Mention the name “Pontiac 6000” to most people today and you’ll probably get a blank stare, considering it was discontinued 28 years ago. Mention the name to someone with even a passing interest in cars, however, and the first thing you’ll probably hear is, “Ah, the 6000 STE!” The existence of that sporting flagship shone a positive light across the whole model line, as halo models typically do, but also scrubbed a lot of folks’ memories of the myriad less impressive, bench seat-equipped, Iron Duke-powered 6000s that roamed North America.
While the STE wasn’t the volume model in the 6000 range, it consistently accounted for 10-15% of volume between 1983 – its debut year – and 1986, outselling the 6000 coupes and often even the wagons. Its sophomore season was its best year in terms of percentage volume – 15.74% – while 1986 saw the greatest production tally. That year was the 6000’s best, with 211,375 6000s produced including a record 26,299 STE sedans. Thereafter, 6000 sales sagged.
What happened? Well, the 6000 got old. While the Japanese were running tight, five-year model runs, the 6000 received gradual tweaks and enhancements over a long model cycle.
At least the 6000 didn’t remain completely stagnant. Just look at the STE: it launched with no tachometer, fuel injection or manual transmission. By 1986, it had all of those, as well as anti-lock brakes, steering wheel audio controls, and a four-speed (instead of three) automatic. By 1988, all-wheel-drive had become available and the 2.8 V6 was replaced by a 3.1. All the while, the STE offered rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes and self-levelling rear air suspension, although the STE kept the regular 6000’s beam twist axle at the rear. Perplexingly, the four-speed automatic wasn’t available on the STE’s high-output, 130 hp version of the 2.8 for a full two years after it arrived on the regular 6000’s V6.
The STE was so memorable because it was, up to that point, the most convincing attempt by the Big 3 to make a European-inspired sport sedan. Previous efforts had either been too big and ungainly, or had suspensions that were too stiff. The STE, in comparison, earned glowing praise from Road & Track and Car and Driver, appearing on the latter’s 10Best list multiple years. In a 1983 “Mexican torture test” by Car and Driver, the STE was ranked better overall than a diverse field of cars including the Toyota Cressida, Volvo 760GLE, and Volkswagen Quantum, losing narrowly only to the Audi 5000.
Although GM also made sporting variants of the other A-Bodies – including the Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera ES, Buick Century T-Type and Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport – none of those cars offered quite the balance of ride comfort and keen handling. With the STE and its sporty cousins, GM appeared to understand the market was moving towards sedans, which makes it all the more perplexing they would bungle the GM-10 launch so badly. The sporting 6000 wasn’t perfect – a common refrain was that it could have used more power – but it was a highly impressive American sedan nonetheless. “World-class” was a term often used.
So, it’s pretty clear why everyone remembers the STE. But what about the other 6000s? Well, they varied in overall competence. Base models, for example, were powered by engine formerly known as the Iron Duke: the fuel-injected 2.5 Tech IV, initially producing 90 hp at 4000 rpm and 132 ft-lbs at 2800 rpm. Although the base 6000 weighed only 2700 pounds, the Tech IV had its work cut out for it and could manage only a 16 second saunter to 60 mph. It didn’t sound particularly good during those 16 seconds or at any other time and, unlike the X-Body Phoenix on which the 6000 was based, there was no manual transmission option. There was only a three-speed automatic or, from 1984, an optional four-speed automatic.
The STE may have held its own against similarly-sized Japanese and European sedans but the rest of the range required a judicious review of the option sheet. For example, ticking the box for the 2.8 V6 (112 hp at 5100 rpm; 148 ft-lbs at 2400 rpm) provided you with an engine that was vastly more flexible than the four and with scarcely a penalty at the pump. There was also the option of a naturally-aspirated 4.3 V6 diesel (85 hp at 3600 rpm; 165 ft-lbs at 1600 rpm) which, although smoother and more reliable than previous GM diesel engines, proved to be an unpopular option and was dropped after 1985.
While the 6000 offered more space than a similarly-priced Honda Accord, it had a floatier ride and didn’t feel as tight and poised to drive. Spending the $50 or so on the Y99 suspension package, however, narrowed the gap considerably and made the 6000 rather fun-to-drive. The upgraded suspension was part of a lengthy options list, a Detroit tradition. The Japanese, in comparison, were choosing to sell cars well-equipped by default. In particular, the Datsun Maxima and Toyota Cressida had a comprehensive features list so, although they cost around $3k more than a 6000, their price premium was much lower once you specified a 6000 to their level.
