For the past weeks, I’ve been scratching an itch that doesn’t go away until I get to experience something. For the life of me, I can’t wrap my head around why I would really like to drive a Chevrolet Cavalier or a Lumina for the coming winter, to get behind those somewhat horribly shaped steering wheels, feel the Scotchgard-treated velour seats, really get into the 1990s feeling of it all.
Is it because those swoopy, rounded things are rarer here than Peugeots in the States? Is it because I want an awesomely terrible cassette stereo with enormous buttons? Is it because I would be trying to make an ironic statement, turning a Lumina into something cool?
With the latter, there’s something there, as I grew up watching The X-Files, and a grey Lumina was seemingly featured in every episode, with a made-up rental car agency sticker on the rear bumper. It would take no time at all for me to print out a matching sticker, to really get into that Mulder feeling.
And with the Cavalier, I would happily resort into prying off the Chevy badges and replacing them with Toyota silverware – because of course, there was a Toyota Cavalier and it’s the most left-field thing I can think of. Sadly, it was Japanese market only.
I’ve been looking at new car price lists from 1997, and a Lumina cost 199 900 Finnish marks back then, which puts it squarely into the same market as the Lancia Kappa and the Ford Scorpio, costing exactly as much as a last-year Mazda MX-5 NA did. Isn’t it wonderful that all of these cars were sold alongside each other?
The Cavalier wasn’t imported here officially, but a few have come here later on. A Chrysler Neon cost 119 900 in 1997, whether you wanted the automatic or not, and that would have gotten you a 1.8-litre Escort Ghia. Not the kind of screaming deal that the Neon was in the States at the time.
Bench seat. A lot of Luminas here have bucket seats and the shifter on the floor.
Looking at the used car market here right now, you can pick up a road-legal Lumina for 750 euros, because of course you can pick one for 750 euros. Everything ends up costing 750 eur here, and that can get you an absolute beater or something saveable, depending of your world-view among used cars. It’s the true Beaterland price, and one that is easily swallowed if things go south.
There’s a purple Cavalier in Helsinki, for the same amount of money, and there’s some vague celebrity value in it – hah – as it’s being sold by a somewhat famous Finnish Volkswagen hotrodder.
I don’t have a lot of faith into the dynamic abilities of either car, but then again – if I want to experience a direct manual gearbox feel, I drive the MX-5. If I want to throw around a simple, light car with a peppy engine, I go for the 205. Neither car can offer me the Chevrolet brochure feeling of a prairie road continuing far beyond the horizon, neither can make me feel like a Wichita lineman like a 3.1-litre Lumina would. And Chevrolet doesn’t sell new cars here anymore, either.
What can I tell you? The Heartbeat of America is 1997’s Chevrolet, not today’s.