20 May 2016

Embarrassed? Nah, Citation X-11 enthusiasts stand tall in this top 10

Confession is good for the soul. And boy, you confessed a lot this week.

We asked our Facebook audience, “Which car are you embarrassed to admit you love?” We fully expected to hear from diehard Ford fans who have a secret affection for Chevrolets, as well as unwavering Chevy fans who secretly love Fords. We were right.

We were a bit surprised by the overwhelming support for American Motors, but considering the question that we asked, is that a good thing?

Antonio Scarpacci can take credit for the oddest secret crush. He shared his love for South Korea’s 1980s Daewoo Royale: “No exhaust, no floorboards, no wipers, but it ran like heck.” Not exactly a love note that Shakespeare would write, but we get the picture.

Our favorite post came from Dan Watkins, who wrote three hilarious words that will be repeated around the office for weeks to come: “Cimarron. By Cadillac.” Thanks, Dan.

And kudos to admirers of the Chevy Citation (particularly the X-11), who stood tall and proved once again that every automobile, no matter how much it may be dissed by the general public, is someone’s favorite. Of course, we also happened to use a photo of an X-11 when we posed the question, which may have tipped the scale a bit. Regardless, Citation admirers answered the bell.

1980-85 Chevrolet Citation X-11 – Of the 1.6 million Citations built, less than two percent – about 25,000 – were X-11s. That makes them comparatively rare…and perhaps more desirable…to some. 

“I owned a Chevy X-11 just like the one in the picture,” John Penree wrote. “It was a fun car to drive, manual 4-speed with a (2.8-liter) V-6.”

Brian Hiscock admitted that his first car was an X-11, and Craig Nelson lamented, “I haven’t seen a Chevy Citation on the road in a very long time.” Kevin Nichols has, however. “I see one driven every day in Manhattan, Kan., that looks showroom new: Two-tone turd brown … sexy. LOL.”

1981-83 AMC Eagle SX/4 – American Motors launched the Eagle SX/4 for the 1981 model year, and while it had some high points – Gene and Gary Henderson raced one in the 1982 SCCA Pro Rally – it was dropped after 1983.

AMC billed the SX/4 as “the sports car that doesn’t always need a road,” but the Standard Catalog of American Cars (1976-86) wrote that the SX/4 two-door hatchback “hardly qualified as a sports car.” Standard engine was GM’s 151-cid (2.5-liter) four-cylinder “Iron Duke.”

The Eagle received its share of accolades from this crowd. Nichols cleverly managed to praise the Eagle SX4 while throwing another AMC model under the bus. “Brother, when I was in Junior High (cough, cough ... 35 years ago) I lusted after an Eagle SX4,” he wrote. “My folks drove a Concord ... What were they thinking?”

1960-69 Chevrolet Corvair – Actually, Corvair ownership isn’t as “embarrassing” as it once was. Ralph Nader made a name for himself – and certainly earned a few unprintable nicknames within the auto industry – with the 1965 release of his anti-Corvair book, Unsafe at Any Speed. Nader, a lawyer and consumer advocate, claimed the 1960-63 Corvair’s rear-suspension design was dangerously flawed, but many still feel that his findings were unjust. Corvairs have never been more popular than they are today.

1970-78 AMC Gremlin – The subcompact Gremlin was AMC’s attempt to beat Ford and GM to the punch, but Los Angeles Times columnist Dan Neil wondered if the company’s design team simply “whacked off the rear of the AMC Hornet with a cleaver.” With its long nose and short rear end, the car does look a little out of proportion. Still, Gremlin lovers are like a dog with a bone – tough to convince them the car isn’t beautiful.

1971-80 Ford Pinto – Another that was highly criticized, primarily for safety reasons. The Ford Pinto was clouded by controversy over its fuel tank design (let’s just say that rear-end collisions sometimes resulted in fire). Pinto lovers have no problem making fun of the car’s history, however. Pintos often show up at low-brow Concours d’Lemons events wearing “Caution: Flammable” signs.

1984-88 Pontiac Fiero – Another model with a “this thing catches on fire” reputation, the Fiero was also underpowered. But it still has its share of admirers. By the time Pontiac finally got it right with the 1988 GT model, GM shut down production.

1975-80 AMC Pacer – Car and Driver magazine dubbed it “The Flying Fishbowl.” Like the Pinto, it’s a Concours d’Lemons regular. Party on, Wayne. Party on, Garth.

1981-90 Ford Escort – We’re talking first-gen Escorts here – Ford’s first front-wheel-drive car built in North America. Not much else in the notebook that’s printable.

1976-1987 Chevrolet Chevette – Chevy sold 2.6 million of these. My parents owned one, and I have a vivid memory of my dad sitting in the car in our driveway, posing for a photo that emphasized the rusted-out floorboards in this beauty. Much like Fred Flintstone brakes his car, Dad’s feet are flat on the ground just behind the front tires. Wilma!

