By on May 15, 2018

Today’s Rare Ride is an oft-forgotten little J-body, designed and built right at the end of the unfortunate Malaise Era. This excellent condition example also comes from a confused time in GM’s naming of Pontiac small cars.

Come along and explore 2000 Sunbird.

Those of you with keen memories will recall this isn’t the first Sunbird-branded vehicle featured here at Rare Rides. That honor goes to this Sunbird Safari Wagon from 1978, which is really worth checking out if you missed it the first time. The wagon comes from the first generation of the Sunbird, which was rear-drive and produced for the 1976-1980 model years. Said generation was not available as a cabriolet: Coupes, hatchbacks, and the wagon above were the only options for this generation. But all that changed for 1982.

That fateful year was the first for GM’s new front-drive J-body, bringing Cavalier and company to market. Body style options increased, and included a two-door coupe, convertible, three-door hatch, and a four- and five-door sedan and wagon. The Sunbird shrunk a little to become a subcompact, and was also no longer called a Sunbird. For ’82 only, all versions of Pontiac’s small car were known as J2000. Next year the “J” was dropped to help show consumers how the 2000 was 1/3 as good as its larger brother, the 6000. “Sunbird” returned to trunklids for ’83, but only on convertible versions of the 2000. In 1984, names were reshuffled again, and the entire lineup was called 2000 Sunbird. From 1985 to the model’s death in 1994, all versions wore a singular Sunbird name on them. At that time the little bird got lit, and called itself Sunfire.

A small list of engines powered Sunbirds over the years, all with 1.8 or 2.0 liters of displacement. Both sizes were offered with old school overhead valves or technology-centric cams, and in naturally aspirated or turbo guise. Manual transmissions had four or five speeds, but the automatics were all of the three-speed variety.

Today’s Sunbird has one of the more sophisticated overhead cam engines (with fuel injection!), which I’m going to guess is the 1.8-liter version. Mated to an automatic transmission, the owner(s) throughout history only saw fit to drive their bird about 27,000 miles. She’s well equipped with air conditioning and power windows, and still has the nice historical touch of faux-spoke wheel covers. Located in rural Pennsylvania, the present owner wants $10,000 for his little red bird.

[Images via seller]

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63 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1983 Pontiac 2000 Sunbird Nobody Remembers...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    I wonder if those are real gauges in that car? I bet they are, 1983 was probably before anybody invented the “smart” gauges that are designed to placate paranoid customers who worry about a few degrees or a few psi change. I mean the ones that move the temperature needle to the middle as the car is warming up and then park it there, rock solid, unless the car badly overheats or cools off a lot.

    I gotta say these cars were in a similar spirit to the LeBaron convertibles. The bones were nothing special, I mean *really* nothing special, but the product was special because there were so few convertibles on the market.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Good post, JimC2.

      I have a soft spot for the Sunbird. In an effort to get one of my friends to be focused for the PSAT, her father had offered to buy her a car if she made National Merit Finalist. She’s a really bright person but also has a balanced outlook on life – not the type of person who was going to kill herself with test prep. I think her father’s unstated hope was that she’d score in the top 3% but NOT in the top 0.5%. Needless to say, he ended up having to buy her a car. As he hadn’t specified what type of car, he picked out a used Sunbird four-door for her, in the same color scheme as this convertible.

      As you say, it wasn’t really anything special, but there wasn’t too much wrong with it either. Corey is good to specify end of the Malaise Era. My friend’s example was 2 to 4 years old when she received it, and it was a much better car than a 2-to-4-year-old car would have been a decade earlier (Mercedes and Volvos excepted). There were big improvements in reliability, packaging, and corrosion protection between the early-to-mid-’70 and the early-to-mid-’80s. I’ll also take that ’80s velour over the cloth from just about any mass-market 2018 car.

      Kind of neat to see an example that appears to have been a fun-but-sensible summer toy all its life. I’m really surprised this one doesn’t have a tape deck from the factory.

    • 0 avatar
      la834

      I had the 1982 version of this car (though a sedan) and it had the same gauges, save for a lower redline for the OHV engine. The important thing about these gauges, for the 1983 model year only, is that they glowed at night in a lovely shade of red. 1982 cars like mine used standard GM pale green; 1984 and later used orange. I know this because I spent considerable time changing the dash lighting in my car from green to red.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Hmm..you’re right about the color! My ‘84 Light Briar Brown Sunbird hatch was equipped like this one sans power windows and locks and gauge package, but the non-seek/scan Delco 2000-Series ETR stereo is the same.

