By on November 9, 2012

Pontiac rolled with the Plastic Cladding Era about as far as it could, even as most other car manufacturers entered the 21st century in a de-cladifying mood. The Sunfire had cheerful molded plastic panels all over the place, but that isn’t enough to give this car the historical significance it needs to make it as a Junkyard Find. No, what made me pick up the camera when I saw this car is that the ’04 Sunfire is just about the last of the J Bodies, which makes it a close cousin to the Cadillac Cimarron d’Oro.
The GM J platform got the axe after the 2005 model year, which means that it lasted longer— a lot longer— than even the all-purpose Chrysler K platform.
Of course, if the Cimarron had been equipped with an engine like the Ecotec instead of the wretched Iron Duke or anti-luxurious 2.8 V6, Things Would Have Been Different for the Cadillac-ized Cavalier.
Will we even notice when the last-gen Sunfires and Cavaliers are gone?


Sunfire owners, they kick old dudes out of the restroom when nature calls!

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119 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 2004 Pontiac Sunfire...”


  • avatar

    I loathe the digital odometer era…how are we supposed to know just how many miles this fine piece of automotive history traveled?

  • avatar
    dave504

    Does every article at TTAC have to reference the Cimarron? It was awful, we get it. The rest of the world has moved on.

    • 0 avatar
      dundurrbay

      Hmm. I wonder why they mentioned the Cimarron. Maybe its cause this 2004 Sunfire [!!] uses an updated version of the platform the Cimarron was based on. Common sense.

    • 0 avatar
      srogers

      I have not moved on. I like references to the Cimarron because it was such an abomination. “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it” (or something like that).

    • 0 avatar
      car_guy2010

      I never get sick of reminding my buddy, a huge Cadillac fanboy, of the Cimarron. He grumbles whenever I bring it up.

      Not a fan of Cadillacs in general but I’d love to take a Cimarron and bling it out and show up in his driveway to mock him.

      It’s good to be cruel.

    • 0 avatar
      GarbageMotorsCo.

      “The rest of the world has moved on.”

      Exactly, we have the Buick “Cimarrano” to pick on now. It’s like Government Motors was just asking for a reboot to the legacy ,exactly 30 years after the Caddy was introduced to the world.

      • 0 avatar
        chicagoland

        The Verano sells well in China, where Buick is loved. It wasn’t whipped up just for the US. And just because it’s a C class size doesnt mean it’s “crap”. What is a BMW 1 series or Acura ILX?

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I’m a Buick/Pontiac guy from way back and the Verano is the only Buick product which I would even be interested in at the moment. Despite the J-car clones in the 80s, Buick had smaller cars such as Skylark and Century which sold reasonably well, building a smaller car isn’t without precedent for the brand.

        For the record I do think Acura ILX and BMW 1 are crap, supposed true luxury brands shouldn’t be in the business of tiny uncomfortable cars… Buick in my lifetime is not and was never a true luxury brand in league with zee Germans, its near luxury at best.

      • 0 avatar
        TEXN3

        The first car I purchased, a 1990 Integra sedan GS was not luxury but was small and very well engineered. Heated leather seats and a touchscreen do not necessarily mean luxury, or my wife’s new Accord EXL would be a luxury car.

        The luxury for me, with the Accord, is peace and quiet. Even if road noise is worse than some others.

    • 0 avatar
      RedStapler

      Because pointing out GMs “Deadly Sins” is deep in TTACs Fargo derived DNA.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    You know, I got angry at GM in the mid-70′s and the final nail in the coffin for them was the day I sold my 1976 Chevy ¾ ton truck in 1977. I didn’t begin to like them again until the early 2000′s and then I bought my 2004 Impala and SOME of the old, good feeling s-l-o-w-l-y came back…

    That being said, it sure looks like I picked the right time to shut GM out of my life and enjoy the world of AMC, Chrysler, and, from an in-law distance, Ford.

    For 27 years I missed all this!

  • avatar
    stars9texashockey

    I have a love/hate relationship with Bob Lutz, but the one statement of his that I will never forget is that GM products of this era had interiors that looked like molten lava.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    The Ecotec 2.2 turned out to be a fairly good engine but there is nothing luxury oriented about it either. And the Cimarron never had the Iron Duke underhood. The Chevy designed OHV 1.8 and 2.0 were the only 4 bangers that were offered in that Cadillac and the 2.8 was a god send in comparison to any 4 banger at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      celebrity208

      It looks, based on the cladding and wheels, like this Sunfire might have had the 2.4L LD914 + 4T40 combo? I’ve stated before (in an old Hammer time: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/hammer-time-cheap-cheap-and-cheap/) that for me, in my wife’s ’99 GT, this combo was ROCK SOLID. It was wheezy and didn’t like to rev high but the engine torque and ratio of first gear made for lots of fun starts off the line.
      I’d actually recommend them to people looking for cheap to buy, relatively reliable, and cheap to fix, first cars for kids.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        The valve train, timing chain, airbox, and oil cap indicate you are correct.

