(first posted 12/19/2016)
This may (or may not) be one of 1,540 Sunbird GT turbocharged four door sedans built in 1987. And given how few gen1 J-Cars are still on the streets, is it off the wall to guess that there might be…say… fourteen left in the world; if that many? Well, the fourteen 1970 Hemi Cuda convertibles ever built are fetching around a million bucks each. I know where this car lives, and my finder’s fee is very reasonable. But hurry; if the owner finds out what he inherited from his Aunt, he may become obstinate.
Ok, I admit I’m grasping for a proper take on this Sunbird. But then this rare bird appeared out nowhere, and…here we are. So how do we do it justice?
The Sunbird had an unfortunate start inasmuch as its mommy couldn’t decide on its name. Its glorious Monza-clone predecessor bore the Sunbird name. Maybe that’s why the new J-Body version appeared in 1982 as the J2000. And reappeared in 1983 as the 2000. And reappeared in 1984 as the 2000 Sunbird. The circle was squared in 1985, when just Sunbird appeared. And in 1995, a reskinned version appeared as the Sunfire. GM’s perpetual naming issues were on full display here. At least the Cavalier name stuck throughout the Chevy’s protracted lifespan.
The Sunbird had a standing appointment with GM’s rhinoplasty department, going through a seemingly endless parade of new beaks. Maybe it felt self conscious about the rest of its body, which was all Cavalier, all too obviously. If you can keep track of all the front end variations, you should be writing this. I just know that they all stuck out way to far in front, and looked completely divorced from the rest of the body. A Firebird-esque nose on a Cavalier does not make for a harmonious look.
The Sunbird was also rather conflicted about its engines. It started out with the Cavalier’s dull 88 hp 1.8 L pushrod four. In its second year, an optional 1.8 L SOHC engine, designed by Opel and built in Brazil, became optional. Curiously, it had four fewer horses on tap than the OHV Chevy, despite presumably costing more. Maybe GM was using Sunbird owners as a vast field test to see which engine was better. Go figure; the eighties were GM’s worst decade for many small as well as large reasons.
And the two engine families continued to be available for a few more years, before the rude little Chevy was shown the door. That happened about the same time that the 150 hp turbocharged SOHC 1.8 became available, which (maybe) graces this GT. Now 150 horses was genuinely a big deal in 1984. Never mind that was more than any Cadillac mustered that year. It was more than my old T-Bird Turbo Coupe, and even the illustrious Saab 900 Turbo had all of 135 hp in 1984. The eighties were Pontiac’s Excitement decade, Take 2, and the Sunbird GT was trying to be a poor man’s Saab Turbo. Did it pull it off?
I can’t honestly tell, having never driven one, or having felt any desire to at the time. I can’t summon any old tests. [Update: one of our commentators, mazder3, has this summary of a PM test: Popular Mechanics did a six pocket rocket comparo in their August ’85 issue. The Sunbird turbo came in last behind, in ascending order; Civic S, Corrola GT-S, Golf GTI, Mirage Turbo, and the winner Dodge Omni GLH Turbo. PM absolutely slammed the Sunbird: although had the biggest tires, 205/60R14 (!!!), it still couldn’t stop or steer. The four speed shifter was stiff, engine balky, steering numb, brakes soft, and handling twitchy. It cost much more than its competitors but weighed too much, was cramped for its size, and was just no fun. To top every thing else their tested fuel economy was 17.8 mpg and best quarter 16.5 seconds.]
Undoubtedly, it was one of the faster affordable cars in its day. Torque steer? Check. Turbo lag? Standard equipment for the times. Handling? Maybe, sort of. Slick shifting? No. A tasteful interior? Don’t ask. Reliability issues? Undoubtedly, but I have been wrong before. With GM cars of the eighties though, it’s a very safe thing to say even if you’re pulling it out of your ass. Hey, this one is still on the road. Good luck trying to find another.
Hey, maybe the Sunbird GT was a mammoth sleeper in its day, and it somehow got past me. I admit I didn’t spend a lot of time mulling the virtues of J Cars or reading breathless Motor Trend reviews of them. Like I said, I’m grasping here. In more ways than one; it turns out that although the turbo engine was standards in the Sunfire GT, one could also delete-option it too. Given the lack of little fake (I assume) hood vents on this one, that’s probably the case. Oh well. Maybe this Sunfire isn’t quite as valuable after all. I hope that does not come as a shock to any of you.
Related: CC 1982 Chevrolet Cavalier -GM’s Deadly Sin #22 – The Decline and Fall of GM in 1.8 Liters PN
That instrument panel is shockingly bad, even for ’80s GM. What’s that old good-looking bus doing in the bottom right corner of the picture? It’s also photobombing the Pontiac in some other pics. Couldn’t you have snapped that instead? Hehehe…
A refugee from the Partridge Family?
You are correct..
The Sunbird / Cavalier has horrible dash board layout and dowdy controls. It looks even worse when you compare it to the clean modern layout that Honda / Totoya and others of the same era.
Never understood why GM executed and green lighted such a bland ugly interior. Why these cars were a hit is beyond me. I sketches better looking dash boards when I use to draw cars in art class.
I will say the “Digital Dash” option on the cavalier (Z28) / Type 10 model I enjoyed because it looked like a mini “Knight Rider” kit car. They should have offered it as standard. The Sunbird would not get this option and stayed bland!
To understand just how bad these things really were, you have to do a little compare and contrast:
Look at the picture of the interior on the Sunbird; note the design and the quality of materials used. Sure, you say, there’s some wear, and the design is a little crude but, hey! 1987 was a long time ago – what do you expect? Cars were all like that then….
Now, here’s CC’s article on a 1986 Honda Civic –
I’ve attached a picture of the Civic’s interior from that article, below. Whoever GM was benchmarking, it wasn’t Honda. Perhaps the Civic has less miles on it, but that’s not a safe bet. It’s certain in any case that the Civic’s interior is original, and even if you discount the difference in wear, you can sure see the in design and materials. Why couldn’t GM do that? How much would it have raised the price of a Sunbird to put a decent interior in them?
Makes me want to invent a time machine just so I can go back and try to slap some sense into Roger Smith.
Does that really look so great to you. A smaller interior with thinner seats in a more expensive car.
Does to me…clean, modern design, seats that are made of better material, have some bolstering and probably weigh a lot less. Smaller cabin, but very open and airy feeling…the color scheme helps. Have driven both Cavaliers and Civics of that era, and the difference is obvious. The Civic is clean and taut, with solid feel, J-car is cluttered, ugly, rattly and cheap-feeling. The dash alone, for God’s sake.
I agree, not to mention for some reason the Sunbird / Cavalier seemed to be the choice ride of transportation for drug junkies back in the 80’s, and mid 90’s (especially in the MidWest).
Women liked both Sunbird / Cavaliers allot also for some reason back then-especially the convertibles.
I believe that is why so many are no longer around, plus they were crap cars. The 1991-1994 Sunbird / Cavalier had much better execution and actually looked nice (still cheap), but decent.
the clever cup holders of the 91-94 Cavalier I loved, the dash layout was on par with imports. Not the quality fit and finish, but the dash layout, controls, and door panels looked at least modern.