From 1984, however, Pontiac offered something the similarly-priced Toyota Camry and Honda Accord wouldn’t offer for a few years: a station wagon. The 6000 wagon took over from the Bonneville Model G wagon, offering the option of a third row of seating and undercutting the Toyota Cressida and Datsun Maxima wagons on price.
Pontiac introduced a sporty S/E model in 1987 with some of the STE’s features, including sport suspension and dual exhausts and the short-lived option (1987-88) of a five-speed manual transmission. The S/E’s introduction probably explains the drop in STE sales around this time. It didn’t help the STE that it typically cost $5-6k more than the next most expensive 6000, although its extra content largely justified that.
Although Pontiac was ostensibly the sporty brand in the GM stable again, GM gave all four of its A-Body models a sporty variant and made the other trim levels cushy and softly-suspended. While that provided dealers with plenty of variety, it didn’t accelerate GM’s attempts to once again reinvent Pontiac as their excitement brand. Instead, it continued the classic GM practice of making almost all of their brands be all things to all people. At least with the 6000 there wasn’t a choice between a floaty suspension and a rock-hard, filling-rattling one, but Ford would show in 1986 that you could just offer a base suspension that split the difference.
GM had clearly tried to make their A-Bodies ride like the old rear-wheel-drive ones, perhaps so as to ensure a seamless transition for American buyers. Alas, they didn’t embrace the opportunity to capitalize on the nimble handling afforded to their new front-wheel-drive cars by virtue of their mechanical layout and smaller dimensions. There were also the typical Old Detroit touches like scant instrumentation and strip-style speedometers.
Alas, as the 1980s drew to a close, the 6000 didn’t look all that different to when it had launched. That was a problem as Ford had upended the segment with its Taurus, while there were also new, larger generations of Camry and Accord to contend with. The GM-10 project proved to be a debacle with constant delays and so the A-Body had to sit for longer than intended. The 6000 was still a sensible choice and a good value – and it was the best out of the A-Body stable – but it was getting old.
The 6000 had one final hurrah with the introduction of all-wheel-drive in 1989, the first such application by GM in a passenger car. Initially standard fitment in the STE, it switched to the S/E when the STE was discontinued in 1990. The full-time all-wheel-drive system split engine torque 60 percent front and 40 percent rear. Only a three-speed automatic was available but all-wheel-drive 6000s added independent rear suspension, keeping the old FWD STE’s electronic ride control. There was a console-mounted switch provided to activate the electro-mechanical center differential locking system in extreme conditions. Interestingly, the AWD 6000’s IRS was based on the front axle of a Chevrolet S-10. All-wheel-drive added 300 pounds to the 6000’s curb weight, blunting performance and hampering fuel economy, but handling and grip were further improved. The ageing 6000 may have seemed an odd choice for the new all-wheel-drive system but it served as a low-volume (around 1500 annual units) production mule of sorts, GM intending to roll it out to other models in due course.
The arrival of the Grand Prix sedan and Trans Sport minivan spelled the end of the 6000 sedan and wagon, although the 6000 lingered until the 1991 model year. The 6000 had helped transition Pontiac to front-wheel-drive but it had seemed to overstay its welcome: sales had plummeted from a high of 211,375 units in 1986 to 138,489 units the year after. How much of that decline could be attributed to the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable is debatable but it’s clear the segment was in flux and the 6000 wasn’t the freshest car around. Of course, virtually nobody remembers that drop in sales. Nor do they remember the stodgy four-cylinder models, or the tragic, puffy vinyl roof available on the forgettable, boxy coupe.
They just remember the STE, one of the most impressive domestic cars of the 1980s.
1989-91 6000 S/E photo courtesy of dave_7.
Curbside Classic: 1982-90 Chevrolet Celebrity – Beating The Bull To The Rodeo
Curbside Classic: 1989-96 Buick Century & Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera – Sheer Frustration
Automotive History: 1986 Ford Taurus – Good Role Models And Clear Objectives Create A Breakthrough Car
Now that’s one American car I know better than most. My dad had an ’86 S/E wagon with the V6 and kept it for about eight years, until the transmission died. Fond memories. He bought it used in the US in 1988 and shipped it back to France when we returned a few years later. I suspect we had the only 1986 6000 wagon in Europe — certainly in France. Towards the end, it tended to vibrate at speed and the engine would often turn itself off at idle. Maybe an early type of stop/start by GM? Those guys were ahead of the game in so many ways, especially in the ’80s…
At contemporary US highway speeds (55mph), the Pontiac was fine in terms of fuel consumption. But on French autoroutes, cruising at 130kph / 80mph meant at least 15 L/100km (15.5mpg), roughly what the preceding paternal Peugeot used to drink. But the 6000 couldn’t really go above 150kph, whereas I remember the 604 reaching 180kph.
