By on December 24, 2014

08 - 1977 Pontiac Sunbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe story of the Chevrolet Monza and its badge-engineered Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac siblings goes much like the tale of its ancestor and platform-mate, the Vega: many sold, almost none made it to age 15. I hadn’t seen an H-body Monza, Starfire, Skyhawk or Sunbird in a self-service wrecking yard for at least five years when I spotted this one near me in Denver.
04 - 1977 Pontiac Sunbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinPontiac later applied the Sunbird name to the J-body-based front-drivers it built in the 1980s and 1990s.
11 - 1977 Pontiac Sunbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYou still see members of the Monza family at race tracks, because V8s bolt in and they’re pretty aerodynamic for their time.
06 - 1977 Pontiac Sunbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one has been picked over in a big way.
02 - 1977 Pontiac Sunbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinA friend in high school had a ’76 Skyhawk that suffered a door striker rust failure and had to be welded, just as this one did. That was in California, in a 7-year-old car. I shudder to think of the rust that afflicted these cars in places like Michigan and New Hampshire.
03 - 1977 Pontiac Sunbird Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAnybody need a genuine Delco AM radio?

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71 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1977 Pontiac Sunbird...”


  • avatar
    Curt in WPG

    A buddy of mine in high school had a Monza with a 350 and side pipes that was pretty quick for it’s time (mid to later 80’s). Fun car to do donuts in as I remember, although the drive wheel tire was so worn that it was down to the cords in places. Good thing you’re invincible when you’re young. Good looking car, plus didn’t Cheryl Ladd drive one in Charlie’s Angels?

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      No the cars in Charlie’s Angels were supplied by Ford so they drove Mustang IIs and Pintos. Don’t remember which angel had which car now though.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        You just may loose your carguy AND man card for that…

        http://autoinjected.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/farah-fawcett-jill-munroe-charlie-angels-mustang-cobra-ii.jpg

        • 0 avatar
          bomberpete

          As long as we’re sidetracked on that subject, how come in the 5 seasons that “Charlie’s Angels” ran, Jacklyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd never got newer cars than those crappy Mustang IIs? The Fox Mustangs and other Ford stuff came out during the show’s run. Heck, even a Bronco would have been nice.

    • 0 avatar
      frank908

      Sabrina had a Pinto.

      http://www.actwin.com/toaph/life/cars/tv/angels.jpg

  • avatar
    jmo

    “We’ll start with the “rust” part. Fisher Body was very enthusiastic about its new “Elpo” process for priming the car’s unibody. The entire car body, once assembled, would be submerged in a giant tank full of primer. The body would be given a small positive electrical charge, and the primer in the tank a negative charge, and the resulting electric current would encourage the primer to stick to the metal. This process, or a variation on it, is probably used on every car you see today, and it usually works quite well.

    What no one noticed as all those Vega bodies were being dunked in the primer tank was that there were void spaces in the unibody, particularly under the front fenders, where air bubbles were getting trapped as the body submerged. Since the metal in these areas never came into contact with the primer solution, it never got primed. Since these spaces were hidden inside the body, nobody noticed it as the car went past on the way to the paint department. The spaces that didn’t get properly primed also tended to be moisture traps, and the combination of bare metal and water soon produced rust.”

    http://www.carlustblog.com/2010/12/the-chevrolet-vega-what-went-wrong.html

  • avatar
    -Nate

    The hole on the bumper there , takes me back to my Down East Childhood .

    I owned a 1976 Buick version of this car , a Pilot died and his grieving Father came to ask us to take it off his hands , $350 , only a few years old but *very* high mileage , V6 and stick shift , it ran O.K. but was rather tight between the door and the center tunnel hump .

    I flipped it in a few weeks , wasn’t anything special , not fuel efficient either .

    A Lady in my Shop had one she’d bought new , she liked it a lot .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    The last two times I saw Pontiac Sunbirds, they were both being converted into “firebirds.”

    – the first was on the side of Interstate 75 near Ocala. The car had caught fire.

    – the second was on the infield at the 12 Hours of Sebring. The owners had driven it around the infield all day, valves floating, car sputtering, blue smoke keeping the mosquitoes at bay, and then finally, after the race was over, and the gas was gone, they just parked it on a smoldering bonfire.

    The Sunbird/Monza/Skyhawk belong on the list of “GM’s Worst Cars.” How many other cars out there required the mechanic to loosen the engine mounts so the position of the engine could be shifted to facilitate spark plug removal?

