COAL #5: 1976 Pontiac Astre

It looked a bit like a Firebird to me.


Short and sweet. I don’t have a lot to say about this car.

Long slot tail lamps have been a Pontiac trademark.


This was the newest car that I’d bought up to this point, as it was only a couple of years old. I was looking for a small economical car that would carry me through my last couple of years at college. I had planned to quit my full time job, and use my savings as well as earnings from an anticipated part time job. I had seen pictures of the Astre in magazines and I liked its looks. It was based on the Chevrolet Vega coupe, but it had Pontiac Firebird styling elements. A split grille and the tail lights were long parallel slots. You might have to squint a bit to see the resemblance, but I thought that it looked pretty good. Much more distinctive than a Vega. I generally didn’t like Chevys, but as a Pontiac it was okay.

Red plaid sure looks spiffy.


Mine was silver with a red interior. The seats were red plaid cloth and it had a manual five speed transmission. No a/c, of course, and ventilation could have been better. The liner-less aluminum Vega engine had developed the reputation of being a real oil burner once it had accumulated some mileage, and buyers were staying away in droves. To correct this problem, GM improved the engine’s cylinder heads and the cooling system, and extended the factory warranty. This gave me enough confidence to give the car a try.

My only modification to the car was the addition of an AM/FM eight track stereo tape deck with a set of package tray mounted Pioneer speakers.

The car was pretty fun to drive, and fuel economy was pretty good, but it was kind of small. That didn’t stop me from going on an epic road trip down to Tijuana Mexico with my two brothers. We left after I got off of work at General Motors in Fremont on a Friday night at 11:30 pm. I drove home, picked up my brothers, and off we went. We traded off driving duties and drove through the night. We arrived in TJ in the morning. We spent the day looking around. My older brother was interested in finding an upholstery shop that could redo the interior of his ’64 Chevy Impala Super Sport. Then we drove back without spending the night.

I may be exaggerating!


It was really hot on the way back, with no a/c. The rear windows were also fixed in place, which resulted in terrible airflow. I also learned that since the car had a roof the size of a card table, the relentless Sun shone directly inside. with no way to hide from it! Sure made it hard to sleep.

We arrived back home on Sunday afternoon without getting any really good sleep. I didn’t need to be back at work until 3:00 pm. on Monday. This was a one thousand mile weekend round trip! You can only pull off these marathon type road trips when you are young.

After I was enrolled at San Jose State I found a very good part time, almost full time job, working for the County. I also realized that even if I wasn’t working, and had lots of free time, I was only going to study “so much.” I always maintained a solid mid “B” average through college and that was good enough for me.

With a regular source of income, I decided that I was tired of driving a little penalty box. I learned a valuable lesson with this car; don’t buy a car that you don’t really like just for the gas mileage. Especially since I had alternative transportation available with my motorcycle.

My motorcycle at the time was a modified ’77 Harley Davidson XLCR. Even though it displaced 1,000cc (actually 997) it returned respectable fuel economy at 40 mpg.

This was always the case for me. I usually had a motorcycle which was a much more economical way to get around. Since I was primarily a motorcyclist, I considered it my primary transportation. Between the two vehicles, it gave me a reasonable fuel economy average, sort of like a personal CAFE average. One balanced out the other.

I ended up selling this car to my best friend who was attending law school in SF at this time. The car came to an untimely end when the transmission locked up while he was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. He swerved into oncoming traffic and there was a collision. Fortunately, he came out okay. I did feel a bit guilty, but there hadn’t been any indications of a transmission problem during my ownership. It probably wasn’t a good idea to sell the car to a close friend.

This installment turned out to be pretty short, probably due to my lack of enthusiasm for the car. I hadn’t owned the car for much more than a year, and I still had one more year to go to finish my college degree. I didn’t really care about fuel economy or practicality, I just wanted something that I would enjoy owning and driving.

The quest for another vintage Cadillac started again.