Pontiac Sunbird

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This article is about the car sold by Pontiac from 1975-1994. For the car sold by Holden from 1976 to 1980, see Holden Sunbird.
Pontiac Sunbird
1992 Pontiac Sunbird Convertible at Confederation Bridge.jpg
1992 Pontiac Sunbird SE Convertible
Overview
Manufacturer Pontiac Division
of General Motors
Production 1975–1994
Model years 1976–1980
1982–1994
Body and chassis
Class Subcompact (1976–1980)
Compact (1982–1994)
Chronology
Successor Pontiac Sunfire

The Pontiac Sunbird, produced by the Pontiac division of General Motors, was Pontiac's second small-car offering of the 70's. The Sunbird model ran for 18 years (with a lapse during the 1981 & 1982 model years, as the 1982 model was called J2000) and was then replaced in 1995 by the Pontiac Sunfire. Through the years the Sunbird was available in notchback coupe, sedan, hatchback, station wagon, and convertible body styles.

History[edit]

1976–1980[edit]

First generation
1978 Pontiac Sunbird Sport Coupe.jpg
1978 Pontiac Sunbird Sport Coupe
Overview
Production 1975–1980
Model years 1976–1980
Assembly Lordstown Assembly, United States
South Gate, California, United States
Sainte-Thérèse Assembly, Canada
Ramos Arizpe, Mexico
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door coupe
2-door hatchback
2-door station wagon
Layout FR layout
Platform H-body
Related Chevrolet Monza, Buick Skyhawk, Oldsmobile Starfire, Pontiac Astre, Chevrolet Vega
Powertrain
Engine 140 cu in (2.3 L) 2300 I4
151 cu in (2.5 L) Iron Duke I4
231 cu in (3.8 L) Buick V6
305 cu in (5.0 L) Chevrolet V8 (79)
Dimensions
Wheelbase 97.0 in (2,460 mm)
Length 179.2 in (4,550 mm) coupe/hatchback
178.0 in (4,520 mm) Wagon
Height 49.6 in (1,260 mm) coupe/Hatchback
51.8 in (1,320 mm) Wagon
Chronology
Predecessor Chevrolet Vega

The Pontiac Sunbird is a subcompact, four-passenger automobile introduced in September 1975, and produced for the 1976 through 1980 model years. The first-generation Sunbird is derived from the Chevrolet Vega sharing the Vega's wheelbase and width,[1] Built on the H-body platform, its intended competitors were other small sporty two-door vehicles including the Toyota Celica, Datsun 200SX, Ford Capri, and the Ford Mustang II. It did not share any mechanical relation to the Holden LX Sunbird.

Overview[edit]

1978 Pontiac Sunbird Formula Hatchback

The Sunbird has a 97.0-inch (2,460 mm) wheelbase and a 65.4-inch (1,660 mm) width. The first generation Sunbird is a rear-wheel-drive vehicle with a live rear axle design. The standard engine was the Vega aluminum-block 140 CID inline-4. Equipped with a single-barrel carburetor, it generates a peak power output of 78 horsepower (58 kW) at 4200 rpm. the standard transmission was a 4-speed manual, with a 5-speed manual and 3-speed automatic transmission options. This engine was also available with a 2-barrel carburetor that increased peak power to 87 horsepower (65 kW) at 4400 rpm, as well as Buick's 3.8 L (231 cid) V6 engine rated at 110 horsepower (82 kW) at 4000 rpm. The front suspension is short and long control arms with coil springs, and anti-roll bar; the rear suspension is a torque-arm design with coil springs and an anti-roll bar. Variable-ratio power steering was standard of a recirculating ball type. The brake system features front disc brakes with vented rotors, and rear drum brakes. Power-assist was standard.

