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The Heartbeat of America – 1990 Chevrolet Lumina Euro 3.1 Coupe

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In some respects, Finland is kind of like a small America. In other respects, it’s the polar opposite. Even if we have a deep affection for American cars, the model portfolios do not make it here complete. We got the Corsica, we got the Beretta, we even got the Trans Sport with a bowtie badge. But the first generation Lumina is a unicorn on our roads.

It’s a confusing car, this. Despite being called the Lumina Euro, it was never imported here when new. Despite being sold with the titular slogan, it was built in Ontario. But then again, it says 3.1 on the tin, and this 1990 Chevrolet Lumina coupé indeed has the ubiquitous multi-port V6. It’s for sale in my town, and having caught a glimpse of it on the supermarket parking lot I really wanted to take a closer look.

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Perhaps a little back story is required here. A couple of weeks ago, I sold my beloved Sapporo to a car collector. Since I’m now saddled with a decidedly appliance-like white BMW with zero equipment, I’m looking for a cheap coupe to keep as a summertime car. The BMW is only cool and exciting in the winter, and in the summer it’s hot and slovenly. I need cruise and A/C.

Since I’ve been talking Luminas with a friend, Edvin, and both of us have declared our fondness for ’90s FWD American iron, this two-door Lumina came up in my search results pretty quickly. The Rover and Cadillac driving guy I know, Pertti, knows the Lumina’s seller, and vouched for its rust-free condition. It was only a matter of time, really, before I picked up my phone and enquired about it.

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I don’t think there’s another one like it in the Nordic countries, let alone Finland. The newer generation Lumina was imported here, and a number of corresponding Monte Carlos have swam over here as well, but this light blue 1990 car is the first of its kind I’ve seen. It was shipped here from Florida by the first owner in 1991, and driven by him until 1998. Then it was sold to a co-worker of the current seller, and this family got the car in 2005. The history’s pretty clear, and the maintenance records are up to date. Recently, it had only gotten summertime use.

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The car has valid inspection until December. The current owner has kept good care of the car, replacing parts whenever anything has started working less than perfectly. There are new components like a new A/C compressor, and the ECM brain has been replaced a couple years ago as the car had developed running issues. The 1998-onwards owner had overheated the engine at 44k miles, necessating an extensive rebuild and probably fixing a lot of parts and seals that would’ve given up anyway at some point. Right now, the odometer read 101k and change.

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The interior was probably as good as they come, with the cloth clean and unripped. The dash grimaced a little from above the steering column, but was uncracked. No-one had smoked in the car, and the headliner was intact. The original Delco stereo was present and functional. I was given the keys and told to start it up.

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The V6 awoke with a turn of the key, and the growl brought a smile on my face instantly. I’ve grown accustomed to humdrum fours, and anything with more cylinders is sure to entertain me just by doing what is asked of it and nothing more. The engine ran well, and seemed to have a good amount of useable torque. The four-speed, column-shift automatic wasn’t a hindrance to it but rather complimented it perfectly, shifting gears smoothly without a hitch. I also liked how the overdrive dropped the revs comfortably low, as the car sailed along on the freshly laid pavement. I was surprised to find the steering a lot more alert and responsive, too, than I had imagined.

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The only actual fault with the car was that the fuel gauge wasn’t operating, but showed full all the time. It’s probably an easy enough fix, but the one thing the seller hadn’t gotten around to fixing properly. The A/C, recently charged at the time of the compressor replacement provided a relaxing breeze. I even liked how the car drove on smooth asphalt, as it sort of just glid along the way with no detectable annoyances. Despite facing a wall of derision when I revealed I was going to look at a 1990 Lumina, I found myself at ease. Even if the damned thing has leaf springs in the back. How do you develop a 7 billion dollar automotive platform and end up using lolsprings?

I seriously didn’t expect to like it this much, and compared to the Sapporo it even felt a touch more sophisticated. I had brought my girlfriend along, and unlike with the 850 she gave a full thumbs-up to the Lumina. The couple invited us in for a cup of coffee and some rhubarb pie with whipped cream, as I looked the service papers and the hefty service manual over. One of the nicer tire-kicking afternoons.

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The seller asked a firm 3500 for the car. It’s a tough price, and for the money I could get anything else, or two. That’s why I didn’t sign my name this instant; if the seller was to drop the price I’d definitely reconsider.

