Junkyard Find: 1979 Pontiac Sunbird Safari Station Wagon

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • 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.

  • MaintenanceCosts "But your author does wonder what the maintenance routine is going to be like on an Italian-German supercar that plays host to a high-revving engine, battery pack, and several electric motors."Probably not much different from the maintenance routine of any other Italian-German supercar with a high-revving engine.
  • 28-Cars-Later "The unions" need to not be the UAW and maybe there's a shot. Maybe.
  • 2manyvettes I had a Cougar of similar vintage that I bought from my late mother in law. It did not suffer the issues mentioned in this article, but being a Minnesota car it did have some weird issues, like a rusted brake line.(!) I do not remember the mileage of the vehicle, but it left my driveway when the transmission started making unwelcome noises. I traded it for a much newer Ford Fusion that served my daughter well until she finished college.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Couple of questions: 1) who will be the service partner for these when Rivian goes Tits Up? 2) What happens with software/operating system support when Rivia goes Tits Up? 3) What happens to the lease when Rivian goes Tits up?
  • Richard I loved these cars, I was blessed to own three. My first a red beauty 86. My second was an 87, 2+2, with digital everything. My third an 87, it had been ridden pretty hard when I got it but it served me well for several years. The first two I loved so much. Unfortunately they had fuel injection issue causing them to basically burst into flames. My son was with me at 10 years old when first one went up. I'm holding no grudges. Nissan gave me 1600$ for first one after jumping thru hoops for 3 years. I didn't bother trying with the second. Just wondering if anyone else had similar experience. I still love those cars.