1980s Yugo GV/GVL – Neil (there’s that funny guy again) once wrote: “Built in Soviet-bloc Yugoslavia, the Yugo had the distinct feeling of something assembled at gunpoint.” We could leave it there, but you get the last word – or Joseph Bates does anyway: “Stupid great fun for a dirt cheap price.” We’ll have to trust you on that, Joseph.

22 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Clint San Jose, CA May 25, 2016 at 14:30
    Guilty as charged. I've owned a Fiero and loved it, and I'm on my third Corvair. I finally traded up to the turbo Spyder. And craziest of all? The Corvair is worth more than my Packard!
  • 2
    Tim Sullivan Farmington MI. May 25, 2016 at 15:31
    Owned a 4 door 1982 Olds ES 2800 Omega, the even more rare version of the X11 with ES standing for Elaborate Scam, had composite wheels, rubber over steel you could push your finger into, failed AC compressors, and transmissions.
  • 3
    James Klein Jacksonville Fl May 25, 2016 at 15:34
    I once owned a 1986 Ford Escort GT. Designed by Carroll Shelby I believe. It had a peppy 1.9 overhead cam high output engine. 5 speed transmission and really sweet ground effects. I kind of miss it and I can't find any on the internet.
  • 4
    Tom Martin Pennsylvania May 25, 2016 at 15:34
    The fuel tank problem of the Pinto cast a deep shadow on an otherwise good car. if memory serves correctly, the bottom end of the 2000 cc was nearly bullet proof having heritage going back to European racing. At that time the Showroom Stock Sedan class appeared in racing - the Pinto cleaned up until the Opel 1900 arrived, the top end of the engine failed because of owner neglect - the aft oil port in the head would clog from lack of adherence to oil change intervals. The engine design itself was a cross flow design allowing it to breath nicely. With a set 6" rims, good tires, Gabriel shocks and sway bars, my 72 would corner so hard that the fuel would wash out of the carb bowl before the car would break loose in a turn, I got 150,000 miles out of mine. One shortcoming - at 105 mph, the nose (w/o a spoiler) would begin to lift. By the time mine was traded in, yes - traded, my friend's Vega GT was being weighed at the local scrapyard.
  • 5
    Timothy Ross New York May 25, 2016 at 15:50
    I owned first year models of two cars on the list: a 1980 Chevy Citation and a 1984 Fiero, both powered by GM's 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine (4 speed manual in the Citation). My favorite memory in the Citation was when I bested a poorly driven BMW 635 in an impromptu race and then there was that trip to Maine where I got 40 mpg coming up from NY. Although it crumbled into a pile of rust at 105,000 miles, the Citation was reasonably fun, extremely spacious and amazingly fuel efficient. The Fiero was an odd car, although pleasant to drive it was plagued by minor problems and had to contend with an appearance that didn't fit its engine and automatic transmission. Sort of a cross between a toy racer and commuter econo-box, if that makes any sense.
  • 6
    Seth Arluck New Hampton, NY May 25, 2016 at 16:20
    I have five X-11's, one of which is on the road all the time. So I'm in a cult, what's it to ya!
  • 7
    Doug Ohio May 25, 2016 at 16:35
    Bought a X-11 in '81, 4spd, orange with tan interior, drove it 135K mi, no rust, no problems, then converted it into an SCCA ITA car in '85 when IT came into being, successfully blew the engine in my first drivers school when the oil pickup fell off the pump. Won races with that car and then sold it to a guy who lived 10 mi or so from MidOh. Never saw it again even though I raced IT for another 10 years at MidOh. Great SCCA starter car.
  • 8
    Steve G Illinois May 25, 2016 at 16:55
    I loved my 2 Bricklins. No they weren't kit cars. Yes Delorean stole their full wing design.
  • 9
    Randy Pedersen Salina, Ks May 25, 2016 at 17:05
    You left out the Granddaddy of them all the 1958 Edsel Citation, which most say is still the ugliest car built in the second half of the 20th century. Myself I have always love the lines of the 2dr hdtp, convertible and you got to love the rear end and tail lights of the Bermuda station wagons.
  • 10
    harold Al. May 25, 2016 at 18:05
    I bought a new 1985 citation x11 faster than stock 305 V/8 could not trade it in could not get anything for it . I would like to know how fiberglass rusted ?
  • 11
    Todd MA May 25, 2016 at 18:07
    I owned almost every one of these cars, and paid less than $1000 for each!
  • 12
    Scott K SoCal May 25, 2016 at 19:30