        Oddly, this didn’t look like it had remote mirrors, since I didn’t see the adjustment wand on the sail panel on the door, but then again, these are probably power mirrors. Where in the world was the control switch? (Looking closer, it’s gotta be next to the headlights on the lower-left dash, as the defogger switch is visible to the left of the HVAC controls.)

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Surprisingly, these didn’t get the toggle switch headlights like the Olds Firenzas and the Buick Skyhawks did. (At least my ‘84 didn’t, and in fact, the pull knob on mine detached from the stalk itself, which was remedied for a short while by shoving tinfoil into the hole in the knob, but by the time my brother inherited the car, that knob sat in the ashtray in front of the shifter!)

          From what I could see on “oldcarbrochures.org,” they may have added that in ‘85, though the pictures are hard to see.

        • 0 avatar
          Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

          sgeffe – Yes, the power mirrors control is next to the headlight switch.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        And I thought Pontiac had red or orange backlighting on the gauges since the late ‘70s.

    • 0 avatar

      I think those were the same gauges that ended up in the Fiero.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      A LeBaron owner would not even bother spitting in the direction of this machine.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I had a good childhood friend who had one of these. His father was a doctor and now that I think about it, the car must have been one of his first luxury purchases after entering medicine. He held on to it throughout our entire childhood ever after we graduated and far nicer vehicles filled his driveway. Funny seeing this little gem get its own garage stall in a million dollar plus home on the lake. Obvious sentimental value. It was still running, registered and in pristine condition around 2000.

  • avatar
    mikestuff

    I was married once (and only once) from 1974 until 1996. She was a nurse and by the mid 80’s she had some kind of managerial job. She would go to conventions and several times I got to go with and look at touristy stuff while she went to meetings.
    One time, mid 80’s, we went to San Diego and I don’t remember the dates but it was still winter in Utah and it wasn’t in San Diego. We got a rental, first day was a Chevette which ran really bad. I got the rental agency to replace it on the 2nd day, and they gave me a Pontiac Convertible like this, I think it was blue but not sure. I have no clue what model/style it was but it was fun in San Diego to drive all over with the top down. It was very cool to have the top down at night.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    I assume this was another ASC conversion of a regular off-the-line sedan; another hallmark of the 1980s-1990s.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      I’m inclined to think not. The retracting rear quarter glass is more work than a typical chop-roof conversion would have done.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      @ jhefner – you’re correct; John Davis confirms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbpfFNXFHq8

      @ Corey – I think those 8th-gen Eldorado convertibles also were done in collaboration with ASC. Whether or not this counts as “factory” is a semantic argument, I think. There’s a good explanation here (see reply #7): forums.cadillaclasalleclub.org/index.php?topic=132425.0

      – – –

      It’s interesting to me how the ’77 Firebird-style nose works on these. Despite the mechanical similarity to the other J-bodies, you immediately know it’s a Pontiac.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    S#!+bird is far more fitting

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I thought ten grand was ridiculous at first, but then again, how many of these are around in the first place, much less in this condition?

    J-cars were pretty decent rides for their day.

    • 0 avatar
      pdog_phatpat

      LMAO. No, they weren’t. They were vile undepoewered fairly unreliable unrefined sh!tboxes. I mean come on, if youre gonna lie at least be convincing.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      The later EFI model was considered quite quick in their day. This particular example has the throttle body injection, which GM went back to because of problems with the multi-point EFI in the Cimmarron.

      The standard model had the “born to be mild” Iron Duke engine. This one was imported from Brazil.

      • 0 avatar
        Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

        J-Cars never used the Iron Duke. You may be thinking of the 2.0L.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          This was the better of the two engines. (Well, if the head gasket didn’t blow whilst the college commuter driver owner was in the midst of paying his way through school back in the day!)

          Still ran well otherwise, and on the last day of my junior year at Bowling Green State University, when I had to get a large computer project run, I covered the distance from my home to campus down I-75 at a velocity which had the speedometer needle down around the bottom of the gauge! Nary a complaint from engine or THM 125C attached to it.

          The funniest thing about the base IP was the fact that the gas gauge was the same size as this example, but plopped into the bottom-center of the large pod on the right where the rev counter sits here. (Idiot lights around the top of the gauge, three, IIRC: MIL, belts, temp.)

  • avatar
    NoID

    The first car I ever purchased was a 76k mile ’92 Sunbird coupe in that very 90’s shade of GM Turquoise-ish Blue. Not a bad little car all things considered.

