By on November 4, 2010

This is one of 1,540 Sunbird GT turbocharged four door sedans built in 1987. And given how few gen1 J-Cars are still on the streets, is it off the wall to guess that there might be…say… fourteen left in the world; if that many? Well, the fourteen 1970 Hemi Cuda convertibles ever built are fetching around a million bucks each. I know where this car lives, and my finder’s fee is very reasonable. But hurry; if the owner finds out what he inherited from his Aunt, he may become obstinate.

Ok, I admit I’m grasping for a proper take on this Sunbird. Here’s the deal: I’m not ready to take on the whole J-Car issue today, for a number of reasons. But go ahead, if you must, and let out all your built up love/hate for every one of the millions of J-Cars ever built around the globe in GM’s most ambitious world car program ever. I’m going to save that for one of my treasure trove of Cavaliers. But then this is Pontiac week at CC, and this rare bird appeared out nowhere, and…here we are. So how do we do it justice?

The Sunbird had an unfortunate start inasmuch as its mommy couldn’t decide on its name. Its glorious Monza-clone predecessor bore the Sunbird name. Maybe that’s why the new J-Body version appeared in 1982 as the J2000. And reappeared in 1983 as the 2000. And reappeared in 1984 as the 2000 Sunbird. The circle was squared in 1985, when just Sunbird appeared. And in 1995, a reskinned version appeared as the Sunfire. GM’s perpetual naming issues were on full display here. At least the Cavalier name stuck throughout the Chevy’s protracted lifespan.

The Sunbird had a standing appointment with GM’s rhinoplasty department, going through a seemingly endless parade of new beaks. Maybe it felt self conscious about the rest of its body, which was all Cavalier, all too obviously. If you can keep track of all the front end variations, you should be writing this. I just know that they all stuck out way to far in front, and looked completely divorced from the rest of the body. A Firebirdesque nose on a Cavalier does not make for a harmonious look.

The Sunbird was also rather conflicted about its engines. It started out with the Cavalier’s dull 88 hp 1.8 L pushrod four. In its second year, an optional 1.8 L SOHC engine, designed by Opel and built in Brazil, became optional. Or was it the other way around? Curiously, it had four fewer horses on tap than the OHV Chevy, despite presumably costing more. Or did it cost less? Unresolved Sunbird mysteries. Maybe GM was using Sunbird owners as a vast field test to see which engine was better. Go figure; the eighties were GM’s worst decade for many small as well as large reasons.

And the two engine families continued to be available for a few more years, before the rude little Chevy was shown the door. That happened about the same time that the 150 hp turbocharged SOHC 1.8 became available, which graces this GT. Now 150 horses was genuinely a big deal in 1984. Never mind that was more than any Cadillac mustered that year. It was more than my old T-Bird Turbo Coupe, and even the illustrious Saab 900 Turbo had all of 135 hp in 1984. The eighties were Pontiac’s Excitement decade, Take 2, and the Sunbird GT was trying to be a poor man’s Saab Turbo. Did it pull it off?

I can’t honestly tell, having never driven one, or having felt any desire to at the time. I can’t summon any old tests. [Update: one of our commentators, mazder3, has this summary of a PM test: Popular Mechanics did a six pocket rocket comparo in their August ’85 issue. The Sunbird turbo came in last behind, in ascending order; Civic S, Corrola GT-S, Golf GTI, Mirage Turbo, and the winner Dodge Omni GLH Turbo. PM absolutely slammed the Sunbird: although had the biggest tires, 205/60R14 (!!!), it still couldn’t stop or steer. The four speed shifter was stiff, engine balky, steering numb, brakes soft, and handling twitchy. It cost much more than its competitors but weighed too much, was cramped for its size, and was just no fun. To top every thing else their tested fuel economy was 17.8 mpg and best quarter 16.5 seconds.]

Undoubtedly, it was one of the faster affordable cars in its day. Torque steer? I strongly suspect so. Turbo lag? Standard equipment for the times. Handling? Maybe, sort of. Slick shifting? No. A tasteful interior? Don’t ask. Reliability issues? Undoubtedly, but I have been wrong before. With GM cars of the eighties though, it’s a very safe thing to say even if you’re pulling it out of your ass. Hey, this one is still on the road. Good luck trying to find another.

Maybe the Sunbird GT was a mammoth sleeper in its day, and it somehow got past me. I admit I didn’t spend a lot of time mulling the virtues of J Cars or reading breathless Motor Trend reviews of them. Like I said, I’m grasping here. I promise that the full brunt of my deeply etched memories of early Cavalier rentals will be employed when we do the little Chevy. But then there is the problem of the Oldsmobile Firenza and Buick Skyhawk. It least the Cimarron is out of the way. It might be a while before I can face another J-Car CC. Unless I can find a…

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97 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1987 Pontiac Sunbird GT – The Collectible Exciting Deadly Sin...”


  • avatar
    friedclams

    Not related to the article, but I love how that old truck is fading into the lower right corner of the third photo. Poetry!
    I had a 1990 Cavvy and it was a decent, if crude, beater. Unbelievably bad interior though, I agree with you there.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      I would really like to get a curbside classic story on the school bus / motorhome conversion in the background.  The Sunbird is tragedy and farce combined, but that bus…

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Just a correction: I think the 900 Turbo cranked out 143hp that year, and the SPG 175hp the year following.  I remember begging my parents to buy an 900.  They couldn’t afford it, though, despite being consummate Saab buyers, demographically, and got an 90hp Corolla instead.
     
    I don’t really have anything to say for this car.  I remember hearing about them, but never knew anyone who had one.  I did know someone who had an Omni GLH, though, and another fellow who had an XR4Ti, so it’s not like there wasn’t precedent.
     
    I suspect GM didn’t really want to make this car, and certainly didn’t want to show up every single other car they made.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Not strange that I could not guess this car if they changed the front every year.  (tried to google several models of pontiac, but found no-one that looked like this) I’ve never seen one like this, but I have driven it several times, in the form of a german built Opel Ascona C. My brother used to have a few of these , starting with a 81 1.6 S (90 bhp- 30mpg) And tbh I can not understand how this car was a direct competitor to Ford Sierra when new. The last rwd Ascona/cavalier was quite much alike the older Taunus/Cortina, but when this generation came out they went with the modern (late 50’s Mini) concept of making the wrong wheels drive the car and putting the engine in the wrong way. As an Opel/Vauxhall this car was by no means bad, it was a bit bigger than an Escort, and it could take alot more abuse than most other cars (an Ople trademark) I honestly do not understand how they always manage to screw up these cars when they try to sell them in the US. (Cavalier, Rabbit, Fiesta, Merkur, the list goes on)

  • avatar
    dswilly

    I remember these well back in High School in NE Iowa. I worked at a Taco restaurant with a girl who’s dad worked at the Buick dealership. She was always driving the latest turbo Sunbird, Skyhawk, Regal etc. and would let me take them out after work and hoon around the neighborhood – so much fun. It was lucky I never wrecked one or hurt somebody.  To bad you couldn’t get a shot of the engine, old turbo motors always look funky.

