A Cavalier Effort

This ain't your normal Cavalier with zebra-faded plastic bumpers.

2y ago

For us Americans, the name Cavalier evokes thoughts of a jellybean shaped hunk of "quality" 90's GM engineering, a car that is almost immediately brings thoughts of general sloppy automotive design. But what if I told you that on the other side of the world, the Cavalier was going wheel-to-wheel with some of Japan's best GT racers? This story starts with GM and Toyota's trade deal in the 90's.

"Driving Pleasure" and "Cavalier" aren't usually seen in the same place

"Driving Pleasure" and "Cavalier" aren't usually seen in the same place

While GM was selling Geo-badged Toyota's in the 90's, they also allowed Toyota to rebadge some of their model and sell them in Japan in return. One such model was the Cavalier, sold as a Toyota in Japan from 1995 to 2000. Because of the difference in what's considered a compact car in Japan, Cavalier's where usually marketed as slightly more upper class than their American counterparts, usually loaded with a great deal of standard features and even getting a TRD designed body kit as an option. Everything seemed to be normal here, but something unexpected happened in 1997.

At the 4th round of the All Japan GT Championship at Fuji, a Toyota Cavalier prepared by Kraft (Who may be known to some Gran Turismo players for building the BP-Kraft AE86) showed up as a GT300 class entry. The car featured a 2L naturally aspirated 3S-GE engine taken from the team's MR2 which had been converted to a turbo. This engine sent about 295 HP to the front wheels, making it the only FWD car in the field in 1997. GT300 regs allowed for any engine from the same manufacturer to be used in the cars, and because the car was marketed as a Toyota, this means the car wasn't stuck with engines from GM's arsenal.

The car was piloted by female driver Kumi Sato who was partnered with Minoru Tanaka to 18th on the grid in GT300 and 37th overall, beating 5 other GT300 cars and a IMSA GTO style Camaro entered in GT500. However the 1:42.126 set by the car was a full 7 seconds slower than the GT300 polesitters in an MR2. During the race the car moved up to 16th in class due to misfortunes befalling some of the faster cars, with the car finishing 5 laps down on the eventual class winners in a Porsche 964 Carrera RSR. Sato and Tanaka would finish the the remaining two races of the season, with an amazing 4th in class, albeit 2 laps down on the class winner, at the next round at Mine. The final round at Sugo would see the car finish 16th in class again. The car ended off the year with the All-Star exhibition race at Twin-Ring Motegi, where it failed to finish race one, and finshed 5th in class in race two, 3 laps down on the winning F355.

For 1998 Sato would continue to pilot the Cavalier with multiple other drivers, with her partner for the first round at Suzuka being Masaoki Nagashima. The pair qualified 18th out of 19 GT300 starters, but went out due to a driveshaft failure on lap 19. At round 2 at Fuji an all female pairing making up of Sato and Junko Mihara managed to qualify 16th out of 24 GT300 starters, but the race was cancelled due to a mixture of torrential rain and the infamous fiery crash involving Tetsuya Ota. The remainder of the season would see Sato paired with Akira Watanabe, with the pair's best finish being once again being at Mine, with a 7th place in GT300. The car finished off it's career at the final round at Sugo where it finished 9th in class.

And so that finishes off this car's journey. To us Americans, the thought of a Cavalier being a high level GT racer seems silly, but with JGTC being the series where strange cars used to strive, the Cavalier managed to make itself into a half decent, albeit quirky race car.

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Comments (8)

  • GT300 was -- and somewhat still is -- the ultimate free-for-all battleground for GT racing. All the favourite JDM icons trading paint with world-standard BPR/ACO/SRO cars and even original reimaginings of cars that already have GT3/GT2 versions while the prototype GT500 cars whiz past means that Super GT has some of the best racing in the world.

      8 months ago
  • Great history.

      2 years ago
  • We had cavaliers in the UK too. Completely different car though and absolutely nothing good about them. They did race in British touring cars and did quite well if I recall correctly.

      2 years ago
    • Here in Germany they were called Vectras. We had several of them in the family. There wasn't anything bad about them besides the image. Maybe because ours were built in Germany and not Britain?

        2 years ago
    • We adopted the Vectra name here for a while. They weren’t so much badly built, just not very interesting cars. There’s a good chance German built ones were better quality. Our car industry wasn’t exactly known for quality except for the...

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        2 years ago