Changes[edit]

In 1977 the hatchback body-style was added. It is noted for having a resemblance to the Ferrari 365 GTC/4. All Sunbirds had a new standard engine: Pontiac's 151 CID "Iron Duke" inline four-cylinder engine using a 2-barrel Holley carburetor and generating 90 horsepower (67 kW) at 4400 rpm. A Formula option was available on coupe and hatchback. It includes the handling package, a chrome valve cover, three-piece spoiler, T/A steering wheel, and special body decals.

1979 Pontiac Sunbird Safari Wagon

For 1978 and 1979, the station wagon from the discontinued Astre series was added to the Sunbird line. They continued to use the same front fascia as the Astre with Sunbird badging. The 2.3 L engine was simultaneously discontinued.

For the 1978 & 1979 model year, the Chevrolet's 5.0 L (305 cid) V8 engine was made optional in the notchback and hatchback (RPO LG3, 481 for 78 & 986 for 79), while the Sunbird Safari wagon continued for its final year with a revised vertical styled grill. The 1978 & 1979 engine options included the 305-V8, 3.8L-V6 and an 2.5L-I4. Body options included Firebird Redbird Package, Sunbird Formula Package, and sunroof. Air conditioning was available as was 4-speed manual transmission or 3-speed automatic transmission.

1980 was the final production year of the H-bodied Sunbird. By this time the wagon body style and the optional V8 engine were discontinued. The year featured an unusually long production run in order to provide sufficient inventory to carry dealers into the 1981 model year, in anticipation of the Sunbird's replacement.

A total 479,967 H-body Sunbirds were produced in five model years.

1982–1988[edit]

Second generation
'86 Sunbird Coupe.jpg
1986 Pontiac Sunbird Coupe
Overview
Also called J2000 (1982)
2000 (1983-84)
2000 Sunbird (1984; Convertible Only)
Production 1981–1988
Model years 1982–1988
Assembly United States: Lordstown, Ohio, (Lordstown Assembly)
South Gate, California, (South Gate Assembly)
Mexico: Ramos Arizpe (Ramos Arizpe Assembly)
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door convertible, 2-door coupe, 3-door hatchback, 4-door sedan, 4-door station wagon
Layout Transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive
Platform J-body
Related Chevrolet Cavalier, Buick Skyhawk, Oldsmobile Firenza, Cadillac Cimarron
Powertrain
Engine 1.8 L OHV L46 I4 (gasoline)
1.8 L SOHC LH8 I4 (gasoline)
1.8 L SOHC LA5 I4 (turbocharged gasoline)
2.0 L OHV LQ5 I4 (gasoline)
2.0 L SOHC LT2 I4 (gasoline)
2.0 L SOHC LT3 I4 (turbocharged gasoline)
Transmission 4-speed manual
5-speed manual
3-speed automatic
Dimensions
Wheelbase 101.2 in (2,570 mm)
Length 169.5 in (4,310 mm)
Width 66.3 in (1,680 mm)
Height 53.6 in (1,360 mm)

For 1982, the rear-wheel-drive Sunbird was replaced by a new front-wheel-drive compact called the J2000. Appearing as a sedan, coupe, wagon or hatchback, the J2000 was powered by either a 1.8L or 2.0L four-cylinder engine. The J2000 shared GM's internationally used J-Body platform with the Chevrolet Cavalier, Oldsmobile Firenza, Buick Skyhawk, and Cadillac Cimarron in North America.

For 1983, the "J" prefix was dropped. This was in an effort to market the J2000 as a smaller version of the Pontiac 6000, which had a similar appearance. Both engines were replaced by a new SOHC 1.8L four, imported from GM of Brazil. This engine used throttle-body electronic fuel injection, in contrast to the carburetor that was used in the 1982 engines, making 84 hp (63 kW). A 5-speed manual was newly optional. A convertible called the 2000 Sunbird was also new for 1983.

