Junkyard Find: 2005 Pontiac Sunfire

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

GM began producing cars on its J Platform beginning in 1981, and the J-Body proved to be a tremendous global sales success for The General. Nearly a quarter-century later, the final new J-based cars were sold in the United States. Here's one of those last-year cars, found in a car graveyard in Charlotte, South Carolina.

The end came in 2005, when there were just two J-Cars remaining in production: the Chevrolet Cavalier and Pontiac Sunfire. We saw a 2005 Cavalier in this series four years ago, and now it's the turn of its Pontiac-badged sibling.

In its heyday, the J-Car was assembled in factories on five continents. Outside of North America, there were Isuzu Askas, Opel Asconas, Holden Camiras, Chevrolet Monzas… and so many Cavaliers! Chevrolet Cavaliers, of course, but also Vauxhall Cavaliers for Britain and Toyota Cavaliers for Japan.

In the United States, the introductory J Family models for the 1982 model year were the Chevrolet Cavalier, Pontiac J2000, Oldsmobile Firenza, Buick Skyhawk and Cadillac Cimarron.

Over the years, U.S.-market Js were available as two- and four-door sedans, coupes, three-door hatchbacks, convertibles and station wagons.

For 1982, the Pontiac J-Car was called the J2000. Then the "J" got dropped and it became the 2000 for just the 1983 model year. Because nothing stayed the same for long in the Pontiac J-Body world, the 1984 model was called the 2000 Sunbird (because the Monza-based Sunbird had been so good that the name deserved a revival, apparently). Then the Pontiac Sunbird name stayed in place from the 1985 through 1994 model years.

Because there had been Firebirds and SunBirds and Sunbursts (in Canada) for so long (plus Redbirds, Yellowbirds and Sky Birds), it made sense to kill the Sunbird name for 1995. The replacement was the Sunfire. By that time, all the GM divisions other than Chevrolet and Pontiac had stopped selling J-Bodies in the United States, with the Saturn S-Series taking their place.

The very last Cavaliers and Sunfires were built in the state of Coahuila, in the Estados Unidos Mexicanos. This one rolled off the line in September of 2004.

It's a top-trim-level car with the Sport option package, so its original MSRP was $15,650 plus whatever the options cost. My extensive reference library isn't much help here, because nobody cared about the Sunfire by 2005 and therefore option prices aren't generally listed.

That's about $25,732 in 2024 dollars, although the cheapest possible 2005 Sunfire started at just $10,895 ($17,914 after inflation). Those prices are likely meaningless, anyway, because dealers were motivated to get these antiquated heaps off their lots in order to make room for the new G5s.

In the end, it didn't matter much. Pontiac itself was gone after 2010.

Pontiac-badged J-Bodies were powered by various straight-fours ( the GM 122, Family II and Quad 4) and 60° V6s at first. Starting with the 2003 model year, the only engine available in the Cavalier and Sunfire was the more modern 2.2-liter Ecotec. This one was rated at 140 horsepower and 150 pound-feet.

A five-speed manual transmission was available through the end, but this car has the four-speed automatic that just about every late Sunfire buyer wanted.

Remember when the ability to play data CDs with MP3 files was leading-edge audio technology? Sure, that was a late-1990s thing, but at least Pontiac had it in 2005.

2005 Pontiac Sunfire coupe in North Carolina wrecking yard.

2005 Pontiac Sunfire coupe in North Carolina wrecking yard.

2005 Pontiac Sunfire coupe in North Carolina wrecking yard.

2005 Pontiac Sunfire coupe in North Carolina wrecking yard.

2005 Pontiac Sunfire coupe in North Carolina wrecking yard.

2005 Pontiac Sunfire coupe in North Carolina wrecking yard.

2005 Pontiac Sunfire coupe in North Carolina wrecking yard.

2005 Pontiac Sunfire coupe in North Carolina wrecking yard.

2005 Pontiac Sunfire coupe in North Carolina wrecking yard.

2005 Pontiac Sunfire coupe in North Carolina wrecking yard.

[Images: The Author]

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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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  • Roman Roman on May 23, 2024

    Our 1999 Pontiac Sunfire Gt is still running without any issues. 25 years and counting.

