Every now and then, there are changes in the automotive world that herald a complete shift in paradigm. The introduction of automatic transmissions is one such event; others include the development of air conditioning, unleaded gas and radial tires. For the US, the downsizing of its admittedly large vehicles from their early 1970’s gigantismto the smaller units of the decade’s end was only the beginning. North America needed more than just smaller big cars; the Big Three needed clean-sheet-of-paper designs for its cars of the future.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, this meant front wheel drive with transverse engines and transmissions, and the vehicles that were meant to house these powertrains were a new breed unto themselves. The early Omnis were one of the first of this new breed out of the gate; it would be a couple of years until GM caught up. However, when they did, they unleashed a nameplate that would endure for a very long time (at least two decades): Cavalier.
New for 1982, the Cavalier represented a full line of cars. Sedan, station wagon and hatchback were all available, and there were several trim levels. It may seem ridiculous now, but back in the day, GM made a huge deal about the Cavalier, Chevy’s J-Car, and pushed it as a front-wheel drive car for the masses, almost like a second coming of the Tin Lizzy itself.
MPC was always, it seems, on the leading edge of getting models of CURRENT cars onto the shelves. (Where did that practice go?) They were there with the Omni and EXP kits as those cars were hitting the street, and they weren’t going to be left behind by the Cavalier. Unsurprisingly, they issued a kit of the “sporty” Cavalier hatchback in 1982; now you could by both the real thing and a kit of it at the same time, although who wanted either remains, today, something of a mystery.
MPC really hyped up the Cavalier kit. Mine came wrapped in a plastic ribbon proclaiming it to be: “82’s: The New Look of Detroit!” Really, that’s like saying “Herpes: The new look of promiscuity!” or “E-Coli: The new look of undercooked ground beef!”. Seriously, though, both GM and MPC were convinced that this WAS the way it was going to be, and damn it all, they were going to make it exciting. Well, they were right: it was the way it was going to be, but it would take more than a few model kits, and even more years, before the fun factor was realized.
That having been said, the Cavalier is typical of an MPC 1980s kit. It is exceptionally well detailed in the interior and exterior. It has excellent seat and carpet detail in the interior and the dash is spot on to what you see in the sales literature. The kit is actually so detailed that you can almost determine if it is the base or up-scale model of the car. In reality, it’s a bit of both; there are no badges to indicate the high-level trim, but the wheel wells in the trunk are carpeted, which is a feature of the high-level machine. I chose to do it as the base model, though. It just seemed to be a better monument to a car so geared to the masses.
Of course, no car is complete without an engine, and the detail here is pretty good too. Of course, you can’t help but be awed by the mighty 1.8L mill, which doled out a massive 88 hp and 100 lb.ft of torque. As always, MPC’s engines dominate those of the competitors. Everything is separate; oil pan, starter, alternator, distributor… you name it. It’s so much nicer than other kits (<cough> Monogram/Revell/AMT <cough>) that just mould most of that stuff in. It lets you easily paint everything and just have your engine pop together at the end. Good on you, MPC!
Thankfully, the boys at Chevy got you the most bang for your buck with an aerodynamic front fascia unique to the sporty hatchback. I’m sure the Endura-like prow improved performance immensely… well, it helped the looks of this a bit, at least.
There’s a lot of flash on this kit, even though it is the first issue, and everything has a seam on it. If that sounds like something I’ve already said, then it is, because the EXP was the same way! It’s the way with most American car kits, though, so you can’t knock the Cavalier for that. The kit is moulded in a somewhat cheap and brittle looking orange-red plastic, with the expected chrome components for the engine.
The glass was, as always, just thrown in the box, but it had survived its journey through time from 1982 to me. The intervening 3 decades of disinterest hadn’t damaged it at all, so I didn’t have to buff or sand it like I did on my Omni.
If a “normal” Cavalier isn’t cool enough for you, then there is always the custom option to consider. There are massive fender flares, a big chin spoiler and cool custom wheels, not to mention a spoiler and louvers (goooooo 80s!). Oh yeah, there’s performance options in the box too, like the MPC trademark turbo and side pipes. Yes, side pipes. Who the heck puts side pipes on a 4-banger? YOU could, if you had the stones… I WOULD, if I had a spare Cavalier. It’s that awesome. Strangely, the custom actually makes the normal Cavalier not look too bad.
Painting and Finishing:
There were a lot of colours for Cavaliers, but the one I remember the most is a weird, ugly, faded yellow colour. It is a lot like what would happen if you left a white G.I. Joe guy outside in the sun, or near an ashtray, for a few months. I actually wasn’t sure that it was even a legit colour, but it was: “Light Yellow”.
Crazily enough, I was actually able to find a “For Sale” posting online for an ’82 hatchback Cavalier, base model, with the light yellow paint and beige interior. It was roasted, but I couldn’t help but want to bring it back. The closest I could get, though, was to pay this long-neglected grocery getter deserved homage with my MPC.
I painted the interior with Model Master Acrylic Dark Tan. It was a bit darker than the one in the ad, but I was trying to correct for sun damage. I accented the carpet and the seats with brown pastel. It actually was a bit dark, and made the seats and carpet look a bit dirty. However, I really don’t think that’s a bad thing; this is a Cavalier, after all!
I mixed up a custom MMA Light Yellow using Flat White, some kind of train yellow and Dark Tan. I applied it with my airbrush over Colourplace White Primer and it covered very well. I Futured the heck out of it and when it was dry I sanded it down to 12,000 grit. I then used some automotive scratch remover. At this point, I painted the “sporty” Euro black trim with Satin Black paint, and voila, it was mostly done. I waxed it all with Ice Paste Wax, and used Bare Metal foil for the tail lights, marker lights and headlights. I painted over the foil with clear red or orange as needed; the backup lights being white and headlights a light grey.
The only major hitch to this kit were the wheels. The wheels themselves were very accurately represented, and once painted with aluminum and then black washed with Citadel Baddab Black, looked remarkably like the real things. The problem was that they STUCK OUT FOR MILES. The designers made the wheel standoffs the right size for the custom car, NOT the stock one!
Thus, when I put the tires on, I found they were ridiculously far from the fenders. I did my best to chop them down to fit as close to the wheel wells as possible, but there was only so much I could do. I still think the tires are way too far out from the ends of the body (as do judges – this car has lost first place thanks to this defect), but there was nothing more I could do.
I built the Cavalier back in 1986, when I got it as a birthday present from a friend. Well, okay, my dad and uncle built it and I helped. It was really cool at the time, although it didn’t fit well and I made it kind of a gluey mess. I still loved it, because our neighbours had a J-2000 (the Pontiac version), and having a model of a “real” car you could see every day really appealed to me.
Thus, getting the chance to build this kit again was a real trip down memory lane, as well as being a welcome chance to right past modelling transgressions. My brother went out of his way to secure this kit for me, and it will always have sentimental value just for that reason alone. I found this kit a bit difficult to complete, but it was worth it. The wheels are an aggravating, and by no means trivial, stumbling block on what is an otherwise nice kit.
I would say this kit is better left to more experienced hands. Getting the engine to fit in to engine bay properly can be a bit of a pain, and the windows are a bit difficult too. However, on the whole, the kit fits fairly well.
Like so many other ‘80s cars, the Cavalier is something only a handful of people will actively search out. On the other hand, it’s also quite rare, because it wasn’t issued for long. I love mine and recommend it to any skilled builder with a passion for the unusually pedestrian!