    • 0 avatar
      TheDoctorIsOut

      As the disappointed owner of a 1978 v6 Sunbird this the frequency of this occurring was due to the placement of the fuel line which was a rubber hose running across the back of the engine at the firewall. We were quite fortunate in coming down from a mountain resort for one weekend that the car did not turn into a ball the flaming death as I was able to shut off the engine and glide down the hill into a gas station at the base once we were smelling of excessive amount of gasoline. When we open the hood the sound deadening pad underneath was just dripping gasoline. It was a miracle that the car hadn’t caught fire. Mechanic at the station told us this was quite common in these cars as this body had steel fuel lines of course running from the gas tank, and a steel line coming from the carburetor to the firewall, but To bridge the gap between the two at the firewall it was just a rubber hose which tended to easily crack and spray fuel. I replaced it with an Earls Aeroquip braided steel hose once we made it hone but shortly there after the rear sway bar broke loose for the third time we sold the car shortly thereafter.

      • 0 avatar
        wstarvingteacher

        I owned the Olds twin to this thing. 231/auto. I had it for about a year and it had neither the original engine or transmission (replaced under warranty) when I traded it off. The reason I placed the comment here is the fire it had before the last repair. I was stationed in Little Creek Amphib base and the thing backfired and caught fire at a light on Virginia Beach Blvd.

        I had one other miserable piece of crap from the general that had similar traits of being either a wonderful vehicle or being broken. There was no in between. My 2002 Saturn Vue which was the first year. At least the vue had over 180k miles when it threw the timing chain and killed itself. The starfire had under 30k. On paper it was a great car and I think the Iron Duke and MT would have made it one. I’m not even sure they were available for Olds. The 3800 was a great engine but until they worked out the problems it was miserable.

        Traded it for a 78 Concord with 258 and auto. Took that to Guam and left it there when I retired. Missed the AMC but the Starfire was like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. It felt so good when you stopped.

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      Or were they early concept models that evolved into “sunfires”

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    These were pretty cars…but they were junk. At least GM styling could still get it on in the ’70s.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Good article on what a disaster these cars were.

    http://www.carlustblog.com/2010/12/the-chevrolet-vega-what-went-wrong.html

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      That’s a VERY insightful article. Although not on the program, I was @ GM in the late 60s and heard all the inside horror stories. Organizational disfunction was truly the most profound cause. When the Warren Tech Center threw the design “over the wall” to Chevy, it was treated as an ugly stepchild.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      A very knowledgeable article. I was @ the General back then in the late 60s, and while not working on the program, heard all the horror stories. Organizational hubris was deadly.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      To be fair, the egregious problems with the Vega was fixed by the time the Monza came out (1975, if memory serves). But, oh my, what a bomb that thing was. Shame, since with less cost cutting it would have been a great car.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Back in the early ’80s, a roommate of mine had a Sunbird just like this one, right down to the color. It’s a triumph of styling but a mediocre car, at best.

    Those V8 Monzas? The engine had to be raised to change the spark plugs. Also, that was the first car with injection-molded plastic wheel covers. With the V8, the too-small brakes got so hot that the wheel covers would fly off.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      I’m a Sunbeam Tiger nut, so complaints about special procedures to change spark plugs seem like nagging about having to change your own oil, by comparison.

      I had lots of exposure to the Chevrolet Vega as a new car, and as a five-year-old car, and I don’t link them to the H-Special cars(Monza, Sunbird, Firenza, Skylark). First, the best version of the Monza was easily the version sold in California with a 350 V8 and Turbo Hydramatic. That combined with being trimmed better than Vega and assembled in a different plant (in Quebec) made the experience of driving these cars almost unrelated to driving the first five years of Vegas. From the get go, Vega’s were the Bic Lighter of new cars. They were noisy, crude boat anchors with a motor design(the 2300cc single cam) that should have been retired years before GM got around to using the Iron Duke four cylinder instead. By comparison, I logged a few thousand miles in a Monza V8, and felt this a much better combination all around. The Cosworth version of Vega couldn’t help but be better than the 2300cc version, owing to different motor and improved manual gearbox, as well as improved rustproofing. I understand that the Cossy motor was not always trouble-fee, and there is the added cost of purchase. For folks who are interested in cars like H-Specials, I recommend 1977 and newer with the Iron Duke four cylinder(2.5 liter-2500cc-151cid),V6 for non-Chevrolet versions, or 305-350 V8-powered versions.