I’m reconsidering as we speak, as the car really was better than expected and would really stand out here. Imagine a world without Luminas, and then imagine a coupe Lumina introduced into that world. Imagine a place where a Lumina is more exclusive than a Porsche 924. And on that note, you’ll kinda guess what I’ll be looking at next.

Currently there are "50 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jay_Ramey says:

    The dealer badge on the trunk alone accounts for 30% of the asking price, I'd imagine you couldn't buy that kind of street cred if you tried. (And we covet rare gray imports from Europe over here, along with original European plates and trunk niches. Ive seen people retrofit euro-spec trunklids to their cars)

    And unlike the Volvos of the time, the AC in these things will be working even 100 years from now. But remember what I told you about having to get a matching haircut. Its mandatory, unfortunately, and one of the reasons I steer clear of cars like this in traffic.

    • mdharrell says:

      Are you sure? I find it hard to believe that anyone would get excited over a mundane car that just happens to be far removed from its European habitat. Or its plates….

      • ToLiveNDieInNJ says:

        Heck no! I have a long-term long-distance girlfriend in London and I practically squealed when I saw an IROC-Z over there. Seeing American cars in foreign environments is just plain cool. I once saw a GT500 drive through Piccadilly Circus. Unfortunately Jezza wasn't behind the wheel.

      • moorewr2 says:

        A reminder that rare doesn't necessarily equal valuable. What's funny is how low on the totem pole Luminas (and any remaining Sapporo-era Mitsus) are in the US. You'd only drive a Lumina, Euro or not, if it was that or walk.

        • danleym says:

          I worked at an Autozone with a guy who owned a Lumina Z34. I didn't know anything about them before, but really, for someone on a really tight car budget, they offered a surprising amount of performance. I wouldn't go out and get one myself, but given the same financial situation as him I would consider it.

      • wunno sev says:

        fyi, if i saw a factory RHD base-model corolla i'd empty my bank account to own it

        that said, part of that is because the USA is very restrictive about imports. i am also a little perplexed by the appeal of the lumina in a country where imported cars aren't apparently very uncommon.

    • ToLiveNDieInNJ says:

      I may have put a Euro-market finish panel on my Miata a few years ago.

  2. Fred says:

    I see TONS of these every day and I hate them! Great article though, it's just funny how people in different countries view others' cars, I love the 205 GTI for example.

  3. TurboBrick says:

    That's quite possibly the nicest Lumina in existence. They have pretty much disappeared from the roads in the states and if you do see one, they usually have the typical burnt paint, bad tint job and moderate body damage. It's interesting to see one that's been babied, instead of being beaten down.

  4. Senor dog says:

    I had a Sunbird with the same 3.1L, you can't kill those engines. I wasn't uncommon for me to let the car sit for months at a time, and then it would just start up, no problem. I put 400,000K on it.
    The Lumina is actually not bad looking, and they drive pretty good for the time. As I recall they eat lower rear trailing links and rear calipers.

    • krazykarguy says:

      You realize that "400,000K" is 4 million miles, right? You should contact Guinness.

      • TurboBrick says:

        It's going to take a lot of Guinness to wash away the memory of driving a Sunbird for 4 million miles.

    • mGrabble says:

      That's exactly why I feel bad for my brothers SUV. He has a Mitsubishi Endeavor that will sit for months at a time.

      The Rotors are warped so you feel like you have Parkinson's.

      Either the Timing belt/chain or Spark Plugs are going out since the engine will occasionally "vibrate" as you're driving. The revs stay the same but you certainly feel it.

  5. Mark T. Jordan says:

    @Jay_Ramey may have it right. Roger Dean Chevrolet has been the premier Chevy (and Buick) dealer in West Palm for over 35 years, and have been fortunate to spend more than one or two lovely evenings aboard the "Arde." the yacht belonging to Patty Dean, Roger's daughter and current owner of the franchises (they also own the Palm Beach Yacht Club), courtesy of a former employer.

    We all enjoyed Patty's story of how, years ago, the local Ford dealer was somewhat envious of Roger's success, and instead of "Ford" standing for the acronym "Found On the Road Dead," he changed it to "F*** Old Roger Dean."

