At my local Rad era car meet, Triangle Rad, there is someone bringing a beautifully preserved Chevy Celebrity station wagon. I see the car and appreciate that it’s still around and all that, but if I’m being honest, all it really does is remind me how much power I don’t care about the Chevy Celebrity. I don’t care these cars are some of the best ever created by human guts. My apathy is just as intense – a bright, burning intense beige glow who cares. It’s because I was surrounded of all kinds of Chevy celebrities growing up, and they were pretty much the NPCs of the cars. In the big salad of the automotive landscape, they were iceberg lettuce. They took up space, filled holes, and were the means by which people could start in one place, sit for a while, and finish in another. However, there was one celebrity that stood out, at least a little: The Celebrity Eurosport VR. These weren’t great cars, but they are interesting revealing cars – strange artifacts that provide insight into the American automotive mind of that time and place. In short, they are Glorious Trash.
I guess I should talk about the basic Chevy Celebrity first, right? I can too. Built between 1982 and 1990, the Celebrity was part of the GM A platform, its first front-engine, front-wheel-drive midsize platform. They sold over two million of these things in their various body styles – sedans, coupes and wagons. The reason I feel like I see them everywhere is because they a lot were everywhere. The most common setup for the Celebrity seemed to be the three-speed automatic with the 90 horsepower 2.5-liter Iron Duke engine. Not exactly heart-pounding.
They’re also available in diesel versions and with a 2.8-litre V6 or 3.1-litre V6 at the very end, but I don’t think most people buy them for performance or driving dynamics. I think most people bought them because the Celebrity was a car.
Of course, that wasn’t enough for at least some of the designers and engineers at Chevy, who felt there should be a more engaging version of the Celebrity, and in what I can only read as a strange act of national insecurity, that version was called Eurosport. Because, I guess, Europe at the time was more associated with cars that emphasized performance and driving engagement, the most obvious example of which was probably the BMW 3 series. Maybe the Audi?
Although it generally had the same basic shape, Celebrity was very no BMW 3 Series, but I think that’s what the designers, engineers and marketing people were aiming for. Seeing exactly what was done to the base Celebrity to “Euro-ify” is quite fascinating because I think it gives insight into what the folks at GM consider to be the crucial design differences between American and European cars. Looking at the result, you’d think Europe’s biggest defining trait was a strong dislike of chrome and a love of black paint.
As you can see, Eurosport mostly just blacked out all the chrome on the door handles and window trim and bumpers, added some red accent lines around the car and along the edges of the seats and, boom, it’s like you’re spending a week in Berlin.
As well as blackened chrome, the Eurosport also got a black steering wheel, heavier suspension and an option for a 2.8-litre V6 engine producing a fairly adequate 130bhp.
I mean the darkened/red detailed look wasn’t bad, but I’m not too sure how it compares to European. I guess the Volkswagen GTI did something similar? And of course, Europe as a whole didn’t have the same fetish for chrome everywhere that America had—I mean, No one do, indeed. Also, they missed an easy way to enEuro-ificate the car: add amber tail lights! But no, GM wasn’t willing to go that far. Remember they put amber rear windows on the Vega and then cheaply put bulbs behind them.
Now, this mild Euroization, which added about as much Europe to the car as smearing some Nutella on the car and letting it complain to you about how we don’t appreciate America’s national park system, just wasn’t enough. Chevy wanted a halo Celebrities, so they had to do something more.
GM looked to a smaller company called AutoStyle to help them and began the process in 1986 by creating a show car called the Celebrity Eurosport RS. This one-off adds a lot of bodykit plastic to the Celebrity’s underbelly, giving it a Euro-tuner look, like what Alpina might do if they wanted to make BMWs feel jealous, or at least a little less secure. The engine was an aluminum-block 3.3-liter V6 that never actually made it to production.
The reaction to the show car must have been quite positive, because since 1987 anyone buying a Celebrity sedan – or, more importantly, a station wagon! (and the following year, the coupe) – could pay $3,500 anus for the optional VR package, which was the production interpretation of the RS show car. For reference, in 1987 the VR package would have cost about $9,500 in today’s money, and that’s for a car that started at $10,265 (about $28,000 today), so we’re talking about bidding a third more than the full price of a car for this advanced Euroization.
So what exactly brought you all that money? There have been styling changes, most notably including new bumper skins with air baffles and other ground-effect plastics, but most notable is the odd grille deletion option. Yes, the grille was replaced with a weird silver muffler panel, because who wants all that extra air going into that 2.8-liter V6? I’m guessing the enlarged air intake under the bumper provided enough cooling and maybe there was some aero advantage to swapping that grille for a wall.
The engine and suspension in the VR were no different from the normal Eurosport, so we’re still talking about 145 hp. and going from parked to 60 in about 9 seconds. It’s not terrible, but it’s hardly amazing, even for the era, and it’s certainly nothing of the Compuserve-message at home. The VR comes in black, silver, white, and that Code Red color from Corvettes and Camaros. You can get it with a Getrag five-speed manual transmission or, if you hate yourself a little, a four-speed automatic transmission and, if you hate yourself a lot you can even get a three-speed automatic transmission there.
The Celebrity was never intended to be a car where people shifted gears themselves, so no nice big tachometer was offered. Handheld VR really demanded it, prompting GM to make one of the most magnificent half-ass tachometers ever:
Look at this! In the small window normally reserved for the automatic’s PRNDL indicator, GM developed a tiny, tiny LED-based tachometer. You drop about a third off the price of the whole car for this VR package, and GM is still too cheap to design a new instrument cluster with a real tachometer? Think how much better a few round gauges would look in that cluster, with a nice big, graphic tach! Anyway, all GM has proven is that they are absolutely loathe to let a perfectly good dash hole go to waste, no matter how small.
So to sum it up here, what is the general opinion of Celebrity Eurosport VR? It was a boring car with some silly faux-Eurofication and bodykit plastics that had some minor performance upgrades but very few that justified the hefty price tag of the option package, especially since the regular Eurosport was also running around. All of this complements the garbage part of Glorious Garbage nicely. So where do we find glory?
I think in this case all the glory comes from this one important detail: you can get all these things on wagon.
A fast(ish) tough-looking station wagon available almost everywhere in America since the 1980s it was a glorious thing. Hell, it still is! A wagon that was roomy and useful and could do all the things a station wagon does, but still let you jam the gear stick and make noises when you throw it into a corner, your kids without seat belts hitting their heads on the window glass with squeals of delight and maybe a little pain as they slide around the backseat like an ice hockey player’s teeth.
Of course, hardly anyone took advantage of this incredible wagon that was offered to them, as only just over 1,600 Celebrity Eurosport VRs were actually sold.
There was no way Celebrity Eurosport VR could really compete with actual Euro cars from BMW, Audi, Mercedes or even Volvo, but in a way I like that they tried. Sure, it was sort of a Halloween costume for an American family car to dress up as a 3-Series, but if you’re having fun, who cares, right?
Celebrity Eurosport VR was objectively rubbish. But put all that crap on a cart and then somehow it turns into something magical! It’s still pretty gross, yes, but magical crap. Or at least nasty with an extra rear-facing seat.
The Chevy Monza Mirage proved that riveting a bunch of plastic to a crappy car just makes it a crappy car with a bunch of plastic nailed to it: Glorious junk
The Mazda RX3-SP is the rotary coupe you can’t help but love, even though it’ll probably disappoint you: Glorious junk
Why the Plymouth Road Runner was cool and then instantly became uncool in 1975: Glorious junk