1981 Chevy Citation X11: X-tinct Econobox

1981 Chevy Citation X11

The 1980s posed new challenges for major brands like Chevrolet and Ford. Customers were still feeling the aftershocks of the second energy crisis, and it was clear the domestics needed to have fuel efficient alternatives to the fuel-sippers from Asia. This being America, however, we still wanted performance while extending our time between fill-ups, pushing the big three to find ways to blend performance with fuel economy, a challenge they’ve only recently begun figuring out with continued success. There were bright spots, however, like the Chevy Citation X11 – a car that took an uninspiring econobox and gave it some serious chops. Check out this 1981 edition here on craigslist in Los Angeles for $4,000.

1981 Chevy Citation X11 Engine

Oftentimes, performance cars in the malaise era made do with a flashy graphics package and some custom upholstery. In fact, the first run of the Citation was essentially that, with the same engines carried over from the anemic standard Citation. Fortunately, 1981 saw the introduction of increased performance with a high-output 2.8L V6, packing 135 bhp and 165 pounds of torque. The X-11 hinted at this newfound power with a hood bulge and rear spoiler, along with unique wheels, tires, firmer suspension, upgraded interior and a handful of other features to set it apart. The performance wasn’t too shabby, either – 8.5 seconds to 60 wasn’t anything to sneeze at in an era when even the Camaro fell victim to being detuned.

 1981 Chevy Citation X11 Interior

However, like the Citation lineup as a whole, the cheap underpinnings didn’t do much to keep the car’s hopes alive as consumers grew weary of reliability issues. The X11 grabbed some fame at the hands of an SCCA racer named Bob McConnell, who won national titles in 1982 and 1984 with his 1981 example. No matter the success it had on the course, the X11 gradually slipped downwards in acceleration tests and power numbers, and in its final gasp in 1985, the X11 was fuel-injected and only available with a 3-speed automatic. It also lost 5 horsepower in the process, a disappointing swan song for a car that effectively launched a new segment in American motoring – the affordable performance car, a niche its foreign competitors had dominated with little fear of formidable opposition from the domestic brands.

1981 Chevy Citation X11 Hatch

If you’ve been on the hunt for one of these, this example in California looks like a good place to start. The automatic is a bummer and I’d personally hold out for a manual, but the interior and body appear in to be in very strong condition. The X11 graphics are missing from the body, so hopefully they just wore away with age rather than indicating it’s been repainted. It also has only 72,000 original miles on it, a low figure for a car that didn’t appear good for much more than racking up the miles as a commuter vehicle. I don’t know what maintenance is required for a Citation, but hopefully, the owner will sell this car with at least some records. Although it has cheap roots, does the X11 performance package sway you enough to take a chance on this example? Let us know in the comments below.


  1. Charles Hefner

    You can clearly tell it’s been repainted by the maroon color under the hood!

    • Jeff Lavery

      Good eye, Charles – my daylight savings drowsiness clearly prevented me from seeing that!

  2. Charles Hefner

    As far as I am concerned these cars were mostly junk…..but it’s interesting to see one that has survived in this good of condition!

  3. jim s

    i saw these race in SCCA showroom stock class, and they were fun to watch. but there was a lot to setting them up and you would need to find out what was done, because as they came off the dealers lots these were not that great. if this was the manual it would have sold already and i do not know what it would take to convert this to manual.

  4. rjc

    Interior looks good, not a fan of the body. But as the ad states some chevy guy will love this.

  5. The Walrus

    I’m not a Chevy guy and definitely don’t like it. But in defense of those Chevy guys, the ad also says it’s rare. While I haven’t seen one in years, Wikipedia indicates GM was somehow able to move 11,631 of these in 1981! Rarity is relative, I suppose, but any car where the production number has more than 4 digits, to me, ceases to be truly rare.

  6. X MARK

    A version of the X-11 was provided to my town in Ohio in the early 80’s to be used as local police cars. Supposedly they were monitored closely and seviced by GM and were used to evaluate different parts for wear and durability. If I remember, they were not on the scene for a long time but they were free of cost to the City. Never heard of the results.

  7. mountainman

    i was never a fan of these as I just dont see it as a performance car. Looking at them now however , it has some strange appeal. Can anybody explain why sellers take pics at weird angles as this seller has done? Is that supposed to be cool? I am instantly thrown off whenever I see an ad with pictures taken like this

    • Jeff Lavery

      I had the same thought – seems like someone is trying to be artsy or is hiding the worst angles of the car!

  8. Tirefriar

    I’m trying to find something, anything, appealing here as I do with every car but just not seeing it here. ill fitting panels, absolute lack of styling, nauseating interior colors and ergonomics that look like they were developed in a 3rd grade art class. And it’s an auto to boot…wow, is there anything redeeming about this car?

    • Jeff Lavery

      Tirefriar, I hear you – the Citation was a pretty awful car. But I do like the X11 for the fact that it represents GM waking up (ever so slightly) to the enthusiast market and realizing there was a demand for cars like this. Although I still feel GM has a long ways to go, automakers like Ford and Chrysler have produced cheap, high-performance cars in recent years that can at least compete with their foreign counterparts (Focus/Fiesta ST, Neon SRT/ACR, etc.)

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