Situation: You are nearly broke. You need a car ASAP for basic transportation, and you have around $1500 to spend on a car. Assume for this scenario that you are unable to finance a car, that you'll be paying cash for it. What do you look for?
There are lots of things you can say about the Chevy Cavalier, and most of them aren't positive. They were never the most desirable or competitive cars, but that didn't keep them from selling like hotcakes. However, there is one positive thing about the Cavalier: it's nearly unkillable. There's an old saying that most GM cars will run bad longer than most cars will run period. That's been my experience across the board (except for that POS Pontiac Phoenix I had). But my Celebrity ran for nine years with a broken speedometer, bad motor mounts, a drivers' side door that broke (twice), a front clip held on to the rest of the car with wire hangers, a bad power steering pump, and a cooling system that failed to keep the engine cool. A friend of mine had an '86 Cavalier with similar problems, and its 3-speed automatic didn't have a working 3rd gear. It still ran pretty well for the couple of years she had it.
I'm only aware of one problem thing to watch out for with them; the Cavalier from 1995 to 1999 came with a 5-speed manual transmission made by Isuzu; avoid those as they are, well, shit.
An interesting note, the first generation Cavalier did have a V6 option with the wagon. These are really hard to find anymore, though I did find one for sale near me: http://denver.craigslist.org/cto/4176322347…
If I desperately needed a car that I knew would get me from A to B without too many issues, a cheap Cavalier is probably what I'd look for. How about you?