currently sold in Mexico as a rebadged version of the Chinese-built Chevrolet Monza compact car).
Did you or a member of your family own a 1980s General Motors vehicle back in the day? Let us know in the comment section. And if you are ready to jump in and join Spencer on the journey for 1980s malaise-era car-collecting, check out the listings on ClassicCars.com and the auctions at AutoHunter.com.
This article, written by Tyson Hugie, was originally published on ClassicCars.com, an editorial partner of Motor Authority.