    We almost added a 4-door example to the stable a year later, which would have disappointed my wife, but certainly would have pleased both my affinity for quirky little cars from the 80s/90s and my obsessive-compulsive disorder.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    One of my best friends in HS inherited his dad’s Sunbird GT, 3spd auto turbo, 2 tone red black over bright red interior, pretty cool OEM alloy wheels.
    That car felt like a rocketship compared to my 84 GTI.This was around 1990, so it was only a 3 yrs old, a new car essentially. Good times,and that car was fairly trouble free despite the abuse it took.I’m pretty sure there was nowhere near the OEM turbo protection that modern 2.0Ts have .

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    What are the chrome bars for on the trunk lid?

    • 0 avatar

      That sir, is a luggage rack. Those persisted as dealer-installed options through probably the mid 90s.

      • 0 avatar
        Cactuar

        Like on a motorcycle!? Who’d use that on a car? I thought that’s what the *inside* of the trunk was for…

        • 0 avatar

          Sort of a hangover like the faux wire wheel covers, and vinyl roofs.

          • 0 avatar
            JMII

            Oddly just yesterday I saw a previous (NC) Miata rocking a luggage rack. Maybe they traveled a bunch with the car or were just going for that old British roadster look.

          • 0 avatar

            Some Miata owners are a bit… out there. Like those ones you see with fender skirts and chrome trim glued to the wheel arches.

            “Just like a Packard-Healey Sprite! Hueueue.”

          • 0 avatar
            Carroll Prescott

            Like roof racks on a minivan – idiots fill those plastic containers on top instead of putting their garbage in the back of the van. If you have room in the back, get rid of the stupid roof container – you look silly. If you don’t have room in the back, throw out a child and replace it with the contents of the carrier (sarcasm intended).

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          You could strap a suitcase on there or something small like that.

          Hey, I didn’t say it was a good idea! ;)

          I can’t say I remember a lot of people using these. I think they were decorative but functional but not really functional, especially on a small trunk lid.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            I have seen Miatas of all generations and Corvettes from the early generations with luggage racks AND things strapped to the luggage rack in Gallup, NM.

            Gallup is located on Route 66 and I assumed that I’m seeing these vehicles because of the allure of “Let’s tour 66!”

          • 0 avatar
            bumpy ii

            A few weeks ago, I saw someone using the luggage rack on their British roadster to bring home a giant case of toilet paper.

          • 0 avatar
            Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

            At least on C3 Corvettes, the luggage rack was often used to hold the T-top panels.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      They were the 1980’s version of tail fins.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      My NB Miata came with a trunk rack, but neither the previous owner nor I have ever installed or used it. On the other hand, I have removed the passenger seat to transport, on separate occasions, a recently-purchased BBQ grill and my Trek Remedy 8 mountain bike. The trunk rack would have been handy the one time I went camping with the Miata, had I thought to bring it along.

      The previous owner, who was in his sixties, had also bought incredibly noisy air intake and dual exit Borla muffler for the car. These keep the trunk rack company at my parents’ house.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      We had a Tempo with a luggage rack from the factory. It got used. Most racks or rails on SUVs are little used as well.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        My 95 Cougar had a luggage lack. It was pearl white with those faux BBS wheels Ford used on lots of models and a V8 with a moonroof. I never saw another exactly like it. Close, but never exactly the same.

        It was a PITA to clean or wax around, but IMHO, it looked more fitting than a spoiler would have on the Cougar.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    I rented a red 1984 2000 Sunbird convertible with white interior while on business in Miami. I don’t think mine had the luggage rack, but it did have an extra set of “driving lights” set into the grille openings, which made for an illusion of six headlights – actually a bit clever styling touch. But the car was a gutless thing with a coarse engine – even forcing a kickdown of the automatic barely increased forward motion but made a lot more noise.

    By the way, the J-car convertibles didn’t arrive until the 1983 model year.

    • 0 avatar
      JRoth

      Old Garry Shandling joke:

      “I was in Hawaii and rented a car. It was a Pontiac Sunbird, which isn’t a great car, but since it was a rental, it was basically a 4 wheel drive…” Then some story about driving it on a volcano or whatever.

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        P.J. O’Rourke once wrote:

        “Nothing handles better than a rented car. You can go faster, turn corners sharper, and put the transmission into reverse while going forward at a higher rate of speed in a rented car than in any other kind. You can also park without looking, and can use the trunk as an ice chest. Another thing about a rented car is that it’s an all-terrain vehicle. Mud, snow, water, woods – you can take a rented car anywhere. True, you can’t always get it back – but that’s not your problem, is it?”

  • avatar
    sirwired

    The car looks very well-kept, but $10k seems a bit ambitious for a mediocre car remembered by few.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Bet the first $3,500 takes it.

      My 1.8 never was that clean!

      Will say that this four-speaker Delco probably sounds as good as the alleged “premium” systems from this decade!