  • avatar
    anti121hero

    Wow! Now this a rare one.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    Door striker rust failure. Smh.

    Can you imagine a passenger sitting there in the car and (heaven forbid) that damned door flies open?? Lol

    My folks had an 89 Escort and when it would get cold outside, the latch would freeze and therefore the doors would not remain safely closed.

    Them’s were the days.

    And it IS a handsome car. Hell I like that orange, too.

  • avatar
    22_RE_Speedwagon

    I remember sitting in the back seat of one of these circa 1988 — the interior plastic had degraded to the point where it scraped off easily with a fingernail. We left some interesting graffiti in my friend’s ride.

  • avatar
    Discoman

    I had a ’76 Monza notchback with the 350, yes 350 cubic inch V8. As I recall, the 350 was available in California only, probably to overcome the power loss due to smog requirements.

    We would load up with 5 passengers and still be able to lay a strip of rubber on the road with the oem pizza cutter tires. With all the weight in the front end though, it was a dangerous car to drive, especially on rainslick roads. It was a most perfect p.o.s. for a high school senior to have.

    Have to agree with Bunkie, the spark plugs were a nightmare to change, complete with raw knuckles. As these cars were originally meant to have the wankel rotary engine, the structure was not strong enough to hold a heavy V8. After hearing some loud popping sounds coming from underneath the car when the brakes were applied, I had to take it into a body shop where they found several cracks in the frame. They welded it up and I drove it around for a couple more months before unloading it to another high school junior, and then I went off to college.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      The 350 V8 California Monza produced a whopping 125 neck-breaking hp

      • 0 avatar
        indi500fan

        Needs an alum LS!
        LOL

      • 0 avatar
        seanx37

        Ah, but they could easily be rebuilt…

        Or just stuff an older, stronger engine in one like I did.

      • 0 avatar
        Sparafucile

        All the California Cars had dogs for engines, due to over zealous Emissions standards. You’d have been better off with an Iron Duke like mine. Got it cheap because the side was crashed in. Loved it! Handled great and fun to drive. Unfortunately as another mentioned the cost cutting did mine in. The Clutch cable broke through the firewall and my fix for that caused other problems.

        After a couple of years at about 11 years of age, I ended up driving to the junkyard without the clutch. I think I still have the Junkyard receipt somewhere.

  • avatar
    dash riprock

    Father bought a orange skyhawk during my high school years. Over time rust attacked the body so bad that the drivers side door had to be permanently sealed meaning that you had to enter the passenger side and slither over the center console. No, it did not impress the ladies.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    I had borrowed a friend’s ’76 nothcback 4-speed back in ’89 or so. Being unfamiliar with the car, I killed it trying to start moving uphill from a stoplight. The damned thing wouldn’t start after that until I rolled back downhill onto level ground – the fuel lines were above the gas level in the tank.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    Never occurred to me all these years that the rear end looks like a large tail-lighted Pinto.

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    Loving the rattle can “Razzle Dazzle” Lumina.

    If these cars could talk…

  • avatar
    kinsha

    A friend in high school got a notchback 77 sunbird brand new. It was a four speed. We were at his house one day and he had not had it long. He was washing it and we noticed a split in the door jamb right below the striker in the pics. It had a split in the metal ( like a tear ) evidently when it was pressed in the mold. The tear was about 6 ” long and wide enough for me to stick my pinky finger in. He took it back to the dealer and they gave him a new car. ( same model different color ) always wondered what they did with the defective one. The tear was just painted over!

  • avatar
    Duaney

    My impression of the H-body series is mostly positive. The Vega-Astre version didn’t get the extensive rust-preventative process that the newer Monza-Sunbird-Skyhawk-Starfire series did, but neither did the other GM cars of the day such as Impala’s and Cadillacs. In my salvage yard you can compare the H body cars with the other contemporary GM products, and the H body’s hold up significantly better. Much of the Monza styles use zincrometal in much of the structure, whereas even a 1975-76 Cadillac used none, and rusted out soon. I’ve never seen frame cracks on any of the V-8 cars, and it’s a myth that you have to raise the engine to change plugs, there’s only one plug a little difficult to reach, but it can be changed. A more difficult car to change plugs in is a Mustang 289. The 1975 Monza was the Motor Trend “Car of the Year”, beating out tough competition like Mercedes. I think some of the negativity about this type car is that is greatly appealed to the young-set, and so they were abused, and neglected much more so than your typical “Survivor Beige 4-door sedan”. In it’s day, the Sunbird was a very strong seller, production figures increasing every year with 1980 the highest figure. Since GM became committed to front wheel drive, the rear wheel drive H bodies were then discontinued. When you compare these compacts to other contemporary models in the same time period, they all had to deal with restrictive pollution controls, poor built quality, increasing fuel prices, government mandated safety bumpers, etc. How about a 1975 Cadillac 500, 5-6 mpg, or even a 1975 Nova, 6 cylinder, 12-16 mpg? At least with a Sunbird and the 151 4 cylinder, you could get 25 mpg. It’s all relative.

