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 (around 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 2019 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 $18,800 in 2018 dollars). The 0-60 time for this top-of-the-line Sunbird was probably between 9 and 10 seconds—not far from some versions of the 1980 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.

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. Pontiac would return partially to the Sunbird name with the 1983 2000 Sunbird convertible version of the J-body—by 1985, the Sunbird name would once again stand alone.

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.

Updated February 2019.

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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.