    Ho-hum. How completely unoriginal. This is like all the "worst car" articles that get trotted out with regularity. This article should be titled "What 10-15 year old orphan economy cars did poor people drive when generationX was in high school". It has nothing to do with the cars, and everything to do with perceived status among a certain age group at a particular point in history. Twenty years earlier, the list would have included Nash Metropolitan, Henry J, Hudson Jet, Crosley, and so on. Forty years earlier, Model T, Dort, EMF, etc. Today, that list would include any 10-15 year old Chrysler mini van, Mercury Marquis, Hyundai Sonata, Daewoo, etc. It's all status bunk and the transitory nature of popular fashion. Many people, especially teens, are insecure and follow herd mentality. It's safe to pick on pariahs, root for the winning team. Hence, the "embarrassed" tag line. Orphan cars are always fair game. As far as research, both the unsafe Corvair and the exploding Pinto have been thoroughly debunked. Nader was making a name for himself; the Corvair had the same basic reared as VW and Porsche. Nobody heaped derision upon them. Furthermore, the second generation Corvair had a completely reengineered rear suspension which made the Nader book moot. The exploding Pinto story is a pervasive urban myth. Its roots are from a dishonest and thoroughly biased media story. The Pinto was no worse than other cars at the time with thin bumpers. Post-'73 Pinto sedans and all wagons were never suspect. The actual number of "exploding" Pinto deaths is today regarded as less than 30, not thousands as commonly believed. The Gremlin: the silhouette looks pretty much like most hatchbacks from Honda Civics to VW Golfs over the last 30 years. What's the big deal? Oh, it was an AMC. Pacer: a clean, decluttered early rendition of contemporary SUV's without overwrought styling and a luxury car nameplate. It's pretty hard to make a beachball with 4 wheels aesthetically attractive, but the Pacer is still better looking than most of today's SUV's. Yugo- nothing need said, still an automotive whipping boy. An earlier time disparaged Fiats, which the Yugo was based. To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield: it never got any respect.
  • 13
    pedalian Ohio May 25, 2016 at 20:49
    What! No Vega's listed?
  • 14
    John Ft Wayne May 25, 2016 at 21:39
    Ahh, the X-11. The 2.8L V6 was a "High-Output" version, and I used to tease the co-worker who had one about that "HO" engine. As fate would have it, an old girlfriend bought it from him, and I did have some fun driving it. First (and only) engine I replaced lifters on (and got lucky that's all it needed). Gotta dig the cowl-induction (looking) hood on it.
  • 15
    Larry E Gilbert Indiana May 25, 2016 at 22:36
    We were always looking for the Wego the larger version of the Yugo
  • 16
    Vern Farmer Richmond, Va May 26, 2016 at 13:55
    I'm a recent buyer of a 1965 Corsa Conv and it is a great car ! Its 90 deg here today in Richmond and it got no hotter than 375 deg cylinder head temp, albeit being air cooled. I wish I could heve found one with a/c as only 4% were made !
  • 17
    John Codman MA May 26, 2016 at 09:29
    I'm not in love with any of them - except the Corvair. Sorry.
  • 18
    Dana Goetz Owen Sound, Ontario May 26, 2016 at 11:24
    I really think the AMC Matador was a great looking car except that the front bumper ruined the look
  • 19
    Scott Rockville MD May 26, 2016 at 00:13
    Really... for all the hate that Ralph Nader gets, you have to remember that the Corvair was not the focus of the book and had only one mention. While the mention was proven to be wrong later, his book did spark a revolution in car safety that experienced growing pains but has finally shown significant success in the last 10-or-so years. I am not a fan of the Corvair but do not begrudge those who are. I just think it is time to put what Nader did in perspective noting the Corvair was just collateral damage in his quest to make the auto industry stand up and make cars safer.
  • 20
    Ian California June 12, 2016 at 23:24
    I can't think of any reason to buy a 90 ford Escort. Back in high school a friend got one brand new from her dad and within 6 months of the warranty expiring the transmission went out. It reinforced what I'd already heard about American cars at that point, and I didn't buy anything American till only about 5 years ago.
  • 21
    Chris V NC June 14, 2016 at 17:58
    Scott K: Well said. You articulated everything I was thinking while I read this article, which could have been interesting if the snobby author had taken a different tone with it, e.g. "Unfairly Derided But Much Loved Cars". I would have liked a story on THAT. All of these cars have merit.
  • 22
    tom o'h vermont July 2, 2016 at 12:19
    bought a running Escort from my buddy for $100 bucks, (remember those days?), replace the cracked windshield and drove it back and forth to work for a year. Took my dates out in my scirocco. Sold it for $750 to a young girl as her first car, assuring her grandmother (who was the financeer) that it was a good vehicle. Shame. Came across it looking forlorn at my favorite junk yard 9 months later. In my defence, there were some court papers inside indicating the vehicle had been used in the heist of a safe. A low rent Italian job for sure.

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