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      “…and it’s a myth that you have to raise the engine to change plugs”

      I stand corrected. That’s what I get for believing Car & Driver, even back in the 1970s…

      • 0 avatar
        April

        Pretty sure it was the 302 V8 equipped Mustang II that needed at least one of the motor mounts loosened to replace (at least) one of the spark plugs.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Nope the small block Ford has its spark plugs above the exhaust manifolds and they are pointed up. No SBF has particularly hard to change plugs. The SBC on the other hand is difficult in a number of applications. Some you have to do from under the car others need the car jacked up and you lift the flap that covers the suspension and use a long extension.

    • 0 avatar
      Dave M.

      I don’t believe the Monza would have competed against a Mercedes – back then the competition was split out between domestic and import. The Monza’s competition would have been….the Pacer, Ford Elite, Chrysler Cordoba…I’m sure there’s a few more. But correct me if I’m wrong.

      These were sharp looking cars when they came out, very advanced stylistically like you knew the General could do quite often – at least back in those days. A friend bought one of these new in ’76; it turned out to be quite the POS. I had urged her to get the Duster with the 318; pricewise they were in the same neighborhood. But she wanted ‘new and exciting’. Good luck with that….

      • 0 avatar
        Duaney

        Believe it or not, one of the contenders was a Mercedes model, somewhere I have the Motor Trend issue where they compared all the nominee’s. Then, as now, they only compare new and different models with one another, they had to be significantly changed or new from the 1974 cars. The judges were expert automotive people, as well as a completely novice group from the public. It might be possible to Google the article.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Semenak

      Had a notchback 1976 ‘Bird. With 3.8 liter (231 c.i.) and 5-speed; got 38 m.p.g. at 60 m.p.h. That Buick engine torque was impressive and the overdrive 5th gear meant 1800 rpm at 55mph.That’s 105 HP @m 3400 rpm for the 231 CI with 2 barrel and 8:1 comp. ratio.
      Torque figures are 185 lbs-ft @ 2000 rpm. Rust was a problem as it was a Michigan car. By the way, stock tires were 13″.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    My first “real” car in high school was a ’75 Skyhawk, a doppelganger to this Sunbird. 4-speed car, it had one of Buick’s “odd fire” V6’s. To make a V6 they basically took a V8 crank with one set of the paired connecting rod journals – along with one main journal – removed, as opposed to the newer “even fire” V6’s, where each connecting rod had its own journal. The name “odd fire” came from the fact that instead of six evenly spaced terminals on the distributor cap, the cap was sort of like the crankshaft; for a V8, but with to terminals removed.

    The engine was funky and there was no aftermarket support for it. I had high school dreams of finding a turbo V6 from a Grand National and dropping it in. Unfortunately GNs were new when I was in high school so my next-to-nothing high school budget wouldn’t allow for such things.

  • avatar
    detlump

    My first car was a 77 Sunbird notchback. Buick 231 (3.8L) V6, 3 speed auto. Was my grandmother’s car, came from Canada but only had MPH as Canada had not switched to metric by then apparently. Orange with black interior. Since it was a my first car, I loved it. The springs in the front were weak for some reason, the car always sat low in the front.

    No AC, but it did have old-school cowl vents in the outboard kick panels. It had the Rallye Tuned Suspension badge on the dash too. The trunk was very shallow, since the tank was underneath. The antenna was in the windshield which I thought was nice. No fan clutch, so as rpms climbed, it sounded like a Cessna. I tried to protect it with undercoating, but by the time I got it, rust had started to take hold around the wheel openings and rocker panels.