One question though: why “6000”? I know most model names, aren’t made to make sense, but usually they broaden the appeal. What’s appealing about 6000?
An abandoned attempt at rebranding Pontiac’s lineup. The Chevette clone was the T1000, the Sunbird launched as the J2000, and the 6000 was supposed to be the A6000. They realized having the platform code confused things but then they realized soon after that the numerals – however logical – weren’t worth continuing with, so J2000 became 2000 then 2000 Sunbird then Sunbird. The 6000 nameplate, however, stuck around for a whole generation.
I recall reading that Pontiac’s upcoming 2-seat personal/sports car was to be called the P3000, but instead it became the Fiero. I also did see the dealer ordering guide for the 1982 6000 which did call it the A6000 still.
I also recall a debate about the Fiero’s name between the pro-numerical and anti-numerical contingents of Pontiac’s marketing people. As I recall, that’s how the “Fiero 2M4” name came into existence — as a compromise way to have both a name and an alphanumeric designation.
It’s interesting that more automotive brands did not heed the lesson Pontiac learned with their early-1980s alphanumeric naming debacle. It was the classic case of throwing out good names with strong brand equity in a quest to mimic other automakers with very different values and heritage. The results tend to land with a thud with consumers, who don’t “get” the new names or “miss” the old, memorable ones that were commonly associated with the brand.
Pontiac’s sales had been trailing expectations throughout the 1970s, and European brands like Audi had been booming–so Pontiac thought that buyers would gravitate to “European” nomenclature, and a 6000 was 1000 more than a “luxury” Audi 5000. Instant prestige and credibility! Except for one problem: the most popular Pontiacs at the time had names: Firebird and Grand Prix. So they kept those instead of giving us the F5000 and G6500 or whatever alphanumeric idiocy would have applied according to the “formula.” Also breaking from the formula was the Bonneville Model G (re-skinned LeMans for ’82) as Pontiac couldn’t bring itself to fuly ditch the storied name for something more “modern and international” like G8000. And Pontiac’s N-Body was launched as the Grand Am (third time was the charm sales wise) rather than being the 3000 (Audi would likely have had a problem if Pontiac had tried “4000” on the car). Good call on the name.
At least Pontiac had the sense to ditch the strategy quickly as it was apparent that the meaningless letters and numbers weren’t resonating with consumers and didn’t connate anything uniquely “Pontiac” (LeMans had evocative equity–even if the car had floundered in recent years, but 6000 was merely a number). Of course, nameplates can be ruined by bad or boring or dated products, but blaming the name rather than the car itself will never fix the problem.
Yet despite the lessons in authenticity and consumer acceptance of names, Pontiac reverted to alphanumerics once again as the brand entered its death throes, with charmers like the G6 and G8. Cadillac and Lincoln bumbled through alphabet soup for cars oblivious to the fact that the only two model names anyone could recall were “Escalade” and “Navigator.” Acura ditched some of the best names in the business (Legend, Integra) for a slew of letters that are utterly forgettable. Oh well, at least they seem “European” (not).
Yes, the whole alpha-numeric nomenclature was a sop to the German makes. It surprised me that the Japanese manufacturers would adopt this too. I guess the Germans call the shots on the luxury field.
Though they made sense in a way (the G6 was the sixth-gen Grand Am, the G8 was the eighth-gen Grand Prix, etc.), I’d much rather say I have a “Malibu” than “E25TZM”, even if the alphabet soup nomenclature accurately describes the car. Even if the car has only the slightest connection to the place (i.e., Galaxie? Monte Carlo? Santa Fe?), it seems more natural to assign a name to the vehicle.
It’s worth noting that one of the most effective names in automotive history, Mustang, was not used when the ponycar was imported to Germany. Instead, it was called ‘T5’.
The Mustang name was not used in Germany because it was already used by a German gun manufacturer on one of its pistols. Apparently (?), Ford did not care to pay to use the Mustang name in one market.
Oops, I somehow missed another comment on this subject. I also didn’t know that it was a lawnmower with the Mustang name…I could have sworn that I heard it was a fun.
