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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1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am hatchback coupe

I recently revisited this very early post, modifying it enough to classify it as brand new.

“From sabre-like nose to rakish tale the Trans Am is a brilliant orchestration of aerodynamic function.”

It is hard now to remember how new and wildly aerodynamic the 1982 Firebird Trans Am looked when it debuted. It suddenly made every other American car (and more than a few European ones) look like they were standing still.

The Trans Am didn’t just look aerodynamic, either: the drag coefficient of .323 is still respectable even in 2013. Pontiac’s choice of pop-up headlights (over the Camaro’s open headlights) and careful airflow tuning yielded an impressive result.

Unfortunately, the mechanicals did not come close to backing up the looks. The top of the line engine for the Trans Am was the LU9 “Crossfire” throttle-body injected 5.0 liter/305 ci V8, with 165 bhp—and that was only available with a three-speed automatic transmission, yielding about a nine second zero to sixty time (Motor Trend managed to do it in 8.89 seconds). If you wanted the four-speed manual transmission, the best engine choice available on the Trans Am was the base LG4 V8 with 145 bhp—and approximately ten seconds from 0 to 60 mph.

These performance issues did not, however, prevent Pontiac from implying the world in their commercials.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $9,658 Trans Am (about $25,500 in today’s dollars) included power brakes (front disc/rear drum), hidden electronically-controlled halogen headlamps, dual sport mirrors, an all-glass rear hatch, a rear decklid spoiler, and 205/70R14 steel-belted radial tires (still a readily available size) on turbo cast aluminum wheels. Inside, reclining front bucket seats and side window defoggers were included.

Options included special performance package ($387 bought you the special handling package, four-wheel disc brakes, and 215/65R15 blackwall tires on 15 x 7 aluminum wheels), power windows ($165), power door locks ($106), tilt steering wheel ($95), and air conditioning ($675).

Third-generation Firebirds have a strong following, and 1982 Trans Ams make regular appearances in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I update this post in December 2018, there’s a Bright Red 1983 Trans Am with 85,000 miles for sale for $6,700. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1982 Trans Am with the “Crossfire” in #1/Concours condition is $20,400, with a more normal #3/Good car going for $7,600.

Please make mine Black, but I think I’d hold out for the 1983 and its five-speed manual transmission/190 bhp L69 HO engine combination.

Updated in December 2018.

1986 Pontiac Fiero GT coupe

While I was out today on the highway in my 1980s car, I saw a Pontiac Fiero coming up quickly from behind.

You just don’t see that many Fieros on the road in 2013—the youngest of them is now over 25 years old. This one was red, and I believe it was a 1987 or 1988 base coupe—the dead giveaway is that it did not have the black bumper pads but otherwise had the debut Fiero 2M4 look. I gave the driver of the Fiero a thumbs-up, he gave me a wave, and we went our separate ways.

“One red-hot with everything, to go.”

The Pontiac Fiero came to market in 1984 with ridiculous expectations brought on partially by Pontiac and partly by how the public sees two-seat mid-engine cars. What had intitially been designed as a somewhat sporty commuter car became a significant part of Pontiac’s We Build Excitement strategy.

At this point, the painful fact that the Fiero’s mechanical parts were from the low end of the General Motors parts bin became stunningly obvious. Citation and Chevette suspension parts abounded, and the only available engine was the distinctly uninspiring 2.5 liter/151 ci Iron Duke inline four with fuel injection, featuring all of 90 bhp. Predictably, handling and acceleration did not meet expectations.

By 1986, Pontiac had gone a long way toward fixing some of the underlying issues. The L44 2.8 liter/173 ci V6 was made available in 1985, its 140 bhp and multi-port fuel injection both major upgrades. In 1986, the fastback body style was added, and a five-speed manual transmission became available for the V6, though only late in the model year. With that powertrain, 0-60 came in a little under eight seconds. Mileage in the 2,500-pound car wasn’t bad, either—18 city/28 highway by the standards of the day (16/26 by today’s standards). With the Fiero’s small 10.2-gallon gas tank, range was between 195 and 210 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment on the $12,875 GT (about $29,600 in 2018 dollars) included the V6, retracting halogen headlamps, and P205/60R15 front and P215/60R15 rear tires (both sizes still readily available) on 15-inch diamond-spoke wheels. Options included air conditioning, power windows, intermittent windshield wipers, tilt steering wheel, and a rear spoiler.

The fastback GT was a striking car—the flying buttresses in the rear and aero nose in front substantially changed the look of the Fiero. I liked the base design more at first, but the fastback has grown on me over time.

Page from 1986 Pontiac Fiero brochure, linked from the Old Car Manual Project’s amazing brochures section.

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1986 Fiero GT in #1/Concours condition is $15,100, with a more common #3/Good condition car going for $5,900. Fieros have a good club following and a fairly strong presence in Hemming’s Motor News classifieds and on eBay Motors. As I update this in December 2018, there’s a Black 1986 Fiero GT with 46,000 miles for sale for $14,000. Make mine Bright Red, please.

Updated December 2018.

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