Junkyard Gem: 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24

General Motors sold better than 6 million Chevrolet Cavaliers from the 1982 through the 2005 model years, and its J-Body siblings — not just from the other American GM divisions but also from Opel, Isuzu, Vauxhall, Daewoo, Toyota and Holden — made this car one of the worldwide best-sellers of the late 20th century. The factory-hot-rod version of the Cavalier was the Z24, which debuted for 1986, sold very well for a while, then became increasingly forgotten as the Cavalier itself faded from relevance at the dawn of the 21st century. The very last year for the Z24 was 2002, and I’ve found one of those rare cars in a northeastern Colorado self-service yard.

The Chevy that started the whole Z-designation craze was the 1967 Camaro Z/28, which got its name from the three-letter code for a special performance option package. The Z28 went away after 1974 (when it had the greatest hood decals of all time), then returned in 1977. After the Cavalier Z24 appeared for 1986, it was only a matter of time before other Chevrolets got Z’d. From the 1990 through 1994 model years, Chevrolet shoppers could buy a new Lumina Z34, and the Beretta Z26 was available for the 1994 through 1996 model years (meaning that in 1994, it was possible to buy one apiece brand-new Z24, Z26, Z28 and Z34). Then there were the Chevrolet Z66 and Z71 trucks and other Zxx option packages that didn’t get special emblems, and all of those machines owe a debt to the Cavalier Z24 for showing that you didn’t have to be a Camaro to get on the Z bandwagon.

At this point, it’s time to enjoy some of the television ads for the glory days of the Cavalier Z24. The quick little fox … raised by wolves.

The second-generation Cavalier Z24 got smoother lines and screaming late-80s guitars. We should all be thankful that the bandanna-around-the-wrist fashion shown here never took off.

If it doesn’t burn, it’s not hot! Nobody’s winning like the Heartbeat of America.

A hot look on the street! A brand new beat!

By the 1990s, though, Z24 advertising began to fade from view as the Cavalier itself became just another cheap compact. The best model year for Cavalier sales had been 1984, when more than 450,000 rolled out of American showrooms; sales dropped below 300,000 per year for the first time in 1992 and never returned to that level.

All Z24s through the 2000 model year had two doors (there were coupes, hatchbacks and convertibles along the way), and all of them looked reasonably sporty. For the 2001 and 2002 model years, though, a Z24 sedan appeared. It looked invisible.

Every Z24 had a reasonably powerful engine for its time, though; first there were 2.8-liter and 3.1-liter 60° V6s, and then 2.2-liter Oldsmobile Quad 4 engines went into the 1994-2002 Z24s (yes, I know, the Z24 versions weren’t badged as Quad 4s, but they come from the Quad 4 family and that’s what I’m calling them).

This one is the 2.4 Twin Cam, rated at 150 horsepower. The 2002 Cavalier and its Pontiac Sunfire twin were the final GM cars to get factory Quad 4 power. After that, the Ecotec took over.

A five-speed manual transmission was standard equipment in all trim levels of the 2002 Cavalier, but I’ve never seen three pedals in a 21st-century J-Body. This car has the optional four-speed automatic transmission, which cost 780 bucks (about $1,311 in 2022 money).

List price for the 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 sedan was $16,580 ($27,872 now), making it the most expensive Cavalier that year. The two-door Z24 cost 100 fewer dollars.

After 2005, the Cavalier was gone. That was nearly a quarter-century for the J platform, which is impressive.

Cash back and a CD player at no extra cost!

By this time, Cavalier advertising focused nearly entirely on price, discounts, and rebates.


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