One Owner: 1978 Pontiac Sunbird Coupe

Platform sharing is nothing new to the automotive industry, and truth be told, it probably dates back to the days of Fred Flintstone. It represents the most cost-effective way for a manufacturer to produce a wide selection of models across a single brand or a wider selection across multiple brands. The General Motors H-Platform from the 1970s is a perfect example, with the Chevrolet Vega and Monza, the Buick Skyhawk, and the Oldsmobile Starfire, all derived from this base. Pontiac’s contribution was the Sunbird, which remained on sale from 1976 until 1980. This 1978 Sunbird Coupe is a solid survivor, but it needs someone willing to put in the hard yards to return it to a presentable state. It is located in Orlando, Florida, and has been listed for sale here on eBay. The owner has set a BIN of $5,900, although he is open to offers if that figure is too rich for your blood.

Finished in Seafoam Green with a White landau-style vinyl top, the Sunbird would have been a reasonably attractive car when it was new. It will need plenty of TLC and a fresh coat of paint to return to that state, but there’s a good chance that the buyer will be working from a pretty solid base. The listing suggests that before arriving in Florida, this vehicle spent its life in California. If this is accurate, it’s possible that it is rust-free. There is nothing visible around the car beyond some heavy surface corrosion on the leading edge of the nose and some lighter stuff in a couple of other locations. The seller doesn’t mention any other issues, so it looks promising to this point. The panels wear a few dings and marks, but if the buyer is considering tackling this as a restoration in a home workshop, there’s nothing present that couldn’t be fixed with a bit of effort. The trim generally looks acceptable for a survivor, and while the windshield is cracked, the remaining glass appears to be in good condition.

Buyers in 1978 had a choice of three engines to slot into their new Sunbird, and the original owner of this car opted for the 3.8-liter V6. He also ticked the box beside the three-speed automatic transmission, while power steering and power front disc brakes were standard features in the Sunbird. The V6 would have produced 105hp in its prime, which was enough to propel the Pontiac through the ¼ mile in 18.7 seconds. It appears that the seller is a dealer, and he states that this is a one-owner vehicle. The engine bay presents quite well for an original survivor of this age, and it seems that appearances aren’t deceptive. The car recently received new tires, and that is all that it has needed. The seller says that it runs and drives extremely well, which makes it ready to be enjoyed by its next owner.

Apart from whipping the exterior appearance into shape, the biggest hurdle that the buyer will face will be to return the interior to a presentable state. It has suffered all of the issues you might expect in a car of this age, including a crack in the console and split seat upholstery. That could prove to be a hurdle too challenging to overcome, as I’ve had no luck in locating replacement covers. I’m not sure how interchangeable seats are between H-Platform models, but it might be possible to adapt something to do the job. The door trims have been cut to accommodate speakers, and the factory radio has made way for a Pioneer CD player. Regardless of which path the buyer chooses to follow, they will need to remember that this is unlikely to be a “big-dollar” classic once it is complete, so any spending will need to be measured if the restoration is to remain financially viable.

Some things in life are an acquired taste, and this Sunbird’s headliner is probably one of them. I’m not sure about you, but I have no desire to acquire that particular taste. It is one of the quirky features added by the original owner, and for my money, it would have to go. Once again, the buyer might have to search pretty hard to find a replacement, and the potential price will be a significant consideration. If they know someone who is handy with a sewing machine, it might be possible to produce a copy for a minimal outlay. As an aside, I’ve looked at this car, and it has made me wonder what our Australian readers think about it. The “Sunbird” name found its way Down Under, with Holden attaching the badge to a 4-cylinder version of the iconic LX and UC series Torana. It was launched just as Australia adopted its first emission laws. While initially offered with an Opel four under the hood, the UC model brought a locally-developed motor called the “Starfire.” Many people believed that it should’ve been called the Misfire, and it would’ve been better suited to life as a boat anchor. So, if you’re not a fan of the Pontiac Sunbird, be aware that there were far worse cars that wore that badge around the globe.

When I look at this 1978 Pontiac Sunbird, I see a car with some potential as a project build. However, its financial viability would depend entirely on the buyer being capable of performing most of the work themselves. Admittedly, most of these vehicles have long disappeared from our roads. Still, you must question whether that is sufficient justification for sinking a significant amount of money into this one. I believe that the BIN price is optimistic, and even NADA quotes an Average Retail of $3,767. If there is a buyer capable of performing some DIY and negotiating a price drop, it might be a project worth a closer look.

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Comments

  1. Stevieg Member

    This is the first time I have ever seen that rear spoiler. I’d like it or the vinyl top, but not both together.
    Upholstery in these is no big deal. The headliner can be done by any decent upholstery shop. It’s pretty common material. The seats, if I remember correctly, shared the upholstery pattern with the Firebird. I know they are the same seat frames for the front seats anyhow, so that upholstery should be fairly easy to locate.
    With Adam being from down under, he would have no way of knowing that. Don’t heckle the guy, he does a great job. Think of it this way…how would us Americans, us yanks, do writing about aussie cars? We just need to be patient if he get something askew. After all, even their toilets flow backwards lol.