        My twin cam won’t die. 10 years and 170,000 miles later with mostly factory everything still on it and it won’t quit.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        If this is a 2004 version, then it’s the L61 2.2 Eco, but it will have the 4T40 behind it. Solid powertrain, they can be hopped up pretty easily. My daughter had one for three years, no problems.

        I have a 95 Sunfire GT with the second series LD2 (LD2.1?) Quad 4 (balance shafts but lo po head) and Isuzu 5 speed. It’s been a good runner, but I have had problems with the tranny.

        Later mantran cars had the Getrag box, that would be the one to get.

      • 0 avatar
        Silent Ricochet

        I’d agree that the combo is pretty rock solid. just about to roll over 152k with my LD9 + Getrag Combo and I’ve only just had to replace the factory water pump (~$1200 fix incl. timing chain). The J-body gets a terrible name, and everyone hates on Sunfires and Cavaliers, but they do their job and they do it well. I’m confident the best drivetrain combo is the Getrag and 2.4 Twin Cam. I’ve driven other combinations and they just didn’t seem as robust, especially that head-gasket hungry 2.2 OHV and laughable 3spd Tranny.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        argh, you are right. I forget that ecotec snuck in there. It was a fine motor.

        I remember working at a GM delaership when I saw the Sunfires and Z24′s with the Getrag trans. I thought it was the coolest thing (haha) and loved the shift feel. Only real piece of leather in that greenbox was what was wrapped around the shift knob :)

        I think I only saw 3 or so new. I always wondered about the overlap of the Z24/twincam and the LS/Ecotec with similar trim. Must have been just a 2002.5 MY change or a delay caused by the ecotec.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @tresmonos: I’m amazed you saw ANY later J’s with a man trans!

        When my FIL was looking for my daughter’s car, (back in 2008) they tried to find a 5 speed, could not find one in the mid-south. They lived in Knoxville, TN at the time. He found my daughter’s car on the lot at a Buick dealer less than 5 mins from his home. Go figure.

        You could be correct, there was that weird period between the Z24s and the LS models, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few LSs that got out with 2.4s in them.

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        Geozinger– How many manual transmissions did these cars come with? They shared a NVG 5-speed with compact Mopar FWDs, a Getrag as well as an Isuzu-sourced one?

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @iNeon: My early 3rd gen (1995) came with the Isuzu 5 speed transmission. That version had ball bearing vs. roller bearings and to my great personal distress found out about the durability of the ball bearing ones. (I guess smoky burnouts are not really appropriate behavior for a guy who was then in his mid 40′s.)

        The Getrag ones IIRC only came with the Twin Cam (2.4) and later Ecotec motors; after the 2000 and 2003 refreshes. For reference, the Quad 4 N-body cars in the early 90′s had a different Getrag box. GM spec’d the ball bearing Isuzu trans which obivously had the different bearings than the ones used by the Isuzu cars.

        I’m not 100% sure about a New Process/New Venture 5 speed, maybe that was the one in the 2.2 (OHV) cars? I must be getting old, because I’m not remembering that one.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        @Geozinger, IIRC the 2.4 had a NewVentureGear box, not the Isuzu one.

        That one went on the OHV 2.2

      • 0 avatar
        dvdlgh

        It’s the 2.2 Eco. See the oil filter cover at the front right side of the motor.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    It looks like they took an injection molding machine, set it to “car interior” and left it inside. Most Korean cars of this era at least were able to mimic the Japanese in interior style if not substance. This thing looks like 1990 inside, or what they thought 2004 would look like in 1990.

    These were awful hit or miss cars, we all know that. But we also know people who have taken zero care of their J body car and still avoid the junkyard at 150k plus. One guy I work with has a 2000 Cavalier that looks terrible, but still runs with 210k on it!

    I remember driving a few Cavalier circa 1997 or so with the 2.4. I was working for Enterprise, so a J body with the 2.4/4spd really stuck out compared to the usual 2.2 powered cars we had. The powertrain, like in most GM cars, was better than the rest of the vehicle. It would scoot pretty good, rest of the car was junk, like most GM cars of the era.

    I don’t think we’ll ever see the last of these cars. Every time I think the last Tempo/Topaz has died, I see one. Every time I think the last K car has gone, I see one.

    One used car lot in my area, the guy is an old Mopar/AMC lover. He must buy cars from estates or something like that. Last one that caught my eye a few months ago was a 1987 Dodge Shadow ES Turbo with either 18 or 28k on it, I don’t remember but it was low. I have no love for those cars usually, but I love survivor cars. How many un-loved and undesirable cars like that are out there, just waiting for the person who bought it new to die?

