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Old Lady’s Car: 29,000 Mile Pontiac Phoenix


Nowadays, if a car doesn’t have Bluetooth or heated seats, consumers get annoyed and demand that these luxuries become standard features. As much as automotive quality control and engineering has moved the needle in a very positive way, it perhaps makes us a bit soft when you consider some people lived with cars like this 29,000-mile 1982 Pontiac Phoenix here on craigslist with an automatic and AM radio as the sole luxuries. 


The Phoenix suffered mightily in this generation, bearing the scars of poor quality control resulting from its migration to the front-wheel drive platform it shared with the Chevy Citation and Olds Omega. Recalls and an overall perception of sloppy build quality had a negative impact on sales, and it’s rare to find any variation of the platform still on the road today. This Phoenix is a Virginia car for sale on Boston’s North Shore craigslist.


My guess is if it belonged to the proverbial little old lady, the Pontiac was shipped north after a mother or aunt’s passing. The good news is that if the Phoenix’s mileage is genuine and if it spent most of its time in Virginia, it avoided the copious amounts of road salt spread across every paved surface in New England starting each November. The interior looks fantastic, and get a load of all of those gauges in the center stack!


Desirable? No. But this Phoenix does go to show we used to go without a lot more than we do now when it comes to our commuter appliances. Say what you will, but I’ll bet the tech-laden economy cars of today will be junked far faster than simple, analog vehicles like this Phoenix ever were. Sure, quality control has improved – but what does it matter if a software glitch can render a vehicle unusable? Hopefully, this Phoenix will find a new home that preserves its legacy for a little while longer.


  1. Alan (Michigan)

    With some trim swaps, you could turn it into a very rare 2-door Cadillac Cimarron.


    Jeff, you have me thinking that a future cottage industry could be turning the digital era cars into analog versions (after the electronics croak), so that good bodies might continue to be used. Hmmm.

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    • JW454

      There are companies producing parts for the computer age cars right now. You can buy a kit to add a distributor, and a traditional intake to install on a GM LS engine. Once you install these parts and add a carburetor, it doesn’t need any of the sensors,computers, catalytic converters, or other electronics to make it run.
      So, if you’re going to do this you better get ahead of the curve right-a-way.

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    • Spots

      The Phoenix is not the same platform as the Cimarron was. Phoenix is an X-body (shared with Citation, Skylark and Omega); the Cimarron was a J-Body (Cavalier, 2000/Sunbird, Skyhawk and Firenza).

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  2. Vegas Vic

    ME Aunt had one, early eighties, she liked it, called it her ” baby firebird”
    Decent vehicle for its time period , for short hauls, church trips, she clocked well over 119k mikes before moving onto the early ninties Bonneville with all the cladding n heads up displays n matching color wheels , she said her ” new fiery firebird!”

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  3. Vegas Vic


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  4. Ken Nelson Member

    Had a 1980 4 dr Phoenix I got from Holley carburetor. They were testing our Dupont plastic in their carburetor bodies, and they were going to turn their car in at 25K miles. I convinced my boss to let me swap a 6 month old Buick co. sedan with v6 for the Phoenix AND Holley wanted $300 cash in addition! Mgmnt ok’d the deal, and I continued to run the car as my co. car and keep an eye on the performance of our plastic carb. Think I’m the only Duponter who ever swapped a near new co. car for a used one and cash! But – our polyester plastic worked fine – never had a problem with it regardless of type of gas used. When it was time to turn the car in as a co. trade with 55K miles on it, I bought it from Dupont and ran it to 200k miles without ever doing anything to the 2.8L V6 engine except a fuel pump.
    That car had the toughest cloth upholstery I’ve ever seen. Wore like iron, was comfortable, and my two boys couldn’t hurt it at all. Being a hatchback, we used it as a half-pickup also. Was one tough car – finally traded it for an ’86 Pontiac wagon and ran that to 200K also – same engine. Wish all cars upholstery was as durable as that GM stuff –

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  5. Tirefriar

    Sh!tbox then, sh!tbox now
    A true rock bottom of the US auto industry. My mom had a Cavalier coupe. I couldn’t wait till she got rid of it. I finally persuaded her to go for a used E36 sedan. She never went back to domestics again.