At first I thought, hey that Civic interior doesn’t look so great either. But when you look closer, you can see it has a nice, simple design and looks well screwed together. Japanese subcompacts and compacts didn’t always have nice interiors – some still have only average ones – but they almost always were well put together.
Honda Civic and Accord dashboards in the ’80s were peak. You can still see a lot of simplicity in the current Accords. Everyone should benchmark them. I bet Honda benchmarked MB for dash layouts back then.
And no arm rest. It is better quality, though that doesn’t automatically make it more comfortable or ergonomic.
John C – both those interiors are the same age… the Pontiac has crumbled into scrap and the Civic still looks great. Note that the foam in the Sunbird’s driver’s seat bottom essentially no longer exists. The Pontiac was a cheap design made of cheap materials that started failing after 4 or 5 years. The Civic’s interior while not as flashy or perhaps as comfortable in the showroom is simply made of better stuff. Noting that the Civic has no arm rest suggests that in (arguably) spending the same number of dollars on the interior, Honda chose better materials, and less features, and Pontiac chose the opposite.
It’s the old quality shoes versus cheap shoes argument.
Actually that was the high point of these cars were the seats. I use to have a 1987 beater Sunbird. The seats actually really felt comfy, and had decent to good side bolster support.
However, that is the only compliment that I can give the car. The rest of the car was an insult to the consumer.
Ohh yeah the semi pop up headlights on the Sunbird GT was a nice modern touch for the era. Gave the car a sporty-ish look from the front.
Quality and durability are not the same thing though. Leather is better quality than vinyl, for instance, but usually not as durable. You also make broad assumptions of the history of two random cars. Honda seats can and do wear out too, as seen below.
I’m not saying the Sunbird interior is high quality, as it certainly is not. But there are many people who would prefer comfort over durability.
I agree with you’re statement. I also know many people that only like to only have a car for 2 or 3 years before they are ready to hop in another car.
So to these folks, especially those that lease their cars comfort, style overrides the in depth quality stuff we car guru’s focus on.
I can’t quite agree Mr. Hartfield. I think it’s the opposite, that car enthusiasts tend to often put a premium on comfort, performance, and thoughtful design over utility and durability. Otherwise Ferrari wouldn’t exist. I won’t buy a vehicle with uncomfortable seats, I don’t care how durable they are. On the flip side, people who view cars as appliances often only care about durability and utility. That’s the market Toyota thrives on.
Again, though, that’s not to say the Pontiac met any of those criteria. It may not have.
I get you’re point.
I should clarify, I was thinking in terms of people like my sister. who could care less about engine, performance, etc. she had a Sunbird years ago.
she is the type of consumer that buys a car because it looks cute, and comes in a nice color. She does not notice things like a correct dash board layout, seat design etc. As long as it has a decent radio, comes in a nice color, and has the cute-ish look, is a convertible she is sold! oops I mean gullible to purchase it. I think she is the person GM had in mind when the created the J-cars is what I meant.
I really don’t think it would be difficult to find a Civic from this long ago era with a worn interior.
Lokki: I never liked the ass on the floor legs stretched seating of Civics, Nissan Sentras or even my 95 Saturn SL1.
I doubt I’d be happy in those seats above, regardless of how nice they look, unfortunately.
Yeah, I drove a Civic halfway across the country with my legs sprawled out in front of me. What a miserable experience that was, something I’d never try repeating after 40.
That’s not to say the Sunbird seats are better, I’ve never spent a large amount of time in one. But they at least look to be better positioned.
Y’all are such GM haters! Obviously the interior looks exactly like a Porsche 928S (snark)!
If they could have just ripped off Porsche and gotten the checkerboard cloth.
Dare to dream…
I think for what the Porsche 928 sold for. The dash layout and controls were very shall we say $15-$20K range effort. How people never call Porsche out for this error is crazy. Ugly dash board for a $60K plus car when new.
the Cadillac Allante’ dashboard was much better and internationally designed. and looked the par for it’s price.
Yet magazine editors at the time praised the 928, and bashed the Allante’. go figure.
I actually think it was quite nice, based on my experience at the time (my friend’s dad had one) and my experience later (I had one). I also compare it against the Mercedes SLs of the timeframe, as my father had a few, and the Porsche had functionality (gauges tilted with the steering wheel) and modernism that were quite appealing. That said, I’m not saying it’s the best, I’m saying that Pontiac copied it, which is all good, nothing wrong with that. I was just making a joke about the somewhat “cheesy” quality of the pontiac gauges, and the plastic “metal” faces on the pontiac gauges and transmission housing.
Second, I think Porsche released that 928 interior in 1980, and the Allante didn’t come out until 1986. So the Porsche could have been looking dated to some eyes by the time the Allante came out. But I don’t see the higher quality to the Allante interior that you do.
The photos in the piece you linked show the Honda in question had 57,000 miles on it. I’d wager my paycheck the Sunbird is running toward triple that. Doesn’t seem like a fair comparo of the quality and durability of the materials to me.
As for the design, I don’t have a strong opinion on them, having never seen a Civic of that vintage in person (and I’m 35!). I have never been a fan of the J-car interiors. The Honda seems like a clean design, but its austerity brings it a bit too close to Soviet-bloc for my tastes. I can practically hear a Soviet commissar telling me that wanting more than seats and a gearshift is counter to the ideals of the Revolution looking at that picture. Like I said, that’s based on just a couple pics, though.
PN can offer nothing but drive by sneers on this car because GM was dead to him by 1985. He really just knows nothing about it. The site that he wrote this for offered nothing but such ignorance. So enjoy your hatefest.
Just a sample of the laziness. PN has the engine wrong. Hah
If you’d like to do more comprehensive write up on these, I for one would be interested in reading it. I don’t think these were good cars, but that’s not to say they didn’t have any merits. My sister had a later base Cavalier that served her well for many years.
I disagree with much of what Paul writes, but calling him or any of the writers here lazy goes too far and is uncalled for.
While I wouldn’t put it quite that way, I was enjoying the DS free zone of late.
Even though I knew it couldn’t and wouldn’t last.
Lets see how long the post & responses last.
John C., the tenacity of your ongoing defense of GM and other domestic cars is quite admirable.
In some ways, I do tend to agree with you at times. For instance, the Honda interior you commented about above doesn’t exactly entice me to want to spend large amounts of time inside. The interior of the Sunbird is only marginally better inasmuch the gauges appear to be easier read without the airiness of the cabin. But, then again, this is basing upon appearances only.
GM was dead to many by 1985. Having turned 13 late that year, it was obvious even to me they were on a slippery slope downward. It was reflected in market share and GM’s habit of raiding the parts bin for everything was doing it no favors. I can think of a radio from that period whose face was found in darn near every car they had.
No doubt the rank-and-file employees at GM were giving it their all. I have no doubt the engineers sought to make the best engines that had longevity second to none. The problem arose in the aloof shortsightedness of GM’s management. Bad management is what ultimately makes or breaks a company.
If we backed up the clock 50 years to 1966, it would be quite possible to do a series of Deadly Sin articles on Ford – Henry wasn’t renowned for monumentally genius decisions after about 1935.
If we turn the clock forward 50 years we could likely look back to late 2016 for where things were starting to go south for other manufacturers. VW would be an obvious choice, but my prediction is neither from Germany nor North America.