  • avatar
    ajla

    The automatic is disappointing, and it is no Grand Prix STE Turbo, but I wouldn’t kick this out of my dirveway.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Was there an STE variant of the Grand Prix?  A co-worker owned a Pontiac 6000 STE…a good car for the day; a rather good handler.

    • 0 avatar

      I owned a 1984 convertible (non GT, so no tacky body kit) with the turbo and automatic for a few years. There was a ton of torque steer, and a fair amount of lag, but it felt very quick at the time. Handling was far better than the mid-80s Mustang GT, and better than people expected it to be. The four-speed manual felt awful and paired poorly with the turbo engine. Boost was sustained much better during shifts with the automatic. Then again, the automatic had to be replaced around 24k miles…

    • 0 avatar
      ajla-

      @golden2husky:
       
      Yea there was a Grand Prix STE in 1990. It came with a turbo version of the 3.1L V6. According to turbograndprix.com, about 1000 1990 Grand Prix STEs were built.  There were also around 4400 additional ’89 and ’90 Grand Prix Turbos built that did not wear the STE badge.  In ’91 the 3.4L DOHC replaced the turbo and GTP replaced the STE moniker.

      An even weirder/rarer GM 80’s-90’s car would be the Lesabre Grand National. I’m sure some other commenters know of other oddballs.
      _____________________________________________
      As an aside, what was the deal with Pontiac’s performance acronyms? “GT”, “STE, “GTP”, “GXP”, “GTA”, and “SSEi”. Just pick one already!

  • avatar
    geeber

    What a find. Let the bidding begin!

    The front on the first version of this car – the J2000 – was actually pretty handsome. It featured a version of the Pontiac “beak” that mated well with the rest of the car. The Cavalier was pretty bland, although the switch to dual headlights and starchier grille actually looked better. The Oldsmobile and Buick versions were mostly different for the sake of being different.

    If I recall correctly, the Opel OHC engine was introduced by Pontiac in response to the nearly universal complaints about the Chevrolet OHV four-cylinder engine. The J-Cars were introduced in early 1981, when memories of the second fuel crunch were still fresh on everyone’s mind. It was also in the middle of a severe recession (sound familiar?). Even though everyone was very concerned about fuel economy, the Chevrolet OHV engine was TOO slow and crude for the target audience. Too many people had been introduced to the smooth, peppy fours offered by Honda, Toyota and VW.  

    That engine hobbled the car right out of the gate. The other problem was price – GM loaded the car with standard equipment, in an attempt to emulate the Honda Accord and Civic, which were never built in “stripped” versions. Unfortunately, GM simply added the cost of those extras to the base price, which caused sticker shock among people who went to look at the cars. GM’s beancounters either missed, or ignored, that all of those standard features in Hondas came at a price that was suprisingly low by American standards.

    The J-Cars initially flopped on the market, and Brock Yates made the J-Car fiasco the centerpiece of his 1983 book, The Decline and Fall of the American Automobile Industry (a good read – it’s still relevant today).

    In other ways – build quality, structural rigidity and even handling – I recall the J-Cars being a noticeable step forward for the domestic auto industry. The basic car was sound – it wasn’t another X-Car. GM needed to attend to some details.

    GM’s big sin was allowing these cars to rot on the vine. If GM had followed up in 1986 or 1987 with a second-generation J-Car that addressed the weak points with the first one, and then kept at it over the years, the Cavalier would probably have the reputation of the Corolla right now.  

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      You’re right about the nose on the J2000, it was a nice attempt at Pontiac-izing the J-car.  I thought it looked pretty sleek and clean.  Didn’t last long.

    • 0 avatar
      MattPete

      For what it’s worth, in my freshman year of college (1987-1988), I wrote a report on GM that cited Brock Yates’ book “The Decline and Fall of the American Automobile Industry” a great deal.  I also seem to remember quoting Ross Perot’s Playboy interview.

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      my sisters shared a 1984 Sunbird sedan like this one, except it had the non-turbo OHC 1.8 ‘Wonder Motor’ and the automatic. the little four screamed for high revs but the automatic didn’t let it wind out that high. Throttle response from the 1 barrel TBI was lethargic at best and it was a noisy engine, even with 84hp it still had a lot of torque steer.
       
      After it was repainted from sitting under a tree in the s. Texas sun in College Station covered in bird poop it looked good, and rode well, tough as nails if you didn’t pound the snot out of it, and it lasted 100,000 miles in big sis, and twin sis’ hands with nothing much more than oil changes, two head gaskets after we figured out what caused them to blow (110mph travels tended to blow head gaskets) not a problem, they were always underbraked, and had little steering feel, but were reasonably quiet considering the price point.
       
      It was a crude, but decent little car all in all.

  • avatar
    KalapanaBlack

    A car so deeply uncool that it’s awesome. GM and Chrysler seemed to produce tons of these, as well as AMC (Matador or Spirit, anyone?).

  • avatar
    Bancho

    This car never looked right to me with 4 doors.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      They didn’t look all that great with two or five doors, either.

    • 0 avatar
      Bancho

      You’ll get no argument there. I just thought that the 4-door looked especially awkward (my opinion and we know what that’s worth…).

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Were there any five-door J-cars that weren’t conventional wagons? My memory is telling me no, but…

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      No, the wagons were it as far as five doors went.  I will say they were probably the best-looking J-cars.
       
      I had a soft spot for the convertibles, I will admit.  I have no idea why, but I have a thing for “chick-car drop-tops”.  I should probably seek professional help before I buy either New Beetle or a Sunfire.

