By on January 16, 2012

Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011Until I spotted this 1979 Chevy Monza wagon in The Crusher’s waiting room last year, I had forgotten that GM slapped Monza and Sunbird badges on the (Monza ancestor) Chevy Vega wagon at the tail end of the 1970s. Then, last week, I discovered this Sunbird Safari at another Denver self-service yard. Such history to be uncovered in the junkyards of Denver!
Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011To make the branding even more confusing, GM stuck the snout of the discontinued crypto-Canadian Astre on the 1978-79 Sunbird wagons.
Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011Things were looking pretty grim for The General in 1979; you know you’re in trouble when your Pinto fighter’s strongest punch is the fake woodgrain decals on the lighter and radio knobs.
Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011However, this car did have one good thing going for it: an even-fire Buick V6 under the hood. 105 horsepower wasn’t much, but the Sunbird wagon only weighed about 2,600 pounds.
Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011Original owner? I’m going to say yes.
Photograph by Phillip Greden, 2011Worth rescuing? No… but I hope there’s still at least one low-mile Monza or Sunbird wagon hiding in a barn somewhere in the year 2029.

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23 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 Pontiac Sunbird Safari Station Wagon...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Back in ’05 when I was living in a local appartment complex their was a group of local nuns who drove one of these in light blue with a matching interior. It was a stick shift also. I kept waiting for it to come up for sale but it never did. I was thinking of the ever popular SBC transplant. The thing looked like it had come out of a time capsule it was that clean and pristine.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    My wife (then-girlfriend) came so close to buying the 1980 two door version of these. But, she couldn’t get credit to buy a new car on her wages, so we ended up with a used 1977 Olds Delta 88 Holiday coupe. Overall, a much better car.

    Incidentally, the interior in this uplevel Sunbird would have been way better than the 1979 Pinto. Ask me how I know. What really blows my mind is the fact that the radio in the car is a unit from Sears! I don’t even remember them selling nice AM/FM cassette aftermarket units. That one looks pretty decent. I seem to remember the ones at Sears being Sparkomatic knock offs.

    Is there more rust on this car we can’t see? To my midwest eye, it looks pretty solid, but then again, I can’t see the floorboards.

    A real time capsule.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Actually not a bad looking car for what it was back then.

    Now it just gives a new definition to “Denver pyle”…

  • avatar

    I’m going to echo the not a bad looking car comment. I kinda like the front end styling – Canadian or otherwise. It’d be interesting to see if anyone would buy a two-door wagon – shooting break – these days. Seems like people are too hung up on (1) size, (2) the ability to haul 8 people.

  • avatar
    jz78817

    how was “Astre” pronounced anyway?

  • avatar

    Not a bad looking car especially in wagon form. Even if they couldn’t get the quality quite right GM certainly nailed the styling.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    Not worth saving?? This thing has Lemons written all over it.. strip it, add the missing column and your choice of vanilla small block power and go!!!

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    There were still a few of these things in the student lot when I was a freshman in high school. They were all gone by the time I graduated though, their place in the social pecking order taken by hand me down Escorts and even older American compacts like Valiants and Hornets.

  • avatar
    geofcol

    I’m dead serious, I think that is real wood on the dash and the radio and lighter knobs. No really, look how well it has held up.

  • avatar
    gearspuppy

    My mom had a Monza coupe with the 305 V8. It felt super-hero fast to a little kid thirty years ago.

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    I will remember to my dying days 1987, I was 3 years old, in Forsyth, MO at my grandfather’s house, I heard a 1978ish Vega drive by with rotted out exhaust (and i’m assuming a carb’d 3.8 Buick under the hood).

    Call that my ‘Anakin Skywalker moment’. :)

    Bonus: My dad had a ’78 Monza with a 350. Dumped it after ONE year. Worst car he ever owned, apparently.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    My Great-Grandfather had the Chevy Vega wagon version until he died in ’96, age 95. Probably a 76-77. Had all of 19K on it, and never driven in rain or snow. The sills still had rust holes the size of my fist in several places. No power steering, and no power brakes. I have no idea how he stopped the thing, I drove it a few times in high school and college and it was all I could do, and I was a big kid.