@rudiger: As I understood the situation, the name Mustang had been copyrighted in the German market at that time by a maker of lawn mowers.
I can’t imagine much confusion between the two items, but apparently Ford thought otherwise.
Well crap. This is what Hagerty has to say about the origin of the T5 (not T-5)…
Your G6 = sixth gen revelation just blew my mind. They say it’s really a size code, with the slightly smaller G5 etc. but I like your answer better.
@MT: I explained it in an earlier post, but G8= 8th gen Grand Prix…
You forgot (and rightly so) the Chevy Aveo clone the G3 and the Cobalt clone the G5.
Those particular cars were the third-gen and fifth-gen of each of their respective bodies.
If they REALLY wanted to ape the Germans/Japanese, it could have looked like this:
German emulation mode: E6350 (Epsilon body, 6th-generation Grand Am, 3.5L V6)
Japanese emulation mode: 6G35A (6th-gen Grand Am, 3.5L V6 Automatic)
Like I said, I’d rather it had a name. Almost any name, really.
Well, then what was the G8 the eighth generation of?
I don’t knock the numeric names in general, because some make sense.
Mercedes 300 = 3 litre Benz. That makes sense. Or the four digit Soviet car code, which also makes sense (but is spread across too many marques). Or the Peugeot system, which has been in place since 1930 and is pretty awesome, too.
Numbers are very apt at being used as car names. Cars are technical things, so there’s a wealth of numbers to choose from. Numbers don’t require translation and provide a lot of sound (“Six Thousand”) with very few signs (“6000”). Same with letters – GTI is easier to stick on the back than “Grand Turismo Injection” or whatever you want to call it.
So alphanumeric names are fine by me if they make sense in some way. My gripe about the 6000 is that it’s a meaningless nameplate that is the product of a half-baked attempt at turning the whole range into meaningless nameplates, according to what William and others wrote above. Sloppy marketing, poor decision-making. GM in the ’80s…
While Trans Am and Grand Prix were selling well in 70’s, the LeMans underwhelmed. So much so, Pontiac resorted to pushing Cop Car versions. But then GM brass said “Chevy only” for cop/taxi.
Then, the B bodies tanked when Gas Crisis II arrived, so they got canned, thinking :”everyone will be in small cars by 1984-85″. We know the Parisienne/Bonneville G story.
6000 at least had some image compared to Celebrity, and STE had a cult following.
The rounded rear window arrived too late, though. And GP sedan should have been out by 1988.
Originally, the N bodies were to replace the G bodies totally, and get their old names. Grand Am would have been the “all new 1985 Grand Prix”.
Car and Driver had a pic of Pontiac N body with Grand Prix badges, along with ‘would’ve been’ Cutlass Supreme and Regal.
The Buick N body was called the Somerset Regal in its first year. The Olds was called Calais with the higher-trimmed model called Calais Supreme – both terms previously used as Cutlass trim levels – and then the Calais became the Cutlass Calais. Pontiac had previously used Grand Am on two generations of RWD mid-sizers. So all three N bodies had names that tied them to previous GM mid-size cars. I actually thought this was a rare instance of excellent marketing from GM in the ’80s, as the names (and styling) evoked a smaller version of the popular G body coupes, not a restyled version of the poorly-reputed X bodies that they really were.
@la673: The N-bodies shared some items with J-bodies, but nothing with X-bodies, other than the obvious.
Actually, I thought the naming convention for the N’s when released mimicked some of the Japanese makers, who had a long standing practice of giving their new models two names. Once the new model got some traction, they would remove the older name. Typically, US manufacturers (GM in particular) would shuffle some names from marque to marque (Calais for example, Cadillac to Oldsmobile), but this introduction was unusual.
Remember the Toyota Corolla Tercel? Toyota Corolla Matrix? The Nissan Stanza Altima?
That’s how the first couple of model years of these cars were introduced to the market. It also inflated the sales numbers, as the “new” models pump up the older “parent” nameplate’s number of units sold.
6000 was one thousand more than 5000.
They repeated the same thing with the (misnamed) G6 and G8 two decades later. G6 higher than (Audi) A4 and G8 higher than A6.
If only it was as easy as just having a ‘better’ name, lol
Ah, shades of This is Spinal Tap and “This one goes to 11”.