    For an example of this, check out http://www.freemotormart.com and search for GO Car Auto Sales. And yes, I believe most every vehicle in the background can be purchased. And no, I don’t know the guy or work there.

    • 0 avatar
      car_guy2010

      I passed a very nice looking 4 door Dodge Shadow a few weeks back on the interstate, both coming and going! Driven by an old man who obviously took good care of it. Spotless. Very nice car.

      I’ve seen plenty of J-Bodies around here as well. They were the choice of the chronically poor and people would often tack them out with cheap aftermarket gizmos. The Cobalt replaced them in that regard.

  • avatar
    mikeg216

    We will notice when all the crapaliers and sunfires are gone because they will no longer litter the roadside

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @ Mike216…Yeah, your probably right. You don’t see much of the Asian crap of that era, on the side of the road.

      Because of them are already in the junkyard,getting thier, oh so expensive parts picked of of them

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        @Mikey:

        Geozinger nails it, I must admit, with his “Cockroach of the Road”© moniker for these.

        I give GM credit where it’s due. We bought our daughter a 1997 Cavalier when she pretty much killed our beloved 1990 Acclaim in 2000. The Cavalier got her through the rest of her college and our neighbor directly across the street bought it for one of his kids and they drove it for many years with nary an issue.

        Thing is, I still see lots of these around our area, especially the convertibles.

        I suppose GM hit on something more-or-less right, after all. They are survivors!

        ©Geozinger

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        Time to bring back the “They’ll run bad longer than most cars will run” meme?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        @mikey,

        This car is a 2004. Not only are Japanese cars of the era not in junkyards, the ones from Toyota and Honda that aren’t still in the hands of their original owners command five figure sums on used car lots.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        This one appears to have front end repairs and a new rad. You can drive (have) my J body any day. It will annoy you with wind noise, terrible NVH and poor fitting everything inside and out but it won’t die.

        Most of these perish due to neglect. Who in their right mind would want to keep one around when you can mclease a new car for your mcmansion?

        The rust around the engine mounts is what will total it out in a few years.

      • 0 avatar
        mikeg216

        You are crazy people on here are praising these penalty boxes for making it to 150k mostly without problems show the low expectations people have for gm cars. There is no reason a car made in the last decade can’t make it to at least 250k with oil changes and scheduled maintenance. Lol my car made it 50k past its first spark plug and dexcool change! Praise be the general!

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        same timing chain, tensioners, plugs, coolant, watever except the battery – 179k. I’m lazy. I haven’t even swapped the coolant. Just oil and brakes. Bought new for around 15K (GM card discount, employee discount and rebate) in 2002. It’s been quite the value proposition to me. You may think otherwise, but I don’t give a damn as I like my putting money in my pocket (or dumped into my project car). The great GM sheet metal printing press of the 90′s/2000′s for CAFE requirements was a great thing for cheap people like me.

        Edit: nothing makes me happier than seeing people drink their own flavor of auto kool-aid, but you, my friend are one misguided individual. The platform is one ugly tank. I ran a washer/nut from a dumb wet nitrous fogger nozzle installation through the valve train of a 91 cav back when I was young and dumb. Fished the blown up metal fragments out with a magnet then started the car right up.

    • 0 avatar
      celebrity208

      The death blow to my wife’s ’99 Sunfire GT was a 5mph collision just in front of the front passenger side wheel. That is where the computer was. USAA junked it but gave us like TWICE what I was expecting to get based on e-bay/cars.com/KBB/etc. We replaced the Sunfire with a ’05 XC70. My wife loves the XC70 but would trade it for her old car if she could. She loved that car.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        Its nice that you got so much cash from that, but what idiot decided to make Sunfires so brittle?

        Back in the late 70′s it was pretty much a requirement for a car to withstand 5mph hits.

    • 0 avatar
      noxioux

      Cockroach of the road? Total BS. I suppose you’d rather have a stylish and functional K car, or the lovely Hyundai Excel. Yeah, maybe the Hondas were better, if you wanted to give them your pound of flesh, and weren’t intimidated by 12 miles of vacuum lines.

      I don’t care what any of you silly monkeys say, the ’91 Sunbird I bought new was a damn good car. Would deliver 38 to 40mpg reliably. I got 41 out of it a couple times. Would drive all day long at 90mph and deliver 30+mpg. The guy that had it after me drove it well over 300,000 miles up and down the mountain for his daily commute. I think he may have had to replace the CV joints, but that’s about it.

      I’d take it back in a heartbeat. In fact, I’d kill right now for a clean Sunbird SE with the 3.1 and a 5-speed.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        You have to understand, the Cockroach of the Road sobriquet is a term of endearment.

