Thursday, February 24, 2011
Rare, limited production COPO Chevrolet ... Citations?
And yet, not everything labeled with that legendary moniker is a quarter-mile terror. COPO actually stands for "Central Office Production Order", and many fleet and ordinary vehicles were built through that system. They were generally ordered as a group, and they usually had some little thing that differed from the dealer order guide.
When you think of limited production COPO Chevrolets, the Citation might not immediately come to mind. But this is a story of a limited production, special order COPO Citation that you probably haven't heard anywhere else.
When the Citation came out in April of 1979 as a 1980 model, it was a huge deal. It was the very first front-wheel-drive Chevrolet, and the first front-wheel-drive compact ever built by General Motors. Some 800,000 Citations were sold in that first model year, giving this revolutionary new car one of the most successful launches in automotive history.
But in spite of what you may read now, the Citation had a lot going for it. They had a surprisingly pleasing "feel", and they utilized interior space like nothing else. Some of the later Citations with the sporty X-11 package and the 2.8-liter V6 were genuinely fun to drive. My mom loved Citations, and we had several of them around in the 1980s, solid cars all.
Unfortunately, toward the end of the car's lifespan, the Citation's reputation had taken a hit. Everything from the recalls to delays in production tested the patience of the average consumer, and regardless of how hard Chevrolet tried to retain these customers, the Citation's popularity was on a downhill spiral.
In 1984, Chevrolet renamed the car "Citation II". And even as most of those initial issues were yesterday's news, the car still looked nearly identical to the very first model. Chevrolet still had factories that needed to keep pumping out product, and dealers were more and more reluctant to keep these cars in stock.
200 Citations were specially ordered through the COPO system specifically for the Midwest region. All were well-equipped four doors with Rally Wheels, and they were all either Medium Blue Metallic or Maroon Metallic. But unlike the cars you could order in your showroom, they were all painted with a silver bottom. That's where that Central Office Production Order came in. The paint equipment in the factory was not set up for this color combination, so this special order had to all be built together to accommodate this request.
Each car was also fitted with a special "Heartland Edition" emblem on the front fender. Several local designers submitted proposals, but the designs were all shot down by GM's design team in Detroit. By the time the deadline for the ride and drive was on the horizon, there still was no approved fender badge. With no more time to spare, dad went ahead and ordered a design. The emblems were then shipped to Omaha, and applied to the cars when they were prepped for delivery--to the chagrin of the GM styling department, no doubt.
The next morning, the dealers were greeted with 100 Heartland Edition Citations, all prepped and arranged by the Zone Service Managers. Such care was taken to the presentation, they even used guide strings to make the rows straight, and the colors were staggered in red, blue, red, blue.
Then, at the scheduled time, a police escort helped all 100 cars leave the Training Center through closed streets while the local news looked on. From there, all the cars broke off and headed to their new homes.
I decided to write this story because 1). I have several pictures from that day that you might find interesting, 2). My dad was responsible for it, which I think is pretty cool (look for him with his bullhorn in the slideshow below), and 3). Folks might learn a little more about what the COPO system is all about. No, it's not all 427 engines and heater deletes, but there are some interesting stories there all the same.