Planning for the 1980 GM X-Body cars began in the Chevrolet advance design studios in April, 1974. Five principal objectives were outlined: the car would have to be fuel-efficient, roomy, comfortable, safe, and durable.
Four months later, in August, 1974, a group met to consider the proposals advanced. From the beginning, it was decided that a front wheel drive, transverse-engined car would be the most efficient design possible, and could most easily meet the objectives established. Work began on prototypes, mostly re-worked versions of front-drive Volkswagens and Fiats. Soon it was decided to make the X-Body car a corporate undertaking. Pontiac joined the project in the latter half of 1975, and Buick and Oldsmobile divisions began work in February, 1976. By this time, the Chevrolet pre-prototype Citations were nearly completed (each at a cost of over $650,000) and ready for evaluation. Styling was finalized in July, 1976, four phases of prototypes were built between February, 1977, and January, 1978, and 141 pilotline cars were built between February and July, 1978.
The X-Body car was originally scheduled to make its debut at the start of the 1979 model year, but this introduction was postponed to iron out final wrinkles (mostly problems with supply of never before produced components). The April, 1979, introduction of the car as a certified 1980 model also meant that it could be produced for seventeen months before having to undergo emissions recertification with the Environmental Protection Agency, a costly and time-consuming process. Finally, of course, the 1980 designation was a symbolic one-as the "first GM car for the '80s," the new X-Body models demonstrated the efficient and thoughtful direction for the corporation over the next difficult decade.
The result of all this work is a car which is almost 800 pounds lighter than the car it replaces, but has more interior space and luggage room, and better fuel economy, performance, and handling.
Most of these improvements can be credited to the use of the transverse-engine, front wheel drive configuration. By packaging the entire drive train in the front "box" of the car, the rest is left for people and their possessions, an eminently sensible arrangement, although one which had been the exclusive province of European and Japanese carmakers until the introduction of the X-car.
The do-it-yourselfer should be pleased to discover that designing a completely new car gave GM engineers an opportunity to either reduce or eliminate most servicing headaches. For example, the X-Bodies have a self-adjusting clutch, a "maintenance-free" battery, and sealed and lubricated for life front and rear wheel bearings which require no periodic adjustment. There are many other aids to scheduled maintenance which make working on these cars a much more enjoyable and less time-consuming task than it has been in the past.
The X-Bodies are the first of a new range of GM front-drive cars. They will be followed by larger and smaller versions, each to suit specific needs and whims. But the X-Bodies are truly the first G.M. cars of the '80s, and, as the owner of one of these cars, you are helping to create a little bit of history yourself.