Junkyard Find: 2005 Pontiac Sunfire

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.

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Junkyard Find: 1988 Pontiac Sunbird SE Coupe

Even by the standards of the far-flung General Motors Empire, the J-Body was found everywhere, from the Vauxhall Cavaliers of Great Britain to the Isuzu Askas of Japan to the Daewoo Esperas of South Korea. In the United States of the 1980s, the Chevy Cavalier was the J-Body King, but its Pontiac-badged sibling, the Sunbird, was a not-so-distant second place in the J sales race. Today's Junkyard Find is a sporty Sunbird coupe, found in a yard just south of Denver, Colorado.

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Junkyard Find: 1985 Cadillac Cimarron

Way back in 2007, I kicked off the Down On the Street series (which was supposed to be a one-time reference to the title of a Stooges song beloved by me and the late Davey J. Johnson) with the first of what would turn out to be hundreds of interesting street-parked cars: a 1984 Cadillac Cimarron d’Oro. That led to something of a Cimarron obsession, and I’ve spent the past 15 years documenting every semiintact Cadillac J-Body I find during my junkyard adventures. You’d think they’d all have been crushed by now, but such is not the case; I found this loaded Brown Overload Edition ’85 in a yard near Pikes Peak earlier this year.

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Junkyard Find: 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 Sport Coupe
Since I’ve noticed in recent years that first-generation Chevy Cavaliers have all but disappeared from both street and junkyard on our continent, despite the millions sold here, I’ve made it my mission to document examples of the now-rare 1982-1987 Cavalier when I see them during my wrecking-yard travels. We admired a Yooper-owned ’85 Cavalier wagon in a Colorado yard in November, and I found today’s factory-hot-rod ’87 Cavalier Z24 in a Northern California yard in December.
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2005 Chevrolet Cavalier, Last Gasp of the J Platform Edition
The General built cars on the J Platform for a quarter-century, and J-based machines could be bought new with badges from just about every marque in the far-flung GM Empire. Yes, South Koreans drove Daewoo Esperos, Brits drove Vauxhall Cavaliers, Aussies drove Holden Camiras, and even the Japanese could buy Isuzu Askas and Toyota Cavaliers. In North America, nearly every marque offered J-Bodies at some point… and in the end, the very final Js were Chevy Cavaliers and Pontiac Sunfires. Here’s one of those end-of-the-line cars, found in a Denver yard a few months ago.
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Junkyard Find: 1988 Chevrolet Cavalier Coupe

GM may have produced the W-Body for a few more years than the J-Body (W-based Impala Limited production continued until 2016), but Chevy Cavalier sales continued like money-printing clockwork via the increasingly antiquated J platform from 1981 all the way through 2005.

More than five million Cavaliers rolled off assembly lines in the United States and Mexico, so we still see the later ones on the street. 1980s Cavaliers — particularly Cavalier coupes — have all but disappeared from the street, so I keep my eyes open for interesting examples as I tread the oil-saturated soil of American junkyards. Here’s an ’88 coupe still showing the personality of its final owner, found in the shadow of Pikes Peak a few months ago.

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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!

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Junkyard Find: 1984 Buick Skyhawk Custom

The General got his money’s worth out of the J Platform, which began with the 1982 Chevrolet Cavalier and ended 23 years later with the Pontiac Sunfire. Buick’s only J-body was the 1982-1989 Skyhawk, which took the name of the much more successful rear-wheel-drive H-body Skyhawk of the 1970s.

Here’s a sporty five-speed ’84 Skyhawk in a Denver-area self-service yard.

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Junkyard Find: 1990 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24

The Chevy Cavalier sold in enormous quantities during its 23-year production run, and so most of them stay in the background for me at wrecking yards, much like Chrysler Sebrings and Ford Tempos. But the Cavalier Z24, on the other hand— that’s an interesting Junkyard Find!

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Junkyard Find: 1986 Cadillac Cimarron

When will Cadillac’s long Cimarron nightmare be over? You’d think that the Caddy-badged Chevy Cavalier would be just a bad memory, but no— actual real-world examples of Cimarrons keep popping up all over the country! In this series, we’ve seen this ’82, this ’82, this ’83 Cimarron d’Oro, and now I’ve found this white ’86.

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Junkyard Find: 1984 Oldsmobile Firenza Wagon

Of all the GM J-bodies sold in America, the Olds Firenza may be the rarest. In 1984, most Oldsmobile wagon shoppers wanted a stately rear-wheel-drive behemoth with a V8 engine, not some newfangled small wagon with a little communist-inspired four-cylinder engine driving the wrong wheels. Thus, Firenza wagons are rarer today than early AC Cobras. Here’s one that I found in a San Francisco Bay Area self-serve yard last weekend, while I was in town for the fifth annual Sears Pointless 24 Hours of LeMons.

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Junkyard Find: 1982 Cadillac Cimarron

Sometimes I just have to choose a Junkyard Find car based on its potential for a good Crab Spirits Story™, and that’s what’s happening today. The Cadillac Cimarron— well, there’s not much we need to say here about the image-tarnishing disaster that finished the brand-devaluing job GM started a few years earlier with the Seville (other than the fact that it took many years to undo the damage and convince car buyers that Cadillacs weren’t just badge-engineered bait-and-switches. The Cimarron never sold very well, and the J-body cars weren’t known for longevity, so Cimarron sightings are extremely rare today; we’ve seen this ’82 and this ’83 Cimarron d’Oro, plus the very first Down On The Street car. Here’s an ’82 that I found during a recent trip to California.

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Junkyard Find: 1982 Cadillac Cimarron

As part of the ongoing “What Could GM Have Been Thinking?” series of Junkyard Finds this week, we’ll follow up the ’89 Oldsmobile Toronado Trofeo and the ’90 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais International Series with a car that really makes you wonder what sort of weird Malaise Era drug The General’s marketing wizards must have been huffing, snorting, smoking, or maybe mainlining in order to stand up at a meeting, pound fist on table, and proclaim “Cadillac must slap its badges on the J Platform!”

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  • Geozinger Put in the veggie garden (Western Michigan, we still can get frost this late in the year) finished the remainder of the landscaping updates and hand washed both my beater Pontiac and the Town and Country! Going to the beach today...
  • Rochester I wouldn't obsess over the rate of change, it's happening whether we want it or not.
  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.