Junkyard Find: 1979 Pontiac Sunbird Safari Station Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1979 pontiac sunbird safari station wagon

Until 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!

To make the branding even more confusing, GM stuck the snout of the discontinued crypto-Canadian Astre on the 1978-79 Sunbird wagons.

Things 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.

However, 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.

Original owner? I’m going to say yes.

Worth 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.

Join the conversation
2 of 23 comments
  • VanillaDude VanillaDude on Jan 17, 2012

    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.

  • And003 And003 on May 14, 2012

    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.

  • Denis Jeep have other cars?!?
  • Darren Mertz In 2000, after reading the glowing reviews from c/d in 1998, I decided that was the car for me (yep, it took me 2 years to make up my mind). I found a 1999 with 24k on the clock at a local Volvo dealership. I think the salesman was more impressed with it than I was. It was everything I had hoped for. Comfortable, stylish, roomy, refined, efficient, flexible, ... I can't think of more superlatives right now but there are likely more. I had that car until just last year at this time. A red light runner t-boned me and my partner who was in the passenger seat. The cops estimate the other driver hit us at about 50 mph - on a city street. My partner wasn't visibly injured (when the seat air bag went off it shoved him out of the way of the intruding car) but his hip was rather tweaked. My car, though, was gone. I cried like a baby when they towed it away. I ruminated for months trying to decide how to replace it. Luckily, we had my 1998 SAAB 9000 as a spare car to use. I decided early on that there would be no new car considered. I loathe touch screens. I'm also not a fan of climate control. Months went by. I decided to keep looking for another B5 Passat. As the author wrote, the B5.5 just looked 'over done'. October this past year I found my Cinderella slipper - an early 2001. Same silver color. Same black leather interior. Same 1.8T engine. Same 5 speed manual transmission. I was happier than a pig in sh!t. But a little sad also. I had replaced my baby. But life goes on. I drive it every day to work which takes me over some rather twisty freeway ramps. I love the light snarel as I charge up some steep hills on my way home. So, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Passat guy.
  • Paul Mezhir As awful as the styling was on these cars, they were beautifully assembled and extremely well finished for the day. The doors closed solidly, the ride was extremely quiet and the absence of squeaks and rattles was commendable. As for styling? Everything's beautiful in it's own way.....except for the VI coupe....it's proportions were just odd: the passenger compartment and wheelbase seemed to be way too short, especially compared to the VI sedan. Even the short-lived Town Coupe had much better proportions. None of the fox-body Lincolns could compare to the beautiful proportions of the Mark V.....it was the epitome of long, low, sleek and elegant. The proportions were just about perfect from every angle.
  • ToolGuy Silhouetting yourself on a ridge like that is an excellent way to get yourself shot ( Skylining)."Don't you know there's a special military operation on?"
  • ToolGuy When Farley says “like the Millennium Falcon” he means "fully updatable" and "constantly improving" -- it's right there in the Car and Driver article (and makes perfect sense).