By on December 27, 2016

2001 Pontiac Sunfire in California wrecking yard, front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The GM J Platform, best known for being the basis of the Chevrolet Cavalier, was built for a full quarter-century before being axed in 2005. The last J-Body Pontiac of them all was the Sunfire, a Cavalier sibling. Here’s an ’01 with a racy-looking hood scoop I recently spotted in a San Francisco Bay Area self-service yard.

2001 Pontiac Sunfire in California wrecking yard, shifter - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The engine was gone, but I checked the VIN and learned that this car came from the factory with the 2.2-liter version of the “122” engine that powered J-bodies starting all the way back in 1982. 115 horses plus the added 50 generated by the hood scoop. Naturally, the car has an automatic transmission.

2001 Pontiac Sunfire in California wrecking yard, Blink-182 decal - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

A U.C. Davis parking sticker plus several decals representing 1990s California pop-punk bands (e.g., Blink-182, Green Day) tells us something about this car’s final owner. This Sunfire made it to age 15, which is not bad for a J-Body. These cars tended to lead hard lives.

Just the car for escaping your boy-toy’s enraged mother. The remote door locks enable a quick getaway.

To you, it’s a traffic light. To the Sunfire driver, it’s a root canal.

The panic button seemed pretty futuristic back then.

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34 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 2001 Pontiac Sunfire...”


  • avatar
    OldManPants

    I’d tap Broom Granny. That’s just a wig and scary makeup.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I had a 90 Sunbird that I got as a hand-me-down from my sister. It was a pretty decent step up from my 86 Sentra I was nursing around at the time.
    I spent WAY too much time and money on that car. I had 16″ custom wheels with low profile tires but an unmodified 10 year old stock suspension. I had Super Street decals on the A pillars and some snazzy tape stripes on the windows. Everything was color coordinated in blue. Including pretty much all the hard plastic in the interior having been spray painted the color of the car and the under-dash neon light.

    At the time, people had huge NEUSPEED decals sprawling across their cars so I thought it would be funny to put BLEUSPEED decals on mine. They were pretty small and lined up with the snazzy stripes on the rear quarter windows.
    2.0 3-speed auto.

    Thankfully I got it all out of my system with that car instead of something nice. It was pretty reliable until one day, at ten years old and with about 125k miles the head gasket blew. My folks ended up replacing the engine and using it as a beater for the next few years until that motor blew up and they couldn’t give it away.
    Murilee, I believe whole-heartedly that you’d have pulled out your camera for it.

    And while I desperately wanted a Z24 Cavy, I never had any interest in the Sunfire, the styling was way too awkward and ugly.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      A friend of mine had a Cavalier Z24, he got it after his diesel Rabbit pickup’s injection pump got leaky and started spraying fuel all over the engine compartment. It served him very well for many years, the only thing I recall going wrong with it was that we had to replace the thermostat one day. Eventually it developed low oil pressure, but it kept going with no other issues, but someone backed into it and it started sliding into beaterhood. His wife got tired of seeing it and insisted that he trade it. I have no doubt that whomever wound up with it got a few more years out of it.

  • avatar
    zeus01

    Anyone owning one of this generation of Cavalier or Sunfire as early as 2004 had a ready supply of cheap parts at pretty much any junk yard in North America. My step-daughter went through a couple of these heaps in her late teens, both purchased in >100,000-miles condition for her by her biological dad. It’s a pretty sad commentary on our time when the car I bought for her to replace her last Sunfire was actually a step UP from the Pontiac: a >100,000-mile 2001 Neon. That one was purchased from my niece (as a favor) after her hubby had sunk over 5K in replacement parts into it, making it somewhat less of a risk than most Neons of that vintage.

  • avatar
    Rochester

    They say that for most teenagers new to driving, any car is a welcome car… because car. However, I’m pretty sure that didn’t apply to the Sunfire.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      I suspect most teens of that era would not complain about receiving a Sunfire to drive. It’s pretty silly looking by today’s standards, but back then it wasn’t too far out of line.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      Agreed. Unlike any poverty beater I was ever forced to endure, this Sunfire provides no hint whatsoever of institutional greatness to which one could aspire for when money was more available.

      I say this as one who nearly left home at 16 over a battle to keep my ’60 Falcon wagon.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      Yes, because every teenager deserves a brand new 3-series.