        I’ve owned a couple. Still have one waiting for me out in the parking lot. I drive it with pride, just to p!ss off Honda owners. ;)

      • 0 avatar
        srogers

        You’re right, this wasn’t that terrible of a car in ’91. They were terribly terrible by the time they finally got axed. But even then they were so cheap to buy that they weren’t a bad value – like a Yugo with better reliability.

      • 0 avatar
        TheyBeRollin

        “Cockroach of the road” means it is common, cheap, and keeps going. Usually in spite of serious neglect and a body that is in terrible shape. It means the car is a survivor in spite of the people that bought and neglected them.

    • 0 avatar

      We’ve had a fair number of 21st-century, manual-trans-equiped Cavaliers in the 24 Hours of LeMons. They get smoked by SOHC Neons and early-90s Escorts.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Ya, zippy, they ain’t. I know this from *vast* experience. Grandma’s Corolla will take me off the line.

        When it comes to mid-90′s subcompacts that I would enter in some sort of a speed contest, a Neon would be my first choice. They were quick and handled well.

        When it comes to mid-90′s subcompacts that I would use as daily drivers spanning decades, pound through the snows and the potholed roads, and stuff full of kid’s stuff, soccer and/or music gear…

        You guessed it…

  • avatar
    danio3834

    It’s hard to imagine a more 90′s car commercial.

  • avatar
    MarkySparky

    Oh memories… I owned a 1998 4-door version in college with no options besides AC. Mine had the 2200 (non-ecotec) with a three (!) speed auto, which made it highly impractical for interstate cruising. At 75 mph it was like riding a skateboard with a chainsaw for a motor. Probably the last car I will ever own that required turning off the AC to overtake on the highway. I rolled the odometer from 75K to 100K, then gifted it to my brother, who added 25K before the wretched thing died.

    In almost every way it was a worse car than my 1991 Chevy Lumina Eurosport 4-door, which is what I drove prior to the Sunfire. I realize that may seem amazing, given the reputation of the Roger Smith W-bodies, but I swear it is true. I pulled the Lumina out of my parents’ shed and drove it for a few months after I got rid of the Sunfire (in 2006). After the Sunfire, the 3100 seemed refined, the 4AT allowed sub-3500 rpm cruising, and the ride was infinitely better despite the 180K miles on the odo. I still drive GM products for some reason. What a company…

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Only eight years and it’s on the trash heap already. This may be a record for the youngest car on Murilee’s “Junkyard Find” series.

  • avatar
    crtfour

    Wow my 2-year old nephew’s Fisher-Price truck has a nicer interior than that car.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    I love how the first rule in that ad was “Cut Corners”. That seems about right for Pontiac of this era.

    Honestly, I think this is the ugliest car of the last 20 years (yes, worse than a Aztek) and I cringe every time I see one. Weird protruding bulges, tacky cladding, and just generally miserable all over. I don’t care if it was cheap….there is no excuse to ever buy such a car.

    On the other hand, I always liked the styling old Sunbirds (late 80s-early90s). They probably weren’t great cars either, but they had a nice handsome understated exterior that I think has aged really well (the only problem is that not many of them have survived).

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      My favorite bush/offroading car of all time is a ’91 Sunbird with a 3.1L V6. Took a lickin’ and kept on tickin’. The front subframe nicely protected the engine and trans from debris and trees.

      The 3.1L had plenty of power to plow through mud bogs and over stumps. Heck, it even did OK on 2 wheels. Great car. Highly recommended.

      • 0 avatar
        noxioux

        +1

        I took my 91 up a nasty muddy track to go fishing one day. Passengers got nervous when they saw the 4×4 Ford Ranger ahead of us chicken out and turn around. Sunbird ripped right up that sucker, mud up to the axles.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      The old pop-up headlight Sunfires were nice, but to call the last Sunfires ugly is a bit much.

      Its nothing compared to the Nissan Juke.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Since I actually have experience with J-bodies, there’s a few things I’d like to comment on. First, this variation of the J shares little if anything with a Cimmaron. Not that it matters that much, but the meme is a little old.

    This car is the final evolution of the 3rd Gen J-body. Coincidentally, I happen to have had both, a 1995 Sunfire GT and a 2004 Sunfire SE. My daughter totaled the 2004 version. You could rightly criticize the 1995 for being being less than well-thought out, but mine with 160+K on it is still roaming the upper midwest while most of it’s Japanese competition IS resting in the junkyard.

    By the 2003 refresh, which this car represents, every system in the car had been greatly improved over the 1995 version. The 2.2 Ecotec and 4T40 autobox package was reliable as an anvil. One can debate the aesthetics of the car as a whole, but the interior was better assembled and with better quality materials at this point in time. The body was assembled better with items you didn’t get on the contemporary Cavalier, like plastic inner fender liners in the rear wheel wells. (I always thought that a bad idea, not to include those on Cavaliers).