    • 0 avatar
      cafe

      Were there any five-door J-cars that weren’t conventional wagons? My memory is telling me no, but…
       
      There was the hatchback version of the 3rd gen Opel Ascona (Vauxhall Cavalier Mk II):
      http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Opel_Ascona_C_rear_20071004.jpg
      http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Opel_Ascona_C_front_20071004.jpg
       
      If you removed 2 doors, you got the hatch version of the brazilian Chevrolet Monza:
      http://www2.uol.com.br/bestcars/classicos/monza-2.htm
       
      In Europe, only the brits got a 5 door wagon version. The parts were imported from Australia as the Holden Camira was available there  in wagon form.
      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1a/Vauxhall_Cavalier_Mark_2_Estate.jpg
       

    • 0 avatar
      Sinistermisterman

      Actually there was a ‘hatch’ 5 door J-car in the Vauxhall Cavalier. I have not so fond memory of being a passenger in the back seat of one of these which ended up on its roof – in a field – after my not so experienced friend tried to take a corner on a country lane at excessive speeds.
      http://media.tiscali.co.uk/images/galleries/motoring/10-of-the-best-vauxhall-cars/large/vauxhallcavaliermk2cd.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Jack,
      There was also a US Cavalier hatch (3-door) from ’82-’85. I owned an ’84, ran it 10 years with nary an issue once the two-page list of things wrong at delivery were fixed. Stuck to the road pretty well, shifted like a truck, but overall probably a better car then than the Aveo is now.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      “No, the wagons were it as far as five doors went.  I will say they were probably the best-looking J-cars.”
      That’s like saying Larry of The Three Stooges was the smart one.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman


      “No, the wagons were it as far as five doors went.  I will say they were probably the best-looking J-cars.”
       

      “That’s like saying Larry of The Three Stooges was the smart one.”

      Well, yes and no – Larry was the funniest, though, IMHO! I do agree that the wagons were the nicest-looking of the bunch. The 1st gen two-doors weren’t bad – the rear windows did flip open, at least.

    • 0 avatar
      KalapanaBlack

      Olds sold J-Body Firenzas in three-door form, too. My aunt had one into the early 1990s. It caught on fire on the interstate. I kid you not. A Firenza, on fire. GM Marketing should have run with that.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      BARUTH,
      5 Door Chevy Corsica
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_Corsica
      I actually saw one -just once- and it looked like it made more sense than the 4 door.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Corsica_Liftback.jpg

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I didn’t know it was Pontiac week! WTH?
     
    When these cars came out, they were heavily promoted and anticipated, but being in the shadow of Lordstown, you would expect that. The higher line cars were pretty nice for the time, but like everything in the early-mid ’80’s fairly gutless. The Sunbird Turbo was part of that fad of ‘turbo-everything’ in the mid 80’s, I don’t recall them being particularly quick, however. At that time turbo = Mopar, at least with my crowd. The GM turbo cars were routinely ignored, because by 87-88 you could get an IROC Z or Trans Am with a 5.7 V8. Even the Z24 Cavalier was sporting a high output 2.8 V6. And still pay less than you did for the Brazilian turbo cars.
     
    Having been around these cars since the beginning, the early ones were actually pretty well built, but didn’t age well, some components like the steering racks were a continual nightmare. They seemed to rust earlier than some other cars in their class, but by no means are biodegradable. The later models of this generation (after 1988) held up better, but not by a whole lot. This might sound like damning with faint praise, because it is. These were inexpensive cars, that could be made to go the distance, but at the time GM management wouldn’t embrace the idea of a good small car. Until the Saturn experiment. Even then, they wouldn’t put the resources into the other small cars (J-bodies) eventually totally poisoning the well for small GM cars in the US for years to come
     
    While it’s neat to see this old beast, but there’s no way I would want to own it now. I’d rather have the same year Cavalier V6 hatchback (or better yet, the same spec Olds Firenza) because it’s much easier to find parts for.

  • avatar
    thalter

    I had an 84 Cavalier, and have mixed feelings on the J Cars. 

    On the one hand, mine seemed to be remarkably well put together – tight, even panel gaps, and very few squeaks and rattles. 

    On the other hand, they were not very durable, with mine suffering all the GM cost-cutting maladies of the day, including bad paint, blown head gaskets, and failed power steering racks.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      You know, that’s interesting, because J-Car people I talk to tend to say the opposite: that the car was mechanically sound but rattled like a box of rocks.
       
      Except the paint.  Everyone complains about the paint.  It’s like the domestics forgot how to paint cars for twenty years.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @psar: Back in the mid 80’s is when the domestics went to two part paint, apparently to comply with EPA regs. The first few years were unmitigated disaster. Finally, after about 1990, Chrysler and Ford got better at it, GM seemed to worsen.
       
      And yes, you are correct, they did rattle like a box of lug nuts. All the better reason to crank up the Bon Jovi!

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I think I recall the two-part paint thing, and sure, I’ll give them a few years teething, but that went on way too long and did a lot of damage to the domestics’ collective reputation.  Nothing says “total crapbox” like paint peeling off the roof and hood.
       
      I recall Chrysler banned the use of deoderant on the assumption that it might have been causing the problem.  That must have been a fun time.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @psar: I still think they ban people wearing certain items in the paint areas. I know it’s becoming a clean room kind of operation, where they have to pass through an air blast bath.
       
      And yes, it was depressing seeing your non-metallic paint peeling off of your car like a bad sunburn. I had a late 80’s Dodge Lancer that had it bad.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      I believe the paint problem was related to the changeover to water-based paints which was going on in this time.
      I had a ’88 Beretta that had the “overbaked” primer.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      The paint issues seem to vary, even among identical models.  I have seen numerous Taruii with flaking paint, yet my ’92 Sable’s paint is still just fine despite the fact that its entire 19 year life has been outside.   On the path that I take walking the dog, there is a ’93 Cavalier Z24 that is a peeling paint disaster.  I was told once that part of the problems were the work rules in the factory.  If there was a shortage of trained people who worked the painting equipment due to some outside reason, seniority dictated who got the “plum” job of operating the paint equipment, not training…

    • 0 avatar

      I had all those things in my 84 Cav Conv… From 89-98 … and more… did your steering wheel ever drop into your lap at 40 mph ? Mine being a rare 5 speed, and brown, the seats failed at some point dangerously too. but 13 yrs into it.so thats not bad… 250 a month I alloted every 3 months for repairs. I was lucky if that was all.

    • 0 avatar
      OliverTwist

      I am too familiar with the paint delamitation issues during the late 1980s and early 1990s. My 1986 Chevrolet Celebrity with medium grey metallic paint had started to see the delamitation in the early 1990s. General Motors refused to acknowledge the issue until Dateline covered the story in 1997. Even though GM issued the technical service bulletin to fix those issues, my car didn’t qualify due to its age and mileage. That was my LAST ever vehicle from General Motors I would own. Never would I own General Motors vehicle ever again!

      Here is what Bob Sheaves wrote in his blog:

      “The problems came about due to the EPA changes in the allowable VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) emissions. The way this was decreased was to utilize more water in the spray mix of the paint to completely replace the ‘thinner’ VOCs. This altered the adhesion of the paint to the elpo primer generally used (lessened the adhesion).