It’s simply timing. And these deadly sin articles aren’t to insult those who partake of GM products. I’ve driven hundreds of thousands of miles in various GM products and they have been nearly flawless. Yet this has also been in larger cars and pickups, an area of the market where GM is more profitable.
Further, I live in a state in which GM is still mighty popular (with many practitioners of those believing anything from Toyota, Honda, or Mazda is simply to buy used and drive to work for fuel economy as anything else of theirs is simply not up to the task) and that is the case for many of the eight states my state touches. There is that matter of regional preference I’ve spoken about in the past.
Lastly, each of us who writes here writes from our own perspective, a perspective that we back up with tangible evidence to support our position. GM’s market share during the 1980s speaks for itself in this piece.
I would not mind at all a negative article on the Sunbird, Calais whatever. And that really is hard to do well. One has to know the cars really well to know rhe context of their failures.
On this car for example, how was the port injection and turbo boost set to route the 165 hp in a usable way in a car designed for 90hp. We will never know from Paul, even though that is exactly the kind of technical question that we have seen so often capture his imagination.
Similarly the Japanese imports he loves so were stuck with undersized Toyo tires instead of the beefy Eagle GTs on these. Paul will get annoyed at the idea of a tire called a Goodyear Eagle GT so the subject will go with a sneer. Instead of the in depth analysis os the steering feel of the smaller tire versus the grip of the Goodyear.
R/T and C/D were bad about these cars in the day. That was there editorial bent and they were especially bad when a domestic improved and deserved a new test. The people who designed the cars don’t seem to write memoirs so fans are just left with snark. These cars deserve better.
If I were the managing editor of this website, (the horror), I would assign PN the project to rewrite the DS on the car he hates the most but this time actually do the homework and get into the weeds with the car. Then I would ask the contributer here who liked the car the best to do a counterpoint and run the two works side by side. The work and resulting discussion would be beyond anything else on the internet. I personally bet both writers would end up agreeing that the car was neither as bad not as great as they thought.
John, your derogatory remarks about Paul (or anyone and anything else, for that matter) are doing absolutely nothing to help your position. After reading this comment I am tempted to use the “Trash” button I’m staring at longingly, but I will defer to Paul on this one.
And, just for the record, two facts:
1) There have been point/counterpoint articles about GM cars here in the past. I would recommend your browsing the archives.
2) Having met Paul multiple times, I can vouch for the fact that a) He’s a good guy, and b) He’s ridden in a DS Seville that he rather enjoyed. I sat right behind him, so I do have firsthand experience.
Well said, Jason. The people complaining about the DS Series need to read the above so they’re on the same page.
It’s been there for years. Time for a refresher course.
I feel like we should just link this every time. People just see “GM’s Deadly Sins” and immediately think Paul is just some GM hater, instead of a former GM fan who became so disillusioned with mistake after mistake they made. I think such a perspective lends a lot more authenticity and balance to such a series, rather than some guy who never liked GM sitting at his keyboard trashing it.
+1. I also feel the same way about GM, which makes the DS series so poignant.
John C, c’mon now, you’re just being disrespectful now. It’s fine to disagree and share opposing opinions, but calling someone lazy and ignorant because they have a very strong opinion and preach it over and over again is just uncalled for. Now who am I sounding like I’m describing?
If you view Paul as lazy and ignorant for these reasons, then you sir are just as guilty, if not more so because you’re merely complaining in the comment tread and not taking hours out of your life to contribute articles.
As someone else commented below, I’d like to see what an article from you would look like. I think writing one would be a good exercise for you to see the shear amount of research, effort, time, and passion we writers put into the articles we write.
Brendan, I am simply not capable of writing my own article. You can see how many typos et all are in my comments. You also will note I have never even posted a picture with one of my comments.
My goal today was to try to push Paul to do a better job than this thing. It was written 6 years ago and I don’t think he would have wrote it this way today. We can see how good he is when an auto subject as captured him. The 1987 Sunbird GT will never be that to him. But every car has a story. Even an 87 Sunbird GT. This article did not tell it and I think Paul knows that.
Your comments, John, while I don’t agree with much of what you say are at least thoughtful and, up until today, usually respectful. (And I don’t notice that many typos from you)
Honestly, put together a rough article. I’d be more than happy to proofread it and fix up any punctuation, spelling or grammar errors. I love editing. Do it on a car that tickles your fancy, like the J-Car. Let’s get your perspective on this. I am dead serious. You’re concerned the historical records of these cars will be tarnished because what has been published back in the day (magazines) and now (CC) overlooks their good points. I think that’s a fair thing to be upset about. You want to make the historical record fair in your eyes? Write something. When I wrote my piece about the 1988 Buick Regal, I did so because I wanted to expose the financial disaster of the GM-10 platform but also highlight what GM had done right with the cars.
I can understand your concerns about making the positives of these cars well-known but there are a few things I want to point out:
– The facts support buyers were moving from GM products in droves in the 1980s. They lost a lot of market share and at the end of the day, product has to be to blame. What sells best isn’t always best but it’s very hard to argue that GM had the “best” of anything on the market that decade, even if a lot of their products had strong or unique attributes.
– You say the magazines were biased against domestics and yet a domestic car won the comparison test Paul cited. So was the Sunbird Turbo really that great? Could it be that the Sunbird was a decent offering, but the performance version was out of its league in the company of hot hatches and other sporty compacts? I can see that C&D and R&T were fond of imports, yes, but it’s tiresome to see people cry conspiracy when that can very easily be refuted.
– You make a lot of points I disagree with regularly, like automakers should retain platforms for decades, global platforms are a bad idea, imports should be heavily taxed or banned, etc etc. But what bothers me the most is when you are dismissive of others. You complain about people not wanting to buy domestics in the 1980s. Can you blame them? Do you think that maybe, just maybe, they might have had a good reason to “defect” to imports? That they may have been burnt by poor reliability or frustrated by poor build quality? I’m sure I could cite some more specific examples of times you have criticised others or blamed “generational politics” or what-have-you. If you had been saying that about people avoiding domestic products in 2016, I might agree with you. Even then, I can understand why people might be gunshy about buying a new domestic if they’ve heard horror stories from even just a few years ago regarding reliability. But this was the 1980s, when GM was at their nadir and their failings were becoming very well-known. Yes, GM downsized their entire lineup and yes they tried to make their products as familiar to traditional consumers as possible, keeping the torquey engines and bench seats and so on. But you can’t hold up 1980s GM as some kind of saint of autodom when they made mistake after mistake.
For what it’s worth, I have what may be a controversial Greatest Hits post coming up soon. And I’ve been contemplating a fairly positive look at the 88-94 Cavalier, a take that would be more charitable than my Tempo and Century/Ciera posts. But I still want to see something from you. Again, I’m dead serious.
Thanks for this thoughtful reply William. On the 88-94 Cav: couple of points.
GM, the same parent company put a substantial redue on the Euro J car, and a much cheaper to pull off restyle of the USA model. Why? Rodger Smith was stupid? Or Americans just were no longer willing to pay. Notice that right around then the high end versions of the J car dropped away, Ford extended the Tempo at the same time and farmed out the Escort in the USA to Mazda. Chrysler was also extending the Omni and decontenting the Shadow. People, especially younger ones were just not interested. And those left were poorer and wanted a deal, and got one. This is just something that happened, and only in the USA. I just don’t think the reason was quality.