    These things aren’t as thick on the ground as they once were, and I really am finding it harder to fold myself into the cockpit of these things, but I would definitely like to have another one. I would have no problems recommending one of these as cheap wheels for someone starting out.

    They really are the Cockroach of the Road!

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      My only issue is finding that damned head lamp bracket that rots out for replacement bulbs.

      The re-spec’d head bolts on the shortstar did wonders for all the twin cam equipped ‘roaches.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Ummmm… most 2003 era japanese cars are NOT resting in junk yards. In fact any 2003 japanese car will fetch easily 2X what your cavalier/sunbird will fetch.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        Which is why I would buy the non-japanese car if I had to buy a replacement.

        The entry price still makes up for it. I guess I don’t understand the hate. Clinching onto a grand worth or resale isn’t a big deal 10 years down the road.

        There are plenty of reasons not to drive one, but value isn’t one of them.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        Ummm… I was referring to *1995* era Japanese cars. My last visit to the boneyard, I saw p l e n t y of mid 90′s era Japanese cars.

        As a comparison, my other J is a 97 Cavalier, 2.2 OHV motor with 4T40, 275K miles on it. Rusty and slow, but lights up every time. My younger daughter drives it, no worries. You definitely aren’t going to win any races with it, but it is cheap to run and nothing breaks on the stupid thing. Rust will take it off the road.

        And, for whatever difference the princely sum a 03 Civic DX would net me (vs. an 03 Cav or Fire), I could buy a nice TV at Walmart.

        Woo. hoo.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        And most 2004 cars that were clearly in accidents and have shade tree body work done, badly attempted body work for that matter, end up in a junkyard, regardless of make or model.

        That poor car probably had a list of deferred maintenance items a mile long. I could have made any car bought in 2004 last 200K miles and 10 years. Real simple, follow the owners manual warranty requirements to the letter of the law – odds are regardless of who made it, 10 years and 150K to 200K miles easily in reach.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        @tresmonos – Just like Steve Lang says about searching for the keeper; Look for the well maintainted unloved orphan as most modern cars will last a very long time with simple maintenance. Why pay a brand premium?

      • 0 avatar
        Truckducken

        It is pretty hard to make a judgment about the intrinsic reliability of the later J’s, given that by then, thirty-odd years of inferior product had turned GM dealerships into the new car equivalent of BHPH lots. Maintenance just wasn’t going to happen – I mean, would you rather buy an oil change or a carton of smokes? Easy call. My trashy sis killed an ’05 Cobalt inside 100K, saving money on motor oil by running it dry. In CR stats, that would be a vehicle defect. I’d like to find a well cared for J for my kid, but I don’t think they exist.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Spot on danio

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        BHPH – exactly why I could pick one up right out of high school to get me a car that I didn’t have to worry about through college.

        All the salesmen at my high school job all called these ‘throw away cars.’ This article / thread is testament to it.

        Now I feel guilty about my timing chain maintenance. Truckducken, had I not washed my car in 5 years (add on steel mill fall out from the Rouge), and had a few pops on the front and rear bumpers from parallel parkers, I would consider mine well cared for :)

        Strangely enough, after driving a company owned loaded MKS for a year and a half while traveling/working, coming back to a tired, reliable car you know inside and out was welcoming. That and I can ride with my arm out the window without 2′ of crush zone messing that all up. It will fire right up after sitting 6 months in the work parking lot like it always does, when I come back from this assignment.

  • avatar
    mike1dog

    I believe this car was in a wreck at some time. Note the black hood and right fender and bumper cover. They must have discovered something badly broken and decided to scrap it. Why they left those parts on, I don’t know.

  • avatar
    pdieten

    I’m actually surprised a 2004 would be in the junkyard. Of all the issues these had, long term reliability was not among them. Maybe the car was never fixed right after the crash it obviously experienced.

    I drove a ’97 sedan for 9 years. No plastic cladding to speak of, had the old 2200 + 3-speed. So it was the modern day equivalent of a Chevette. Who cares, the thing was indestructible. I sold the car 5 years ago with 165K on the clock, and it’s still on the road.

  • avatar
    dundurrbay

    The early ecotec motors also had problems with the timing chains. A friend of mine bought a 2003 sunfire with the 2.2 ecotec and 4t40 automatic transmission. It had 82.000 kilometers [loooooooow miles] when the chain stretched and munched part of the engine. She had a rebuilt engine put in and sold the car 6 months later, and typically, bought a 2001 Honda Accord 5speed.

