Welcome back to Forgotten Sporty Cars at The Garage! In this space we recall an era where small, economy car-based vehicles were sold with zippy styling. Whether there was any substance to the sizzle we’ll leave for you to judge.
1987-1988 Chevy Sprint Turbo
By the mid-1980’s, the aging and unloved Chevy Chevette was nearing its end. Needing a car smaller than the J-Body Cavalier, GM looked to the Suzuki Cultus to fill the void, and started selling the Cultus as the Chevy Sprint in North America in 1985. As a utilitarian plain-janeÃ‚Â fuel miser, there was little to note about the Sprint until 1987 when the Turbo model came along. The fuel injected, turbocharged and intercooled one liter three cylinder engine belted out 70hp, a 22hp increase over the standard Sprint. Car and Driver tested a 0-60mph time of 8.7 seconds, with a top speed of 104mph. Not bad for its time, and the 37/43mpg city/highway fuel economy is nearly as good as a new Honda Insight hybrid. Front and rear stabilizer bars beefed up the handling, but C/D complained about an abundance of torque steer.
Riding on hysterically tiny 12″ steel wheels, I’ve read the Sprint can transport four adults with plenty of room. To give an idea of how small the Sprint Turbo is, take a modern Mini Cooper, and slice off an inch. But when you put the two cars on a scale, the difference is shocking. The 21 year old Sprint Turbo weighs 1,751lbs LESS than a base 2010 Mini Cooper. That’s right-a Sprint Turbo has a curb weight of 1,633lbs, a number even Colin Chapman would be impressed with.
Cheap to begin with, and often driven into the ground, Sprint Turbos, especially in original condition are not easy to come by. There is a cult following of these cars, and restored examples are now starting to appear, with good examples now selling between $5-6,000USD. A bit tinny and short on refinement, the Sprint Turbo does represent an interesting alternative to A Mk1 or MkII GTI.
*Canadian readers may be asking why I stopped at 1988. In 1989, the US got the new Geo Metro, a car with no performance or sportiness to speak of, while the same car carried on as the Chevy Sprint, which was available with a turbo until 1990.
Editor’s note: Thanks to reader Tom Hoo for pointing out a rather large error in this story, albeit a whopping 7 years after the story was published. A 2010 MINI weighed in at closer to 2,600 lbs, not the 3,384 that the above numbers add up to. In Tom’s defence however, the Sprint was still close to a 1,000 lbs lighter than the portly Bavarian.