  6. Maymar says:

    My grandmother had one of these for a couple years, albeit a '92 I believe, a maroon on maroon sedan. Not a bad car by any means, and being my grandmother's car, it was in pretty decent shape. It was offered to me when she stopped driving, but I liked the Intrepid I had at the time more – I still stand by that decision, although the front bench would've been nice.

    Also, the 3100 warble sounds like home, given its ubiquity in the early 90's GM products that everyone in my hometown drove.

    • Lotte says:

      Yes! "Warble" is a great way to describe that sound. It's one of those sounds that stick around in my head, even after everybody here's traded in their Ventures and with blown exhausts. It just goes "warblewarblewarbleWHAAAAMP" and is so loud.

  7. Synchromesh says:

    I don't get it. Living in Europe you can buy many cars that we here only dream about but you want this early 90's GM horror instead? Why? I understand it's rare but it's absolutely nothing special. They're a dime a dozen here.

    • sporty88au says:

      The grass is always greener on the other side.

    • citroen67 says:

      The grass always seems to be greener on the other side of the pond, my friend. There is a certain mysique about wanting/owning something that, even in it's home country, might be unreliable, undesirable, or just plain unwanted. Look at the Citroen 2CV…perhaps the epitome of what describes a "rattle-trap," and yet, over here, I have a friend in NJ that restores them at a 20-25 thousand dollar premium, per unit!

      I think it has something to do with wanting something that either no one else has, or might be hard to find, or perhaps a challenge to maintain. I can say this because I myself own a Lada Niva. It is arguably one of the hardest vehicles to source parts for, here in the US…not to mention slow, unreliable, prone to rust, and terrible on gas, and I love every minute of owning it!!!

      • Jay_Ramey says:

        I think I know who youre talking about in NJ, I'm gonna show one of his 2CVs on Monday.

        Oh by the way, Niva? The Hooniverse salutes you, sir.

        Something Niva related is coming up soon too.

        • citroen67 says:

          Thank you for the salute! And yes, it is probably the same fella. I can't imagine there are too many Citroen resto shops in NJ. ;)

          If you happen to travel to the Citroen Rendezvous, in Saratoga Springs this weekend, be on the look out, I am certain he will be there with his crew. I wish I could be there with them, but I am unable to attend this time. Hopefully next year, though!

          • Jay_Ramey says:

            Yup, already gearing up for Rendezvous, juicing the bricks, it's going to be awesome. New venue this year once again, but close to last year's which I thought was great.

            • citroen67 says:

              Excellent! I would be lost if I were going this year. I haven't attended since 2008, when I drove my buddy's RHD Dyane to the event. I think back then, it was held adjacent to some sort of museum a few miles from town. It is a sure good time, though. I will for sure be back, hopefully next year.

      • racer139 says:

        The exact reason I got rid of my niva. After looking for a flywheel and starter for what seemed an eternity I gave up and paked it on a hill so it could be jump started and used it as a buggy for a while and then sold it on. I was sad as it was one of my grandfathers last toys and was very clean and rust free with only maybe 60k km on its clock. Sorry for the really late post, Im catching up after a long long race weekend.

  8. MVEilenstein says:

    I happen to think the Lumina is one of the best coupe shapes ever built. The only thing better is a corresponding Cutlass coupe. I've never seen one that nice in my life. I would definitely give it a second look.

  9. Van_Sarockin says:

    Anti makes a compelling case for the Lumina. And this one seems nicely optioned, and all of a piece. But it does sound very expensive, and the handling is going to be disappointing on curvy and bad roads. It's not the car for me, but an interesting choice in euroland.

  10. HTWHLS says:

    I don't know the price points in his market but this is not a bad car. The engine is sound (it was the transaxle I'd worry about), and honestly, GM and Chrysler a/c can't be beat; they can blow snowflakes. This one is in good shape and really, you can get anything you need for it from Rock Auto, plus some exhorbitant shipping.

    The bench seat/column shift is a plus. Go for it..fer crissake, they gave you and your girlfriend rhubarb pie and coffee!

    • julkinen says:

      The seller had sourced every part he had needed from Rock Auto. The only thing that worries me is stuff like windshields, since they're not easy to come by here. But insurance would sort that out.

