aside postWhen small really meant small

1987 Chevrolet Sprint brochure banner

What began in the Japanese market, in 1983, as the Suzuki SA310 ultimately spread to all but one continent, under half a dozen additional names. Shortly after its introduction the Japanese version was renamed Cultus but in the U.S. Suzuki called it Forsa. While most people would have no idea what a Suzuki Forsa is, most anyone that from the era would recognize the Chevrolet Sprint.

I remember just how diminutive it seemed at the time. For example, the length and width of a five-door Sprint is within a few inches of the Spark, currently Chevy’s smallest offering; however, in height, a Sprint stands almost eight inches shorter than the Spark and, at roughly 1,600 pounds, weighed nearly half a ton less.

1987 Chevrolet Sprint brochure - 1

This year, Chevrolet issued large-format brochures measuring 12 inches tall by 11 inches wide. This Sprint version has 16 pages counting the covers.

Then again, the Sprint didn’t have anti-lock brakes or passenger airbags — actually, it didn’t have any air bags. Indeed, its noteworthy safety equipment list includes an energy absorbing steering wheel, lap/shoulder belts for all passengers and a dual-action hood latch system. Lacking that sort of equipment and its related weight added up to an EPA-estimated 44 city and 49 highway mpg, compared to Spark’s 31 and 39, respectively. In fairness, the EPA updated its testing methods in 2008 with tougher procedures to better reflect real-world conditions. Even so, estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy for the 1988 Sprint (5-speed), using the modern procedures, still equate to 36/43 (city/highway). Moreover, real-world accounts indicate 50 mpg is not unheard of.

1987 Chevrolet Sprint brochure - 2-3

Pages 2-3 are the Table of Contents. Apart from the three models shown, a fourth, the ER Hatchback Coupe, was available.

1987 Chevrolet Sprint brochure - 4-5

Pages 4 and 5 describe the Sprint 2-Door Coupe and Sprint ER models, the latter having reported an EPA-estimated 54/58 mpg city/highway, respectively.

Direct contributors to its petiteness were 12-inch wheels, an 8.7-gallon gas tank, and a 61-cubic-inch (1.0-liter), three-cylinder engine that produced a staggeringly-unfit 48 horsepower. Yes, 48 and torque wasn’t much better, at 57 pound-feet.

1987 Chevrolet Sprint brochure - 6-7

Pages 6 and 7 describe the Sprint’s interiors. The abundant standards include door-to-door carpeting, an illuminated lighter and a pocket in the driver-s side visor.

Even though this added up to a roughly 15-second dawdle to 60 mph (hardly a “sprint”), there is something endearing about the car. Maybe its because it looks like it can be put in your pocket, rather than parking it in a lot. Maybe because a driver can feel more intimate with the road in a smaller car, especially one that’s always operating at its limits. Maybe because it looks loveable without being cute.

1987 Chevrolet Sprint brochure - 8-9

Pages 8 and 9 show the many virtues of the slightly unnatural-looking Sprint 4-Door Sedan. With the rear seat down, the Sprint had 20.2 cubic feet for luggage. By comparison, the 2015 Spark, marginally wider and longer but much taller, offers 31.2.

For those who felt the Sprint was a tad under-masculine, there was the Turbo Sprint. Yes, it seems almost oxymoronic but, to be honest, its 45 percent increase in horsepower really was a big deal.

1987 Chevrolet Sprint brochure - 10-11

Pages 10 and 11 are dedicated to Turbo Sprint. Still three cylinders churning but boosted to substantially higher levels of power — while maintaining wild efficiency.

The results were still a paltry 70 horsepower and 79 pound-feet of torque but the acceleration time improvements were commensurate with the power increase. In 1987, a Turbo Sprint was tested by Car & Driver and it actually did sprint all the way to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds (the brochure shows 9.4) and through the quarter mile in 16.7 seconds, at 79 mph. Not bad. This exceptional option for the otherwise forgettable commuter was only available for the 1987 and 1988 model years.

1987 Chevrolet Sprint brochure - 12-13

Pages 12 and 13 detail Sprint’s two power trains and associated specifications. Regular Sprints were carbureted while the Turbo Sprint was fitted with MFI (multi-port fuel injection).

1987 Chevrolet Sprint brochure - 14-15

Pages 14 and 15 list Sprint’s many — but basic — features and options. I must say I am a little surprised by the standard manual transmission was a 5-speed.

1987 Chevrolet Sprint brochure - 16

The rear cover of the brochure shows a very typical Sprint 4-Door Hatchback.

The Sprint may have been a bottom-of-the-rung car but it served to alter the perception Chevrolet and prepared the way for Geo which came out about a year after this brochure was issued.