      “Seems simple, in retrospect, but at the time, all the paint suppliers (SW, Sikkens, DuPont, etc.) came up with the formulations and specs for the processing and when the process failed, they were charged back by the manufacturers for the warranty work, unlike during the original introduction of the water-borne paints in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

      Source: http://www.allpar.com/fix/paint.html

  • avatar
    Bancho

    I seem to recall the mid-80’s Pontiac 6000 being well regarded. Perhaps with this current focus on Pontiacs, we could see an article on one in the near future?

    • 0 avatar
      thalter

      Paul – You got a 6000 STE in your collection?  That was one of the few American cars I lusted after in the 80’s.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      No. Haven’t seen an STE in quite a while. But anything is possible.

    • 0 avatar
      racebeer

      Here is another vote for the STE.  I bought a ’83 STE brand new (moving on from a ’78 Alfa Sprint Veloce, which is another story), and drove it for 115,000 miles until some idiot totalled it for me by making a turn directly into my passenger side at speed.  White with the “hush puppy” grey suede seats.  BTW, those seats were damn comfortable, and wore quite well!  I still miss it ……….

    • 0 avatar
      FJ20ET

      Speak of the Devil, you guys. I saw a derelict ’86 6000STE today in a lot near the Toronto Traffic court.

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      I had an 86 STE. dark maroon over silver with the grey interior. It got the nickname ‘Darth Vader’s bathroom’ due to the digital dash, and the somewhat sinister look to it with all the black trim and dark paint. It had 90,000 miles on it owned by the proverbial little old lady. After I blew up the engine (it was really worn out.) it’d run like a scalded monkey, all the way to it’s redline limited 125mph. I had lots of fun with that car both fixing it up, and driving it like a fool. 17 and 23mpg wasn’t too hot but for a non-OD automatic, not bad.
       
      I learned about lift-throttle oversteer at 40mph on a wet winding road, and put it sideways into a ditch, complete with two wheel action! car came through nearly unscathed, other than two flat tires, and a missing rocker panel trim.
      It even looked good at the dealership I worked at.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    It’s funny about the cars built after 1972 – I can’t think of many that one would call “collectable”, let alone any of the Cavalier-series, no matter who’s name’s on the car.

    I feel the term “Curbside Classic” is a stretch for these cars. In my un-enlightened opinion, CC’s from the 80’s would be the Grand Prix, Regal, Monte Carlo, etc. – you know, the rear-wheel drive GM’s that used to be genuine hardtops, then shrunk, then got bigger again. What used to be called “mid-sized”. A Cavalier or whatever Cavalier-based plaform car – no, and that includes Cimarron! I will give them their due, however, they were better than the X-cars, that’s for sure. At least their rear windows on 4-doors weren’t fixed!

  • avatar
    FJ20ET

    It’s pretty incredible that you found this car. It’s even more incredible that this thing even runs. In Grade 11(2006-2007 for me) one of my friends had a Low-KM 1990 Sunbird GT 5-speed with the 165hp Motor. I got to drive it, these cars are extremely fast. The handling was awful, a fine GM tradition, along with the rest of the car.

    Most of the electronics were fried, I recall only the driver’s window working(barely). He enjoyed it…..for a fortnight, before the motor blew up in spectacular fashion.

    I’m waiting for the A-body curbside, another one of my classmates had a lovely expierence with one.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    I can’t see any 80s GM front driver ever being collectable no matter how rare. My father’s 86 Buick Century T Type has seen 24 winters and is still his daily driver. It is as tight and solid as the day he took delivery, the 3.8 L V6 and automatic are absolutely bullit proof, and the body is still restorable, yet I don’t think that he could even give this car away.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      If you have an small GM front driver from the early 1980s it’ll be collectible by virtue of it’s rarity.  I can’t recall the last time I saw a Citation, for example.
       
      I suspect the Aspen/Volare will see the same.  Eventually.  :P

  • avatar
    h82w8

    Yup, you’re grasping alright Mr. N. It seems a real stretch to suggest that a J car – any J car, no matter how rarely seen (as opposed to ‘rare’) –  is somehow collectible, let alone a classic. To each his/her own, I suppose. It just seems pretty much anything seen on the street that happens to be older than, oh, 15 years is fodder for curbside classic mention. This probably sounds terribly elitist, but come on… If everything’s a curbside ‘classic’, then nothing is.

    But then, what makes a car ‘classic’, beyond true rarity, provenance and/or inherent magnificence, is the power of nostalgia. Which as a notion is very personal and, therefore, subjective. Which is the point here, of course.

    This is to take nothing away from your keen sense of the appeal of ‘curbside’ automotive adventure in making the prosaic interesting, coupled with your always articulate, observant, and irreverent writing style. This is all very much appreciated!

  • avatar
    obbop

    Well, it ain’t your father’s Oldsmobile.
    Nor anybody else’s, either.

  • avatar
    Monty

    This is one of the vehicles that could’ve been a hit for GM, if they had been willing to devote some effort to improving the car throughout it’s run.

    When we bought our ’86 Corolla, we shopped around and at one point seriously considered a Sunbird wagon. It was not a bad car, at the time, and actually stacked up well against a lot of it’s competition. My complaint was that the 4 pot with the auto had abysmal acceleration without enough of a mpg increase to mitigate my displeasure with the drivetrain.

    The first generation J-cars needed improvement, but they were fairly solid and decently built cars. Unfortunately, GM dropped the ball by not constantly improving them like Toyota and Honda were doing.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Monty: you have to remember that these cars were released during the age of ‘Roger & Me’. Roger Smith’s idea of a good entry level car was a used Buick! But, during this same time period the Saturn was being developed, as another one of the cars to drive the imports back to the sea. Schizophrenic, or no?
       
      With that environment, there was no way that the J-bodies were going to get the resources necessary to compete equally with the Hondas and Toyotas of the times.
       
      Should- coulda- woulda.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      @geo

      Actually, you can’t point the finger of blame at only Roger Smith. The story of every small GM car is eerily similar – start out with a car that in it’s inital stages (before the beancounters got through with it, anyway) was competitive, sometimes even ahead of the competition, release it with flaws intact, and then never improve it, until you annouce the next “import killer”, and repeat the story all over again.

      I honestly thought that with both the X-cars and J-cars that the cars had good basics, but between the decontenting and lack of updates GM allowed them to wither and die. Had GM corrected the initial flaws of both the X-cars and the J-cars and then updated them every three or four years we would be now talking about the legendary reliability of small GM cars, not small Toyota and Honda cars.