      • TurboBrick says:

        Rock Auto is great. They have access to some euro market parts that you can't get from anywhere else in the US, like SKF branded t-belt tensioners for Mazda MPV V6's. Svenska Kullager Fabriken made them because, as we know from here, the Norwegians loved the 929 which had the same engine.

  11. Russ says:

    I've always loved the 90's W-body coupe from GM, especially because of the door handles on the B- pillars. I've owned 2, a 91 Buick Regal Gran Sport coupe and 96 Cutlass Supreme coupe (the 3800 in the GS trumps the 3.1 in a big way). There's a lot of misconception surrounding the leaf spring (singular, there's only one spring, not 2) though. Being composite is a lot lighter than conventional coil springs and is more compact resulting in a bigger trunk. Anyway, nice looking car.

  12. RichardKopf says:

    Leaf springs? More like monoleaf, somewhat similar to the C5 Corvette's rear suspension, just minus the drivetrain bits. It even has struts.

    <img src="http://i79.photobucket.com/albums/j129/hoopd87/sbds_zps87578cb5.jpg&quot; width=500>

    • dukeisduke says:

      Yep, and it's a E-Glass (composite) spring.

    • TurboBrick says:

      The "version 2.0" IRS on late model Volvo 960 also had a transverse composite leaf spring to go with the self-leveling Nivomat shocks.

  13. Tanshanomi says:

    Rarity does breed fondness. Heck, there are cars I cared nothing about two or three decades ago that now turn my head on the street more than a woman in a short skirt with shapely legs.*

    [*LEGAL DISCLAIMER: I am a happy married man with a beautiful wife and solemnly swear that other women, including those with shapely legs in short skirts, provide me zero titillation. I use this illustration only as a comparison of rarity, since seeing an attractive woman in a mini-skirt on the sidewalks of Kansas City is roughly as likely as sighting a 1st gen Mazda 626 or an Infiniti M30 coupe.]

  14. robbydegraff says:

    barf

    • danleym says:

      While that's my initial sentiment anytime I see one here in the states, I can respect just about any older car that has been well maintained and is in good shape. I was at a cruise-in last year, and there was a guy there with the most beautiful 1979 Ford Granada I have ever seen, probably the nicest one in the world. Sure, it's a Granada, nothing too exciting, but just seeing how nice and cared for it was made it something special, despite it's ho-hum roots.

  15. vroomsocko says:

    Nice! I had a ’93 Eurosport coupe and I really enjoyed it, despite its lack of euro and sport. It was a roomy highway cruiser that got great MPG thanks to the underpowered 3.1. I still lust after a ’91-’94 Z34 with a five speed.

  16. wunno sev says:

    did i miss a post about selling the sapporo? i'll miss that car, it was waist-deep in coolness

  17. Lotte says:

    For what it's worth I would, even disregarding the fact that it's in Finland. Just something really nice about an unloved car that's been well taken care of; that in and of itself is rare.

    When I read this I felt so comfortable with the seller. He seems to know his stuff, clearly takes good care of them, asks a reasonable (but not a steal) price and stands by it. And has rhubarb pie to share! Oh man, the rhubarb pie…is that what they call southern hospitality? Because it just warms the cockles of my heart.

  18. Alff says:

    Ugh. This is why much of the world hates us.

  19. Rust-MyEnemy says:

    I can't believe I missed this post!

    A 1993 Euro 3.1 in Rental Red with red inside, plus the optional power windows and locks and rally gage pack, was my first ever Americancar experience. I know NEP81J was nothing special, but you never forget your first.

    And I still love the taillamps.

  20. bones05us says:

    can you try me if a 3.1 chevy engineout of a 90 chevy will work in a 97 chevy maibul

  21. Lesabre says:

    If you didn't purchased the Lumina, I have one for sale in Denmark…. http://www.smallblock.dk/forside/11-1990-1999/673

  22. vieras says:

    Wow .. a web site for my dad's ex ride. Nice to see that some appreciates such ordinary chevy's. Well this is a survivor and hopefully current and future owners takes care of it, surely it is rare ride here in Finland
    btw. I am the very first owner of this vehicle, at the time I was living in US and exporting vehicles to Finland.
    If I remember right, selling price was around $14K, and sales person at Roger Dean Chevrolet was Ms Diane Skipper

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