Got this Car for 60$ had a few problems as a person never really took care of fixed it but that cutting off and idling problem is going on with me did you ever learn anything about that problem that can help me
Ah, the 6000 STE. My best memories of it are one of my high school teachers had one, appeared to really like it, but on more than one occasion, the steering-wheel mounted radio controls were stolen out of it – a foreshadowing of air bag thefts.
Also, this was the time where rear amber turn signals were “European” along with blacked-out trim.
The later STE/SE with the large composite headlights, non-split grille, and full-width taillights is my favorite of the A-cars in terms of appearance. One thing that bothered me about the early STE was that the illusion of six headlights – a pretty neat idea – was spoiled by the fact the the innermost lights were slightly smaller in size than the real headlights. Why didn’t Pontiac bother to match the sizes?
I’m often the dissenting view on this but I love the six-headlight look Pontiac had going with the early STEs and the ’80-81 Bonneville. It was distinctive, and certainly better-looking than the six-headlight full-size Pontiacs of 1970!
The composite headlights bland it up, IMO. I never noticed the smaller third light, by the way. Now I probably won’t be able to un-see it!
The innermost headlights were supposed to be fog lamps. The practice in the day was to hang fog lamps underneath the bumper; these cars integrated them into the grille.
Not sure, but I imagine fog lights are mounted low to get under the fog? I’ve never really seen the point.
I was smitten with the STE back in the day. I couldn’t tear myself away from the muscle cars, but if I were to go with a sedan, the STE would have been it. My 2009 Pontiac G6 has many of the same stats as the 1980’s STE, which amuses me to no end. The S/E was the value model of the line, it had all the goodies without the gingerbread and was less expensive, to boot. Too bad it was only offered for two model years.
The A cars were a good apology for the X car debacle; they were roomy and generally well designed. There were some versions that were much less than desirable, but there were some very basic Japanese cars back then that just about only offered a steering wheel as included equipment. Of course, that’s an attempt at humor, but if you saw the very basic cars, they were very basic.
I would have to say that the Taurus/Sable were the 6000 (and all of the A -cars) killers. It’s easy to underestimate how much of an impact those cars had back then. They were the future of sedans and the public responded.
My favorite STE was the first one, from 1983, with the brown suede interior and one-year-only full (except tach) analog gauge cluster which I preferred to the aquamarine digital bar graphs used in subsequent years. At night the ’83 STE dash glowed in red – not the orangey-red used in ’84 and later Pontiacs but a real deep red red which was intense. The suede upholstery seemed to be a rare option – I didn’t see many and by a few years later the ones I did see showed severe wear and fading. The STE in later years became gimmicky and fell behind newer competition.
One thing that carried over from the X-body Phoenix was that if you ordered the full set of gauges, two of them were closer to the passenger than the driver.
I inherited my grandmas deep purple 6000, 17k on a 12 year old car. The low miles didn’t do it any favors, we had constant electrical problems ranging from inop accessories to the car randomly not starting.
Does anyone remember a car mag cover with an airborne or nearly airborne STE?
I vaguely recall that magazine cover…it may have been Car and Driver.
Here is the link to the 1983 article in Car & Driver
C&D did that a lot back in the day. There was something about them getting cars in “full suspension droop” for covers and articles.
I have to say, it would take a large set of cojones to stand near a car hurtling at high enough speeds to fly off the road. Once it hit the ground again, anything could happen…
Fond memories here too. My Dad’s last new car was an 86 S/E sedan that replaced his 73 Grand Am sedan. Auto, V6, white with a gray bucket seat interior and cruise. Boy, was it a hoot to drive. Plenty of pep and the seats really hugged you. I thought it looked pretty sharp. After nearly 20 years of service the body let loose but the interior remained crisp and still looked new. Haven’t seen another one since.
Undoubtedly the best of the A-bodies, with the STE being the pinnacle. Will, thanks for doing these justice. Oddly, or maybe perhaps not, there are still a few baser model 6000s floating around here in my GM heavy part of the world.
Of course, reading this makes me wonder how things might have been had GM not bungled the GM-10 introduction and had the basic STE concept been reassigned fully to the Grand Prix – or whatever else in the stable.