  • avatar
    mikeg216

    You people are proving my point for me, you are all talking about selling long term owned cars with well under 200k and exclaiming they are still on the road, I hope so. And a three speed transmission in 1998 really?! Come on man I have a jeep that’s 12 years older then that with a 4 speed automatic!

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      What is so difficult to grasp that the cars are more durable than the meme surrounding them? It seems like if you point out obvious flaws in other machinery a legion of responders will try to drown you out. In this case, I think many of the folks posting are somewhat surprised by their experience and are just relating it to us.

      The 3T40 trans (3 speed automatic) was the poverty/fleet choice back then. Even so, I don’t think it made it on the equipment list after the millenium arrived.

      FWIW, the only choice of autoboxes on the original Neon was a three speed. No matter what trim level you specified, it was a three. And it continued even after the Daimler update…

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        Neons got 4-speed automatics a year after they got window frames.

      • 0 avatar
        mikeg216

        What is my issues with these cars? They sucked…. Hard. I came of age during a time when all kids got these as either birthday presents or bought them when they turned 18 cuz if you fogged a mirror you go the0% financing. Be it a z24 a sunfire gt a four door cavalier or a two door cavalier convertible lol…. They all had problems.. Leaky sunroof plastic falling off broken sunroof, motors noises undiagnosed, etc and being in the snow and salt belt with potholes the size of kei cars these cars aged quickly and not well gas was cheap it was 1998 and life was good we drove everywhere in these things but after 5-7 years of northeast ohio roads and salt they all were clapped out and near death at about 120k miles from and those clamshell Seats were the most uncomfortable thing I ever sat on. These cars are the exact reason why people my age 31 will not be buying a compact gm car anytime soon.

    • 0 avatar
      pdieten

      Well, yeah, that’s what happens when you build a car to a low price point. You don’t buy a J-car with the base powertrain expecting a lot of quality or technology, you buy because those couple of thousand dollars make a difference – especially when you’re financing the car and your terms are dictated by its age. A five-year-old Civic costs a lot more per month than an identically priced 2-year-old Cavalier, because you get more time to pay it off……

      Which doesn’t explain why anyone bought them new, but mine is not to wonder why.

      Given that all the domestic companies had always had trouble building a durable small car before the 2nd-gen Js, the fact that they are durable (especially with indifferent maintenance) actually is notable. And a 2.2 never has to go to the shop for a 60K timing belt.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        “Which doesn’t explain why anyone bought them new, but mine is not to wonder why.”

        For the same reason people were snapping up Cobalts in 2010: $9,995! plastered on the widnshield.

        Anyone who managed to get a new Cobalt for around that price acutally got a pretty decent deal IMO.

    • 0 avatar
      crtfour

      Actually, the Jeep Wrangler had a 3-speed automatic through 2002.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      Probably not a Wrangler though — those had 3-speeds forever. Until 2003, if I remember correctly.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    These weren’t unreliable, but based on my experience driving them, one almost wished they would die so you could have an excuse to buy a nicer car. They were just darned miserable to drive. Uncomfortable and mushy seats, plastic steering wheels that were just gross to hold, crappy dashboards, crappy stereos (splitting from Delco/Delphi was a big improvement for GM entertainment systems), mushy and unresponsive suspensions, body trim designed to purposefully not have to line up during production. I just couldn’t understand why anyone bought these new at the time unless they simply hadn’t bothered to test drive anything else available on the market.

    Oh, and they probably hit the junkyards more quickly than contemporary Japanese cars because they lost resale value so quickly that the cost of minor repairs likely outweigh the value of the car and have done so for a few years now.

    • 0 avatar
      TheyBeRollin

      You should see the Cavalier my parents own that my brother bought near-new in 2001. He ran the miles up on it pretty hard, beat on it really hard, didn’t really maintain it, etc. The fact is that I would have called it a piece of crap from day one, even compared to the junk my parents had and my 7-year-old (at the time) GM car. I’d say any Geo (at the time, Chevy) of the same era was a better value proposition than a J-body.

      In spite of this, my brother’s old one still runs. It has some kind of exhaust leak that pours acrid toxic smoke into the cabin through the vents after it warms up (it started right around the time the factory warranty ran out, and isn’t worth the cost to fix – they just roll down the windows and turn off the fan), but it still works as basic transportation. Dad keeps limping the thing along just because he can and it’s a tangible connection he still has to my brother.

      I do agree, though. They’re so terrible you’d hope that they would die.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    When my 86 Camry got stolen back in 1992, they rented me a Cavalier 2 door, it was the biggest POS I had driven in a long time and even though it was brand-new I was thrilled when I got my 6 yr old 100k plus miles Toyota back.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Crappily built in the first place – the exterior indicates this Sunfire met an early demise due to a rough life. Clearly the front end was caved in at some point in time, and the ass end damaged also. Maybe someone bought it salvage on the cheap and gave up on repairs?

