Front-Lawn Classic: 1983 Pontiac T1000 – No Need To Shove It

181 - 1983 Pontiac T1000 CC

I will state right off the bat that I cannot say with certainty that this is car is an ’83, though the grille and taillamp lenses indicate it’s an ’83, or newer.  GM’s “Excitement Division” produced these through ’87, completing seven whole model years before being replaced in Pontiac’s lineup for ’88 by a LeMans-badged Daewoo.  I had gotten out of our rental Ford Fusion to snap a few, closer photos of this car, when I heard a booming voice coming from the front porch.  Being in an unfamiliar town in Trumbull Co., Ohio, not feeling particularly brave, and truly unable to decipher if the voice was friendly or not, I darted back into the Fusion and took off.  Yup.  I chickened, maybe unnecessarily.

I could’ve just as easily titled this a “CC Capsule”, but I felt respect must be paid to the fact that not only is this is a running GM T-Car in 2015, but it’s the Pontiac variant – and it was for sale.  I remember being shocked as a first grader by how little was done to differentiate the T1000 from the Chevette – on the first-year 1981 models, even the grille and taillamp lenses were basically the same on both cars.  I won’t go into production figures or a bunch of factual stuff (since there was no “T1000 Scooter”, the best 0-60 time would have been something like 14.5 seconds with the 1.6L 4-cyl. and a 4-sp. manual, all the way up to 23 seconds to 60 with the 1.8L diesel and 3-sp. auto), but I do have a story to tell.

In 1985, when I was ten years old, the Dennis family went car shopping for a second car to replace our ’77 Plymouth Volaré that Mom and Dad had given to my sister.  This replacement car would primarily be the one my dad, the professor, would drive to and from the university.  We went to Superior Pontiac-Cadillac located off I-69 and Dort Hwy. in Flint, Michigan (where we lived) just to make sure we had checked all of the subcompact boxes in our search.  We had looked at a 1985 1/2 Ford Escort L at Al Bennett Ford, and were underwhelmed.  I don’t remember us test-driving a Chevette.  Actually, I don’t know why the Pontiac version of a Chevette would have somehow been acceptable if an actual Chevette wasn’t in the running.  I also don’t know why we didn’t look at an Omnirizon, which also would have been a good candidate.  But I digress.

Our list of criteria for this second car was actually pretty short.  It needed to be small, economical, fit five of us in a pinch, have an automatic transmission so Mom could drive it, and be something of a penalty box lest it betray our ultra-conservative-Lutheran credo of “deny thyself”.  For the record, I am not dissing Lutheranism.  But you have to understand the context in which I grew up to appreciate how and why this test-drive even happened in the first place.  We found ourselves at Superior in the fall of 1985 speaking with a saleswoman named Shelley Green.  (Don’t ask me how I remember such trivial details from thirty years ago.  Just trust me on this.)  Below is a picture of my younger brother, Peter, and me around the time of this test drive.  The matching, off-brand Members Only jackets should give you some indication of how much cost-cutting was done by our family in the 80’s.

Peter & Joe Dennis Matching Members Only Jackets CC

Our ’85 1000 (the “T” had been dropped from the car’s model name for ’84) test-car was a yellow, five-door hatchback.  Aside from feeling extremely cramped in the back seat alongside my two brothers, I remember seeing the painted metal surfaces of the inner door panels and thinking to myself, this thing looks so cheap.  Mom stayed at the dealership since our saleswoman had to ride with us, and Dad drove since this would basically be his car.

Peter and I used to regularly crack each other up like young versions of the Tappet Brothers, Click & Clack on National Public Radio’s “Car Talk” (RIP Tom Magliozzi).  He and I must have been cutting up back there, dissing this “janky” Pontiac, when Ms. Green (who was riding in the front passenger’s seat) leaned back toward us and said something in a fake-joking voice like, “You know, if you boys don’t behave, we can always toss you out the window…” (with a wink).  What was that woman thinking?  She probably had a right to be irritated, but subtle digs at my parents’ presumed lack of disciplining us probably didn’t earn this Tweety-bird of a hatchback any extra points with my dad, who already seemed disgusted.

We ended up buying a strippo, beige ’85 Renault Encore three-door hatchback from Country Motors in nearby Owosso, a car we loved, and which ran mostly reliably through the late-1990’s (which must have set some kind of record for one of these).  The only options on that Encore were an automatic transmission, a rear window defroster, and power brakes.  It had a vinyl interior, manual steering, non-reclining front seats, and didn’t even have an AM radio, but it was peppy and actually fun to drive.  My older brother got that car when he left for college, and he took great care of it.  I couldn’t find any decent pictures of our Encore, but I did find the below TV spot on YouTube.  I remember seeing Renault commercials from that time featuring what looked like self-automated cars doing all kinds of wacky things.

Thanks for staying with me on what started as a much shorter post.  I’ll summarize by saying the sight of this T1000/1000 by the side of the road reminded me of a very memorable, if unsuccessful, family test-drive when I was growing up.  I wonder if that yellow 1000 would have outlived the Encore.  Our subject car did, though I wonder also if it had ever been regularly subjected over the years to use by a boisterous, tight-fisted, but well-intentioned family like the Dennises.

The subject car was photographed by the author in Brookfield, Ohio.
Sunday, August 30, 2015.