      If GM had just kept the cash that went out on the hoods of all of the J-cars they could’ve updated them on a regular cycle.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Monty: In retrospect, you’re correct about blaming only Roger for these problems. It was systemic, long before that Mr. Smith’s tenure as CEO. Corvair, the ‘senior’ compacts, Vega, FWD X-car, J-car Delta body, etc. Apparently long after his time, too.
       
      I guess the thing that irritates me most is that there was a chance in the 80’s to correct that, and we got Saturn instead. I hated the fact that they aggressively and shamelessly ‘shopped’ cities and states for the best incentive package. Particularly when they already had a site in mind, it was completely cynical and wrong. Then the car is released and it’s a great when new, then left to die on the vine. All that energy could have been harnessed to make the domestic J’s much better in the succeeding generations, but was squandered.
       
      I’m hoping the new management has some brains and can learn from History.

  • avatar
    tced2

    I owned a 1984 Sunbird turbo hatchback (red over sliver).  It had many failures.  The turbo never failed nor the tranny.  My first failure was the intake manifold broke (couldn’t take the turbo pressure?).   Later, I had a cracked head near one of the spark plugs.  Fortunately, these two problems were fixed by the warranty.  Then I embarked on what I called the $250 car.  Numerous $250 failures – mostly electrical stuff.  Power door locks.  Power rear view mirror controls.  Rear defogger wiring harness.  Wiper control board.  Headlight switch.  Turn signal arm (broke twice).  fuel pump. And so on.  The final straw was the second time the turn signal arm broke.  (I knew several other folks who had GM vehicles of that era who had the same problem with the turn signal arm – it was one of those arms that did everything, wipers, cruise, etc).
    I liked the styling, configuration of the car but the reliability was bad.
    (Further, I previously owned a 1982 Cavalier with the OHV engine – a disaster.  The engine leaked lots of oil which the dealer could  not fix and eventually caused some other problem in attempts to fix the leaks.  Traded for the Sunbird Turbo).

    • 0 avatar

      Are you sure it was the intake manifold? On my 1984 (also red/gray, but a convertible) the exhaust manifold cracked. It was badly designed, and so tight around the spark plug wires that it cooked them. The replacement manifold was a different design that wasn’t so tight up against the engine.
      Other than the plug wires, the manifold, and the transmission, I had no problems with the car. The small stuff was fine for me.

    • 0 avatar
      tced2

      It may have been the exhaust manifold.  You reminded me of another one of the electrical failures, spark plug wires.  New ones were needed very frequently.

  • avatar
    Carlsberg1966

    I had a SOHC 2 litre 1989 Maroon Coupe, 5 speed. My first new car. Purchased for $10K. I had some initial problems with it, like two trips to fix the speedo, but drove it without incident, save for a water pump, in Michigan winters, for 109,000 miles and almost 5 years until someone totaled it. My brother had an 1985 manual,  and drove it for 10 years.  Some of these cars were turds, but if you maintained it you could get good service out of them. Easy to work on, and cheap parts. I did have the chance to drive a friends 1987 Sunbird fastback. Very, very fast and fun. The kid beat on it mercilessly and viola, the turbo fried out.

  • avatar
    plee

    I was selling Oldsmobiles back in the early 80’s and took for a demo a 1984 Firenza LX door, with the 1.8OHC, 5speed, factory flip s/roof, handling package lots of other extras.  The car handled great but the shift quality was horrible,  the engine had a raspy (sporty)exhaust but was very slow.  It was at least better than the pathetic standard 2.0 which made a mechanical racket when revved, which it was very reluctant to do.  Looking back now it is easy to figure why the customers looking for this size car ended up across the street at our Honda dealership and got on the waiting list for an Accord 4 door.

  • avatar
    catbert430

    Taking the advice of a trusted mechanic friend who told me that the J cars were the best cars that GM had ever built, I ordered a 1985 Buick Skyhawk as my company car even though bigger and more expensive cars from GM, Ford, and Chrysler were available.

    It had the ‘better’ of the 2 GM 1.8L engines.  I was generally pleased with the car.  It was reliable, comfortable, and relatively pleasant to drive.  I even thought it was good-looking.

    My father got a 1988 Cavalier wagon for his company car and, when the lease was up in 4 years, purchased it from the company for a pittance and gave it to my mother as her daily driver because he had had such good luck with it.  By the time she was done with it in 1998, it had over 200,000 nearly trouble-free miles on it.

    His replacement was a 1992 Cavalier wagon.  It was another story altogether.  It tried to kill him by having the steering system fall apart while driving on a bridge.  The wheels turned in opposite directions so, thankfully the friction of the tires stopped the car before it went through the bridge railing.  That was in the first 3 months.  After that, nearly every system on the car, both major and minor, failed to some degree.  It was a long 3 years of constant repairs that were either paid by warranty or by the leasing company.  By 1995, his company switched from GM to Toyota for all their cars.

    My family’s experience with J cars tells me that, far from improving them over time, GM actually let quality degrade.  It’s a pity.  They could’ve been a contender.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I was in driver’s ed during the summer of 1985 in the Detroit suburbs where I grew up.  This was back in the days when it was taught through the high schools by phys-ed and biology teachers during the summers.  The local Chevy dealer had provided them with about a dozen new Cavaliers to use in the class… a pretty good marketing/community service tie-in, I thought at the time.

    Anyway, as a newbie driver they seemed fun and nimble compared to the Buick Electra Wagon my parents drove at the time. 

    The next winter, my dad’s Buick Regal mysteriously and suddenly consumed itselft in flames while sitting on our driveway.  Feeling bad, a friend who was a GM exec arranged for my dad to buy one of the many company cars available in the area… a year-old Buick Skyhawk.  Base engine, 3-speed auto, maroon with perfectly matching maroon vinyl seats and interior.  Hot stuff! 

    I don’t recall the car being too bad at the time and I enjoyed driving it around when I got my license.  It did have issues starting in the dead of winter and I recall having to drop some gas down the carburetor intake to get her to wake up a few times.  It was reliable enough as a new car and the front-wheel-drive was a revelation during snowy winters compared to the old Regal.

    About a year later I was in Southern California visiting some old family friends and their daughter’s driver was a 1984 Honda Accord… with a 5-speed manual.  Let’s just say that the Skyhawk always seemed inadequate after the experience of driving around with her for a week.  That Honda was just SO much better in every way but having grown up in the Detroit ‘burbs I had simply never been exposed to one. 

