1987 Sterling 825 sedan

“… such effortless motion, …”

The Sterling 825 sedan was an interesting (perhaps desperate) attempt at re-introducing Rover cars to the North American market, but with different branding than the brutally unsuccessful Rover 3500 hatchback sedan from 1980. Based on the same platform as the acclaimed Acura Legend, the Sterling featured an angular exterior design and an interior with traditional British luxury cues such as Connolly leather seats and burled walnut trim. On the exterior, only the door handles were obviously shared between the Acura and the Sterling.

A Honda-built 151 bhp 2.5 liter/152 ci V6 with fuel injection combined with a five-speed manual transmission yielded mpg ratings of 18 city /24 highway by the standards of the day (16/22 by modern standards). The four-speed automatic transmission dropped mpg incrementally to 17 city/23 highway.

The $19,200 (about $30,700 in today’s dollars or about $6,000 less than the price of a base 2019 Jaguar XE sedan) 825 S came with remote locking, power rack-and-pinion steering, power brakes, and 195/65R15 tires (a size still readily available) on 15-inch alloy wheels. Inside, air conditioning, power windows, an electric moonroof, cruise control, velour cloth seats, and a Phillips AM/FM stereo cassette with six speakers were all included.

Moving up to the $23,900 (about $38,200 in 2018 dollars) 825 SL added a four-speed automatic transmission, Bosch anti-lock brakes, a trip computer, leather upholstery with a heated driver’s seat, and an eight-speaker stereo.

Advertised as “The inevitable British road car.” Sterling sold 14,171 units of the 825 in the 1987 model year—not a bad debut. But, trouble was brewing; in an attempt to generate more jobs in the United Kingdom, Rover had decided to use Lucas electronic systems instead of those from Honda. Predictably, those electronics weren’t reliable, and there were also issues with the interior plastics and the exterior paint. Finally, rust came much too quickly.

All this meant that sales dropped rapidly. In 1988, only 8,901 were sold, and every year following things got worse. In August 1991, Sterling announced they were leaving the North American market after selling a total of about 35,000 cars over five years.

In 2018, the Sterling 825 rarely comes up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors. I haven’t seen one in many years, but I believe I’d still notice that handsome styling if I did. Make mine silver, I think.

1987 Mercury Lynx XR3 hatchback coupe

“… the sporting side of Lynx.”

1987 was the last year for Mercury’s version of Ford’s Escort. The Escort would soldier on for many more years (through model year 2002), but from 1988 forward the smallest American-built Mercury would be the Topaz. For 1986 and 1987, the top of the line Lynx was the XR3 hatchback coupe.

The Lynx XR3‘s standard powertrain was a “High Output” 115 bhp 1.9 liter/113 ci inline four with Bosch fuel injection paired to a five-speed manual transmission. Mileage was good—25 city/34 highway by the standards of the day (about 22 city/31 highway by 2018 standards). Acceleration was reasonably quick: 0-60 came in about 10 seconds in the approximately 2,400-pound car. With a 13-gallon fuel tank, Lynx XR3 drivers could expect a range of from 310 to 345 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $8,808 Lynx XR3 (about $20,100 in today’s dollars and close to what a 2018 Fiesta ST hatchback costs) included an asymmetrical grille, aerodynamic front air dam with built-in fog lamps, wide wheel flairs, rear spoiler, dual power mirrors, and P195/60R15 Goodyear Eagle GT tires (a size still readily available) on 15-inch cast-aluminum wheels. Inside, cloth sport bucket seats, power steering, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and locking fuel filler door with remote release were included.

Standard equipment on every Lynx included front wheel drive, rack-and-pinion steering, independent four-wheel suspension, aero halogen headlamps, low-back individual reclining seats, and a folding rear seat.

Exterior and mechanical options included tinted glass ($105), rear window wiper/washer ($126), and engine block heater ($18). Inside, air conditioning ($688), speed control ($176), and tilt steering wheel ($179) were available.