There was a silver lining from this, at least to me. The older styles were lighter and crisper styled than what came from 90s design. With port injection engine outputs were rising fast, most of all at GM. The weight that seemed high in 81 was now low. There were many redos of the Civic in the 90s, but I bet many of the fans prefer the 89 to the 99. You don’t have to agree.
John C– Criticism of someone’s work is one thing, but stooping to namecalling and blatant disrespect is another. At that point you’ve completely gone off the rails and lost not only the argument but also any credibility. You don’t care for Paul’s work obviously. That’s fine, and you have every right to that. So then why are you here? I mean if Taco Bell consistently gave you the shits, would you continue to eat there and complain about it to everyone or would you man up and go somewhere else?
I’m with Jason and Brendan. How about you put together one of your literary masterpieces and lets see how it stacks up.
+1 let’s have it, put up or…
Are you Carmine reincarnated? 🙂
You’re right, actually, John; I was lazy with this one. Why? Because GM was lazy with all the J-Cars.
GM spewed endless mediocrity at us for way too long, never more so than with the J Cars. You expect me to get all worked up over the technical details of a car that was a poster child for GM’s laziness? Not feeling it.
Here’s the deal, John. You want to assign me to write an in-depth article plumbing the technical brilliance that GM bestowed on this? Gladly, for the right amount of money. It can be our first sponsored post.
Let’s say $500. That’s a lot less than magazine writers used to get back in the day, in adjusted dollars. Use the Donate button on the right side of the front page. I’ll start as soon as I get an email that tells me it’s arrived.
In the meantime, I’ll keep writing what I feel like writing. I shoot old cars on the street and what I write depends on what they inspire me to write, since I don’t have a boss me telling otherwise. But here’s your opportunity to be my boss and make me really work hard for a change. I’m waiting….
I think what he is saying is that there where many improvements GM made over the abysmal release of the J-cars, N-Bodied cars etc that never gets noticed and or highlighted.
Towards the late 80’s, GM was on the right track again. Making cars Americans wanted, with the engine Americans wanted. Like Buick’s 3800 SFI V6, Buick Regal, Pontiac Grand Prix’s, Bonneville’s etc all stepped their game up. But Magaines write ups were as predicted negative.
Then Toyota could release a new bland Tercel and get rants and raves. But Cadillac De’Ville (new 1989) model would still get negative press coverage. Despite it was a best seller in it’s class.
The magazine reviews were NOT uniformly negative by any means. There were criticisms, some of them serious, but a lot of praise as well. Car and Driver, for instance, had consistently positive things to say about the 3800/four-speed Hydra-Matic combo for many years, and was startled by the handling of the Touring Package-equipped late ’80s Eldorado. The buff books had very narrow aesthetic standards, which were sometimes silly (I’ve said before I find their knee-jerk abhorrence of brightwork over the top), but to characterize their reviews of American models as nothing but an ongoing hatchet job is just factually inaccurate.
I am not nearly as witty or filled with knowledge as Carmine or you or many of the other commenters here.
On the J car, I am afraid it is not worth $500 to me to get you to write a worthwhile post. I am surprised you would do it for so little. It would be so upsetting to learn how superior in fit and finish, in room, in performance, in body style choices the J body was to the H body it replaced. What a sensation they were in Europe where Ford was content to just rebody Cortinas with their ancient Pinto suspension intact. Or the sadness of having to keep the J going year after year at silly low prices because so many Americans won’t even look at cars from their own country. Or the redemption in knowing that it outlasted the onslaught of Saturns, Prisms, Novas, Spectrums, Le Mans, Metros, Sprints just inhouse because of the inherent value of the proudly made in Lordstown Ohio device.
Maybe it’s for the best. I really doubt you’d get your money’s worth, given the high praise you have for the J cars.
Or the sadness of having to keep the J going year after year at silly low prices because so many Americans won’t even look at cars from their own country.
Gotta’ to love your perpetual ass-backwards way of thinking: GM kept making the same mediocre cars for way too long and had to sell them at a loss because of Americans’ inherent prejudice against them. Poor GM; what did they do to deserve that? Life is so unfair.
So why did Ford do so much better with their gen2 Escort? Where was the anti-American bias there? Or is it because it was really a Mazda?
Poor GM is right. I think you can gather that I am not a Japanese cars biggest cheerleader. Don’t claim to be. But I have owned a few and follow the changes. GM is not given that respect by so many.
Ford got lazy and started rebadging Mazdas. At least they took the time to make them look like the old car and kept the 1.9 around. Very impressive effort?
The other folks who actually owned these Pontiacs seem to also think they were lousy cars. What do you make of that, John? Are they also lazy and bought and paid for by Honda / Toyota / R&T? Or are they unpatriotic when they should be thankful that GM let them buy a car that was *so good* it was only sold in North America?
The bulk of people here owned them as beaters, by which they outlasted their intended life. As I said in the Mercedes post the other day, if you got 100k out of the original engine and transmission you have nothing to complain about. I can’t think of any J car powertrain that was not capable of that with basic common sense. Can You?
I pick 100k as which point on any car the suspension and brake system and tires will need major work to be a safe vehicle. Just my opinion
European J cars were quite different to American J cars, The Australian model followed the Euro versions but was not a great car in that market and the Japanese version was dreadful for roadholding which was the Australian models fort’e, though very strong my father end for ended his over a 20metre bank and walked away from the wreckage.
“Are you Carmine reincarnated? ?”
THAT, kind sir, is the CC comeback of the year…no, of ALL time!
Don’t change a thing, Paul. Well, maybe you might consider sending Ms. Barra a link to all the GM Deadly Sins – AND, to be fair, Greatest Hits.
This stuff needs to be here for all-time so in the future, when people wonder just HOW the greatest industrial corporation of the 20th century fell from a 50% market share to bankruptcy and a 15% market share, they’ll know it wasn’t just Japanese/German brilliance…it was American arrogance and greed served with a huge dose of…
“SO IT’S A SMALL CAR YOU WANT? ISN’T A CHEAP BISCAYNE GOOD ENOUGH!? WELL HERE’S YER SMALL CAR AND I HOPE YOU CHOKE ON IT SO YOU’LL COME BACK FOR A CAPRICE!!”
To quote Henry Potter in “It’s A Wonderful Life”, describing George Bailey’s life…”do I paint an accurate picture, or do I exaggerate?”
GM deserves the most DS attention because in the time depicted in Capra’s film and for a couple decades after, GM LED THE WAY in quality, innovation, and durability.
To Mr. Hartfield’s comment, yes, there were improvements during those years. But the Toyotas/Hondas, etc. of those years were at the top of their game and managed to put just about every domestically-badged equivalent to shame.
John C, you are correct in that 100k miles is a good benchmark for needing suspension work…that’s fine. But there’s 100k in a ride that’s barely hanging on for dear life, and 100k in a well-engineered, well-spec’d, well-built ride…like my wife’s 2011 Equinox. New brakes, struts, shocks and it rides and drives like a new car. That’s how it SHOULD be.
With all due respect, this discussion sounds like the automotive equivalent of asking that GM be awarded a Participation Trophy for those years of mediocrity. I simply can’t agree.
