Pontiac Sunbird

Third generation Pontiac Sunbird

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.



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, built on the H-body platform, its intended competitors were other small sporty two-door vehicles including the Toyota Celica, Ford Capri, and the Ford Mustang II.


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.


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.

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 1979 model year, the Chevrolet's 5.0 L (305 cid) V8 engine was made optional in the notchback and hatchback, while the Sunbird Safari wagon continued for its final year with a revised vertical styled grill. The 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.


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, 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.

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.


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. The Safari wagon was dropped.

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.

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.


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 GM 122 family 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

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


  • 1982: 1.8 L carbureted OHV I4
  • 1982: 2.0 L carbureted OHV I4
  • 1983–1986: 1.8 L TBI SOHC I4
  • 1983–1986: 1.8 L turbocharged MPFI SOHC I4
  • 1987–1991: 2.0 L TBI SOHC I4
  • 1987–1990: 2.0 L turbocharged MPFI SOHC I4