    • 0 avatar

      When I was in college, both one of my roommates and my other roommate’s girlfriend bought used Sunfires. They were both an upgrade from their previous cars – one replaced a Tempo, the other replaced a Cutlass Cruiser wagon.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    Growing up, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with these cars. I was on German and Japanese at that time. Excessive plastic, bad interiors and overall underwhelming, at least in my opinion. I had a friend who drove hers until the plastic fell off…literally and she loved it.

    The hood scoop is the epitome of Pontiac and quite silly looking now.

  • avatar
    pdieten

    Huh.
    Times were a little tough in 1998 so I bought a ’97 4-door to use as my daily commuter scooter, and I ended up driving the damn thing for almost nine years because it never gave me a reason to get rid of it. It also had the 122 engine and the TH125 3-speed auto. Not the smoothest drivetrain but completely indestructible. I put 135K miles on the thing and it still ran fine, despite the external head gasket leak that made it lose a quart of oil every 3K miles. Typical GM, it fell apart around the drivetrain and I finally sold it for $900 in 2007 to a guy willing to put a little work into it for his daughter to drive. Three years later I still saw the thing on the road. Cockroach of the road, indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Little love for these among the enthusiasts however they epitomized what GM did best. Build a vehicle that looked and felt cheap, that never performed ‘well’, whose body and trim would fall apart, but whose drivetrain would just keep on going.

      Still see a great many ‘J-bodies’ as daily drivers.

      • 0 avatar
        OldManPants

        “a vehicle that looked and felt cheap, that never performed ‘well’, whose body and trim would fall apart, but whose drivetrain would just keep on going..”

        You forgot “…as it wafted a pervasive reek of gas for blocks around”.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I stopped looking at these posts for a while, they just depress me. Sad to see such nice (no rust) cars on their way to the crusher.

    I had a 95 Sunfire GT with the 2.3 Q4 and the Isuzu 5 speed tranny. I got it from a kid who had “riced” it up like the one in the post. (Originally it was going to be a father/daughter fix-up project, but my FIL decided to buy my daughter a car without checking with me. He did that crap a lot, may he RIP.)

    So, I now had a third car I really didn’t need and spent a lot of time (mostly) removing the crap that the kid jury rigged (fog lights, amp, subwoofer, etc.) into the car. The idea was to hang on to it long enough to get my second daughter ready to drive, but she wasn’t interested in driving… Just my luck.

    Yep, with the 2.2 in these cars, they were as slow as molasses. In the winter. In Antarctica. On Pluto.

    This kid must have been a terror in his local street racing scene. That non-factory hood must have given him at least 75 HP, look how big it is! I would have liked to have seen the car at it’s zenith, it must have been quite the looker…

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Another in a long line of underwhelming to me but basically good reliable GM cars .
    .
    Speaking of Junk Yards :a Lady Friend has a 2005 Tahoe and the driver’s seat broke ~ what years can I use when Pick-A-Part shopping ? .

    TIA ,

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      Nate…2000 to 2006 any full-size extended or crew cab, Tahoe/ Yukon/ Suburban/ I think that maybe an Avalanche shares the same bolt pattern. But i’m not 100 percent sure ? Take a measuring tape, and you will need a torx head socket. You may need to work around the consul. Its pretty straight forward job.

      Your posts suggest to me,you know what your doing. Just make sure you have the right socket. A liberal application of penetrating oil might be necessary.

      Good luck

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        THANK YOU Mikey ! .
        .
        This is what I was hoping for =8-).
        .
        I think I have some Torx bits left over from Psycho-Bitches Ford Escort….
        .
        Yes, I know which end of the screwdriver to leave sticking out of my back pocket so it punches nice, clean holes in the Optional Leather Seating Surfaces…..
        .
        Hopefully she won’t insist on matching color mouse fur ~ I already found a couple of grey Naugahyde seats in decent shape….
        .
        -Nate

  • avatar

    Pontiac certainly had a knack; I can’t think of one of their cars whose styling improved towards the end.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    My wife got one of these brand new apparently (Cavalier), while in HS. She drove it through college,her 1st few years of independent life and then sold “Blueberry” to a younger cousin who just recently donated in running cond., with> 200k miles, one tranny rebuild I think , but otherwise no major repairs. It was a 2000 or so Cavalier , 4spd auto 2.0L (?).Just goes to show what regular maintenance does.
    A cop friend from Iowa mentioned the J body was the number 1 car involved in high speed chases in their Des Moines area precinct. Usually on a doughnut , blowing black smoke from the exhaust.
    Personally I had looked at an ’86? z24 5 speed, but it was too pricey in 91, endep up with an 84 Mk1 GTI. Lucky me.