This car brings back memories of a girl i used to date. she came to NYC with her then boyfriend and their child. he immediately started playing the field and leaving his wife and child to fend for themselves for days on end. i met her and started a friendship that led to an intimate relationship. while he was out playing with other women i wa helping her buy food for her daughter and basically looking out for them. after some point she had hda enough of NYC and decided to go back to Ohio. he of course chased after her because she was a stable source of income and place to stay (welfare, food stamps, rent paid etc) during her stay in NYC…………she got pregnant. i was in my early 20’s and a very responsible young man as well. but not stupid…..she had another daughter and i admit she looked like me, i wanted a blood test done so that i can assume full responsibility for the child if it were mine. she felt insulted and refused’ so i refused to take responsibility. we talked for a while long distance and i decided to give her another shot (as i really needed to know if this was my daughter) i drove to Ohio a few times (her boyfriend was out of the pic) she became a dancer at a strip club and worked nights. she managed to buy her self a blue Pontiac STE i remember being pleasantly surprised as well as having new found respect for a woman that would buy what was one of the hottest cars on the road at that time. by contrast i had an 85 Buick Century sedan beautiful car! Anyway she still played the insulted card when i asked for a blood test telling me it was my child. so i played the beta roll and asked her to marry me. i gave her a ring and decided on a date. well, the blue pill effect can only last for so long. i came to see her and found that the house was a party seen (after a 4 hour drive,last thing i wanted to see or deal with) To make things worse……..she was out on a beer run or something(left three little girls alone sleeping upstairs) i calmed myself and we relaxed and her car was in repair shop asked if she could use the Buick i said ok have it back by 8 am. she got back at 8 am and then took off without saying anything to me or checking on her kids, she came back at 11 am and again took off with my car. she returned at 2pm and i was furious, told her she has no respect for me (she knew how i am with my cars)i took the ring back and left…………….never saw her again. to this day i wonder how that little girl is doing and if she is my daughter.
Wow! That’s quite a story. It really illustrates how, “Mama’s baby is Papa’s maybe”.
Welp, DNA tests are a thing now, but I don’t think you can force the kid to have one.
A great find. Centuries and cutlass Cieras continue to be occasional sightings where I live, but these were always much less common.
I don’t doubt that the Taurus had some role in the big 1987 sales drop, but Iwould bet that the main cause was the new modern Bonneville that came out that year. The 6000 was a great move for a Pontiac buyer in 1986 when the other choice was the car that started life as the 78 LeMans. But the 1987 H body Bonneville was the step up that many buyers were undoubtedly looking for when large sedans were popular.
Another great, well-written overview. I remember when the STE was new, and it seemed like one of the few domestic sedans of the ’80s that got genuine respect – no small feat, being a GM product from its darkest days.
I never put two-and-two together that the S/E was a decontented STE. Even more alarming to me us that I don’t remember the STE’s discontinuation. That seems sad, given how many accolades it had amassed in its short life.
As I mentioned in another comment, the STE’s were rare in my area. But I wasn’t surprised by the respect for the car; I suspect it was based more on car buffs reading the reviews, than on personal experience with it. CD in particular went through a (long) period as GM fanboys, probably starting with the classic Ferrari vs Pontiac GTO companions and extending past the RWD F41 and WS6 handling package era to the STE. Not saying the praise wasn’t always deserved (my WS6 Firebird certainly handled well) but it doesn’t surprise me that the STE gets respect even if most folks really only knew it from the car magazines.
the S/E had the FE3 suspension where the STE had the FE2. There was some differentation between them.
I put an S/E spoiler on my STE just to give it some flair but didn;t put the ground effects from the SE on it.
I drove a hand me down base 6000, which we referred to as the 6×10*3, for a few years in the late 80’s. It was very unmemorable.
These were made until 1991.
Whups! Typo. Thanks for that, MT, I’ve updated it.
I never knew you could get a manual transmission in a 6000. What model years was it available? To bad it wasn’t offered on that 89 AWD STE. I’m sure it would have sold at least 5, maybe ever 7 cars in that set up. But seriously, that would have been a cool set up and one that I would want to track down today to buy. The 6000 has become my unicorn, I haven’t seen more than 2 in the past 5 years. I know this because it was 5 years ago that discovered Curbside Classic while googleing the 6000 because I missed seeing this car. So I owe my addiction to CC to the 6000.
The 6000 is by far the most extinct of the A-bodies too, they never became cockroaches like the Olds and Buick, and even the odd Celebrity is a more common sighting. I wonder if the STE connection also made them more desirable to thrash.
