This past weekend I went to a local car show and saw a weird 80s car that an ex-girlfriend of mine owned. It was a 1987 Chevrolet turbo Sprint. This was her first new car and was one of only two years that you could buy an intercooled three cylinder engine in the 1600 pound car.
In 1987 intercooled turbochargers were brand-new to the car market and General Motors was installing them on the legendary Buick Grand National. Although regular turbochargers had been around and available on older GM cars the intercooled version was new automotive technology to us. It allowed for higher boost pressures and overall better performance due to intercooling.
When she let me drive the car I realized that this roller skate was something special. I wasn’t sure how special until a guy at work said my girlfriend’s car is faster than your girlfriend’s car. To a mechanic in the auto repair business this is a glove slap to the face. So I said oh yeah, how would you like to put your money where your mouth is. He said I’ll meet you at Atco Raceway for the Friday night Street night event and we’ll see whose girlfriend has the faster ride.
Weird 80s car drag races
We met at the track on the next Friday night. It was the weird 80s car drag race of the century (to us anyway). It was my girlfriends stock 1987 Chevrolet turbo Sprint against his girlfriends 83 Toyota Celica that was heavily modified (Weber down drafts and headers). I remember putting on my helmet and getting in the little red turbo Sprint. My head seemed giant with the helmet on and it filled the cabin. Luckily I’m short and my helmet just cleared the headliner.
We pushed the cars up to the line because they ran faster cooled down and skipped the traditional burnout. The front-wheel-drive turbo Sprint had tremendous torque steer and burnouts were not as much fun as you would think. We lined up and the lights fell. I had a good reaction time. My girlfriend’s turbo Sprint whooped his girlfriends Toyota Celica by 2 car lengths.
The three cylinder turbo pulled us down the track with a quarter-mile time of 16.50 at 87 mph. To me this was amazing and as fast as my seventies Dodge muscle car. At the time I had a 74 Dodge charger with a 360 police interceptor that I installed and pulled from a wrecked police car at a local junkyard. The charger (lead sled) never did better than a 16.50 quarter-mile (sad but true).
About the intercooled three cylinder engine
In 1987 I was a dealership mechanic working at a Pontiac dealer. We had some interesting vehicles like the 87 Pontiac Lemans and where recovering from the launch of the Pontiac fiero we did not have anything with a three cylinder intercooled turbo. We did have the turbo sunbird that was an intercooled 1.8 L engine with an aluminum cylinder head. The turbo sunbird was pretty quick and the mechanics nicknamed it the screaming chicken.
When I popped the hood on my girlfriends 1987 turbo Sprint the automobile technology made me laugh because is was all miniature. The motor was so tiny and had a very short valve cover held down with only 4 10mm screws. The air scoop that proudly displayed the word “intercooler” had a fully functional fresh air inlet at the front of the hood. This allowed it to pull in cooler outside air. We didn’t care about fuel economy at the time but this car got around 35 miles per gallon.
I was a strong believer that all engines should have an even number of cylinders so that they can have opposing cylinders (smooth operation). The three cylinder engine did run rough but they were able to compensate for this rough running engine by using a counter balance shaft and extra thick engine mounts to isolate it from the rest of the car.
When you grabbed the steering wheel the engine didn’t feel any rougher than any other car of its time. But if you popped the hood with the engine running you could see it jumping around. Although this may not have been the strangest car of the 80s I believe that the turbo Sprint was at least in the top five of weird 80s cars that were available during the Madonna decade.
What was your favorite weird 80s car? Leave a comment below and please include some details about it. For more of the most recent posts this next link will take you back to the homepage for the auto repair information blog.