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The Chevrolet Corsica Made It Bearable to Work for a Rental Car Company

Ah, the Chevrolet Corsica, darling of the rental fleets and symbol of all that was wrong with General Motors. The Corsica has the distinction of actually being born as a rental car. GM first circulated the cars to fleet customers in 1987 before inflicting them on the general public. If you owned a Corsica, chances are Avis or Dollar owned it first. See the Chevrolet Corsica models for sale near you

Of course, it was the Corsica’s hot sister, the 2-door Beretta, who got most of the attention, and deservedly so. With rakish-for-the-time shape and door handles concealed in the B-pillars, the Beretta was the coolest thing this side of a Camaro. Chevy produced some surprisingly credible performance versions of the Beretta, including the GTU and GTZ, the latter of which featured Oldsmobile’s hot Quad 4 engine and a Getrag manual that would actually go into the gear you wanted, which at the time, was quite the novelty for an American car.

The Corsica and Beretta were signs of a budding internal revolt against GM’s badge-engineering badness. While other divisions shared the cramped N-body cars (Grand Am/Calais/Somerset Skylark), Chevrolet did their own thing with the L-body Corsica, reportedly an N-body with a few J-body (Cavalier, etc.) bits out back. The Corsica and Beretta even received different taillights. How that made it past GM’s fastidiously parsimonious bean counters is beyond me.

None of this changed the fact that, as a family car, the Corsica was useless. It had a small trunk and a back seat with virtually no legroom whatsoever. Notice the plain grille and the complete lack of body adornment, which made the body panels easy to stamp, cheap to repair and forgettable to look at. Once you experienced their stupid door-mounted seat belts (set way too far forward, due to the Corsica’s short doors), you understood why GM was in trouble.

There was, however, one thing setting the Corsica apart from other rental cars, one very, very awesome thing. You expect rental cars to have the cheapest powerplants offered, and usually, you’d be right, but the Corsica was the exception to the rule. Every Corsica that came through my rental agency and, as far as I could tell, every Corsica owned by other chains at the time had the optional 3.1-liter V6 engine.

I can’t even begin to tell you the joy this engine brought to the otherwise dreary lives of rental-car lot-monkeys, like my colleagues and me. One hundred and forty horsepower wasn’t much, but these engines produced one hundred and eighty-five pound-feet of torque, enough not just to chirp the tires but to leave actual streaks of rubber on the pavement. A skilled lot-monkey could, in theory, write their name on the pavement using only a Corsica and a stooge to distract the rental agents. (I always chickened out halfway through the G.)

The Corsicas also taught us the joys of computer-controlled multi-port fuel injection. This was our first experience with a rev limiter, and we took great joy in flooring the cars in Park. Furthermore, if you cranked them at full throttle, they would not fire (the engine control unit was assuming, I assume, that the engine was flooded, and you were attempting to clear it), which was always good for nailing the rental agents with the ol’ some-guy-left-a-car-in-the-red-zone-and-now-it-won’t-start gag.

Invariably, 95 percent of the Corsicas we received were painted white. They often shared door keys, as well. (These were the days when the term “car keys” was still properly phrased in the plural.) We once mixed up the keys on three truckloads of new Corsicas and discovered we could usually get the doors open, but the ignition keys wouldn’t work. It took us the better part of half a day to sort out which keys went with which car. Nonetheless, we were happy as could be; any diversion from vacuuming cigarette butts out of ashtrays for five bucks an hour was welcome.

In the past 10 years, I’ve seen maybe two Corsicas on the road, and both times, I felt like I was greeting an old friend. If you ever have a chance to drive one of these pathetic gems (maybe your grandmother is a retired Alamo manager) do a burnout for me. Finishing off the G is the trickiest part. Find a Chevrolet Corsica for sale

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  1. I own a 1990 Corsica. My grandmother bought it the month before I was born. In spite of all the flaws – the stupid seat belt that was always strangling me, the fabric on the ceiling that had to be stapled up to keep it from sagging, the gas tank door that fell off, the water that leaked in around the back doors and flooded the floor, the doors that froze shut even during the daytime, the frost that formed on the inside of the windshield, the the horn that wouldn’t work except when it reached -20 degrees and then wouldn’t turn off, the total lack of cruise control, the tiny trunk – she’s never let me down. Sort of like an old dog who’s all elbows and funky smells but has been at your side for years, she makes me smile in spite of herself.

  2. I had a 1990 Corsica with a 4 cylinder in high school. It was the worst car I have ever driven. My father picked it out at a friend’s car lot for me saying it would be safer in the winter than the truck that I was driving. The horn didn’t work, smoke would start coming from the steering column when you used the turn signals, I soon found out that the low beam headlights didn’t work and there was no way to make them work due to a wiring problem, the brake lines failed twice, the coil packs had to be replaced twice, the power steering pump was starting to go and the fuel system was screwed up. I only had this car for 3 months before I traded it for a ’94 Plymouth Sundance, which was much better. I still cringe when I see a Corsica, especially if it’s light blue like mine was.

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