Typical 80s GM, they had the ability to still make youthful competitive cars with unique identities but, only at a premium, while regular models powered by mail truck engines and trim sourced from Party City. Personally though, I feel like the 6000STE is one of those “you had to be there” sorts of cars. As someone born at the end of their run, their appeal isn’t self explanatory like a Grand National, or even the Taurus SHO, which is closest in concept. They aren’t very good looking, they aren’t really fast, they just are in relation to other A-bodies, in which you pretty much have to be a GM diehard to appreciate in the first place.
I have seriously seen more X-Bodies (2) than 6000s (0) in the past year or so.
My Grandmother’s second to last car was an ’82 6000 LE coupe with the 2.8 V6. Loaded, It was in a color called Light Rosewood Metallic that to these eyes looked apricot, and had that same pillow top bucket/console setup seen in the last interior photo up top. I will say, for 1982, it probably was one of the best US cars one could buy. That is not to say it was perfect. The first year she owned it, a computer module fried up in the middle of nowhere, Montana on a trip to Glacier Park. Somewhere along the line the famous 2.8 head gasket took an early vacation that was a costly repair. But overall Grandma liked the car. I didn’t mind it either, really. It was very comfortable and it drove alright for what it was. Still didn’t stop Grandma from moving on to an Accord as her last car…
I owned an 1990 SE AWD for 10 years. With Blizzak WS 50 winter tires it was a beast in the snow and very stable despite not having electronic stability control. Pressing the center diff locking button allowed for amazing acceleration in icy conditions and I surprised many SUV drivers back in the day. The only issues I had with it were the ABS system and the automatic level control but otherwise it was a solid and dependable car.
I knew a guy with an STE and the only real troubles he ever had with it was the load leveling system. Always developing leaks.
I agree with a lot of the sentiments here, the 6000 STE/SE was the best looking of all the A-body sedans. My preference would be the last couple of years, when the STE went full monochromoatic, composite headlights, and the ground effects package. Would love to have one of those today!
For the 2-doors, I would say that the last couple years of the Cutlass Ciera with the faster roofline was the best looking.
The FWD A Bodies were very popular in the San Francisco area, or at least common (maybe many of them were fleet or company cars) but the Pontiac was definitely the least visible. As for the STE, around here it was a unicorn outside of the pages of CD or R&T. Celebrity Eurosports outnumbered them by orders of magnitude. Despite the popularity of plebeian A Bodies, and even aero T-Birds in California in the mid-80’s, the sport sedan market was nearly 100% German, Swedish, and Nissan Maxima. Even the Taurus SHO was more visible on the roads than the elusive STE. I think I’ve maybe seen one AWD STE ever.
I think that one of the attractions of the STE was that it was offered only as an fully equipped model. The interior and exterior appearance, and especially the powertrain and chassis was set up to be a harmonious combination. Therefore every example was “special.” Typical Detroit thinking was to dumb down and cheapen the series by selling de-contented examples. From what I had read in Car and Driver the STE was the engineer’s choice. When the public or dealer ordered them, they might omit some important features.
While I usually prefer actual names for vehicle models, sometimes numbers become well accepted. Ford F150 example. It’s isn’t a Cheyenne, or Apache, or Tacoma, or even Ranger, but the name seems comfortable and memorable. I am familiar with the T-5 story, but I can’t get warmed up to that compared to the iconic name of Mustang. Wasn’t the T-5 the name for a sealed beam headlight?
Maybe, but T-5 was also the name of the Borg Warner 5-speed transmission used in 5.0 Mustangs
You’re thinking of the Guide T-3 found on many ’60s GM cars with quad round sealed beams. They look great, but from what I understand gave off a terrible, dim light pattern. I’ve never driven a T-3-equipped car at night so I can’t give a firsthand account.
T-5 nameplate was used for the first generation Mustangs sold in Germany.
Krupp, one of largest German conglomerates, owned the name and was willing to license the name for a princely sum of $10,000. Ford figured it wasn‘t worth the cost.
I had one of those 29,000 ’86 Pontiac 6000-STEs
ABS didn’t come to the 86 model till very very late into the model year, so late that almost none of the 86s had it. Mine didn’t have it and it was a March ’86 build. The 3 speed was calibrated differently than the rest of the TH-125s it had a firm 1-2 shift and a butter smooth 2-3 shift, and shifted a bit later. The 1-2 shift was hard enough to bang the engine on the mounts and make the car creak (mine was 13 years old when I got it) if you were driving it slowly.