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    • Steve

      Talk about boring cars. I remember these GM X bodies but I wish I didn’t have to. Ugly then, really ugly now. Talk about no options, I can’t believe someone ordered the radio without even FM! With under 30k on the clock, someone will buy this mule as a transportation appliance but I’m glad it won’t be me.

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  6. Spots

    Parents bought a new 1980 Phoenix LJ coupe in May of 1980. Hard loaded- had all the options except a tape player and, inexplicably, a recliner on the RF bucket seat (even though it was on the window sticker- and the dealer refused to credit the $37 for it not being on the car saying “since it was invoiced they had to charge for it or lose their franchise”). Dad wouldn’t fight them over that, and my mom loved the car- at first. Leaked water from practically day one into the trunk and around the sunroof, and those bucket seats were pure torture for anyone over about 5’2″ tall- zero thigh support. Mom was 4’8″ and the car fit her perfectly however. Dad finally got tired of stuff breaking and the water leaks, and traded it on an 83 Caprice Classic- the only two new GM products he ever owned. He went back to Ford after that Caprice. The Phoenix was a real looker- two tone blue, rally rims and chrome everywhere. But what a pile it was.

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  7. Scott Staff

    After the divorce in 86 Dad ended up with the family Volvo 144 and mom bought a 84 2 door Phoenix. I have many a memory of riding to school on a depressing grey morning in a depressing grey car, Wilson Phillips playing on the radio. It always started and always got us their with the Iron Duke clattering away up front. One morning both door latches malfuncted and neither door would latch so we rode that day with a rope tied to each door on the inside. Such a depressing childhood. Things got brighter in 93 when Mom traded it for a 92 Sunbird LE in bright yellow. One thing about cars for car guys, they can conjure up vivid memory’s. I can smell the cold vinyl seats now….

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  8. Chebby

    Unfortunately there is no reason to ever drive one of these cars again, when so many better things have come along. If you looked hard you could find an early Lexus LS400 for about that price.

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  9. DW

    Oh lawd have mercy. One of my first ‘flips’ on the road to a questionable young career as a ‘curber’ was a 1980 Phoenix LJ. From 10 feet it looked not bad, so I bought it off a friend (who swore it had been driven by a ‘preacher’) for a measly $800 and proceeded to clean it up and drive it for a month. Little did I know that it had spent it’s miserable, beaten life on pot-holed country roads, always loaded, bottomed out and floored like Bo Duke running from Boss Hog.

    I soon not only despised it, but that grew to outright hatred. I believe I sold it after much repair and work for a measly $100 profit and was more than glad to wave goodbye to the brave man who drove it off my yard.

    I dont know if GM had ever piled such crap into a lovely brick shape before or since.

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  10. Barry T

    Unless one lives in Alaska or north of that state I fail see the need for heated seats.

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    • Jcnspots

      If you are older and have a little arthritis, even in winter in Florida they are nice.

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    • Alan (Michigan)

      In Michigan, (and other states) where cars are outside for hours, either overnight or during a normal workday, and the temperatures are below 20 degrees Fahrenheit….

      It’s a dang nice option to have. Particularly if the seats are leather.

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    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

      Come live in NH, or any surrounding state, leave your car outside in any month between Dec – Mar and then see how much “need” you will have.

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  11. jeff

    I bought a Brown 84 LJ version of this with the factory spoiler on the trunklid :):) from a little old lady in a trailer park in 1996 … only had 50K on it and i think i spent $ 1000 maybe $ 1250 ? nice little car for my 5’5″ wife … immediately put some Pirelli tires on it from Sams Club and it drove a heck of a lot better. Had decent get up and go for its size ….. drove it 2 years and traded it in on a used 4-door purple SATURN :):) ( wife’s car )

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  12. Greg

    Oh memories. My 1st car was an 81. Iron Duke and a 4spd manual. Picked up for $225 with 107,xxx. 8 years later after 2 floors, 8 muffler, 2 sets of tires, 1 fuel pump I drove it to the junk yard and handed them the keys and title with 270,xxx. It was a reliable beast.

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