  • Steve S. Steve S. on May 24, 2024

    Steve was a car guy. In his younger years he owned a couple of European cars that drained his bank account but looked great and were fun to drive while doing it. This was not a problem when he was working at a good paying job at an aerospace company that supplied the likes of Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, but after he was laid off he had to work a number of crummy temp jobs in order to keep paying the rent, and after his high-mileage BMW was totaled in an accident, he took the insurance payout and decided to get something a little less high maintenance.

    But what to get? A Volkswagen? Maybe a Volvo? No, he knew that the parts for those were just as expensive and they had the same reputation for spending a lot of time in the shop as any other European make. Steve was sick and tired of driving down that road.

    "Just give me four wheels and a seat," said Steve to himself. "I'll buy something cooler later when my work situation improves".

    His insurance company was about to stop paying for the rental car he was driving, so he had to make a decision in a hurry. He was not really a fan of domestics but he knew that they were generally reliable and were cheap to fix when they did break, so he decided to go to the nearest dealership and throw a dart at something.

    On the lot was a two year old Pontiac Sunfire. It had 38,000 miles on it and was clean inside and out. It looked reasonably sporty, and Steve knew that GM had been producing the J-car for so long that they pretty much worked the bugs out of it. After taking a test drive and deciding that the Ecotec engine made adequate power he made a deal. The insurance check paid for about half of it, and he financed the rest at a decent rate which he paid off within a year.

    Steve's luck took a turn for the better when he was offered a job working for the federal government. It had been months since he went on the government jobs website and threw darts at job listings, so he was surprised at the offer. It was far from his dream job, and it didn't pay a lot, but it was stable and had good benefits. It was the "four wheels and a seat" of jobs.

    "I can do this temporarily while I find a better job", he told himself.

    But the year 2007 saw the worst economic crash since the Great Depression. Millions of people were losing their jobs, the housing market was in a free fall, people were declaring bankruptcy left and right, and the temporary job began to look more and more permanent. Steve didn't like his job, and he hated his supervisors, but he considered himself lucky that he was working when so many people were not. And the federal government didn't lay people off.

    So he settled in for the long haul. That meant keeping the Sunfire. He didn't enjoy it, but he didn't hate it either, and it did everything he asked of it without complaint.

    Eventually he found a way to tolerate his job too, and he built seniority while paying off his debts. There was a certain feeling of comfort and satisfaction of being debt-free, and he even began to build some savings, which was increasingly important for someone now in their forties.

    Another bit of luck came a few years later when Steve's landlord decided to sell the house Steve was renting, at the bottom of the housing market, and offered it to Steve for what he had in it. Steve's house was small and cramped, and he didn't really like it, but thanks to his savings and good credit he became a homeowner in an up and coming neighborhood.

    Fourteen years later Steve was still working that temporary job, still living in that cramped little house that he now hated, and still drove the Sunfire because it wouldn't die. For years now he dreamed of making a change, but then the pandemic happened and threw the economy and life in general into chaos. Steve weathered the pandemic, kept his job when millions of people were losing theirs, and sheltered in place in that crummy little house, with Netflix, HBO, and a dozen other streaming services keeping him company, and drove to and from work in the Sunfire because it was four wheels and a seat and that's all he needed for now.

    Steve's life was secure, but a kind of dullness had set in. He existed, but the fire went out; even when the pandemic ended and life returned to normal Steve's life went on as it had for years; an endless Groundhog Day of work, home, work, home. He never got his real-estate license or finished college and got his bachelor's, never got a better job, never used his passport to do some traveling in Europe. He lost interest in cars. "To think how much money I wasted on hot cars when I was younger", he said to himself. He never married and lost interest in dating. "No woman would want me anyway. I've gotten so dull and uninteresting that I even bore myself".