    After the Skyhawk gave up the ghost a few years later… it just got too unreliable to keep, my mother bought a 1987 Accord LXi and hasn’t owned a domestic car since.  Seems to me that the only reason anyone bought a J-body was because they didn’t bother to test drive anything else or they had a GM employee discount.

  • avatar

    Thanks Paul, for reviving my until-now suppressed memories of my family’s many forays into the land of the J-Cars!

    My family had two within the first model year — my grandmother had an EARLY Cadillac Cimarron, and soon after that my folks bought (or leased, I think) an ’82 J2000 hatchback.

    I still remember the night we picked up “The J” — the only clues my parents had given me were that the car was red, “and had a hole in the roof.” I was happy to see that hole was actually the flip/fold sunroof… and, that the sporty J2000 had the same automatic shifter as KITT on “Knight Rider!” (Gimme a break, I was 7.)

    My grandmother’s Cimarron barely lasted a year, and was soon replaced by an ’83-’84 Cavalier “Type-10″ two-door. That car lasted until ’87, I think, and was replaced by a new, white Cavalier sedan. Ultimately my grandmother ended up with a deep burgundy (almost handsome) 1990 Cavalier 4-door. It served her faithfully until 2008, at which time I think it barely had 60,000 miles on the clock.

    “The J” didn’t fare so well… it was gone within a year, after which time my folks started driving K-Cars. We briefly had an ’87 Cavalier wagon (a virtual clone of my grandmother’s white sedan) that was replaced by a late-1987 Cutlass Ciera 2-door, with the faster roofline. But that’s another story.

    Finally, a bit of trivia — arguably the ’87 Sunbird GT’s greatest contribution to the automotive scene, was that its gauge cluster was later used in another line of turbocharged GM vehicles. What were they?

    • 0 avatar
      crbf1

      Having worked at GM dealers in the mid-80s to late-90s, I can attest to their, ahem, quality.  The 1987 Sunbird GT was equipped with the then-new 2.0L version of that Brazilian-built Opel-designed engine — with and without the turbo.  You could get either the 3-spd a/t or the also-then-new-for-GM Getrag 5-spd m/t to go with its impressive (for the time) 165hp.  The previous 1.8L turbo4 was 150hp and only available w/the a/t or a 4-spd m/t (which was the definition of torque steer; the LH axle was half as long as the RH one.
      Strangely, these motors really didn’t have too many issues, just the cam cover gasket leaking.  Heck, the turbo was even water cooled for longevity, an improvement from the 1.8..
      You wanna talk strange, how bout the late-80s LeMans?  Essentially an Opel Kadett built in South Korea using a German-designed Brazilian-built engine, a French name, and sold in the USA?

    • 0 avatar
      kenzter

      GMC Syclone/Typhoon.  The Syclone was my dream car (truck?) back then.  Heck, wouldn’t mind having one now.  Would love to see a CC on one…Paul?

    • 0 avatar
      kenzter

      GMC Syclone/Typhoon.  The Syclone was my dream car (truck?) back then.  Heck, wouldn’t mind having one now.  Would love to see a CC on one…Paul?

    • 0 avatar

      +1 kentzer.

      crbf1 — While I was too young to know for certain, I’m pretty sure the J2000 was bricked by a water pump failure. It couldn’t have had more than 12,000-15,000 on it when that happened. I do remember being very sad to see it go… it was the first really “sporty” car I’d ever ridden in (LOL) and it was a really great “looking” car, given some of the other crap that was on the road in the early 80s.

      While they were all craptastic cars in terms of ride quality, noise, and fit-and-finish… most of the other Js were at least fairly reliable. Again, my memory is fuzzy on the earlier ones, though I do know both 87s leaked oil almost from the very start. These would have had the 2.0L (pushrod) four.

      My grandmother’s last car, the red Cavalier, was the best — the only mechanical issue I recall it ever having was an appetite for mufflers, as they rusted through within 2-3 years. She only drove the thing about 3,000 miles a year, so that can probably be forgiven.

  • avatar
    Bridge2farr

    I purchased a brand new 1987 Sunbird GT 2dr non turbo. Had the car till 1992. Only problems were both covered under warranty- blistering paint and a head gasket.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Wow, more memories.  I was lucky enough to be friends with a Pontiac dealership owners son in the late 80s, I scored a job as a “lot boy” 86-88.  Got try out every single Pontiac of the generation.  The Sunbird was always a favorite of mine, and decently fast, sporty, etc.  Our area was full of GM fans, all the rich kids got Firebirds.  We were into the V-8s, and although the Mopar turbos were far better and faster cars, everyone thought they were crap.  We didnt know any better, we were kids!

    I never see any of these around.  A local guy has a silver 87 turbo convertible, looks like total crap.  Smokes up if it ever starts.  the coupes were decent looking, the sedans were just awkward.  If you could find a survivor, it would probably be a cool cheapo car.  But overall, if I could choose between an 87 Trans Am or an 87 Sunbird covertible, I’d take the TA.

    Sidenote:  the Grand Prix and the Bonnevilles of that era were actually the nicest cars they made.  And I suspect the Grand Prix GTP was the fastest… those V-8s were kind of dogs.  There is a guy around here with a 91 GTP that is absolutely MINT condition, amazing considering that generation’s reputation.  Someday I will find him parked somewhere and take some pics of it… its gorgeous.

  • avatar

    If you could find one, I bet one of these would make a hell of a good LeMons car. I’m sure being as it’s an 80s GM FWD, it would sell for a song, and with the 175hp motor would be among the most powerful out there.
     
    Although I still think my idea of running a dual axle Citroen hearse that’s for sale for $350 locally would be better.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    I had the experience of growing up with an ocean blue 1986 Z-24 Hatchback. What a piece of, um, work that car was. The car was possessed I swear. It never left us stranded when it had issues. It blew a radiator hose on a Sunday afternoon in the first month and somehow we found a mechanic to fix it that day. Every time the alternator went (four times at least) there was always a pay phone within walking distance or a friend just ahead of us. The tranny went basically in our driveway. The digital dash, even after replacing it, would only work when it went in for an oil change or inspection. My parents drove it by the analog tach. It was supposed to be my first car, but the combination of nasty rust and a power steering rack that was intermittent in it’s assist sent it to the junkyard. 12 years and 120k miles of memories.

    • 0 avatar
      joeveto3

      In high school (1987) my buddy’s parents had a red Z-24 they’d let him (and by extension, us) drive.  As a very new driver, and someone inexperienced at anything that could be considered fast or quick, the Z-24 knocked my socks off.  I know the digital dash is hokey today (unless you drive a Civic or a crotch rocket), but back then, I thought it was cool.