    Like 16
    • Ralph

      Well said Steve. As Americans we tend to delude ourselves into thinking we are smarter, or more knowledgeable than everyone else. Some shrinks may refer to it as an inferiority complex, but to others it is the result of small, closed minds. YMMV.
      Sunbird? No thank you.

      Like 1
  2. Mike Roberts

    It is a stab in my conscience to pay more than $1,000 for an ordinary, use it until it is dead type of car. Even if it is in pristine condition.

    Like 14
  3. Vance

    Had a girlfriend who drove one of these, it was kind of quick for the time (1981). Borrowed it one time and one time only, and the timing chain snapped. Of course it was my fault because she said I was probably hot rodding it. How you hot rod a Sunbird is beyond me. She never let me drive it again. That should have been a big clue, but I let something else be my guide. Young and stupid, that was me.

    Like 19
  4. Josh

    I was 7 y/o when my mom bought a new 1976 Sunbird in white with a brown top. It was our first new car. We loved it and in talking to my mom it was very reliable. My brother and I would lay down on the back by the back window and wave at the people behind us. At some point we let a bunch of crayons in the car and they melted it was a real mess. I have not thought about that in years. It’s nice the memories that you recall when you see a car from your past.

    Like 8
  5. William

    Yea at best it’s a 1000 dollar car and then jus drive it till it dies!!!!

    Like 8
    • Mark

      A month?

      Like 4
  6. KC John

    Interesting car. If anyone can find me this for $1000 I’ll take 3 or 4 of em please. Throwaways that survived like this are kinda cool I think. I do agree the asking price is high. The guy is a dealer though. Lol. Buy her for 3 ish and enjoy. Or buy a used Camry and wish ya had something cool.

    Like 10
    • Steve R

      Remember, the guys that think this is a $1,000 have probably been sitting on the sidelines for decades. Because of that, their internal price guides were frozen in the late-80’s or early-90’s.

      Steve R

      Like 11
  7. KC John

    Taillights scream Pontiac. Had to throw that in. Lol

    Like 8
  8. AndyinMA

    That Jeep in the garage…..

    Like 1
  9. Troy s

    Boooooo!!
    Ya know, when a car boasts quarter mile times nearing 19 seconds its probably best to not advertise it., ha ha, that’s too funny but these were the cars that were new in my childhood. No wonder I’m a little jealous of the baby boomees out there who could spot GTO’S and Hemi R/T’s brand new on the show room!
    Had to look.

    Like 1
  10. Bick Banter

    Love the spoiler! I’d also stick a Hood Tach on it for good measure.

    Like 9
  11. JoeJ56

    The Sunbird line lasted longer than 1980- my first new (not used) car was a fire-engine red 1986. Bare bones because it was all I could afford at the time, a 1.? liter 4 banger coupled to a 5-speed stick, no power-anything in it. Wouldn’t set any land speed records but I had a blast driving it anyway, twas a fun little car.

    Like 1
    • Rich C

      They were talking about the rear wheel drive platform.

      Like 1
  12. Pit Stop Pauly

    I want it just for the spoiler! Keeps that rear end planted as you approach that mind bending top speed of 65+/-…. what a hoot!

    Like 2
    • TheGasHole

      And that was after flooring the accelerator pedal for 20+ seconds

      Like 1
  13. jose

    By looking at the distributor in front of the engine tells me this is a Buick 231 emissions and metric transmissions held these up performance wise but could last forever with basic maintenance.

    • Duaney

      No, the early Buick V-6’s grenaded right and left due to the terrible oiling system

      Like 1
  14. Tom

    What a cool little car! Has the rarely ordered luxury cushion steering wheel seldomly seen on a Sunbird! Plus the 1/2 vinyl top with opera windows and V-6! Rare when new, non-existent today.

  15. Marko

    Slip a Buick 3.8l supercharged stage III in it, and go hunting for shiny Grand Nationals and Corvettes.

    Barring that dream, I would fix the headliner and drive it forever.

    Like 3
  16. Melton Mooney

    I had the V8 (262) powered Chevy version of this car in the late 70s. Have to admit I really liked that little car.

    Like 2
  17. Gary

    We had one when I was a kid, good car. 6k, more like $1500.00

    Like 1
  18. Bob S

    Had a 78 coupe (no spoiler) in college. Same motor, could beat v6 firebirds and camaros at the stop light, even some v-8s if you got a quick enough start. Took a hit , drove for another year and a half, before it threw a rod. fun little car.

  19. Wooky

    A V6 car with no A/C, ever, I’ll pass, and because of it not having that the price is too high

    Like 2
  20. Funbird

    Had a black ‘76 with a leaky sunroof and the V6 that I scooped up for a few hundred. It was surprisingly quick for what it was. And luckily the seat still smelled like the hottie I bought it from. Oops wasn’t supposed to write everything my inside voice was saying. I agree with KC John, especially living in upstate NY. the bic lighter cars are still cool to spot because you just don’t see them anymore.

    • Stevieg Member

      I don’t make it a habit to sniff the seats of all of the cars I have bought over the years, but I understand the sentiment. Some ya just gotta sniff lol!

  21. Stephen Grimwood

    As an Aussie i object to our Starfire Four being referred to a misfire Four , i remember it distinctly being referred to as the Backfire Four.

    Like 1

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