Junkyard Find: 1989 Pontiac Sunbird GT Turbo

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1989 pontiac sunbird gt turbo

Since The General built cars on the J Platform from the 1982 through 2005 model years, I still see numerous examples of the J during my junkyard travels. Most of those are late-production Cavaliers and Sunfires — not so interesting — but today we’ve got a genuine high-performance Sunbird bearing one of the most important words of the 1980s: TURBO!

For 1989, the Sunbird Turbo had genuine power: 165 Garrett-blown horsepower out of a 2.0-liter SOHC Opel four. That gave the Sunbird Turbo pilot plenty of torque-steering, tire-squealing fun in a car that weighed just 2,422 pounds (about the same as a 2019 Toyota Yaris).

Most of these cars were ruined by a three-speed automatic transmission, but the original buyer of this one (wisely) selected the five-speed manual.

If you were going to sell turbocharged machine in 1989, you had to provide a brightly-colored BOOST gauge, preferably marked for pressure levels your engine would never see.

Pop-up headlights were all the rage as well. If we’re going to get nit-picky here, these retractable headlight eyebrows don’t really count as true pop-ups.

Mean-looking hood vents? Got ’em!

This one had more than 180,000 miles on the clock when it came to this place, and it’s good and rough. One of the indicators that a Colorado car is junkyard-bound in the very near future is the presence of stickers from cannabis dispensaries on the exterior; I’d say that a good 25 percent of cars in this yard feature such stickers (generally combined with brewery stickers).

Putting more heat on the street.

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  • Theoldguard Theoldguard on Feb 18, 2019

    I had both Sunbird Turbo and Omni GLH. Both were exhilarating after what we had lived through the past ten years. Remember, not long before these turbos, there were 120hp V8 Mustangs and, help me here, a 165hp Corvette? With these turbos, and especially the new Mustang GT, cars were getting fun again.

    • Featherston Featherston on Feb 19, 2019

      "Both were exhilarating after what we had lived through the past ten years." Agreed. It's easy to criticize these cars 30+ years on, but they were a big improvement over cars of 10-15 years earlier. As referenced by Land Ark, headliners stand out as the one area where Detroit backslid. Other than that, give me an '80s EFI front driver over a '70s carbed rear driver.

  • Teddyc73 Teddyc73 on Feb 19, 2019


  • SCE to AUX A plug-in hybrid requires two fuels to realize the benefit of having that design. This is where the Volt fell down.It could be either:[list][*]A very short-range EV[/*][*]A long-range ICE with mediocre fuel economy[/*][*]An excellent mid-range vehicle that required both a plug and gasoline.[/*][/list]If you wanted a short-range EV you got a Leaf (like I did). If you wanted a long-range car with good fuel economy, you got a Civic/Elantra/Cruze/Corolla. In my case, we also had an Optima Hybrid.I'd personally rather have a single-fuel vehicle - either gas/hybrid or electric - rather than combine the complexity and cost of both into one vehicle.
  • Bobbysirhan The Pulitzer Center that collaborated with PBS in 'reporting' this story is behind the 1619 Project.
  • Bobbysirhan Engines are important.
  • Hunter Ah California. They've been praying for water for years, and now that it's here they don't know what to do with it.
  • FreedMike I think this illustrates a bit of Truth About PHEVs: it's hard to see where they "fit." On paper, they make sense because they're the "best of both worlds." Yes, if you commute 20-30 miles a day, you can generally make it on electric power only, and yes, if you're on a 500-mile road trip, you don't have to worry about range. But what percentage of buyers has a 20-mile commute, or takes 500-mile road trips? Meanwhile, PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and generally don't offer the performance of a BEV (though the RAV4 PHEV is a first class sleeper). Seems this propulsion type "works" for a fairly narrow slice of buyers, which explains why PHEV sales haven't been all that great. Speaking for my own situation only, assuming I had a place to plug in every night, and wanted something that ran on as little gas as possible, I'd just "go electric" - I'm a speed nut, and when it comes to going fast, EVs are awfully hard to beat. If I was into hypermiling, I'd just go with a hybrid. Of course, your situation might vary, and if a PHEV fits it, then by all means, buy one. But the market failure of PHEVs tells me they don't really fit a lot of buyers' situations. Perhaps that will change as charging infrastructure gets built out, but I just don't see a lot of growth in PHEVs.