      When Jim would run that thing to the redline in first and then slam it into second, the front tires wouldn’t just chirp, they’d break traction and howl as they clawed into the pavement.  The 16″ wheels shod with Goodyear “Gatorbacks” were fat and very racey looking for the time.  The 2.8 6-cyl engine sounded fantastic (no, not air cooled flat six fantastic), with a nice faux dual exhaust growl. 

      It’s memories like these that remind me that not all of car enthusiasm is based on the ultimate of unobtainiaum, but rather our own realm of personal experience.  Take a kid who’s never seen the inside of anything but a minivan, or a 4-door grocery runner, throw him/her into a 6-cyl Mustang (not the new one), or a Miata, and you’ll knock their socks off.

      To wit:  To this day, my kids still talk about my yellow Ninja.  It was a 250, had 36 hp, and was mechanically IDENTICAL to the Plasma Blue one I bought a few years later.  Ask them about the blue Ninja, or my purple 1100 Katana, with 136 hp, and they return a blank look.  Why was the yellow one so special?  Because it was YELLOW!  Sometimes it’s the color, the sound, that shapes an experience into something special and paints an object with desire.

      Those kids are future consumers, just like we were, but hopefully they’ll not be jaded by the perspective so many of us have on this board, that only Bimmers and Porsche’s and leather interiors lovingly hand-stitched by delicate hands will do. 

      It pains me to say it, but sometimes, a dorky spoiler and a loud exhaust is enough.

       

  • avatar
    chrisgreencar

    I had an ’85 Sunbird new. I was in college, my dad was cosigning, and he was very anti-import at the time, so he steered me toward something American. The alternatives were Skyhawk or Cavalier (or Escort/Lynx which I HATED!) I liked the Skyhawk best, but it did cost enough extra to steer me to the Sunbird, which was almost the same price as the Chevy. For a college car, it was fine. I actually though it was very attractive (it was a dark-blue two-door notchback, quad lights without the cool hideaways seen here), and it was a great basic car for a college kid. Over about 50,000 miles it was OK, but did lose a timing belt and an air conditioner compressor. After I graduated from college I traded it on a ’90 Civic LX that was, of course, light-years ahead of the Sunbird. Compared to the crude J-car, the Honda felt light yet strong, and smooth, quiet, zippy and high-tech. Of course, these days the difference between the GM and Japanese equivalents is much less — they’ve really learned a lot even if they’re not all the way there yet. As for the Sunbird, I have a special place in my heart for that little car, I guess because it was my first new car. I wouldn’t want another one, although if I found a convertible or even a loaded coupe in amazing low-miles condition, it would be tempting! Ditto for a Skyhawk (you NEVER see them anymore), Firenza, and of course, Cimarron — that’s a deadly sin that I think will become more and more collectible for so many reasons.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    Popular Mechanics did a six pocket rocket comparo in their August ’85 issue. The Sunbird turbo came in last behind, in ascending order; Civic S, Corrola GT-S, Golf GTI, Mirage Turbo, and the winner Dodge Omni GLH Turbo. PM absolutely slammed the Sunbird: although had the biggest tires, 205/60R14 (!!!), it still couldn’t stop or steer. The four speed shifter was stiff, engine balky, steering numb, brakes soft, and handling twitchy. It cost much more than its competitors but weighed too much, was cramped for its size, and was just no fun. To top every thing else their tested fuel economy was 17.8 mpg and best quarter 16.5 seconds.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Reading the stories of J-car ownership seems to typify what’s really wrong with GM. It doesn’t sound like there was anything inherently wrong with the design, it’s just that GM built it to a specific price-point to maximize profits, and not one penny more. The term ‘planned obsolescence’ comes to mind.

    And, if not for the Japanese, GM probably would have been able to continue getting away with it forever, too. For just a little more, when you can buy a Japanese product that doesn’t nickel-and-dime you to death for years, well, the writing’s on the wall.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      As my 4 year old niece would say: “Yup.”  And then turn and walk away from you.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      rudiger,
      My thinking also about people’s stories that these cars lasted somewhat ok but at the same time Honda/Toyota were building reputations for going 200,000 miles without huge issues. Once Honda and Toyota worked out the rust through issues they encountered in the 1970s the 1980s saw them start to prove out their reputations…while GM was still trying to catch up.

  • avatar
    NoChryslers

    I am a sucker for hidden headlamps though.  But the rest of the car was totally crappy.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    A well-known expression about lipstick and pigs comes to mind.

  • avatar
    MattPete


    I drove one of those (or at least a plain ol’ Sunbird) for my driving school class.  Based on it’s looks, I thought it would be like an American Honda Accord.  Instead, it was a piece of crap (compared to my parents’ ’84 Accord).
     
    Nice try, but the attention is in the details.  And nice stylin != “the details”

  • avatar
    98045

    let us not forget the j2000…..

  • avatar

    I drove a 1984 cavalier convertible @@@@@@#$% brown (sable maybe?) 5 speed!!! brown corderoy like velour…$250 dollar car extra every 3 months figure. But itll be good then until…?
    Still I had it for a decade. I EVEN Traded a 85 Grand Am V6 which had been repaired, EVEN SWITCH… I said id made a mistake and I wamted a convertible, Id driven a Mazda 5 soeed,so I agreed, and insisted they FIX every thing I found wrong on a 5999 trade.
    IT was mine 89-99

  • avatar
    obbop

    “The four speed shifter was stiff, engine balky, steering numb, brakes soft, and handling twitchy. It cost much more than its competitors but weighed too much, was cramped for its size, and was just no fun.”
     
    Sniff.
    That description can, in so many ways, in too many ways, be used as analogies in describing my decrepit Old Coot body.
    Sniff.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Actually some of the factory hemi cuda ragtops have went for between 2 and 2.5 million. A couple of years ago the B5 blue one went for 5 mil at barret jackson. It was the second highest amount an american car ever went for at barrett jackson, the first was a cobra which went for 5.5 million.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    When my one year old 1981 Citation started coming apart around me and started stalling me roadside in the middle of the Colorado wilderness on a regular basis, my company had the new J2000 Pontiacs arrive, so I thought I was in heaven and saved from driving the craptastic Citation!

    The J2000 looked better than the Citation, and had about the same amount of room in them, except for the large Citation hatch. On the other hand, the interior looked very similar to the Citation’s and the quality of the interior was similar. The J2000 seats were worse than the Citation’s however, and driving as much as I do, this was a problem for me.