    Mine had steel wheels with Pontiac center caps and trim rings. Not good in the snow at all. I had a strict budget I remember buying tires somewhere, and looking at the brand they were made in East Germany (Pneumant)! I had wanted General XP2000s because of the white lettering. It was pretty reliable, though. Only the heater core failed. A lot of good memories.

  • avatar
    seanx37

    I had a 79 Sunbird in the mid-late 80s. Came with a 305. We stuffed a very strong 350(around 300 hp). Just melted tires. I used to go to the local junkyard and buy wheel/tire combos for $10. That car was the best donut machine ever. In back of the parking lot at school…
    The car was also absurdly fast in a straight line, once it was rolling. It was fun to blow by 3-series BMW drivers and 944 drivers like they were standing still. I remember keeping up with a 928 in a straight line. That driver looked very angry. I sold it before college. Wish I hadn’t.
    It was so much fun, we built a very nice Astre GT/Lil Widetrack with a 350 for my sister to drive. She sold it for college for about 4 times what we had into it.

  • avatar
    salguod

    I had a 1980 Monza with the Iron Duke and a 4 speed that I drove until 1992 or so. Had louvers like that too, painted to match the car. It had something like 130K or 140K on it and it was done. It had caught fire twice and it no longer started reliably with a key, but I lived in Cinci so there was always a hill to park at the top of to roll start it. Guy who bought it, bought it for his wife. Poor woman.

    I had that car for about 6 years and it was horrible. While I didn’t have huge rust issues, I did have hinge pis that would fall out while driving and a clutch cable that gradually stiffened to the point of tearing a hole in the firewall. Fun to look at and fun to drive, but assembled by evil gnomes or something.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I bought a new 1975 Monza 2+2 V8(305) 4-speed; it was a good car for us. Plenty of power, good handling, and a nice road car – 2500 rpm would get us 80 mph. I don’t know if the Chevrolet dealer’s service guys had to move the engine to change a spark plug or not; they didn’t charge an arm and a leg the four times I had it done. The problems I had with it were minor. It was under-braked, thus needed the brakes relined more often than I expected. The firewall wasn’t strong enough where the clutch cable went through it and had to be reinforced. The doors were heavy, so the hinge bushings had to be replaced once. We sold the car when it had about 110k miles; the guy was happy to get it.

    • 0 avatar
      seanx37

      Yes, you had to yank the engine to change the plugs. It was an all day job for two people.

      • 0 avatar
        Duaney

        Where do you get this?? Not true! For some real tough spark plugs, try changing the rear plugs on a V-6 mini van. Look at a Monza V-8 next time you see one, all the plugs are visible, only one is difficult. Jeez!

    • 0 avatar
      Duaney

      A new Monza V-8 came with the 262 CID, the 305 came later. The firewall could have been stronger, but the real problem is with the diaphragm clutch, which many vehicles use, as the clutch is used extensively, the diaphragm work-hardens. When the clutch pedal is excessively hard to push, time for a new clutch. Most people drove cars till they broke or quit. GM did go to larger brakes on the H bodies later on.

      • 0 avatar
        Sparafucile

        I had the clutch replaced 2 times at least. Wish I knew what the issue was before the firewall broke through.

        What car manufacturers don’t seem to realize to this day if a non dealer mechanic doesn’t know how to fix the car, it reflects on the perceived quality of the car. That’s the way it should be, because if it costs too much to maintain, it costs too much to buy.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      Fincar1, I wonder if the year model of your car was 1976 instead?

      According to the latest 1975 Chevrolet brochure for Monza 2+2 and Towne Coupe (May 1975) and the June 1975 issue of Motor Trend, all 49-state Monza’s only had the option of the 4.3 liter(262cid) V8 with either 4-speed or Turbo Hydramatic. Monza’s bound for California got the 5.7 liter(350 V8)and Turbo Hydramatic as the only V8 powertrain combination option.

  • avatar
    CTDaddy97

    Back in high school near Ft. Lauderdale, Sol (a friend of a friend) had a Sunbird notchback. One night, he and another friend, Dave, were driving down Oakland Park Boulevard while my good friend Mitch and I were following in his ’72 Monte Carlo. Back then, the railroad tracks along Dixie Highway were considerably higher than the road, so you had to slow down to go over them because they acted like a huge speed bump.

    It was night time with very little traffic and the light at Dixie Highway was green. Rather than slow down, Sol started speeding up. Both Mitch and I were thinking, “No, he’s not really going to do it.” The Sunbird hit the railroad tracks going between 60 and 70 MPH and caught air so perfectly that it looked like a movie stunt. I urged Mitch to do the same thing, but he wasn’t about to risk it with his two-ton Monte with the dragging exhaust system.