1987 Mercury Lynx XR3, from the 1987 Mercury Lynx brochure.

The final-year Lynx didn’t sell very well: a total of 39,039 in a year when Ford sold 374,765 Escorts. First-generation Escorts and Lynx’s were once so prevalent on American roads, but have virtually disappeared by now. You do occasionally see Lynx’s for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors, but there were none out there as I write this in July 2018.

1980 Pontiac Grand Am coupe

“One exhilarating road machine”

The last of the rear wheel drive Grand Ams came in 1980. Unlike in 1978 and 1979, the sedan was no longer available—only the coupe remained.

The standard engine in non-California cars was the L37 155 bhp 4.9 liter/301 ci V8 with four-barrel Rochester carburetor and electronic spark control (California cars got the Chevrolet-sourced LG4 150 bhp 5.0 liter/305 ci V8). The only transmission available was a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic TH200 automatic transmission. Mileage was 17 city/25 highway by the standards of the day. With the 18.1-gallon fuel tank, range was about 340 miles with a 10% fuel reserve. Period performance tests of the Grand Am are hard to come by, but 0-60 mph likely came in around 9 seconds.

New features for 1980 included a revised soft-fascia front end with three sections per side, an Ontario Gray lower accent color for the exterior, a silver upper body accent stripe, larger wraparound black-out tail lamps, and larger front and rear stabilizer bars for the optional ($45) Rally RTS handling package.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $7,299 car (about $24,500 in 2018 dollars) included dual sport mirrors, dual horns, power steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, and 205/75R14 black sidewall radial tires (a size still readily available) on Rally IV cast aluminum wheels. Inside, Grand Am purchasers could expect cut-pile carpeting, custom vinyl front bucket seats with center floor console, rally gages with clock embedded in a brushed aluminum instrument panel, and a custom sport steering wheel.

Available exterior and mechanical options included a power sunroof—either metal ($561) or glass ($773), dual remote sport mirrors ($73), Soft-Ray tinted glass ($107), and electric rear window defroster ($107). Inside, air conditioning ($601), power door locks ($93), power windows ($143), a six-way power driver’s seat ($175), a tilt steering wheel ($81), automatic cruise control ($112), and an AM/FM stereo radio with stereo cassette player ($272) were all available. A nicely configured Grand Am could easily push past $9,600—real money in 1980 and over $32,000 in today’s dollars.

Page from 1980 Pontiac full-line brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

Grand Ams didn’t sell at all well in 1980—Pontiac moved only 1,647 of them, after selling almost five times as many coupes only two years prior in 1978. Despite this, Pontiac would not give up on the Grand Am name—it would be back in 1985 as a small front-wheel-drive coupe.

Most of the Grand Ams being collected are the larger and more powerful first-generation Colonnade versions sold from 1972 to 1975. You do occasionally see second-generation Grand Ams for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. I haven’t seen a Grand Am from this generation for many years.

Make mine Starlight Black, please.

Other G-bodies covered in this blog include the 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme coupe, the 1983 Chevrolet Malibu sedan, and the 1984 Buick Regal Grand National coupe.

Updated December 2018.

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1983 Isuzu Impulse hatchback coupe

“Follow Your Impulse”

1983 was the first model year that Isuzu’s Impulse (known as the Piazza in most other parts of the world) became available in the United States. The first-generation Impulse was built on a variant of the aging rear-drive T-body chassis used by the lowly Chevrolet Chevette but was definitely aimed at a notably different market.

The Impulse came much better equipped than a Chevette: standard mechanical equipment for the $9,998 base price (about $25,700 in 2018 dollars) included four-wheel disc brakes and P195/60R14 tires (a size still readily available) on alloy wheels. Inside, power steering, power windows, power door locks, cruise control, air conditioning, tinted glass, a tilt steering wheel, and an AM/FM stereo radio were all included. Optional equipment was spare, with only an improved stereo and turbine wheels available.

