Street Parked: Citation X11

Citation hindquarters
Chevrolet’s Citation X11 is an example of the worst of American car making. For this series I typically write about cars that I find desirable. However when Alan Dahl sent me this set of pictures, I knew I needed to feature this car.

CItation X11
The Citation is a car I wouldn’t want to own, even as a LeMons racer. Okay, maybe I could find a way to enjoy it as a LeMons car, but only if I re-powered it with something fun, like a London taxi’s diesel. The Citation was developed towards the end of the dark days of the 1970s and embodies what was wrong with the American car industry at the time. Group think driven “good enough” engineering and low-bid parts supply contracts riddle this car with mediocrity. Still, it has its charm. I’ll let Alan take it from here. Here is his take on the Citation X11:

Today’s subject is this wonderful vintage 1981 Chevrolet Citation X-11. Like last episode’s Pontiac Astre the X11 also hails from Federal Way which I am beginning to think is the West Virginia of the Seattle area, at least when it comes to cars. Also like the Astre the Citation wears its original shade of paint, this time in babyshi… umm, metallic brown which has settled into a nice patina. The X-11 is owned by one of the workers at my local Safeway. He usually works nights so good photos of this car have eluded me but thankfully I caught the car during a rare day shift so I can share it with you. I don’t know much more about the owner or his car except to say that it has to be his daily, or rather nightly, driver as I see it parked in the Safeway parking lot all the time. It appears to me mostly straight however though the nicer paint on the passenger door makes me suspicious that it may have suffered a collision in its younger years.
Citation Profile
As you can see the X-11 model came equipped with the “high output” V-6. This engine made a whopping 135 hp, 25 more than the standard 110 micro-ponies the 2.8L V-6 made in lesser Citations. While 110 hp or even 135 hp seems ridiculously little horsepower for a 2.8L engine these days the X-11 actually had a racing pedigree with Bob McConnell, winning the SCCA SSB National Championship in 1982 and 1984 in his 1981 X-11. But considering that a Renault Fuego won the 1983 championship perhaps that’s not saying much about the quality of the competition at the time…
High output V6
The Citation was a huge hit its first year, selling over 800,000 units but that quickly dropped to 400,000 in 1981 despite the addition of the X-11 model which added 11,600 units to the total. Sales dropped off even more quickly after that as reliability problems quickly surfaced.The Citation breathed its last breath in 1985 before GM mercifully put it to sleep but the A-body chassis survived as the heart of several subsequent GM vehicles, most notably the vanilla Chevrolet Celebrity. It’s not impossible to sight a Citation or its brethren these days but they are getting rarer and rarer as they never were cars that owners cared about all that much which makes this X-11 even more of a rare bird than many lower-production but more well-cared-for vehicles of the 1980’s.
Citation hindquarters

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15 thoughts on “Street Parked: Citation X11

  1. Wow, picture of this X-11 brought back many good memories. I bought a brand new ’84 X-11 hatchback that looked identical to this one from a Chevy dealer for under $10K back then. As many have said, you had to own one or drive one to appreciate them. The X-11 was not your regular Citation. It looked different than anything out there back then. It handled quite well for its size and height. The car came stock with some pretty wide Eagle GT tires. If you blow up the side shot of the car and look at the back wheel, the stock alloy wheel had “Citation” milled on the rim (8 o’clock position). These special “Citation” alloy wheels were only available on X-11’s. I had the 2.8 HO engine and 4 speed transmission. It was a real hoot to drive. I don’t think I ever got it to go 130 mph, but I remember doing 105 on the interstates. The tuned exhaust had a very pleasing sound- not harsh or loud, just cool. One of the great things was this was a very functional, and practical car as well. I could carry 4 other people plus junk under the hatch if I needed to. The back seats could fold down and you could make a run to the home improvement store. Unfortunately, it got in a wreck and was totaled… Thanks for the memories…

  2. It isn’t as much HOW MUCH power you are making, but the way you make it, as well as the power to weight ratio. The HO 2.8 was rated at 135hp and 165ft-lbs of torque. In 1981 THE SCCA Racing “Z” motor was applied to the showroom stock X11.X11 is the SSB/SCCA racecar. GM copied the racing X11 down to the finest detail, added the extras and released it as the 1981 Citation X11.

    The new engine was not available in the other X-Body cars until 1982. The engine went on to be the basis for the L44 (P) engine in the Fiero, the LB6 in the 1985 X-11 and Celebrity Eurosport, the LB8 in the Camaro.

    Although the X-11 lasted only 6 years, it remains the unique muscle car that ushered in the front wheel drive era of power.

    Z Engine (RPO LH7)

    The Z engine had several differences from its little brother, the X engine:

    8.9:1 Compression Pistons (vs 8.5:1)

    1.72″ Intake and 1.42″ Exhaust valves (vs 1.60″/1.30″)

    .390″in./.410″ex. high lift camshaft (vs .350″/.390″)

    Heavy duty oil pump

    Dual intake-high volume air cleaner

    Y-style exhaust system with 2-1/2″ pipes (dropped in 1982 for the wrap-around system, but the 2-1/2″ in exhaust pipes remained.)

    In fact, due to the high lift of the cam, GM installed a supplemental vacuum pump to run accessories.

    So while it might be fun to rag on these cars a little, but they were really bad ass back in the day. John Moss stated he regularly ran his X11 at 6800rpm with no problems (after the high volume oil pump was added).

