I have a weak spot for old, problematic and cheap FWD GM cars that turn into money pits. This ‘97 Cavalier was bought on a whim without even a test drive.

I saw it for $500, it had the 5 spd Isuzu trans option paired with the super simple 2.2 ohv LN2 motor. The seller was the 2nd owner and parked it after it developed a coolant leak. Now he says it was sitting a “few months” but I think it was more like years seeing how the last oil change this thing had was in 2015.

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It being the Midwest, rocker rust was rampant on it with it just barely reaching the structural level on the inner panels. That repair is already going to cost more than the car itself, but that’s okay. Everything else looked solid; someone had the foresight to give it a good undercoating spray on it which is all the black you see in the photo just to preserve some steel. Now I was on my way to work and time was a luxury, I didn’t want this diamond in the rough to slip away. I bought it and kinda just hoped for the best. Next day I picked her up, she fired up without skipping a beat and I drove her home.

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One thing I like about Cavalier’s of this vintage is that they have such airy cabins with great 360 greenhouse visibility.

Fun fact, they actually sold these J-bodies in Japan as Toyota’s with the more sophisticated 2.4 DOHC LD9 as standard equipment.

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I don’t know anything about the condition of this car, so I like to see what I’m working with. I hit up all the usual suspects like changing the air filer. Then taking care of that coolant leak which involves a new radiator and water pump.

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New brake pads and rotors since the old ones were toast:

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The car handled liked rubbish and to my surprise, it didn’t even have a swaybar bracket to tie down the bar on the F. driver’s side. I have soo many questions:

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$3 later and a 20 minute stay at my local junkyard got me the parts I needed to make quick work of that. I ripped apart the head and took a peek at the timing chain to see if all was in good knick.

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I cleaned her up, put on a new head gasket, new spark plugs, new wires, and a new fuel pressure regulator before buttoning her up.

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The Savvy Cavvy got a new fuel pump and filter for the hell of it:

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Now it threw a blinking multiple misfire code which is never a good thing.

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It had a rough idle and would get bogged down at WOT and actually stalled out once. My suspicions lied with the ignition coils. One of them had a ginormous crack in the housing that I am 99% sure isn’t OEM design. It did good for 21 years of service.

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Money’s tight with the holidays so I buy cheapo grade coils this go. Desperate times call for desperate measures I guess.

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I have plans to prep this for SCCA Rallycross and winter ice trials racing at a local car club so more fun stuff to come with this fun project.