For 1983, power for the 2,700-pound Impulse was provided by a 90 bhp 1.9 liter/119 ci SOHC inline four with multi-point fuel injection (a turbocharged engine did not become available until 1985). Transmissions available were a standard five-speed manual and an optional four-speed automatic. Fuel economy with the manual transmission was 22 city/28 highway by the standards of the day (19/26 by 2018 standards). 0-60 took around 11 to 12 seconds, with a top speed of about 110 mph. With a 15.3-gallon fuel tank, you could expect a range of between 310 and 345 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Of course, the Impulse’s absolute killer feature was its exterior styling, which was very close to Giorgetto Giugiaro’s 1979 Ace Of Clubs show car. Road & Track put the Impulse on the cover of their June 1983 issue, with the tagline being “Sensuous show car hits the road.”

First-generation Isuzu Impulse, courtesy of Isuzu.
First-generation Isuzu Impulse, courtesy of Isuzu.

Isuzu gets real credit for messing as little as possible with Giugiaro’s excellent and differentiating design—few automakers were willing to leave as well enough alone as they did. They only did a few things, adding slightly larger bumpers to meet the five mph DOT requirement, shortening the windshield and lengthening the hood to allow for easier installation of the engine on the assembly line, and enlarging the overall dimensions a few inches to allow for more interior space.

Impulses of this generation are rarely seen in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors. Make mine Black, please.

Updated in December 2018.

1980 Pontiac Sunbird Sport Hatch

“Sunbird offers new thrills for the thrifty.”

1980 was the last model year for the rear wheel drive Pontiac Sunbird, Pontiac’s variant of Chevrolet’s Monza. Initially available in base coupe, sport coupe, and sport hatch (a base hatch was added mid-year, but the wagon was permanently gone), the Sunbird received few changes for 1980.

The standard engine was the LX8 Iron Duke 2.5 liter/151 ci inline four with a Holley two-barrel carburetor, making all of 86 bhp. Optional was the LD5 110 bhp 3.8 liter/231 ci V6, also with a two-barrel carburetor. The standard transmission was a four-speed manual, with an optional three-speed automatic available.

Mileage with the inline four and four-speed manual was a pretty impressive: 22 city/35 highway by the standards of the day (19/32 by today’s standards). Getting decadent by spending $545 for the three-speed automatic and the V6 combination took mileage down to 20 city/27 highway. With the V6/automatic transmission combination and an 18.5-gallon fuel tank, a Sunbird owner could expect a range of 390 miles.

Not much came standard for the $4,371 base price (approximately $14,600 in 2018 dollars), especially to our 2014 eyes. Feature highlights for a base Sunbird included bright grill with park and signal lamps, whitewall tires, custom wheel covers, and “Sunbird external identification.” Inside, base Sunbirds included tinted windows, vinyl bucket seats, and a Delco AM radio.

Moving up to the sport coupe ($4,731) or the sport hatch ($4,731) added body color mirrors, “custom” vinyl bucket seats, and various moldings, but was still rather austere. Luxury trim ($195) added cloth seats along with snazzier carpeting and door trim.

Available only with the sport hatch, the rare (only 1% of production) and expensive ($674, or about $2,300 in today’s dollars) Formula Package added a front air dam and rear spoiler, along with blacked-out grille, rally wheels with trim rings, and white lettered tires. It wasn’t all bark and no bite: the Rally Handling Package was included, with larger front and rear stabilizer bars. Inside, a tachometer and other rally gauges were included. The whole combination meant that a sport hatch with the Formula Package, the V6, and the four-speed manual came to $5,630 (about $18,900 in 2018 dollars). The 0-60 time for this top-of-the-line Sunbird was probably between 9 and 10 seconds.

1980 Sunbird Sport Hatch with the Formula Package, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

Mechanical options included variable-ratio power steering (the most popular option and required with the V6) and power front disc brakes. Inside, you could add air conditioning ($531), a tilt steering wheel, and an AM/FM stereo cassette player (two different 8-track radios were also still available). A removable sunroof was also available for $193.

The rear wheel drive Sunbird sold well even in its final year, partially because of the extended model year. Almost 188,000 were sold with over 100,000 being the base coupe, making the Sunbird the best-selling of all the 1980 H-bodies.