    Eventually the Sunfire began to give trouble. With 200,000 miles on the clock it was leaking oil, developing electrical gremlins, and wallow around on blown-out shocks. Steve wasn't hurting for money and thought about treating himself to a new car. "A BMW 3-series, maybe. Or maybe an Alfa Romeo Giulia!" He began to peruse the listings on Autotrader. "Maybe this is just what I need to pull out of this funk. Put a little fun back in my life. Yeah, and maybe go back to the gym, and who knows, start dating again and do some traveling while I'm still young enough to enjoy it!"

    Then his father passed away and left him a low-mileage Ford. Steve didn't like it or hate it, but it was four wheels and a seat, and that's all he needed right now.

    "Is it too late to have a mid-life crisis?" Steve thought to himself. For what he needed more than that stable job, that house with an enviably small mortgage payment, and that reliable car was a good kick in the hindquarters. "What the hell am I afraid of? I should be afraid that things will never change!"

    But the depression was like a drug, a numbness that they call "dysthymia"; where you're neither here or there, alive or dead, happy or sad. It was a persistent overcast, a low ceiling that kept him grounded. The Sunfire sat in his driveway getting buried by the needles from his neighbor's overhanging pine trees which were planted right on the property line. "Those f---ing pine trees! That's another thing I hate about this damn house!" Eventually the Sunfire wouldn't start. "I don't blame you", he said to the car as he trudged past it to drive the Ford to another Groundhog Day at that miserable job.

  • 3-On-The-Tree I don’t think Toyotas going down.
  • ToolGuy Random thoughts (bulleted list because it should work on this page):• Carlos Tavares is a very smart individual.• I get the sense that the western hemisphere portion of Stellantis was even more messed up than he originally believed (I have no data), which is why the plan (old plan, original plan) has taken longer than expected (longer than I expected).• All the OEMs who have taken a serious look at what is happening with EVs in China have had to take a step back and reassess (oversimplification: they were thinking mostly business-as-usual with some tweaks here and there, and now realize they have bigger issues, much bigger, really big).• You (dear TTAC reader) aren't ready to hear this yet, but the EV thing is a tsunami (the thing has already done the thing, just hasn't reached you yet). I hesitate to even tell you, but it is the truth.
  • ToolGuy ¶ I have kicked around doing an engine rebuild at some point (I never have on an automobile); right now my interest level in that is pretty low, say 2/5.¶ It could be interesting to do an engine swap at some point (also haven't done that), call that 2/5 as well.¶ Building a kit car would be interesting but a big commitment, let's say 1/5 realistically.¶ Frame-up restoration, very little interest, 1/5.¶ I have repainted a vehicle (down to bare metal) and that was interesting/engaging (didn't have the right facilities, but made it work, sort of lol).¶ Taking a vehicle which I like where the ICE has given out and converting it to EV sounds engaging and appealing. Would not do it anytime soon, maybe 3 to 5 years out. Current interest level 4/5.¶ Building my own car (from scratch) would have some significant hurdles. Unless I started my own car company, which might involve other hurdles. 😉
  • Rover Sig "Value" is what people perceive as its worth. What is the worth or value of an EV somebody creates out of a used car? People value different things, but for a vehicle, people generally ascribe worth in terms of reliability, maintainability, safety, appearance and style, utility (payload, range, etc.), convenience, operating cost, projected life, support network, etc. "Value for money" means how much worth would people think it had compared to competing vehicles on the market, in other words, would it be a good deal to buy one, compared to other vehicles one could get? Consider what price you would have to ask for it, including the parts and labor you put into it, because that would affect the “for the money” part of the “value for money” calculation. An indicator of whether people think an EV-built-in-a-used-car would provide "value for money" is the current level of demand for used cars turned into EVs. Are there a lot of people looking for these on the market? Or would building one just be a hobby? Repairing an existing EV, bringing it back into spec, might create better value for the money. Although demand for EVs is reportedly down recently.
  • ToolGuy Those of you who aren't listening to the TTAC Podcast, you really don't know what you are missing.