Otherwise it was a very quiet car, and a decent handler, the EFI 2.8 was pretty responsive. It just suffered from the perfect storm of being 13 years old with 90,000 miles on it, me being a broke college student, and some very deferred maintenance catching up on it. (blew up the engine 3 days after I bought it, rebuilt it and it was a good one after that) typical worn out shocks and struts, and flaky 80s electronics. The one thing I never had any trouble with was the digital dash. and I personally saw the 2.8 use every bit of that 7,000 rpm digital tach once (engine survived just fine!) It would do an indicated 125mph as well (me seeing what would happen if you hit 200kph on a display limited to 199)
It was a good drivers car save for the typical FWD understeer, and it taught me about lift-throttle oversteer.
Fun fact. The rear disc brakes (calipers brackets rotors hubs) of an STE are a direct bolt-on swap to replace the rear drums on its A-body cousins. Actually you only need to find the rear caliper brackets and brake line brackets from an STE and everything else can still be purchased new.
Yeah but did they actually put a proportioning valve in the disc equipped ones?
That was the X-body/A-body cardinal sin, my Celebrity would burn through front brake pads in 20,000 miles while the drums did almost no work. Both my Mother and my Grandmother got different Celebritys to do 180 degree spins in icy conditions by misusing the brakes. Something that neither one of them ever did before or since with any vehicle.
I don’t believe the STE had a proportioning valve but the guys who’ve done the rear disc conversion report that it mitigates tendency to spin. I still remember the Car and Driver review of the X-body Chev where they tested its braking performance in the wet and the car went into an ” atomic death skid “.
Growing up, my parents bought two 6000s, both LEs. First one was an ’83 in blue gray with the Iron Duke and a blue interior. Don’t remember any major problems – car was under-powered for a family of 5. Kept until 95K and traded in on a brand new ’89 in black with maroon interior but went with V6 and bigger wheels. Brake pads wore out quickly (may have been my mom’s driving style) and the paint delaminated and GM fixed for free. Kept until around 100K and traded in on 1995 Grand Prix SE sedan in red. Sensing a trend and brand loyalty here? But they then switched to Buick for a 2001 LeSabre (112K) and the final car was a 2008 Buick Lucerne (157K). Mom passed away and dad traded the Lucerne in on a 2017 Toyota Tacoma X-cab at age 75. Go figure.
I’ve ridden in the STE version belonging to a neighbor dropping me home. I thought the car was so fast and futuristic with the dash layout and all of the buttons on the steering wheel, at least to my 8 year old self, and in contrast to my father’s car. Years later I look up the specs and see how far off I was in terms of speed. Haven’t seen one since.
Thanks for sharing the A-body that doesn’t tend to get its fair share of attention around here! I will say, the 6000 STE was a pretty impressive car, especially considering is plebeian origins.
Great write up on one of my favorite 80s cars. I had what I think was an 89 STE with AWD. Red with gold flake in the paint and gold accents on the wheels, just as shown in pic above. Was a hand me down from my uncle. Unfortunately it is probably the only car I owned that I have no pictures of, but it was a blast to drive. Also unfortunately, it was stolen from out front of my Mom’s house one night when I loaned it to her. These 80s GMs tilt column vehicles were incredibly easy to steal with only a flat screwdriver, and therefore made perfect joyride vehicles in Philly. It was found, totalled and stripped weeks later. A real shame as it was a pretty rare car; in fact i have never even seen another.
The wagon versions of these were the most endearing to me though, since my dad’s 1984 6000 LE wagon was a fixture in our family for the better part of 20 years. That was my first write up here and my favorite.
Had a 1984 6000 LE purchased new. V-6 auto. Not a good experience. Build quality terrible. The dark blue cloth interior had this weird propensity to attract lint, which was a pain to remove. Paint totally delaminated in 4 years. Got a free repaint from the dealer, which delaminated again in 2 years. Went through brakes like crazy. Many other minor, but irritating issues. After 8 years and 90K it was just about finished. Pluses were the full gage package with tach (yep, that’s how Pontiac spelled it) and decent handling. Was also excellent in snow.
I think 6000 sales tanked after 1986 due to the debut of the attractive 1987 Bonneville.
The 87-91 Bonne is an attractive car.
It was more likely it tanked because it was a terrible car.
I didn’t read every comment to see if I’m repeating someone else, but the Japanese were running 4-year cycles back then. Example, 90-93 Accord; 91-94 Sentra, etc. The 5-year thing didn’t start until the mid to late nineties, the 1998-2001 Accord first coming to mind. Anyway, much worse for the 6000, which couldn’t even compete early in the model run, unless you like tractor engines.