    I discovered much to my disappointment that the J2000 was about as good as the Citation I had hoped it would replace. The 4 cylinder engine knocked and pinged if you accelerated on any uphill grade. Considering that I drove everywhere throughout Colorado, this became a real problem. The engine on the J2000 sounded like a vacuum cleaner full of marbles. When you accelerated, you felt the pedal move under your foot and the engine knocking louder than you believed any engine could knock without exploding – yet the car did not go faster.

    So going up the Continental Divide was stressful with this brand new car. When I switched to a J2000 with a manual, I was able to row the car uphill at a better pace, but still felt completely helpless against the pull of gravity going uphill.

    After two weeks with the J2000 with automatic transmission, and a month with the J2000 with the manual transmission, I gave up considering the Pontiac as a better car enough to junk the Citation. So I got stuck with the year old Citation with the peeling fake chrome plastic grille, the sprung driver’s door which gapped enough to let me stick my finger past the door jam into the air with the door closed, and the big 4 cylinder engine that struggled so badly that it torqued itself to the point where the engine mounts broke causing the engine to beat the water pump into smithereens, leaving me stranded at 10,000 feet altitude without traffic or town for miles upon miles of wilderness.

    The best flaw because it was harmless and stupid – all the little interior knob labels unglued themselves, so that all the little black knobs on the instrument panel didn’t have little chrome-ish circular international symbol labels on them. If you didn’t know what the knob did, you had to guess and try it to see what would happen. Whether it was the wiper, the lights, the radio controls, or cigarette lighter, you wouldn’t know it without it’s silly little unglued label. They just fell off onto the mouse-hide carpeting where I would find them in the morning. Really funny! And quite symbolic of the kind of small cars GM was producing with their new X cars and J cars!

  • avatar
    Power6

    Oh man, haven’t been able to keep up with my TTAC and I missed this one!
    Paul, I am surprised no one had corrected you, I am quite sure that is not a turbo model! Though the turbo was “standard” on the GT, it was possible to order the GT with a “turbo delete” sort of option(mentioned on Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontiac_Sunbird and seems to confirm as this car has the “Sunbird GT” badges not the “Turbo GT” badges.) It seems quite a few of the Sunbird GTs came through that way. Looking under the hood would confirm for sure, but any GT with the turbo would also have small louvers on the front part of the hood, a vent over the exhaust manifold/turbo area.
    If this was truly a 1987, turbo or not it would have the updated 2.0 OHC motor. The cooling system and reliability were upgraded. I had a ’90 with the 2.0 and drove it to 230k miles before the unibody was too compromised by rust to keep driving it.
    The improved 2.0 turbo had 165hp, and I believe, like the Cavalier, the sporty models finally got a good 5-speed around 87-88. The Sunbird got a new dash in 89. I think it was a better received car in the later years, basically a Cavalier Z24 but faster.
    Talk about rare, the body was updated for ’90, and the Sunbird GT got it’s own front end and body kit, with the headlight “eye lids” instead of the composite lamps of the other Sunbirds. ’90 was also the last year of the turbo model. That body kit continued on on the V6 GT and also optional on the lower end Sunbirds but is still quite rare. I’ve seen a couple V6 GTs like it and just one ’90 turbo Sunbird GT, they probably made just a few of them. A rare car that nobody cares about. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:90sunbirdgt.jpg)

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Didn’t the turbo cars have a small scoop slightly to the side on the hood? if this was a turbo car it might be worth a few bucks more than a standard j car, but that’s not saying much.
    The 80’s mopar turbo cars may become “somewhat collectible” someday, due to the fact that they were the king of turbo cars, and the shelby models will be somewhat desirable because shelby’s name is on them. But I can guarantee you they won’t be anywhere near musclecar prices.

  • avatar
    TheRedCar

    In 1986 My Step Mom had a 84 red over grey Sunbird Turbo hatch, my father had a 86 base v8 Trans Am, and I had a 86 Grand Am GT. All automatics. Out of the three, the Sunbird was everyone’s favorite by far. The lag WAS the fun part. It would even chirp the tires when it hit second. It made the Sunbird feel miles faster than the TA, even though we were stunned in a race that it was quite slower. I remember a few scary moments when I mis-timed the boost making left turns.

    The Grand Am was complete piece of junk though. I owned it for 18 months and actually had a red Cavalier rental more than I had the Grand Am. It was an absolute lemon.

    Ironically, I had the PM comparo winner, the Omni GLH Turbo a few years later and other than the stick vs automatic advantage, it feel very similar to the Sunbird. All lag and torque steer.

    I drove a used Mazdaspeed3 a month ago and it was damn near the same experience. Wait for the lag and make sure you’re pointed in the right direction before you pull the trigger.

  • avatar
    nevets248

    My first new car was a 1990 Sunbird Turbo GT with the 2.0 motor that was rated at 165 HP. Turbo lag and torque steer to be sure, but on a cool day it ran 15.25 1/4 mile times (one shot wonder with no intercooler).
    Had the uncanny habit of blowing a head gasket every 12K miles (thanks for the GM exrtended warranty). lasted 5 years till it got taken out by a drunk girl in a Fairmont!

  • avatar
    sunbirdgtsedan

    I just made this accout, to tell all of you i am one of the fourteen owners of the 86-87 pontiac sunbird gt turbo sedans, and i seen this in google images and decided i would make a post. i was on a famous site called “kijiji” looking for a new car and i ran acrost this and said ITS MINE i did not care what the person was asking. its an 86 2 tone blue gt sedan. with a red pinstripe.

    Check it out on cardomain cause i cannot post phots of it on here.

    http://www.cardomain.com/ride/3876322/1986-pontiac-sunbird-moncton-nb-ca?p=2

  • avatar
    pjlikescars

    Sooo, this is my car! Anyone want it, I would like to get rid of it! I was looking up some info on it and came across pictures of my own car. but ya, i am looking to sell so give me an email at wvecpj@yahoo.com

  • avatar
    agiguere

    If someone can find a pic of a wagon with this front end, I will give you my first born.

  • avatar
    Darkman555

    Hey! I got one of these too!…except it’s a convertible…turbo gt!

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Memories of this car include a Sunbird of this same year or at least with the same odd front end in white that was in the motor pool of a job I had in the nineties , along with a slightly newer Cavalier sedan and a 4-wheel drive Blazer with the 350 4-barrel I always took if possible . Main advantage of the Sunbird over the Cavalier was that the Sunbird had red window trim . Another memory is yet another white Sunbird sedan with the same hideous front end , that struck and totalled the wife ‘s Camry after its driver ran a red light and later unsuccessfully tried to sue us , saying my wife was driving too fast (undoubtedly the wife was speeding , she had quite the leadfoot , may she rest in peace .)

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    Man I love these things…


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  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States