    East of Dixie we pulled into a parking lot, where Dave came out of the passenger side and screamed, “I CAME!!!!”

    The Sunbird might have been a crappy car, but it was pretty light compared to most of the cars at the time.

    By the way, I tried the same stunt in my Zephyr and could never pull it off. My friend Scott cracked all four shocks, while another kid from my neighborhood flattened the gas tank in his Chevy van. Good times.

  • avatar
    CTDaddy97

    Back in high school near Ft. Lauderdale, Sol (a friend of a friend) had a Sunbird notchback. One night, he and another friend, Dave, were driving down Oakland Park Boulevard while my good friend Mitch and I were following in his ’72 Monte Carlo. Back then, the railroad tracks along Dixie Highway were considerably higher than the road, so you had to slow down to go over them because they acted like a huge speed bump.

    It was night time with very little traffic and the light at Dixie Highway was green. Rather than slow down, Sol started speeding up. Both Mitch and I were thinking, “No, he’s not really going to do it.” The Sunbird hit the railroad tracks going between 60 and 70 MPH and caught air so perfectly that it looked like a movie stunt. I urged Mitch to do the same thing, but he wasn’t about to risk it with his two-ton Monte with the dragging exhaust system.
    East of Dixie we pulled into a parking lot, where Dave came out of the passenger side and screamed, “I CAME!!!!”

    The Sunbird might have been a crappy car, but it was pretty light compared to most of the cars at the time.

    By the way, I tried the same stunt in my Zephyr and could never pull it off. Scott, a classmate of mine, cracked all four shocks, while another kid from my neighborhood flattened the gas tank in his Chevy van. Good times.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I’m a sucker for a pretty car (well, to start with…). If I ever owned a GM car, this series would be on the list.

    I wasn’t aware of the rusty door striker problem, though – how strange.

    • 0 avatar
      Duaney

      No such thing as the rusty door striker. What happened to this car was as the hinges wore out and the door sagged, every time the door was slammed, it would bend and distort the striker bolt, until it broke off. What you’re seeing is the bolt crudely welded back on, and no paint applied as well. GM actually sold a repair kit for this, for H bodies and Chevettes and Nova’s

      • 0 avatar
        Discoman

        Agreed. My doors crashed hard into that striker, and someone told me to order new brass hinge bushings. Something like $2 a set at the time and 2 hours of work, and problem solved.

  • avatar
    davew833

    In 1994 I was driving my ’83 Honda Accord back to Utah from So Cal and somehow burned two valves in two adjacent cylinders. (I noticed the problem in Las Vegas and made it back to Utah with the engine running on two cylinders, but that’s another story.) Being a poor college student, I didn’t have money to repair it at that point, so my dad offered me the use of a hatchback Sunbird much like the one above- I think it was a ’78. Even though it was a V6 with a stick, it felt sooo primitive and sluggish compared to my slightly-newer Honda. Driving it was certainly motivation to get the Honda fixed.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The 77 Sunbird was not bad looking and with a V-6 with a manual were quite peppy and fun to drive but they rusted badly and had mechanical problems. My brother had one that his son had bought and it was a piece of junk. He finally traded it for an 85 Suzuki GS 450-S which was a good little motorcycle and which I bought from him later. When the Sunbird ran it was a great performer but after a while it would heat up and stop running–it would boil over but it would get hot. My brother’s name for his Sunbird was “the Sick Bird”.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I always liked the look of the slantback Monza and its kin with the rubber nose and four headlights. Definitely LOOKED nice, but the fact that I’ve literally never seen one probably attests to the quality.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Love this statement: “many sold, almost none made it to age 15…”

    Really? How many cars sold in the 1970’s *actually* made it to 15 years old? Very few (meaning almost all of the popular priced cars) were even engineered to go 10+ years. Maybe in the dry southwest, but even then, they had to be treated with care. Here we are in the mid-2010’s and it’s now common to see 15 year old cars still in service.

    There’s a lot of misinformation about these cars; but it’s not surprising. These cars held up much better than their Vega forebears, but most small cars from the domestics weren’t really regarded as “keepers”. Sold to young people (mostly) it was assumed they would be moving on. Remember, a long term car loan back in the 1970’s was *three* years. Once you had the financial means it was not uncommon for the average person to buy another car every 3 – 4 years.

