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Whatever Happened to the Pontiac Sunbird?

The Pontiac Sunbird is a vehicle that is hard to find these days. You could find them everywhere from the 1980s through the 1990s, but now the model has seemed to fade into oblivion. This leaves some who were fond of the car wondering what happened to the Pontiac Sunbird. If you're one of them, here is the history of the model and the events that led to its disappearance from the market. According to Wikipedia, the Sunbird made its debut in 1976. The first generation of the subcompact vehicle ran from 1976 through 1980. It was available in a coupe, wagon, and subcompact hatchback body style. The vehicle was a variation of Chevrolet's Monza model. By 1982, Pontiac made some changes for the second generation which ran from 1982 through 1994. It was rebadged as a GM J-car variation and offered in a choice of convertible, station wagon, sedan, hatchback, or notchback coupe. The Sunbird was produced for two generations that spanned 18 years. There were no Sunbirds produced in 1981 as Pontiac took a year off between the two generations for redesigning the new offering. The Sunbird was replaced by its successor, the Pontiac Sunfire in 1995.

Is the Sunbird a rare car now?

According to Autoweek, the Pontiac Sunbird in all of its many variants had a mixed bag of reviews. There were some definite issues with the model but it also had its merits. The turbocharged engine of the 1980s caught the attention of drivers who liked a fast car. For its time, the 1.8 liter SOHC four-cylinder engine was impressively fast. The design and special tweaks delivered plenty of torque. Although it couldn't keep up with the power of the Firebird with its V8 engine at the time, it was lighter and offered at a selling price that was a thousand dollars cheaper. The engine cranked 150 horsepower but it was fun to drive and it also handled remarkably well. In 1984, the mainstream transmission choice was the four-speed manual. This was a trend that was just beginning to wane a the majority of buyers preferred an automatic, however, some still opted for the 5-speed manual, which was still an option at that time in the 1984 2000 Sunbird S/E. The Detroit four on the floor was the most common configuration. Just the word turbo was an exciting concept back in the early 1980s and it was as much a psychological construct as a physical one.

The forgotten Pontiac Sunbird

The Truth About Cars explores the forgotten Sunbird model with some fond memories that hold important facts about the history of the model. It is now considered to be a rare car if you find one in pristine condition, or fully restored. The model evolved by 1982 with a new J-body style and front-drive, similar to the Cavalier with a smaller size. It was offered in a choice of four or five-door wagons, a convertible, which truly had a sexy and sporty aesthetic, a three-door hatchback, and a two-door coupe. The size was smaller and the look was decidedly different in comparison with the first generation of Sunbirds. Drivers now had a lot more options for Sunbird styling. The badging was changed to the J2000, but they were still Sunbirds.

Things got confusing during the second generation as the Sunbird's names underwent a reshuffling period in 1984. The lineup of variations was branded as the 2000 Sunbird from the 1985 model year until the final edition was produced in 1994. It was offered in a choice of either a 1.8 or a 1.0-liter engine with natural aspiration or turbo engineering. All automatic transmissions offered for this era were three-speeds with options for four or five-speed manual trannys.

According to Hemmings, the second generation of Pontiac's Sunbird was intended to be a fuel-efficient commuter car with an inexpensive price tag new off the lot. The car had room to seat five, but until 1984, it didn't offer a lot else to attract buyers. The 1984 versions of the model featured the turbocharged engine option that started the upward trend in interest from the general public. It became a better value of the dollar with better performance and curb appeal. The shift in the design of the second generation Sunbird along with the front-wheel-drive was also beneficial for enticing more sales.

Other changes

Sales were up and down throughout the late 1980s. Pontiac produced the Sunbird GT models with a speedometer that went to 120 MPH in a turbocharged 4-cylinder design. In 1991, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine was replaced with a 3.1-liter V6. Even though Pontiac followed through with some decent updates, plans were already in the works for a replacement model for the popular Sunbird. By 1995, its successor, the Sunfire would take the lead and replace the Sunbird which was last produced in 1994.

Final thoughts

The Pontiac Sunbird is a model that went through a series of big changes and updates throughout its 18-year 2 generation history. It's a car that has had its ups and downs through its lifespan, but it was a significant model in the history of Pontiac. The brand made a lot of updates for the second generation of the Sunbird and it seemed to be an unsettled situation throughout the remaining years of the car. Even though it was offered in a broader range of options, it became obvious that the Sunbird was destined to be phased out because of the ups and downs in its sales records. It's apparent that drivers either loved the car or paid little attention to it, regardless of the merits. At the present, it's one of those classic models that has faded into the recesses of memory for most.

Benjamin Smith

Written by Benjamin Smith

Benjamin Smith is one of the managing editors of Moneyinc. Ben's been focusing on the auto and motorcycle sector since 2005. He's written over 1000 articles in the space and continues to learn about it each day. His favorite car is "any Bugatti" and he's a die hard Harley Davidson fan.

Read more posts by Benjamin Smith

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