1984 brought a new front fascia for a smoother, less angular look. Also, the lineup was renamed "2000 Sunbird", a title used only on the convertible the previous year. A new turbocharged four-cylinder was available. Based on the standard 1.8L inline-four that powered other 2000 Sunbirds, it used multi-port fuel injection, for a total output of 150 hp (110 kW). This engine was popular, and more powerful than many V6 engines in competing brands. 1985 was a carryover year, except for the "2000" prefix being dropped. A GT model arrived in 1986. It featured fender flares, hidden headlamps, and the Turbo engine standard. It was available in sedan, coupe or convertible. The GT sedan is very rare, with less than 5000 sold. The GT convertible is the rarest variant, with fewer than 1,300 sold.

1988 Pontiac Sunbird Sedan

A redesigned gauge cluster and new engines made news for the 1987 model year. The gauge cluster featured different graphics, and featured a 120 mph (190 km/h) speedometer on Turbo equipped models, where 1984-86 Turbo models had just an 85 mph (137 km/h) speedometer. The new engines were "punched out" versions of the 1.8L, displacing 2.0L. The base engine still used throttle-body injection, for a new total of 96 hp (72 kW), and the turbo still used port-injection, for a new total of 165 hp (123 kW). Also, the convertible could only be ordered in GT trim. The rear fascia was redesigned in 1988, and the 4-speed manual was discontinued.

1987 Pontiac Sunbird Safari (wagon)

1988.5–1994[edit]

Third generation
Pontiac-Sunbird-coupe.jpg
1989–'94 Pontiac Sunbird Coupe
Overview
Production 1988–1994
Model years 1988.5–1994
Assembly Lordstown, Ohio, United States
Ramos Arizpe, Mexico
Body and chassis
Body style 2-door convertible
2-door coupe
4-door sedan
4-door station wagon
Layout Transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive
Platform J-body
Related Buick Skyhawk
Cadillac Cimarron
Chevrolet Cavalier
Powertrain
Engine 2.0 L LT2 I4 (gasoline)
2.0 L LE4 I4 (gasoline)
2.0 L LT3 I4 (turbocharged gasoline)
3.1 L LH0 V6 (gasoline)
Transmission 3-speed automatic
5-speed manual
Dimensions
Length 180.7 in (4,590 mm) (1991–94)
181.3 in (4,610 mm) (1989–90)
Width 66.3 in (1,680 mm)
Height 1988–90 & 1993–94 Convertible & 1993–94 Coupe: 52.1 in (1,320 mm)
1988–92 Coupe & 1990–91 Convertible: 52.0 in (1,320 mm)
1988–92 Sedan: 53.6 in (1,360 mm)
1993–94 Sedan: 53.7 in (1,360 mm)
1989–1994 Pontiac Sunbird LE Sedan

Production under the Sunbird name was continued until 1994. The trim levels on both the sedan and coupe were base, SE and GT. The Sunbird SE coupe, SE sedan and the GT coupe and convertible had partially concealed headlamps, a feature that originally appeared on the Isuzu Impulse, that gave the appearance of "raised eyebrows" when the headlights were on. The base model initially had the 1984-87 front fascia with exposed sealed beam headlamps. The engines were both the carryover 2.0L 96 hp (72 kW) I4 and the turbocharged 165 horsepower 2.0L four. GM discontinued the Safari name on the Sunbird station wagon models.

In 1989, the base model received a smoother, more aerodynamic front fascia and the model was renamed "LE". An LE coupe joined the lineup also, with the same features as the LE sedan, but for a slightly lower price. The SE sedan was discontinued. In all models, however, a new dashboard was added. It somewhat resembled that of the Pontiac Grand Prix, redesigned for 1988. The most notable change from the previous dashboard is the placement of the stereo. A redesigned AM/FM stereo unit was placed high in the dash. If a cassette player or compact disc player (new for 1989) were ordered, they were relocated at the bottom of the dash.