Dave M’s assessment is 100% correct:
“GM knowingly and willingly foisted this crap on the public half-baked time and again. This is in the prime years of GM shedding market share because the market was massively catching on to their scam.”
Or put another way, as stated by a GM spokesperson in Chevrolet’s 100th Anniversary TV special, referring to the company’s abysmal history with compacts and subcompacts:
“WE DIDN’T HAVE OUR HEARTS IN IT.”
Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward fixing it. And thankfully, today, it’s different. It’s better.
We certainly gave them a second chance and are happy overall with our Equinox. Other recent GM’s I’ve driven or ridden in, I’d say are equal or superior to the competition.
But in a world where Perception IS Reality, it’s still going to take time to get people out of their Hondas and Toyotas and see GM as a desirable option.
The sooner cars like this Sunbird become nothing more than a distant historical footnote, something we discuss on CC, a memory of what once was – and must never be again – the better, IMO.
So you’re saying the snarky review is all wrong? Sorry, but I side with Paul on this. GM knowingly and willingly foisted this crap on the public half-baked time and again. This is in the prime years of GM shedding market share because the market was massively catching on to their scam. By the time GM caught on it was way too late. Just looking at their inability to stick with a name or label shows their lack of confidence in their product.
You had to live through it. After two very sub-par American cars in the late ’70s I went Japanese in the early ’80s. Only relatively recently (2009) did my wife and I venture a gamble on a domestic car (Ford Edge) and it failed the test. We went fleeing back to Japan Inc last year.
Not that Japanese cars don’t have their downsides…they do on occasion. But the data from at least my immediate family shows the Japanese brands far more reliable and holding their value better than the domestics we’ve tried through the years (Ford, Mercury, Dodge).
I remember these cars as I worked 3 months at a local Pontiac dealership in 1987. There was a red one owned by a young lady and I swear it was in for service every week and understandably she was NOT happy about it!
“The bulk of people here owned them as beaters, by which they outlasted their intended life. As I said in the Mercedes post the other day, if you got 100k out of the original engine and transmission you have nothing to complain about. I can’t think of any J car powertrain that was not capable of that with basic common sense. Can You?”
Except the first new car my sister ever purchased was a 1985 Sunbird turbo.
Unquestionably the worst car she has to this day ever owned.
And by the way she gave up on it before 100K.
Pure GM trash.
The last domestic car she ever bought.
Hence my comment above.
Would your sister ever give a second glance to a new Cruze, with all the rave reviews it’s getting? Even from normally hostile sites like Consumer Reports?
If the answer is “no”, point made.
Very similar story, but in my family the car was a 1984 Sunbird (2.0) which was bought brand new by my parents and eventually (hand me down) given to my now departed youngest sister when she started college as a commuter. The Sunbird had engine issues right away (less than 10k miles) it lost a timing belt, left my parents stranded outside a wax museum outside Dallas (sounds funnier than it was for them)…less than 50k miles, engine was replaced under warranty (my parents did normal service on the car, as they never experienced engine failure on any other car)…my sister took the car over, and it had bad power steering leak….then with less than 83k on the car (I guess would be about 33k on the replacement engine) it threw a rod and the car was junked.
To be fair, my oldest sister also bought a 1984 Sunbird (guess my Father copied her purchase unfortunately) that didn’t have the same engine issues, and died (normally due to rust and other non-engine issues)…but for my youngest sister, that car did more than any other to stay away from buying American cars, which she avoided for the rest of her life. I don’t totally agree with her assessment (you can always get a bad one) but I shake my head over the 2 engines, and various other minor things that went wrong with the car, which I’m sure wasn’t abused by either of the owners (not just because they are family)…don’t know if they would have changed much by 1987, but it was almost like GM was warning us away from small cars. My Dad did eventually forgive GM, buying 2 Impalas before he passed away, but we never did buy another small GM vehicle (Sunbird wasn’t actually that small to us now, but compared to the previous car it replaced, it seemed to be a drastic down size at the time).
This car is a dead ringer for my first new car, same color, same interior. This is not a Turbo (just as mine wasn’t), but has the 2.0l OHC engine. Having also owned an ’86 Sunbird LE with the 1.8l engine, the 2.0 was a huge improvement. Turbos had a hood louvers, and the badging on the side and the trunk lid said Turbo GT. There’s also no boost gauge sharing space with the tachometer.
I know it’s not mine because I got rid of the silly little plastic counter thing behind the shifter and replaced it with the storage cubby from the ’86 Sunbird when it died a premature death.
Owing to a family member’s GM discount, I got a great price on mine, but I didn’t keep it long. The ride was punishing, and the engine loud. It did have my 2 favorite styling gimmicks–hidden headlights and all across taillights–reminded me of my dad’s ’67 Cougar. I did think it was a sharp looking car, and I loved the wheels, and of course the red backlighting on the instruments. Ride, Pontiac ride!
The NA engine was a delete option on the GT.
I always thought the Sunbird was the least attractive of the Js.
With all due respect, PMC, the wall to wall strip of tail lights looked to me like they just gave up.
That design had been played out long before. Started with Buick in the 60s and even decorated the X Body Skylark. Every brand at one point in time took that route.
Sorry I can’t agree with you, but I like the Js and loved my 99 Cavalier, especially for all the old tech it featured, so take my comments with a pound of salt.
The Pontiac J just didn’t cut it for me. 2 door notch Cavalier with the 82/83 front end, that I’d like. A “Cadet” base version and I’d be in my terrible car happy place.
I had an ’84 Sunbird (2000?) hatchback with turbo. I liked the configuration of the car but it was a mechanical disaster. I called it my “$200 car” because it had numerous failures that cost $200 each to fix.
The only major drivetrain part that didn’t fail was the (3-speed auto) tranny.
When it was new, the exhaust manifold failed (from turbo back pressure?)…fortunately the warranty covered that fix. After the warranty expired, a crack developed in the head near one of the spark plugs…it was more than $200 to installed a new head.
The car routinely ‘ate’ spark plug wires. Windshield wiper control. Side mirror control. Headlight switch. Rear wiring harness. Rear taillight cracked. Window regulator. Fuel pump. Turn signal stalk broke off twice! Each costing about $200 to fix.
I was very careful with the turn signal stalk but after second failure of turn signal stalk, I traded it in…for a W-body Grand Prix…that’s another story.
I don’t think GM ever tested any of their electrical parts…the customer did the ‘testing’.
Oh yes, lots of torque steer..but in a straight line the acceleration was great.
In defense of these cars, they were inexpensive to buy, and the styling wasn’t too bad for the economy class market in the mid-80s. But unfortunately, they were cheap to buy but not to own. If they had been better built and hadn’t rattled themselves into the ground, the Sunbird Turbo would have a much better legacy. But the basic premise wasn’t a bad one — again, given the times.
That said, the “amazing horsepower and low-end torque” promoted in the ad here didn’t really make itself known in real life. I rode in one of these once, in the early 1990s, and that amazing power was nowhere to be seen. If there was a Grand Prize for Turbo Lag, this car may have won.
How many do you know personally that rattled themselves into the ground. More likely they suffered a $250 failure at year 10 while in the hands of some loser who does not have $250. The way all old cars die.
You make good points. It is easy to diss GM for what they pumped out in the early 80’s through the mid 90’s (and well deserved).