    The bondo and primer home repair screams out, “lots of deferred maintenance.”

  • avatar
    RatherhaveaBuick

    What a shame Jimi got dragged out of his grave for an overly 90′s J-Body commercial…

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    The last owner was a Republican and he trashed it because he couldn’t get the Obama sticker off of it.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Shame, could have just put a “we’re screwed” sticker over it.

      • 0 avatar
        luvmyv8

        +1

        … anyhow, my friend had a late 90′s Cavalier, a 2 door basic one with a manual trans. True enough, my beater ’88 Maxima would run circles around it and it still is around today…

        But it has to be said though, I’m not a fan of GM, but I’ll give credit where credit is due, my friend would actually teach people how to drive stick with that car (it was always funny seeing that damn thing lurch and stall!), not only that, but she was less then nice to it herself. Yet it got her through high school and college, so there you go.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        J cars are what they are and nothing more… but like the Chrysler K before them, they were honest.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    I still see early box Cavaliers on the road here and there, hardly ever any of their 513 variants.

    For a low price these are decent cars, no matter the year they’ll get you around and do whats required, parts are cheap and widely avaliable too.

    They’re certainly better than the Nissans of the 90′s, I have two friends who own 2 different Nissans (a Sentra and a 240sx), both cars nickel and dimed the owners well over several grand during their ownership.

    Mr. Martin, if you find one of those rare coupe hatchback Cavalierstoken GM variants please make an article on one. I almost never see any of these on the road nor in the junkyard.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I just want to add that I think the 80′s models had a better design, they were more about practicality in and out rather than being effeminine sport-y-ish cars.

  • avatar
    GarbageMotorsCo.

    I almost bought a convertible version of one of these. Brand new, I think the pricetag was 19,xxx at the time.

    Probably would have bought it if the convertible top wasn’t already leaking.

  • avatar
    mikey

    @ Garbage….Convertibles by thier very nature, tend to leak. I’ve owned many. The 95+ J bodies had one of the best fitting rag tops in the industry.

    Unlike the butt ugly Solara,that left parked on anything but a flat surface will leak, like a sieve.

  • avatar
    Spartan

    I had a J-Body myself. 97 Cavalier with plastic bumpers, roll up windows, A/C didn’t work, truck wouldn’t open, it was a rattle box.

    But man, it was damn reliable. Started every time and got me through college.

  • avatar
    JREwing

    I rented a Cavalier with the 2.2 Ecotec/4T40E for a couple days in New Orleans. Compared to my same-year Focus with the Zetec and 5-speed, the Ecotec was a more pleasant, more powerful engine, and the 4T40E an excellent transmission. That thing was zippy, and it got me a nice fat ticket en route to the airport.

    The rest of the car was complete junk, the same lowest-bidder Rubbermaid skinflint GMness that haunted the J-bodies since day one. My Focus may have been only $1000 or $2000 more new on the lot, but it seemed Ford spent every bit of that on the interior.

    In contrast, the Cobalt I own now with the same Ecotec motor is a much more pleasant conveyance, even though the Cobalt’s extra weight dulls the Ecotec’s verve a touch.

    • 0 avatar
      JREwing

      For what it’s worth, $15 of plastic epoxy and Dremel bits let me unshroud the throttle body on the Focus’ Zetec engine. That fixed the Zetec’s ungodly lazy throttle response and improved the sound considerably.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    “Only eight years and it’s on the trash heap already..”

    Low resale gets cars in the “U Pull” lots sooner than others. With Pontiac killed off, banks won’t cut loans for [very] used ones. Banks don’t care about Pontiac’s ‘performance history’, to them it’s a high risk. So, I’m not surprised at all to see an ’04 Sunfire in the “pick ur parts” yard.

    At a car auction, the recycle yard got it cheap for sure. Look at the dirty carpet, looks like high miles.

    J cars are rapidly dissapearing in Chicago area, only see 2000-05 models. And those are beat up rides. With more Cobalts, Calibers, and Elantras hitting BHPH lots, the J’s are getting junked.

  • avatar
    AJ

    A sales manager I worked with bought one of these. I laughed. But he got a really, really good deal on it.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I’d take it over a Saturn or N-body but I don’t get why you J-body folks didn’t go for a A, H, W, or Taurus instead.

  • avatar
    NewsLynne

    My brother had a silver one that rode out Hurricane Katrina. He drove it from Biloxi, MS to VA with only the front windshield glass intact and most of his belongings inside.

    The Sunfire wasn’t the most pleasant car to drive but it was a true roach. He treated it terribly and the little thing always started right up.

