Falling in love (again) with a Chevrolet Citation X-11

1981 Chevrolet Citation X-11 performance options

The Chevrolet Citation X-11 snared Jim Keyes at an early age. During his sophomore year in high school in the late ’80s, a friend of his bought one used for $500, quite depreciated from the nearly $7000 list price when the X-11 debuted as the model’s sporty range-topper at the start of that decade.

“As I got to riding in it and driving in it, I was like, man, this is a really, really cool car,” says Keyes, who lives in southern Illinois. So enamored was he that when his friend decided to sell the car to purchase his dream vehicle (a Camaro, obviously), Keyes bought the X-11. Markdown wasn’t quite so extreme this time. He paid $400.

The car was hit and totaled, but Keyes couldn’t excise its memory. Years later, he began searching the internet for one to buy. He joined a online group for fans of General Motors’ X-Body cars—the company’s much-maligned attempt at a mass-market, import-fighting front-wheel-drive car, which included the Citation, Oldsmobile Omega, Pontiac Phoenix, and Buick Skylark. He posted queries. Eventually, a gentleman from Calgary, Canada, agreed to sell him an all-original, numbers-matching, manual-transmission car, in a bright and rare color Chevy called “Burnt Orange.”

1981 Chevrolet Citation X-11 left hand front corner
1981 Chevrolet Citation X-11 right hand rear corner

The only thing that stood between Keyes and his dream—aside from 1800 miles, and $4500—was his spouse. “My wife was like, ‘Man, this car is really ugly! If it was any other color it’d be alright, but this orange is just awful.’” Keyes pleaded his case, however. “I told her, ‘This is my dream car. I’ve got to have it.’” Eventually, she capitulated. That’s love.

With tax refund cash in hand, Keyes borrowed a truck, rented a trailer, and met the seller halfway, in Denver. Weary from travel, frazzled from traversing a snowstorm, and thrilled at his long-term fantasy’s potential fulfillment, Keyes became oddly emotional when the car was unloaded. “I actually teared up a little,” he confesses.

Though Keyes wasn’t specifically looking for a 1981 X-11, that is the most desirable model year. Chevrolet introduced the X-11 in 1980, along with the rest of the Citation lineup, but at that point it constituted mainly of appearance and handling upgrades—tape stripes, louvers, a full gauge cluster, bigger wheels and tires, and stabilizer bars. Under the hood, it had the same 90-horsepower, 2.5-liter inline four and 115-hp 2.8-liter V-6 engines available in all Citation models.

A high-output version of the carbureted V-6 arrived in 1981, sporting a less restrictive exhaust and a working hood scoop. It made 135 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque. Larger 14-inch alloy wheels with 215/60 series Goodyear Eagle GTs helped it pull 0.85 Gs on the skidpad. With a four-speed manual, the car would accelerate from 0–60 in 8.5 seconds. (For comparison, a four-speed 1981 Corvette completed the same run in 8.1 seconds.) As the X-11 evolved, additional emissions equipment decreased torque and horsepower, despite the inclusion of fuel injection. In later versions, getting to 60 mph took more than nine seconds.

Much of the credit for the development of this “hot rod” can go to chief project engineer and SCCA championship racer John Heinricy. Although Heinricy retired from General Motors in 2008, Keyes was able to find him online and arranged a meeting at a car show in Indianapolis. Sadly, Keyes ran into some trouble on the road en route. Ten miles from his destination, the X-11’s right front tire blew. The only spare he had was the original space-saver. Yet, after being re-inflated, it miraculously held. After driving to the event and convincing Heinricy to autograph his dash, he headed home. “I drove 295 miles back to my house on the spare donut,” Keyes says. Though impressed with his luck, we do not advise driving anywhere on 37-year old tires.

Our valuation experts here at Hagerty don’t have much data on the X-11. “There were fewer than 10 Citations quoted in all of 2017,” Jonathan Klinger, Hagerty communications manager, says. “To put that in perspective, we see more Fox Body Mustangs quoted in a 12-hour period than we do all year for the Chevy Citation.”

With that said, Klinger suggests that this version of the car is likely a good investment, so far as investing in any Citation goes. “Looking at Fox Body Mustangs, and third-generation Firebirds and Camaros, we see the performance editions like the SVO, Trans Am, and Z/28 bring a 50-percent premium over their base models. You could expect to see at least this with the X-11.” He also notes that over the last 10 years, values for the performance versions have outpaced increases for base versions by 15 percent.

1981 Chevrolet Citation X-11 Registry Map
Brett Berk

As a means of deepening his commitment to the model, Keyes has set out to create a registry for all remaining X-11s. The Citation had notoriously poor build quality, so he figures there aren’t many left. “Between 1980 and 1985 they made a little over 20,000 X-11s,” Keyes says. “Out of those 20,000, I’ve heard from around 200 people.” Every time Keyes discovers a car, he places a light-up Lite Brite peg in its location on a big U.S. map. This practice has come in handy; when Keyes heard that one of the guys on the registry was selling a 1985 X-11, he checked the distance. Then he drove five hours to buy it.