However, one has to realize how fussy American consumers is. GM had to learn from scratch how to make small reliable, fun, spirited compact cars. I blame this on the American consumer that demanded for decades large full size cars, with sofa seats, yards of bogus fake wood, “casket” style door handles, bland too simple dash board layouts, that used small buttons. and wanted a car that rode like it was on a cloud.
So of course GM ran that model for making cars up until the early 80’s (due to the fuel crisis). Imports with their small roads and lanes. Were already use to making efficient compact multi-valve commuters. For Japan the problem was the opposite of America. It was not into the Lexus/Q45 came into play in 1989 that the Japanese / Koreans learned how to make full size luxury cars that rode butter smooth and where roomy, comfortable etc. The Cressida, Crown, etc were flops when they tried to build larger premium cars early on, until they got the formula right. Like American cars would finally got the small car market up and running solid by say the mid to late 90’s.
I think youre on the right track here. One thing no one seems to be touching on is that the D3 ‘had’ to start cranking out small, fuel efficient cars. Oil embargoes, and tons of poorly thought out regulation were the drivers of this, not real honest ‘demand’. You could argue that consumers were demanding higher MPGs but was that what people REALLY wanted, or was that a reaction to spiking prices and short supplies? If you break your foot, then all of a sudden youre going to buy a pair of crutches…not because you ‘want’ them, but because you ‘need’ them.
What I’m saying is that there are HUGE cultural differences between North America vs Europe/Asia. Overseas, people are conditioned into smaller more economical transportation because of ridiculous taxation, small, narrow roads, shorter distances, etc. They just make sense there. And certain areas here in N.A. its a similar song and dance. But if you look at the big picture, we invented car culture. Small economical cars are usually viewed as poverty mobiles by consumers and compliance mobiles by the D3. There ARE exceptions such as the VW bug, GTI, Mini Cooper, PT Cruiser, Subaru STi, and a good many others. But your average Corolla or Cavalier is looked at as the best some people can do. No one ‘wants’ to be in a position where that’s the best they can afford. And GM doesn’t ‘want’ to sell you a car that it is making minimal money on or more likely cutting a loss. They want you to upgrade to something ‘better’. Look at it like this: When you were in grade school and you were being punished by having to write “I will not put grasshoppers down Sally O’Toole’s shirt” 1000 times, did you pour your heart and soul into it? I think not.
How big is this car if it can fit a whole 1950’s Ford Schoolbus in the console? Everyone likes full sized Pontiacs!
Seriously this is definitely the best of the J cars, styling isn’t bad in an 80’s sort of way, if it had a 5-speed it would be even better.
Unfortunately this example appears to have the patented GM Collapse-O-Matic foam used in the drivers seat, which makes sitting on that bucket seat feel like you’re actually sitting in a bucket.
I kind of agree with John C.’s critique. Maybe this should have been an Outtake rather than a DS post.
Regardless of that, I get that a lot of folks don’t like 80’s GMs. I should know, I have had a couple of them back in the day.
WRT to this particular model, I only had one relative who had this Sunbird, my wife’s cousin. Unfortunately, they lived about 2 hours away from us, so I didn’t interact with the car a lot. They kept it for years and replaced it with a 1999-2004-era Grand Am GT.
Another friend had a 1984 Buick Skyhawk which he kept until it would no longer pass Pennsylvania inspections, which was 12 years or so. It had all of the usual J-car maladies; ‘morning sickness’ power steering, various minor electrical issues and a few other I don’t recall right now.
I remember driving it around new and that I really liked the seating position and sight lines. For how tiny it seemed, there was plenty of room. Lots of neat features that I though stacked up well against other cars, foreign and domestic. However, that 1.8L (IIRC it was the OHC motor) was a slug. Especially compared to my V8 cars…
Still, I would rock this little beast. Small, light, space and fuel efficient. Now, if I could find a way to swap in a modern Ecotec motor…
The DS designation is grossly overused on this site IMO. GM’s problems and issues are well known and it’s silly to accuse GM of crappy interiors and horrible quality control but somehow give Ford and Chrysler and even some german and Asian makes a free pass. I have been a rabid car fan since the 1970’s and in the car business since the early 90’s and saw it all. For every so called crappy GM interior you had a crappy Asian Datsun/Nissan foul illl running carbureted engine or a Mitsubishi 2.6 popping head gaskets. For every bad HT 4100 you had a Civic or Corolla literally breaking in two from severe body rot.
We got plenty of 1980’s Honda’s in with shot and expensive carburetors, failed automatic transmissions that never felt or shifted as good as ours and numerous head gasket issues, oil smoking problems and snapped timing belts which being an interference engine cost the owners a ton to replace the engine. Were the interiors better designed with higher quality materials? Sure in many ways. They did cost more to buy new. But to say that Honda’s mouse fur cloth was far superior to GM’s is silly as we saw both going through the auctions with either heavy wear or in great unworn condition. Much depended on how the owners treated them.
Just to reiterate some of the points made regarding the Deadly Sin series:
GM began the ’80’s with a 45-odd percent market share and ended the decade with a 25 odd percent market share and came very close to bankruptcy. That didn’t just happen due to some inexplicable combination of outside factors. This Sunbird was a direct cause of that. Honda, Toyota, and Nissan didn’t become popular because they had forced everyone into drinking Japanese Kool-Aid and people became zombies. Sure, to an extent a lot of GM cars were better (and remain) better than many people think they were, and Camrys and Corollas and Accords still do occasionally break down.
The fact that this particular example of a disposable commuter car lasted 29 odd years means that someone got a good one. But a lot of people got bad ones, or discovered that the cars didn’t drive as well as what Honda, Toyota, and Nissan were putting out and jumped ship. Sure, lots of people had one that went 250K with oil changes, but a lot of people didn’t. Resale value then as now meant something and when you plunk down 12k for a car new, it’s nice to have it worth something at trade in in a few years.
I have the C/D ’87 test of 13 pocket rockets and they found the Sunbird undeniably fun to drive, although crude, like its Cavalier v6 sibling. The Civic had gone through a couple of redesigns by ’87, and the real competition for sporty small car was at its sister division, the Acura Integra.
Curiously, you can neither buy an Acura Integra nor a Pontiac Sunbird today; Honda’s idiot move away from names and lack of attention to Acura is a Deadly Sin in itself. Having looked at Acuras fairly recently, I see no advantage or differentiation over the Accord; They’re just more expensive.
We had a 1985 non turbo Sunbird in 1989 with 60,000 miles. It constantly overheated and ended up dying of head gasket/blown head failure and got junked for a new Plymouth Sundance which was an excellent car. I did like the interior of the Sunbird and thought it was thoughtfully laid out with expensive feeling materials, more so than anything made today. But it was not a car which made us want to buy another GM small car. The bigger cars were much better made.
You can buy an ILX today that is still Honda’s best idea of what an upscale compact can be.
You can also buy, for a little while longer, a Buick Verano, which is GM’s idea of an upscale compact.
They are within $1000 of each other and the ILX is more economical and sportier, while the Buick is smoother and quieter. My guess would be the Verano is more durable do to Honda’s switch to a sequential transmission.
Life goes on though and most will buy hideous 4 door trucks.
These Sunbird buckets had to be among the worst ever made by Detroit. No idea why they are so concave but they offered no support whatsoever. Another GM piece of junk.
