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History of the Beretta

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Quick history of the Beretta.

The Chevrolet Beretta was first produced in 1986 as a 1987 model, along with its sister car, the Corsica. They emerged onto the scene quietly, not sold to the public but to rental agencies such as Enterprise. They were also sold to government agencies and driven by GM employees. Thousands of these vehicles rolled up and down the streets of down town America without so much as a word from Chevrolet. The purpose in doing this was to allow real-world testing on the Beretta to help with refinement and reliability issues and see how they stack up against competitors. The public quickly became interested in this unique looking, sporty car and when Chevrolet dealers began selling the Beretta on GM’s official launch date, March 12th, 1988. Plenty of these new L-bodes were produced in advance in late 1987 and tagged as 1988 models so that dealers would have plenty in supply for the public. To accomplish this, GM took two factories, the Wilmington, Delaware assembly plant as well as the Linden, New Jersey plant and gutted them. New, state of the art assembly equipment was installed to the tune of $600 million dollars.

The Beretta was way ahead of its time with such advancements as double-sided galvanized steel, and distributor-less ignition, and its body design was refreshing, sporty, and its design allowed for the elimination of front and rear end caps and a limited number of body seams. The headlights and the grille as well as the taillights are integrated into the body, which gave it a clean look and cost less to build ultimately. The door handles are “tapper” style and flush mounted, and the window frames on the doors cover the “A” pillars, adding to the Beretta’s aerodynamic design. The 2.0 liter four cylinder engine offered excellent fuel economy while the torquey 2.8-liter V6 provided smooth acceleration and performance in all driving conditions. The Beretta looks sporty with its “aggressive, shark-like appearance,” clean and simple underhood appearance and its staggering number of standard options and comfort/convenience features.

More interest in the new-to-the-scene Chevy Beretta arose in 1988 when race car driver Tommy Kendall raced a Chevrolet sponsored Beretta GTU in the IMSA GTU racing series. Cars & Concepts of Brighton, Michigan, an aftermarket conversion company to GM, were one of the sponsors behind this vehicle and Kendall won three championship events in 1988 alone. In honor of this, Chevrolet produced a Beretta GTU street version, which was a GT that was modified with 16×7 aluminum wheels, custom ground effects and spoiler, and specific GTU trim and decals. The modifications were performed by Cars & Concepts and were available in 1988 and 89 at Chevrolet dealers.

For the Beretta, 1990 was a busy and exciting year. Along with the release of an all new GTZ performance coupe with a high output Quad 4 and FE7 sport suspension, the Beretta was also chosen to be the official pace car for the 1990 Indy 500. Chevrolet began making big plans for the event. The pace car would be a modified version of an all new prototype planned for 1990 production, the Beretta convertible. Pictures of these convertibles had already graced the pages of countless auto enthusiast magazines and prototype cars appeared at car shows. Once again with the help of Cars & Concepts, GM began preparing five convertibles to be official pace cars for the Indy 500. They were painted a bright PPG yellow and had GTU style ground effects and 16″ wheels with yellow accents. The big surprise, however, was under the hood as Chevy had created a custom 3.4 liter pushrod V6 using a 3.1 block. Modifications were made to every aspect of this engine including a custom intake from a Corvette L98 engine. A select few from the press and various auto magazines were allowed to test these vehicles at the track and were blown away by its performance.

May 27, 1990 rolled around and the Indy 500 crowd saw the bright yellow Beretta convertible drive onto the track. All five yellow Berettas were used in various functions including the parade, as well as – green hardtop coupes, which were driven by officials and press. Reportedly, two of the five yellow convertibles had the production 3.1 liter V6, as did the green coupes, while the three other pace cars were powered by the potent 3.4 V6. Prior to this event, Chevy produced 7500 limited edition Beretta INDY pace car replicas to be sold at Chevy dealerships to commemorate the big event. 6000 of these Berettas were painted green and 1500 were yellow, and had unique interior trim and badging. Of course, none of these were convertibles. Arie Luyendyk won the 1990 Indy 500 and received one of the pace car replicas as well.

The excitement over the Beretta died down, however, in September 1990 when Chevrolet announced that it was canceling the Beretta convertible project. Three years of development and a $20 million dollar investment became history quickly. Chevrolet insiders blamed themselves for not stamping new doors for the convertible project in an attempt to save money as well as the conversion company, Masco/Cars & Concepts for their part in what ended up being a disaster and a colossal waste of time and money. The Beretta convertible failed rear impact tests miserably, and according to GM, suffered from serious body flex with its roof removed. The basket handle style roll bar, although allowing the door mounted seat belts to remain, did little to add stability to the car. Chevrolet was disappointed and embarrassed as they had went as far as adding a model number and RPO code for the convertible, advertising it at the dealerships, car shows and magazines, and even were taking orders for these cars, which were supposed to start production mid-summer 1990.

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