V.I.S.I.T. – Pontiac Sunbird

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Is there was ever a car that absolutely demanded a Carter Mondale ’80 bumper sticker, this was probably it. That’s right, a first-generation Pontiac Sunbird. These were made from 1975 till 1980, right smack in the middle of a period we now refer to as…. uhh…. The Great Dejection? No, wait, that was in the thirties. The period I’m referring to was called The Languor…. right? Oh well, it’ll come to me eventually.

Based on the Chevy Vega, the Sunbird premiered as a 1976 model, sharing the H-body platform with a number of other small import fighters, or what were intended to be import fighters. The Vega and the Sunbird, among other offerings from the General, duked it out with what was arguably the first wave of widely successful Japanese automobiles on our shores. Honda and Toyota had of course been around for years before that, but it was really starting in the mid 1970s that they began a wholesale assault on the big three’s small cars.

The Sunbird came with a range of inline-4 engines all making under 100bhp, save for a Buick 3.8 liter V6 which squeezed out a respectable 110bhp. This Sunbird appeared to be in great condition inside and out. The color scheme here was just amazing, and appeared to have been treated to a decent repaint some years ago. It wasn’t quite concours quality, but rather what I’d imagine a 1975 Sunbird looked like in the year 1980. The chrome was in good shape, and the wheels appeared to be original. And the interior, as one would expect, was probably full of some sweet 8-track tapes.

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While the Cosworth Vega of the same generation is starting to acquire a certain contrarian type of interest from collectors, the Pontiac Sunbird of the same generation seems largely forgotten. It’s probably fair to say that not even every regional Pontiac meet has one of these in attendance, with the muscle car craze and all. And that’s perhaps understandable: if one can afford to restore and maintain just one beloved Pontiac model, it probably isn’t going to be a first-gen Sunbird. But everyone and their dog has a GTO in some stage of (circle one) restoration/overrestoration/botched restoration. And that made seeing this original Sunbird a special treat. 

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When was the last time you’ve seen a first-gen Sunbird?

[Images: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Jay Ramey]

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26 responses to “V.I.S.I.T. – Pontiac Sunbird”

  1. Batshitbox Avatar

    I never knew these existed, actually. I've only sen the late '80s early'90s models.
    It doesn't look very much like Vega, which is good. wikipedia's pic of a "Sunbird Safari" is a dead ringer for a Vega Kammback, though.
    <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d5/Sunbird_wagon.jpg&quot; width=500>

    1. salguod Avatar

      The Sunbird / Monza / Skyhawk / Starfire quadruplets were based on the Vega / Astre, but slightly bigger. The wagon versions of the Sunbird & Monza, however, were vegas with new noses.

  2. Karo Avatar

    Those look like Chevy Monza wheels.

    1. salguod Avatar

      Yep, I knew those wheels weren't quite right.

  3. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    I always liked the Sunbird and Monza notchbacks, especially the '77-'80 Formula.
    <img src="http://www.tanshanomi.com/temp/sunbird-formula.jpg"&gt;
    <img src="http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8042/8051750861_093edcaabd.jpg"&gt;

  4. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    BTW, the grille says that's a 1980 model.

  5. topdeadcentre Avatar

    Ahh, the Starsky-and-Hutch stripe… kind of like the 1978 version of stick-on portholes, an aspiration to instant coolness.

  6. Dutch Avatar

    The one you have there is the Monza-looking one. They also produced the Vega-looking one called Pontiac Astre'.

    1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

      Yeah, I've heard of that one, but have never seen one. Kinda hard to imagine a Pontiac rarer than this from the malaise era, but Astre just may be it.

      1. salguod Avatar

        Rare? They made around 450,000 from '76-'80.

  7. Bruno Balestra Avatar
    Bruno Balestra

    I quite like it overall and the proportions reeeeally work for me. it's a bit like Ferrari 400i lite in profile and from the back. With a bit of work and some turbos or a blower on that V6, it could be very desirable indeed

  8. Devin Avatar

    Can we have a pepperpot wheel comeback please?

      1. 1slowvw Avatar

        Looks like we can carry the motion then. In the spirit of the Omni GLHS and it's fantastic pepper pot's we shall start a revival.

  9. Gooberpeaz Avatar

    I had a '77 Sunbird. The trunk floor was about 8" below the trunk lid. Pretty useless.

    1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

      Now THAT I didn't expect.

  10. 2cver Avatar

    Anybody know of the crazy Sunbird commercial from the 70s? It featured a straight-laced business man driving the hell out of one. The tagline said that 'depending on how you drive the new Sunbird will determine your gas mileage', or something like that. Just curious.

  11. dukeisduke Avatar

    1976? Nope, the Sunbird, along with the Monza, the Skyhawk and the Starfire, debuted for 1975. They're related to the Vega and Astre, but their bodies are HM and HR codes, where the Vega is an HV body. They have a tall driveshaft tunnel because they were originally slated to offer GM's rotary engine. And yes, those are Monza alloys. I had a chance to get a set one time, to put on my '76 Vega GT. I wanted them so bad, but they were on another car. The guy was willing to take my GT steelies on trade, but I didn't have the cash to pay for the wheels along with eight tire dismounts/mounts, eight balances, and a set of center caps for the alloys from the dealer. I still like the Sunbird, especially the notchback. One with the 3.2l V6 along with the 5-speed would be really fun.

    1. Stumack Avatar

      The Monza, Skyhawk and Starfire debuted for '75, the Sunbird was a year later for 1976.

  12. Metric Wrench Avatar
    Metric Wrench

    The neighbors had a green sunbird with the aforementioned Carter/Wally '80 bumper sticker. Gawd, what a pile, but we did think the short stick on the huge tranny hump was cool. Their other car was a 19 passenger early 70's Dodge wagon, so they were desperate for something with good fuel economy. And the sunbird did get good MPG, as it was towed all the time!

  13. Maymar Avatar

    Not sure the last time I've seen one of these Sunbirds (I'd say if ever, but I'm sure there were enough around that I never noticed when I was young), but there's a little garage I pass when driving my wife to work with an unplated Astre parked out front. It'd be a fun little project car, if you swapped out basically everything GM put on it from the factory.

  14. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    That rear three-quarter view looks almost European. These were very tidily styled by 70s Detroit standards. I dig.

  15. salguod Avatar

    Personally, I pref the hatch. I had an '80 Monza hatch, my sister had a '79 hatch and her best friend had a Sunbird notchback. All were iron duke 4 speeds, I believe. It seemed more Sunbirds were notchbacks, most Monzas were hatches. All were lemons.
    It was a nice handler and good looking, but abysmally put together. I drove it for 5 years of college and to about 140K miles, which was really stretching it. It lived through 2 wiring fires and several accidents, not to mention the multitude of stupid problems like door hinge pins falling out when driving and the clutch cable ripping through the firewall.
    A pathetic car, but I kinda miss it.

  16. mrh Avatar

    Not bad looking. What's most amazing about these Sunbird's, and their corporate cousins, is how quickly they disappeared from our roads. It's as though one day in the mid eighties, at best, every one of their (second) owners decided they were sick of them and junked 'em.

  17. Marto Avatar

    All I see if a weird mashup of Mitsubishi Scorpion and an old Celica?
    But, then again, I have heathen eyes.
    <img src="http://www.uniquecarsandparts.com.au/images/car_info/mitsubishi_scorpion_gj.jpg"&gt;
    <img src="http://www.toyotareference.com/colors/celica/toyota_celica_78_372_01.jpg?random=1362119044"&gt;

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