As I’ve said before, the great tragedy of GM, in the ’80s was that top management was simply unwilling to put in the cost-per-unit to make a car feel *nice*, especially a B-O-P offering and doubly especially in a segment those top managers didn’t “get”. I suspect even those top managers who’d done their time at Opel didn’t get why *Americans* would want a compact sporty sedan, so they produced what was a minned-out checklist/numbers car once the bean counters got through with it, safe in the knowledge that nobody from the Fourteenth Floor would be requesting one as a demo.
I never owned a J-Car. I never rented a J-Car (having a sweetheart deal with Ford-owned Hertz at the time). My closest contact to someone who had a J-Car were an aunt and uncle with a Cimarron (single name, I don’t want to further sully the still-proud name of that GM division than I have already, as the former owner of an Eldorado Diesel). And it was bought on HER insistence, he was the kind who would keep fixing up his 1967 Chevrolet Impala until it finally succumbed at over a quarter-century on a 300- mile trip…everything was wearing out at once and they went home on a train.
So my first impressions were external-only. The tall greenhouse and low beltline appealed to me, giving the body a trim, airy look that went the opposite of the gimmicked X-Cars. The Honda Accord of the era did much the same. Too much commonality between divisions, yes, but had the car been well-executed from the start (with lessons learned from the X-Body botch), it would have gone over with the buying public and with CC hindsighters a whole lot better. In tne J-Body, GM had a chance to do it right from the beginning. But they didn’t.
i have to admit to a guilty pleasure as the downward scrolling posts escalate into a hissy fit that can stay civil and yet paint a picture of veins popping on foreheads. fortunately and intrinsically to CC, there’s actually a lot of passion and researched thought in the arguments and rebuttals that elevates the discourse above schoolyard badgering.
myself, i actually smirk with pride when someone calls my car(s) a shitbox cause hey, it’s just a car. it’s just an opinion.
I thought the Sunbird was consistently one of the two most attractive of the J-cars, the Buick Skyhawk being the other. For both cars, the hidden-lamp nose is the best one. Though particularly in this application it doesn’t flow very well with the boxiness of the 4-door sedan–it was a better match with the hatchback or convertible.
As to what’s underneath, probably the less said, the better, though it’s worth noting (again) that the concept may have been solid and the devil is in the details. Details that were cheapened and penny-pinched into oblivion.
John C., you are helping me see the light. I guess I have been misguided in thinking that GM unleashed a slew of terrible cars in the 1980s, and that was why the company’s business suffered so badly. For example, looking back to my parent’s last GM cars that I have written about on CC, I must confess my ignorance in thinking they were lemons. I now better understand that GM’s customers and prospects were the problem, since they were too obtuse to recognize genuine automotive leadership and too easily fell prey to beguiling imports.
My mother’s 1988 Regal, with the paint that started peeling off in huge chunks in the first 6-months, was actually a 2-tone paint treatment (Arctic White interspersed with Primer Grey), that GM kindly offered at no-extra-cost. Likewise, we always thought that the trunk filling with water after every rainstorm or carwash was a trunk leak. Now I’m clear that this was another example of GM excellence: the self-hydrating luggage compartment was clearly an undersold benefit. In our silliness, we thought the loud, coarse, underpowered 2.8L pushrod V6 was subpar, not realizing that the noise and anemic performance were an added-value GM feature to reduce the likelihood that the driver would get a speeding ticket.
My Pop’s last GM car, the infamous 1989 Sedan DeVille that kept stalling and/or wouldn’t start? By design, of course, so he could spend more time inside the car, waiting for a tow truck and admiring the luxury of the fake wood that was popping off the instrument panel (the unique creativity evident in so many GM cars), or the leather seats that had crinkled and lost their color like they were 10 years old, even though the car was less than a year old (imagine how hard it was for GM to source a leather that would serve-up instant-patina like that!?!) Likewise, the power driver’s side window that would randomly “express down” by itself was actually a safety feature to keep the driver alert with an unexpected blast of fresh air. My Pop should have been ashamed to stop paying fealty to The General after he had finally made it to the top of the Sloan Ladder—though he had bought over 20 new GM cars through the years, I guess he just wasn’t sufficiently knowledgeable to fully appreciate the sheer brilliance baked into GM’s flagship sedans for 1989.
The same, of course, was true for me. As a clueless 21-year-old, I chose a Honda Prelude as my first new car in 1988. Imagine my embarrassment to realize that I could have gotten an Oldsmobile Calais instead for even less money! If only I had enjoyed an open mind, along with enough taste and refinement to appreciate the “formal look” as a young man. That damn Honda was only worth about 55% of its original price after 4 years and 65K miles when I traded it in—if a lowly Honda could generate that kind of resale, then the Calais might have been worth more than its original sticker! Especially with the amazing Quad 4–it wasn’t noisy and unrefined (those damn GM-bashing journalists…)–it was engaging!! What can I say? The stupidity of youth.
Luckily, I should be able to correct this glaring disloyalty to GM very soon. We are planning to replace my wife’s BMW 535 Xdrive this coming year. Imagine the look on her face when I surprise her with a new Buick LaCrosse! All the money we save compared to a ridiculously over-priced import won’t be worth as much as the priceless looks on our friends’ faces when they see that we got a new Buick! Teaching my ignorant, import-centric family, friends and neighbors about genuine General Motors value—even beyond a rental car lot–will be an honor! Though I hope I don’t insult them too much when they come to realize that they were fools not to have just been buying GM products all along…
Glad you enjoyed your Prelude. 80s GM cars were of higher quality than 70s ones as was an 89 Prelude of higher quality than a 79.I am sad that domestic offerings were no longer considered acceptable to you. The country paid a price as money that could have stayed instead went to Japan, but it was your choice to make.
Just to be clear, I never said the Quad 4 was quiet. I said it’s output and epa numbers were higher, and I am correct about that.
The sneering is really not necessary. Paul was full of it in his article, I added to it and now so have you. We are all better than this. Or truly, I guess we are not.
I agree that people make choices with their money. GM could have invested more effectively to make better products that excelled against multiple criteria, as they had in the past, in order to satisfy customers and retain market share. GM’s management chose not to, and the company suffered the consequences.
My family were longtime GM loyalists driven away by repeated, rotten experiences with GM cars in the 1980s. That leaves a lasting impression. Nor was our situation was uncommon–I have seen and heard many similar experiences from many people during the 1980s and 1990s when GM was hemorrhaging market share. That negative word-of-mouth is lethal to companies, and the fault for that lies with GM, not car buyers in America.
Today, I drive a vehicle that was built in the only plant still operating in the city of Detroit, so I have no bias against domestics. In fact, I recommend my Jeep to people all the time. A well done product earns my business. Fairly simple.
No one wants to sneer on here, but we should be realistic about the relative merits of cars, based on real customer experiences and how they were received in the marketplace when they were new. Unfairly attacking authors and commenters prompts a litany of responses, as you saw today.
As others have pointed out in this thread, jump in with a post of your own to make your case on GM’s well-hidden greatness in the 1980s.
I think this thread is a good example of a growing problem we have in society. Some feel a responsibility to construct an argument (starting with a hypothesis, working through evidence, reaching a defensible conclusion). Others begin with conclusions and then cite items of evidence along the way when possible, or insert straw men into the argument when there is no easy evidence to fit at the moment.