      I’ve never seen that steering wheel in one of these, either! Right out of the 6000 of the day; similar in styling to the ones in the Chevy Celebrity through its first two years. (The rectangular sort of four-spoke one made its way into the 6000 beginning in around 1984, and by 1986, a smaller version made it into the Sunbirds like the one I drove in driver’s ed; yes, the local Pontiac dealer donated or leased two ‘Bird sedans to my high school for several years! IIRC, the trapezoid inside mirror went bye-bye after 1984, replaced by a smaller “smiley” one which also ended up in the 1990+ Tempos.)

  • avatar
    mikey

    Actually, if you stayed on top of maintenance the “J” bodies were not a bad little car. As a family I’m thinking we went through four of them. All bought used 87 – 98 models. Both daughters took their drivers license test on a 92 Sunbird.

    This 2000 drop top with 27,000 miles, and I’m going to guess not winter driven would fetch you $10, 000 CDN here. The top goes down, and the price goes up. I’m not sure of the U.S. market/prices..I know that if I had to go down to the US and pay USD??? 7K absolute max.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I liked these better when they finally got the 3.1 V6. GM 60 degree V6 had the benefit of having a decent little growl on acceleration and enough torque to make you feel like you weren’t being punished.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      These were pretty legit toward the end of their run – I came close to buying a brand new ’93 Cavalier coupe with the 3.1 and a manual back in the day. Glad I didn’t – three years later, I had a kid. Plus, I doubt the Cavalier would have lasted 12 years like the Protege I bought instead did.

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        Don’t be so sure, every time I hit Akron on the way home, J-bodies start appearing all over the road. Most of them pretty rusty by this time, but all over 24 years old by now. I suppose the people driving them don’t have any option but to keep them running.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          The ones that I see in Toledo are likely the ones after the redesign which brought the four-speed automatic. I don’t recall the last time I saw an original J around here, as most of the ones from this era have reverted to base elements. (Saw a rust-free, though shopworn-looking ‘94-ish Buick Century while out at lunch today; you generally catch more of those still plying the roads here, versus their smaller brethren.)

        • 0 avatar
          gearhead77

          In Akron, you aren’t far from Lordstown where they built most of them. The official car of Ohio is the the J body in all forms. Even the current “J-body”, the Cruze, gets more plentiful in NE Ohio.

          It’s like the official car of Ohio, with the Ranger being the official truck of Ohio.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I knew a steakhouse waitress with a teal Sunbird convertible. She was not a person of good judgement or high moral standards.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    I had to click through to make sure this wasn’t the Sunbird that’s perpetually on sale in my hometown. Exact same color and year, but this one is in much better shape than the one sitting outside the collision center.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I certainly remember them, especially the Cavalier version of the convertible. A 1984 version of this exact car resided down the street from my parents house for years, it’s 1.8 turbo burbling away as it accelerated by each Summer day. If memory serves correctly it was a two tone blue. A few years later Cavalier Z24 convertibles with the 2.8 liter V6 were quite common right through the 1990’s and early 2000’s with the 1990 on up models using the larger 3.1 liter engine.

  • avatar
    scott25

    At least three of these still exist then, the one zhivago mentioned and one in my town also completely identical to this, but with whitewall tires and gold chrome spray painted wheel covers. Owned by a guy who bought it to replace his also red white walled gold wheeled also pristine Renault Alliance convertible which he sold two years ago.

    I’m pretty sure both the Pontiac and Renault are manual though, from looking at them at car shows

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      And the tires, at least on base hatchbacks, were ** 13-inchers, ** with a reasonable sidewall! (And the brakes were at least competent if the anchor had to be deployed expeditiously, IIRC!)

  • avatar
    Ty'Eira Marie Morrison-Osteen

    Wait… I thought the 2.0 was ’84+? Weird that the ’83 convertibles had “Sunbird” attached to them, when that year was strictly “2000”… I guess that steering wheel doesn’t lie though. The ’83 convertible is weird…

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I always thought the J-body convertibles were good looking little cars, especially the later years of the square cars. And the 3.1 must have been sprightly in the later cars.

    Much like the 87-93 Fox body Mustang, these cars were the cars of my youth and they were everywhere in Pittsburgh. At 40, I find myself wanting a touchstone to that time to share with my kids that won’t break the bank. The Mustangs are getting insane in price, questionable runners are 5k, decent cars are 15k+ but these cars are not. I’d probably do 5k for this, because it’s got to be one of a handful of these cars left, especially in this condition.

    They weren’t great cars, but I wouldn’t mind picking up a cheap but decent one, slapping some classic plates on it and taking the fam for ice cream in it or whatever. See also : Lebaron convertible ( square or swoopy)


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