Sunbirds of this generation rarely come up for sale in Hemmings Motor News and eBay Motors—they seem to have disappeared entirely. You do occasionally see examples of the “sister” Chevrolet Monza advertised.

Make mine Agate Red, please.

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1981 Plymouth Reliant coupe

I don’t know if he was serious, but one of the folks on Corvette Guru asked me when I was going to do a write-up on the K cars. So, here’s the Plymouth version.

“right for the times we drive in”

The 1981 Plymouth Reliant (along with its sibling the Dodge Aries) are the K-body cars often (and reasonably) credited with saving Chrysler in the early 1980s. The first K cars were basic transportation, famously (like the GM X cars a year before) with no roll-down rear windows and just barely mid-size by the EPA’s classification—with an overall length of 176 inches, the Reliant coupe was almost exactly as long as a 2019 Honda Civic coupe.

The standard powertrain was an 84 bhp 2.2 liter/135 ci inline four with a Holley two-barrel carburetor paired with a four-speed manual. A Mitsubishi built 92 bhp 2.6 liter/156 ci inline four was optional for $159 and required both power steering ($174) and the three-speed TorqueFlite automatic ($360). Gas mileage with the base powertrain combination was rated at 29 city/41 highway by the standards of the day (23/29 by today’s standards). With a 13-gallon gas tank, a Reliant coupe with the standard engine and transmission could travel between 305 and 410 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

For $5,880 (about $17,500 in 2018 dollars), you got a Reliant coupe with front-wheel drive, rack-and-pinion steering, a cloth and vinyl split back bench seat, and P175/75R13 tires (a size that isn’t generally available anymore) on 13-inch wheels. The base coupe was only available in white, tan, and black.

Spending another $435 on your Reliant coupe moved you up to Custom trim, which added front disc brakes, quarter-window louvers, halogen headlights, a cigarette lighter, a color-keyed “deluxe” two-spoke steering wheel, a digital clock, a glove box lock, and an AM radio. You also got many more exterior and interior color choices.

The top-of-the-line Special Edition (SE) Reliant coupes ($6,789 or about $20,200 in today’s dollars) added dual horns, deluxe wheel covers, special sound insulation, a cloth bench seat, and a snazzier “luxury” two-spoke steering wheel. An option only available with the SE was cloth bucket seats ($91).

External and mechanical options for all Reliant coupes included tinted glass ($75), a glass sunroof ($246), and power brakes ($82). The upmarket tire was a P165/75R14 (a size that fit the mid-90s Plymouth Neon compact just fine but is also no longer readily available), but the P185/75R13 mid-range upgrade is still available thanks to Kumho and Vredestein.

Inside, air conditioning cost $605 and required tinted glass, power brakes, and power steering—things were tightly engineered in the early 1980s. Other options included automatic speed control ($132), intermittent wipers ($44), a tilt steering wheel ($81), power door locks ($93), power front seats ($173 and said to be quite rare), along with a variety of radios up to an AM/FM radio with a cassette tape player and four speakers ($224).

1981PlymouthReliant
1981 Plymouth Reliant two-door coupe, scan courtesy of Alden Jewell

The Reliant sold well in 1981—between the coupe and the sedan, Plymouth moved 101,127. Motor Trend managed to get a 2.2 liter with the automatic to do 0-60 in 12.4 seconds—they tried with another Reliant running the same combination, and it took 14.0 (oog) seconds. Top speed (if you could call it that) ranged from 88 to 96 mph in the 2,350-pound car.

In 2019, Plymouth Reliants rarely comes up for sale in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors. I haven’t seen a coupe in the wild for many years. Make mine Baron Red, I think.

Other K-body and K-body based cars I have covered in this blog include the 1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible, the 1984 Chrysler Laser fastback coupe, the 1985 Dodge 600 Club Coupe, and the 1986 Chrysler Town & Country convertible. There’s also a short commentary I did on an unidentified K-car wagon I did called Some Quiet Love For A K Car.

Updated January 2019.