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Sunfire’s were pure junk. Sold Pontiac’s for about 6 months and these were the worst of the worst. Water leaks to air vents falling out when going over rail road tracks. Also steering and handling was something of an afterthough at GM for the Sunfire.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    This falls into my category of “junk when new.” Of course, that 2.2-liter engine makes the Sunfire a cockroach, but whatever.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Lets see if i can remember them all. I bought my youngest daughter a 85 Sunbird in 94 for $700 from a neighbour , i remember it being trouble free. Brake pads, and a starter, nothing big. I sold it in 96 for $500. i picked up a sweet low miles 90 Sunbird , the number $5000 rings a bell. She wacked into the back of an F 150 in early 97. Myself and a co worker bolted on a junk yard front clip. I had another guy paint it. The Sunbird blew a head gasket, about 6 months later. Of course she continued on driving it for another 40 miles or so, and managed to seize the engine..I sold it to the guy that had painted it for a $1000 as is…. I made her walk for 6 months.

    Under pressure from wifey, I caved in early 98 and bought her a 93 Cavalier. Base model stick shift with a 100,000 KLMs {62,000 miles} I informed her, “Dad was done buying car”s…We all know how that works ! She drove it trouble free for nearly 3 years. She comes home one day with a 97 Sunfire GT. “Dad , look its has tinted windows, and a Sunroof” . She goes on to tell me that the salesman allowed her $1400 for her now high mileage, somewhat battered 93. {On a good day her old Cav might fetch $700} Her newish GT just screamed at me “some young fella has drove the supreme pi$$ out of it”.. 3 months and $1000’s in repairs later, i swapped her my wifes mint 97 Grand Am . I traded the Sunfire GT in on a 2001 Grand Am GT.

    So my oldest girl, fresh out of university, doesn’t want to screw around with nothing used. She wanted a base model new 98 Sunfire. Dad coughed up a nice down payment, and co-signed the balance with GMAC. As i recall i made more payments than she did.. That Sunfire soldiered on for 200,000 KLM’s . Her husband took it over and cranked another 100, 000 KLM’s on it. Rust ,and a leaky head gasket, sent it to the crusher in 2010.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Fresh out of college I seriously considered getting one of these. *hides head in shame*

    I suppose it was the Sunfire’s baby Firebird look, a car that I liked – but couldn’t afford – in that same era. Glad I dodged this bullet.

    In my first job out of college, my not-so-nice female co-worker bought the convertible version of the Sunfire. It fit her personality to a T.

  • avatar
    glwillia

    Keep in mind this was 2001. Other cheap new cars available at the time were the Kia Sephia, Daewoo Lanos, Daewoo Leganza, Chevrolet Metro, etc. I’d take the J-body over any of those.

    I have a friend from high school back in the late ’90s who went from an ’85 Stanza to a ’97 Sunfire to a ’99 Cavalier. They were a year old when he got them, and seemed pretty nice compared to what we drove. His ’99 was unkillable and he finally replaced it a couple years ago with a Mazda3.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    La cucaracha del camino.

  • avatar
    Tandoor

    The panic button. The curse of modern car ownership. I take apart the remote and stick a piece of paper under the button. If a situation ever arose where the button could theoretically be useful, I’d rather be murdered.

  • avatar
    r129

    Weren’t these particularly popular in Canada?

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Yes, on account of the relatively strong Pontiac-Buick-GMC network GM Canada had built up, and that network’s rather strong influence on ensuring they always had cheap cars to compete with the Chevy dealer up the road.

  • avatar
    JREwing

    By the time 2002 came about, it got the L61 Ecotec 2.2L 4-cyl and 4-speed automatic. In the rental Cavalier I drove it in, it was pretty enthusiastic – so much so that I got nabbed for an 85 in a 60 on I-55 on the west side of Lake Pontchartrain. It didn’t hurt that it had 10 hp and 20 lb-ft of torque extra over my 2002 Focus.

    It didn’t hurt that there was nothing substantial to the Cavalier. The far-more substantial Cobalt I later purchased with the same engine (and a stick!) never quite had this Cavalier’s enthusiasm; more car to haul around.

    Typical of GM, the engine/transmission were winners, but the rest of the car actively mocked your financial sense in purchasing it. My 2002 Focus was a much nicer car despite the less-energetic engine.


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