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    Wonder how many 17 year old high school girl owners this Sunfire passed through before hitting the junkyard? Ordinarily, you can just count the layers of Dave Matthews Band bumper stickers like rings on a tree, but they appear to have been all peeled off to provide a more secure mounting place for the Obama one.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    When the calendar turns to 2013, then Sunfire successor G5′s will appear in “Pick Your Own” places, along with some beat up Cobalts and Saturn Ions, too.

    Older Pontiac G6′s are still a bit pricey, yet, but coming!

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Consider that the average age of the cars on American roads is 11 years old. This one bit the dust at 8 – wow. It looks like it was beat to death.

    Anyone know why the valve covers are always missing on these Junkyard Finds? I find that very curious.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Mechanically maybe they weren’t that awful but the terrible plastic cladding Pontiac became known for – what a comedown for the brand . And looking at the interior here , looks cheesier than the early nineties Sunbird and Cavalier sedans I drove as company cars back in the day . That driver’s seat upholstery , already all ripped up . How many cars , Japanese or otherwise from this era have the interior so worn out looking. Sometimes I think GM / the government were foolish to get rid of Pontiac , on the other hand after years of building such cheap looking junk …

  • avatar
    dwight

    I had a 2000 sunfire with 5-speed transmission. so glad was I when the lease was up. actually, i handed it in 6-months early I hated it that much.

  • avatar
    84Cressida

    I routinely see American cars as new as 2003/04, and even sometimes ’05 in the Pick n’ Pull type lots. This POS being there doesn’t surprise me. Jeremy Clarkson said this best: “They were rubbish when they were new and they’re rubbish now”.

  • avatar
    roger628

    Except the one time he said it about a late 90s LeSabre, one of the better cars GM built in that time. Sorry, I’m a non-fan of “sir” Jeremy, he’s usually full of crap.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Oddly enough, I saw 2 of these being towed by wreckers yesterday. One was a red convertible being towed by a red wrecker, the other was a black sedan being towed by a silver wrecker. I couldn’t believe it.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    That an 8 yr car is in the JY is due more to the owners, more than the vehicle. I have better sources than the local yards for my 528e parts. First foray to a used parts place for the Ranger, got me a LR tail light in the time it took me to get to an ATM . It was only 15 $ The ’94 Ranger is the youngest car I have owned so far That something a decade newer is in there is unsettling

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    I almost bought one of these roaches back in ’02 after high school. Test driving one I just couldn’t justify the $16k+ price tag. Fit and finish was atrocious, and later quality issues reinforced my decision.

    Junk with a capital J.

    And, Mr. Martin, ‘will we even notice when last-gen Sunfires and Cavaliers are gone?’ No. They are more disposable than diapers.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Not sure I’d want “cut corners” as a rule in my car advert. But then again, I guess they didn’t want to lie.

  • avatar
    wibigdog

    Bought a brand new 2002 Cavalier in August 2002 with 36 miles on it. I preferred Fords, but my ’96 Contour, which I loved, gave up the ghost at 122,000 miles. Sigh. I was desperate. I was going to buy a Pepsi blue Saturn SL2, but the no haggle Saturn dealer wouldn’t come down on price. Couldn’t afford a Focus, nor the imports. And it didn’t help I was upside down on the loan for the Contour. After having spent the last six months in and out of the repair shop with the dying Contour, I wanted something that would keep me away from mechanics for a little while. So I bought the Cav. Didn’t even test drive it. Had ac and a CD player. Crank windows. I hated this car at first. Didn’t even do the first oil change till around 6000 miles. It was like an appliance, though it had more low end grunt than the Contour. I hated the plastic interior, and the WIDE panel gaps. But the car started to grow on me, especially as it kept chugging along. I now have 193,000 miles on it, drive it 250-300 miles per week for work. Longest relationship I’ve ever had with a car. Besides brakes, tires, a new battery and oil changes, haven’t done a thing to it. Flushed the coolant about four years ago. Check Engine light been on for 100,000 miles. Fuel evap system. Still have the same plugs. It’s been paid off for six years. For cheap, reliable transportation that’s not a tin box, what more could you ask for? I’ll be sad to see her go.

  • avatar
    blautens

    You folks and your newfangled 90s era J bodies! I met my first wife in high school…she had a brand new 1984 Oldsmobile Firenza ES. Every option. The best looking of all Js at the time…with the popular GM notion of “Euro styling”. Ungodly expensive for the crapball it really was. Her family being friends with the local Olds dealer, that was the natural thing in a Toronado, Cutlass, and 98 family. I married her in 1989, and killed it within a month. Not intentionally, mind you. 5 years and 85000 miles was its natural life expectancy. And it allowed me to expand on a love affair with Mazdas that lasted longer than she did. Her family almost disowned her for the nice looking black 1989 Mazda 323 sedan I got her, until they drove it, did the math (much better car, fun to drive, less money) and then all of a sudden Japan wasn’t a bad word any more.


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