Rare Rides: A 1976 Pontiac Sunbird, Practical Malaise Luxury

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides a 1976 pontiac sunbird practical malaise luxury

Today’s Rare Ride marks the third time we’ve featured a Pontiac Sunbird in this series. The first Sunbird was from 1978 and presented itself as the Safari Wagon. But that was just a renamed Astre and not a real Sunbird. The second Sunbird we saw was a convertible with a 2000 in its name, a J-body from a time of naming turmoil at Pontiac.

In contrast, the Sunbird we have here is the original: An economical and optionally luxurious car that debuted in the Seventies without a confused identity. Your author’s never seen one in real life.

Sunbird debuted in 1976 as a replacement for the Vega-adjacent Astre. The Astre and Sunbird coexisted for a couple of years, as seen above in the confused wagon from 1978. Though a new car, the Sunbird remained on the same H-body Vega platform as its Astre predecessor. Available only with two doors, the subcompact was presented only as a two-door sedan for 1976. The following model year added a more aggressive hatchback. For 1978 and 1979, the Astre wagon was refreshed visually joined the lineup as the Sunbird Safari Wagon. The first Sunbird continued through the 1980 model year but was limited to two body styles in its final offering.

The rear-drive 1976 Sunbird was equipped with a base engine from the Vega, a 2.3-liter inline-four known as the 2300 (78 hp). The next year customers were rewarded with a new base engine: the powerful 2.5-liter Iron Duke. It produced between 84 and 90 horsepower dependent upon model year. Big spenders selected the Buick 3.8 V6 and its 110 horses, or the Chevrolet 305 (5.0L) as an option in 1978 and 1979. Transmissions on offer were a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic.

Customers could option their Sunbird with different packages to emphasize a luxury or sports personality. The Formula package was popular and included upgraded handling, spoiler, and decals. A quick seller, the Sunbird proved popular and GM sold nearly 480,000 Sunbirds over five model years. 1980 was a long-run year, as dealers needed inventory to hold them over until the ’82 arrival of the front-drive J platform J2000. It debuted at the start of Pontiac’s branding experimentation.

Today’s Rare Ride is firmly on the luxury end of the Sunbird spectrum. Dark red with a white vinyl coach roof, it’s got wheel covers, whitewalls, a plush velour interior, and an automatic transmission. There’s even V6 power and air conditioning. It’s traveled 17,000 miles since 1976 and is in spectacular condition. The price is also spectacular: $29,000.

[Images: Pontiac]

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  • Johnster Johnster on May 10, 2021

    Although the Sunbird (and the Monza) ended up as something of a replacement for the Astre (and the Vega) respectively, they (and the Starfire and Skyhawk )were originally intended to complete against other subcompact personal sporty cars, such as the Ford Mustang II and the Capri, as well as the Toyota Celica and the Opel Manta. Although I can't find written evidence to confirm it, I swear there were a handful of 1978 Pontiac Sunbirds built that used the Astre Hatchback bodyshell. They shared the Astre-derived front end-clip of the Sunbird Safari and were similar to the 1978 Chevrolet Monza 'S' Hatchback in concept.

  • Teddyc73 Teddyc73 on May 10, 2021

    Malaise, malaise, malaise!! Can we talk about the 70s and NOT use that ridiculous overused word? Every single article mentioning a 70s car now includes that stupid word. ENOUGH! By the way, this car looks great. I like it.

    • See 1 previous
    • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on May 10, 2021

      @Art Vandelay History doesn't repeat but it often rhymes.

  • Jeff S Corey--We know but we still want to give our support to you and let TTAC know that your articles are excellent and better than what the typical articles are.
  • Jeff S A sport utility vehicle or SUV is a car classification that combines elements of road-going passenger cars with features from off-road vehicles, such as raised ground clearance and four-wheel drive.There is no commonly agreed-upon definition of an SUV and usage of the term varies between countries. Thus, it is "a loose term that traditionally covers a broad range of vehicles with four-wheel drive." Some definitions claim that an SUV must be built on a light truck chassis; however, broader definitions consider any vehicle with off-road design features to be an SUV. A [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossover_(automobile)]crossover SUV[/url] is often defined as an SUV built with a unibody construction (as with passenger cars), however, the designations are increasingly blurred because of the capabilities of the vehicles, the labelling by marketers, and electrification of new models.The predecessors to SUVs date back to military and low-volume models from the late 1930s, and the four-wheel drive station wagons and carryalls that began to be introduced in 1949. The 1984 [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeep_Cherokee_(XJ)]Jeep Cherokee (XJ)[/url] is considered to be the first SUV in the modern style. Some SUVs produced today use unibody construction; however, in the past, more SUVs used body-on-frame construction. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the popularity of SUVs greatly increased, often at the expense of the popularity of large [url=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sedan_(automobile)]sedans[/url] and station wagons.More recently, smaller SUVs, mid-size, and crossovers have become increasingly popular. SUVs are currently the world's largest automotive segment and accounted for 45.9% of the world's passenger car market in 2021. SUVs have been criticized for a variety of environmental and safety-related reasons. They generally have poorer fuel efficiency and require more resources to manufacture than smaller vehicles, contributing more to climate change and environmental degradation. Between 2010 and 2018 SUVs were the second largest contributor to the global increase in carbon emissions worldwide. Their higher center of gravity increases their risk of rollovers. Their larger mass increases their stopping distance, reduces visibility, and increases damage to other road users in collisions. Their higher front-end profile makes them at least twice as likely to kill pedestrians they hit. Additionally, the psychological sense of security they provide influences drivers to drive less cautiously. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sport_utility_vehicleWith the above definition of SUV any vehicle that is not a pickup truck if it is enclosed, doesn't have a trunk, and is jacked up with bigger tires. If the green activists adhere to this definition of what an SUV is there will be millions of vehicles with flat tires which include HRVs, Rav4s, CRVs, Ford Escapes, Buick Encores, and many of compact and subcompact vehicles. The green movement is going to have to recruit millions of new followers and will be busy flattening millions of tires in the US and across the globe. Might be easier to protest.
  • Sckid213 I actually do agree that most Nissans are ultimately junk. (I also think many BMWs are also). I was talking challenging the 3 in terms of driving dynamics. Agree all were failures in sales.
  • THX1136 More accurately said, we are seeing exponential growth in the manufacturing capabilities in this market. Unless, of course, all those vehicles are sold with customers waiting until more a produced so they can buy. Indeed, there are certainly more EVs being purchased now than back in 2016. Is demand outstripping manufacturing? Maybe or maybe not. I sincerely don't know which is why I ask.
  • ToolGuy The page here (linked in the writeup) is ridiculously stupid https://www.tyreextinguishers.com/how-to-spot-an-suvLike, seriously stupid, e.g., A) Not sure that particular Volvo is killing the planet as quickly as some other vehicles we might choose. B) A Juke is "huge"??? C) The last picture shows a RAV4 Hybrid?
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