    I knew a boatload of people who had these cars back in the day. Some were new, some were a few years used. The folks that had the new ones seemed to like them, but we would have all been in our late teens/early 20’s, *any* new car was great! The ones that got them a few years used had I what I think of as the typical used car issues that were common back then. On balance, a slightly below average car, but usually quite inexpensive.

    I’d love to have an Olds Firenza, or a Pontiac Sunbird Formula or a Chevy Monza Spyder, myself. I like the size and the driving dynamics weren’t bad for the cars of that time.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    “I shudder to think…”

    Same year Japanese cars rusted away just as well, they just had more impressive quality for the time. Also, not too many cars of the era from any country lasted 15 years.

    Easy to dump on 37 year old cars, but how long did any car from then last?

  • avatar
    Type44

    Geozinger, I think you’re 100% right on that point… Except that I really think most NEW cars are designed to work well for about 3-4 years, too bad everyone pays on them for 6-7 years! Wow, $400 a month and $1000 worth of check engine and airbag lights every year…

  • avatar
    scott25

    There’s still a pristine obviously original-coloured gold Monza being used as a semi daily driver in peterborough ontario where you can see obscure rust-free 70s survivors on the road during all seasons. I usually see it once every few weeks. There’s also a custom painted otherwise stock looking orange notchback sunbird in my hometown in more rural ontario I used to see driving around but for the last few years it’s been parked in the grass outside of the guy’s house but still looks pristine. There’s a surprising amount of these cars in general that survived. There’s also a Monza that oval track races up here as a 4 cylinder.

  • avatar
    scott25

    I feel like the first time I posted this it didn’t work.

    There’s a pristine obviously original colour gold Monza used as a semi-daily driver in Peterborough, Ontario that I see every few weeks, but I guess that town in general is full of obscure 70’s survivors used daily, during all seasons. There’s a also an orange notchback Sunbird in my hometown I used to see driving around but lately it’s been parked on the guy’s lawn but it still looks great even if it apparently is immobile. I see a surprising number of these cars around still. There’s also an oval-track racing Monza around here that races as a 4-cylinder.

  • avatar
    dannew02

    My first (and second!) car was a 1980 Sunbird, in this same orangey-red color. I would have loved to have the louvers and “Snowflake” wheels, too but mine was a total base model. No radio even. 2.5 “Iron Duke” and 4-speed manual with the shifter poking out of the floor, no console. I loved it anyway. It would not go over 70mph, no matter how hard I tried. (THe plugged catalytic converter, and the slipping clutch probably caused that, but I could never afford to fix them) Also it always got used tires, teeny 165-80-13 ones, but again all I could afford. I keep hearing about how well these handled, but mine had no sway bars to speak of, so it leaned mightily in turns and plowed like a snow plow. I couldn’t use the gas to turn it, because it just wouldn’t spin the tires on dry pavement, ever. IN the wet was a different story, it felt like it had 90/10 weight distribution- no traction at all. (Again with the teeny bald tires, mostly my fault) BOth doors had to have the hinges and latches replaced, and the inside door pulls (part of the arm rests) both broke off. THere was a kit with new reinforced door pulls available, that was cheap enough for broke students to afford (otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to shut my doors) It always started, even in -20 Wisconsin winters and routinely got close to 30mpg though, so it was reliable and looked nice. I sold it when the rust got too bad (and the clutch went completely out) and found another one, this one a white hatch with automatic. THe auto went out, and I got introduced to the TH-200 “Metric” trans, and since I lived in a county with strict emission laws (the driveline couldn’t be modified at all, and the 200’s were gonna cost more to rebuild than I paid for the car) it got junked too. THese were very nice looking cars, but since they were bottom-rung to start with, and had the usual 70’s cars’ faults, I’m not suprised very few survived.

    Oh yeah, the HOnda I replaced these with, gave WAY more trouble than these did, and the parts (and service) were astronomically higer-priced at least in rural Wisconsin, that I went straight back to GM stuff and was fully satisfied…

  • avatar
    dannew02

    OH yeah, the rear light panel was made out of the same stuff that went between the bumper and rear quarter on Cadillacs (Urethane?) that you see missing all the time, they corrode and just crumble away and aren’t available for replacement anymore. If this car is still around that panel is worth it’s weight in GOLD even just for a mold/plug to make replacements out of, but I suppose this thing got crushed months before it got posted here.


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