For 1990, the GT and SE coupes received a smoother front fascia with hidden headlamps. The GT convertible is discontinued, replaced by a turbocharged LE convertible, which also retains the GT suspension and steering. In all models, GM's passive seatbelt system was introduced. The seatbelts were mounted on the doors and would stretch out when latched.

1993 Pontiac Sunbird SE Convertible

The turbo four was deleted for 1991, replaced by the Cavalier's 3.1L V6. With Multi-Port Fuel Injection, it produced 140 hp (100 kW) at 5200 rpm, and 185 lb·ft (251 N·m) of torque at 4800 rpm. Although there was less horsepower under the hood, power came much quicker and smoother than the Turbo, with about the same fuel economy. The V6 engine could be ordered in any model, save the new-for 1991 base value model. The SE coupe received the LE coupe front fascia, but the GT's fascia could still be ordered with a sport package exclusive to SE coupes.

The largest change for the '92 model year was a revision of the base engine. The 2.0 L SOHC TBI four was replaced with the 2.0 L SOHC MPFI four resulting in a fuel economy increase and power increase. Power was increased from 96 hp (72 kW) to 110 hp (82 kW) and torque increased from 118 to 124 lb·ft (168 N·m). An SE sedan was once again available, and the base models were dropped and the convertible moved from LE to SE. The only change for 1993 was the addition of a glass rear window with defroster on convertibles.

As the Sunbird came to a close, the trims were pared down. The SE sedan, SE convertible and GT coupe were dropped for 1994. The LE sedan, LE coupe and LE convertible (moved from SE to LE), and SE coupe stood pat for one more year. The SE coupe was essentially the '93 GT coupe with a lower price.

Most Sunbirds were built in Lordstown, Ohio and Ramos Arizpe, Mexico. The last one rolled off the assembly line on April 27, 1994. The Sunbird was replaced by the Pontiac Sunfire in 1995.

GT[edit]

1990 Pontiac Sunbird GT

The Sunbird GT model was introduced in 1986 as a coupe, sedan, convertible or fastback hatch with a 1.8 L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine of the Family II range (C20GET) as standard equipment. The 150 hp (112 kW) 1.8 L turbo engine had been available since 1984. In 1987 the engine was upgraded to the 165 hp (123 kW) LT3.

All GTs featured semi-concealed headlamps and fender flares and "Turbo GT" badges replacing "Sunbird" badges, except on the turbo delete cars where the "Sunbird" badges were replaced by "Sunbird GT" badges. The sedan was dropped for 1988 and the interior was redesigned for 1989. The convertible was dropped for 1990 and the turbo was gone for 1991. Replacing the turbo four-cylinder for 1991 was GMs venerable 3.1L V6 that produced 140 horsepower (100 kW), but was quieter and smoother than the turbo. After 1993, the GT coupe became the SE coupe when the lineup was consolidated prior to the new model to arrive for 1995.

Sunbird in Mexico[edit]

The Sunbird was first sold in Mexico in 1992; prior to this, the Sunbird had been badged as the Chevrolet Cavalier there.

Engines[edit]

The 1982–1994 Sunbird came with one of these engines:

  • 1982: 1.8 L L46 carbureted OHV I4
  • 1982–1986: 1.8 L LH8 TBI SOHC I4
  • 1983-1986: 2.0 L LQ5 TBI OHV I4
  • 1984-1986: 1.8 L LA5 turbocharged MPFI SOHC I4
  • 1987–1991: 2.0 L LT2 TBI SOHC I4
  • 1987–1990: 2.0 L LT3 turbocharged MPFI SOHC I4
  • 1991–1994: 3.1 L LH0 MPFI OHV V6
  • 1992–1994: 2.0 L LE4 MPFI SOHC I4

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ h-body.org

Sources[edit]

  • Flammang, James M. & Kowlake, Ron, Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1976-199, 3rd Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1999)
  • Gunnell, John, Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1946-1975, Revised 4th Edition (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2002)

External links[edit]