As one who believes in truth, absolute, and not relativism, it can be quite annoying to watch an interesting and well constructed argument reflexively met with emotional disagreement rather than well defended arguement.
Commonly known as the “Sunturd”.
We had Sunbirds here in the 70s by Opel courtesy of Holden in OZ they kept the four cylinder German CIH engine for the cheaper model and gave it this charming title, the more upscale models in performance not any other feature were called Torana and had six and eight cylinder engines of local design. Was this Aussie GMH’s first vehicular export to the US, a brand name?
An old friend of mine had a Sunbird Turbo way back in high school. Quick little car, and he certainly had fun with it until the engine blew. Always tough to know whether that was a product of assembly quality or driving style, of course. That could make for an interesting comparison test, come to think of it: turn a bunch of teenagers loose on assorted GTIs, J cars, Omni GLHs, etc., and see which would survive the longest. Sort of a sullen, disaffected Top Gear.
A secretary’s car. That or a V6 Camaro or Firebird.
Nowadays, office workers are in any brand of white or silver CUV’s. Usually, a Korean brand.
One of my favorite noses on a J car. Rather rare to see this on any sedan as I recall. Made it kind of a cool little car.
Unfortunately, this car reminds me a lot of the 1987 H body Bonneville. It also had a modern rounded front clip on a rather stodgy, dated body with little personality.
I never noticed it before, but the H body passenger area and greenhouse are very little more than the J car’s passenger compartment on steroids. It’s a sad statement that the 1987 H body was just an expanded interpretation of styling introduced in 1981 on the sub compact J.
Unfortunately, this car reminds me a lot of the 1987 H body Bonneville. It also had a modern rounded front clip on a rather stodgy, dated body with little personality.
The H-body Bonneville only debuted one year after the other Hs. It really only looked dated next to a Taurus at that point, and the Bonneville never suffered the indignity of the sealed beams.
I recall one of the car mags, C/D if I recall correctly, tested a Buick Skyhawk with the same turbo drivetrain and found it quick but laggy, and loaded with torque steer.
I had a first-year model (J2000) and while underpowered (to put it mildly), the original looked best. Very clean and crisp, but it got uglier and more festooned with gimmicks by the year. Not only did the beak keep changing, but for several years there were two beaks available, with the covered-headlight or 6-headlight look on the sportier trims. Of course if you didn’t like how your Sunbird’s face looked, you could always hit the junkyard and take your pick of numerous other J-car front clips that would bolt right on. There must have at least twenty different front clips used during the J’s long run (1982-1994) between the five GM divisions, and that’s before we get to the foreign-market variations from Opel, Vauxhaul, Holden, and Isuzu.
The interior was originally done up in late-70s Detroit style, with a woodgrained dash and console, chrome door handles, and velour upholstery in a choice of colors, and it looked quite good. But that changed by the second year when it was out with the brougham look and in with rough cloth upholstery (often in two-tone grey as in this car), blacked-out chrome, and fake aluminum trim rather than fake wood. Later years also saw a profusion of Pontiac’s toylike gray buttons. GM seemed to think these changes would give their interiors that “import” look, but instead they looked like malaise-era American interiors spray-painted gray, with inappropriately blocky looking dashboards, consoles, and trim pieces that lacked the neat integration of things like armrests and door latches found on Japanese or German cars from the ’80s.
The fuel-injected OHC 1.8L btw did appear as an option on late-82 J2000s, and cars so equipped have a callout on the front fenders. Mine unfortunately was an early car when only the Chevy OHV was available, and boy was the carburetor troublesome.
One has to think of GM from the 1970’s to the 1990’s as a case-study in doing less with more. What company had more raw engineering manpower than GM? Spread across 3 continents if you count their Asian partners, and what you see is something characteristic of a company that was trying to do more with less, e.g. they get the basic ideas right but fall short of the details. The X-Car, the J-Car, the Oldsmobile Diesel, heck even the Vega aluminum engine, were “conceptually” good ideas that were ruined by bad execution, especially in crucial details. That’s the kind of problem a small company with insufficient engineering resources should have, the kind of problems that Studebaker and Packard had in the 1950’s. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, weirdly, it was almost an inverse problem – smaller manufacturers like AMC and to an extent Chrysler had the ‘big dumb ideas’ problem with the Pacer, the Matador Coupe, the R-bodies, the Aspen/Volare, the new Imperial, whereas GM seemed to concentrate on suicide by a thousand cuts.
I think you’re right about most of this, and (if you’ve read “On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors”) so did John DeLorean.
Two things, though: the Pacer and the Matador weren’t Chrysler’s ideas, and the Aspen/Volaré was a very middle-of-the-road idea in its day—the downfall of those cars was horrifyingly poor quality.
Yes AMC had the Matador and the Pacer as “bad big ideas” whereas the Imperial, the R-bodies, and the Aspen/Volare were Chrysler problems. I think of both the R-bodies and the Aspen/Volare as being in some sense larger (or at least just as large) as what they replaced when they should have been downsized.
I don’t agree with you in re the size of the Aspen-Volaré cars. They were screamingly popular as would-be upgrades bought by people who’d had years or decades of durable, dependable Darts and Valiants and wanted more of that, but a bit bigger. For their loyalty they got kicked in the ribs—or southernmore parts—with a (rusty) steel-toed boot.
As to the R-body: eh. That was Chrysler trying for a piece of the Caprice-Panther pie. The basic platform was a particularly well-engineered one at its 1962 B-body introduction, but I doubt if any of those advantages held through to 1979, and the R-body cars were junk—poor-quality components, carelessly thrown more or less together. That aside, where’s the case for downsizing here? Chrysler already had the F/M-body cars, so how and where do you think a downsized R-body would have fit?
That nose, always reminded me of early 1980s new wave slit sunglasses. Hahaha
Or Inuit snow googles. lol
Where are the houndstooth fabrics? Did GM even know that VW used horsehair in their seat cushions? Not spongy foam? I recall that one of the changes made to GM’s Opel- sourced minivan was to switch out the horsehair for polyurethane. If they wanted to benchmark, they should have benchmarked the standard cloth seats on “stripped” versions of MBs and BMWs only available in Europe.
VW didn’t use horse hair; they used coconut coir (fiber). And that ended back in 1980, after which time it was all foam seat cushions.
I have no idea what you’re referring to as “GM’s Opel- sourced minivan”. There never was such a thing. And Opel had been using foam going back a number of decades.
I believe GMs post-spaceship minivan was an Opel design which was Americanized for the States. Perhaps only the European luxury brands used horse hair.
I thought it was a largely American design made narrower (which compromised it in the US) for sale in Europe.
I had an ’84 Turbo Sunbird, 4 dr, 4 spd (a mistake) for 4 years. My seats looked much nicer than these. I’d wanted Fiero, but I didn’t fit, or a Phoenix hatch, but its interior was crude in comparison. Acceleration was fine until you got over 3000 rpm, and then it was hold on tight.
The later hood vents were real. Not having them, I would pop the hood in the last few seconds of a hot drive, but to no avail. After two clutch replacements, I sold it to my brother in ’88, he blew the turbo within a year, and traded it for a better radio in a Civic coupe.