    An absolutely epically dreadful car. The Trabant I owned (see my avatar) was a better vehicle!

  • avatar
    Johnster

    I always liked the Vega Kammback wagon and its Pontiac Astre Safari sister as a styling exercise. Too bad they weren’t better cars. I think of them as sort of a spiritual ancestor to the 1984 and later Honda Civic “bread wagon” hatchbacks.

    It is kind of cool how the Vega Kammback and Astre Safari lived on past the demise of the Vega and Astre as part of the 1978 and 79 Chevrolet Monza S and Pontiac Sunbird lines.

    There were also a small number of 1978 Chevy Monza S and Pontiac Sunbird models that were built using the same bodyshell as the Vega and Astre Hatchback coupe, but as far as I know, none using the 2-door sedan(notchback) bodyshell. The Pontiac Sunbird version of the Vega/Astre hatchback used the same front end clip as the Sunbird Safari shown here.

  • avatar
    CougarXR7

    I find it rather odd that the dash has a sweep-style speedo rather than the two-hole instrument cluster more like the Monza.

    Kinda weird when you consider that Pontiac was GM’s “sporty” division.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      You inspired me to blow up the dash photo. I didn’t realize this car had a stick! It makes me sad that it died, although I realize that it would still take a tune-up wizard to make a V6 Sunbird run with a Smart car.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    OK, I remember when cars had 85-mph speedos, but this one only goes to 80, apparently. Talk about giving a car an inferiority complex…

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    In 1979, GM had 60% of the US auto market.
    This car wasn’t an act of desperation – it was a statement claiming it could do anything with their cars, and they would still sell.

    Think of it. This is a car that was a decade old in 1979. It was a car that had so many things go wrong with it over that decade, about everything that needed to be fixed – was by that time. GM took a new front clip and put it on a car no one should have bought because of it’s horrible history.

    Where was the competition? Pinto wagon? Another decade old design. Pacer wagon? Seriously?

    In this vehicle, you sat low to the road with your feet horizontally in front of of you. You plopped into the seat to get in, and grabbed whatever you could to climb out again. You needed an OB/GYN to get out of the back seat. It probably would have been as easy to climb into the rear seat through the hatch, than through the doors. This vehicle didn’t want you to be comfortable – it wanted you to remain outside and admire it’s sporty Camaro-ish roots.

    The roots of this vehicle are based on a vehicle that was decidedly larger, allowing for it’s subhuman treatment of occupants. If you look at a Mustang, or a Camaro, you find similar driving positions, yet since the cars are larger, there was enough room. When Detroit decided to create subcompacts, they chose to make sporty subcompacts, designed similarly – just smaller. Just as the fastback wasn’t a good choice for intermediate and full sized cars, the fastback wasn’t a good choice for subcompact cars either. You have to wonder who test drove these cars and upon what did they base their approval?

    Detroit does have a record of making small cars livable. These small cars, except for the Rambler, didn’t sell. When this vehicle was designed, I suppose the PR mavens and the Board flaks were convinced these machines would be driven by double-jointed young people and that since young people liked muscle cars, they would be designed similarly. It was very short sighted.

    So, here we are a decade later with a crappy design with a new front clip, selling in 1979. Must have been the price. Must have been the water. Must have been the Carter Malaise years. It certainly wasn’t because this vehicle was any good at any time during the entire decade.

  • avatar
    and003

    Oh, I don’t know … if the shell is still intact, this Pontiac Sunbird wagon could be worth rescuing. I could see a custom chassis from either Art Morrison or the Roadster Shop being installed in this wagon, with an E-Rod or LSX 454 being installed in the engine bay. Meanwhile, the interior could be custom.


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