    Credit to a little know but very well written article that can be found here:

    Typical 70’s -80’s GM……they has some really good ideas that were killed with shotty R&D and sub par production standards.

    • Wow! Thanks for this information. I had no idea the X-11 was this different a package compared to the normal Citation.

      I now really want to check out an ’81 X-11 notchback. That would be a cool car to drive.

      While Alan and I have both been in racing for 20+ years, I don’t think either of us has experience with the Showroom Stock X-11s. I ran with a couple Improved Touring Citations, but they were bargain starter cars for new racers.

      That linked article has some great tech info that I’m going to remember should I ever build an X-body LeMons car.

      Thanks for the replies. Soory we denigrated the X-11 unfairly.

  3. So I am wondering if the Author of this article actually ever drove a X11…….especially the 81 variant. As a little education, the 81 X11 ran a 2.8 V6 that had little to do with the base grocery getter. Larger valve heads, different deck height and compression ration, higher lift cam, 2 stage 2bbl carb. The 4 speed cars had the tried and true Saginaw 4 transmission. With everything in working condition the secondaries would open somewhere in the 3700rpm range and this car would pull STRONG to the redline which I believe was around 6500rpm. All of this in a 2700lb car which was about 200lbs hevier than a Nissan Sentra of the time. Seat of the pants feel in the V6 was fantastic. People like to quote 0-60 times for this car at 8.5, but one has to remember; Magazines back in those days tested these car (without traction control) and stipulated the 0-60 runs were done in a manner “so as to not induce wheelspin” as well they would not surpass redline. All in all I think this car was just as fast 0-60 as mu 91 Sentra SE-R with the infinity G engine in it. 1981 was the pinnacle year for performance in the X11…..soon after GM started bogging the V6 down with stronger polution controls, and I believe it ended up running the same MPFI 2.8 wheezer that could be found in the Z24. The X11 was junk…..I spent many a day replacing motor mounts and several other issues……but the thing ran like a stripped ape! There can be no true argument here…..just misinformation.

    • I had 3 x11’s I kick myself in the ass for not keeping 1 they could definitely pull some G-force last one had higher lift cam and small holley the guy who wrote the article never drove anything more than a prius

  4. This person forms his first sentence after reading the X-11 won SCCA B. It is possible he didn't actually learn that from his friend but just copied him. At the least, I debate any models finishing behind those multiple X-11's were worse, and at the most,

    This person forms his first sentence after reading the X-11 won SCCA B. It is possible he didn’t actually learn that from his friend but just copied him.
    These two know little other than copy, paste.
    What were these two racing in 1981 through 1985?

    At the least, I debate any models finishing behind those multiple X-11’s were worse, and at the most, all non-competitors with production issues.
    To its credit, the Fuego was on the track, right?
    McConnell, John Heinricy, etc “good enough”?

    The internet placates ignorance.

  5. I, too, owned a white X-11. Was a great vehicle to drive. I raced the Nagoya circuit a little in the early 60’s, did some mountain testing for Isuzu Motors, and drove my Corvette at Continental Divide Raceways in Colorado in the late 60’s. The X-11 came later when family dictated a vehicle that held more than two people. The X-11 put down the 280ZX, Plymouth Dusters, Crossfire injected Cameros, just to name a few. Had a decent top end close to 130 and with the 14 inch Eagle GT radials had all the necessary HP to keep that front wheel drive in place. Cornered like it was on rails and saved me a couple of times when I over drove it into corners Like the man said, you need to compare apples to apples.

  6. I had an ’81 X-11 when I was in college – it was a great car, and I auto-crossed it very successfully (until I fungoed the clutch). It was a fine performer in its day, and would hold its own against contemporaries such as the 280zx and RX7 quite nicely. I once beat a Ferrari 308 QV driven by a who was obviously clueless. My best friend had an ’83. It was a fun car at a fun time.

    • Hey Tim, Yep it was a formidable competitor in autocrossing. I forgot to mention that the lower gear ratio also made a big difference compared to many of its contemporaries.

  7. I owned one then (83) and the X11 performed much better that I would have EVER given it credit for by just looking at it. Yeah, it was a total dog to look at but it handled far better than many of it’s competitors. That being based on my experience racing it. Bone stock that car was more planted and exhibited better handling than many…surprising for sure. The 135HP, while anemic by today’s standards, was a bigger deal back then. The reasons are many but it wasn’t for a lack of quality. Comparing cars of 1982 to 2012 is akin to comparing a 1945 P51 Mustang to a 1975 F14 Tomcat. Both quality planes…30 years apart.

  8. Pingback: Street Parked: The Index Page | ||

  9. I’ll take the fall for that one. I hurriedly copied and pasted your blocks of text after my intro piece.

    Don’t let the grammar (with an ‘a’) guys get you down. This has been a popular post.


    • Thanks for the input! We strive to publish content that is second to none. Even if it is about a forgotten car like the Citation. I welcome any feedback on factual content, because I know I don’t know everything. I especially welcome feedback on punctuation and grammar. Proper punctuation and grammar is the literary equivalent to stringing together consistent fast laps.

      We are all about fast laps and a good literary product here at SG. Thanks again for the input. Please feel free to stick around and continue reading and commenting.

      • Wow, the grammer nazis are everywhere these days :-). I know I’m not the best at grammer or spelling but that’s what editors are for, right? I need to give them something to do!

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