Rare LJ Coupe: 1979 Pontiac Phoenix

This 1979 Pontiac Phoenix LJ coupe may need to summon the actual spirit of a mythological phoenix to rise again, as it currently appears to be parked in an apartment complex and in need of a tow. The Phoenix was a re-branded X-platform car that didn’t try too hard to distance itself from its Nova sibling but remains somewhat obscure today in comparison to the Chevy. This one is one step above the base model trim with its LJ designation and is listed here on craigslist for $1,500 near Seattle.

Thanks to Barn Finds reader Roger for the find. The Phoenix was by no means an exceptional car, but it could be configured in a way that gave shoppers some decent options. With a base model, more luxurious LJ, and the high-performance SJ option, Pontiac didn’t overwhelm buyers while still cover the bases as far as what they might want in an entry-level vehicle. This particular Phoenix has seen some miles, with 162,927 indicated on the odometer, but the interior remains in fair shape with a bench swat that is dirty but not torn up.

Given apartment complexes are not typically kind to project car owners, I have to wonder if this one was left parked after an owner passed away. Given its location in the Pacific Northwest, where everyday vintage cars seem to hang on quite well and get regular exercise as daily drivers, I wouldn’t be surprised if this Phoenix was seeing regular use before an elderly owner stopped driving. It needs the usual deferred maintenance addressed, including new brakes and minor engine work, but the seller also notes the need for a new transmission.

That could be another reason for the seemingly clean condition: perhaps the Phoenix has been sidelined for a while now, which has the unintended consequence of protecting it from the rigors of daily use. The backseat almost looks unused, and despite the seller mentioning the need for cosmetic restoration, I’m not sure I see any pressing needs to get out the paint gun. The Phoenix is equipped with the 350 V8, which was the top-shelf engine option at the time of production, so at least you won’t be restoring an anemic four- or six-cylinder car.


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  1. Allen Fox

    I thought only the larger GM cars came with a 350 in 1979? Maybe it was only Oldsmobile that limited the 350 to the “big” cars? My 79 Cutlass came with a 305.
    Still going with 204,000 miles. Maintenance is the key to long life!
    I appreciate all the hard work Barn Finds does in showing us all the “cool” old cars. Thanks!

    Like 8
    • Michael

      Don’t know what you were conned into believing. I ordered my 1979 Cutless with a 350 and got it. A friend of mine bought a brand new Monte Carlo with a 350 as well. They must have seen you coming.

      Like 4
      • ace10

        Jeeze dude, the trash talk is really unwarranted.

        Like 19
      • Todd

        Condescending much? Hate know it all types like you. Grow up.

        Like 4
  2. Stangalang

    I dig those wheels…someone had good taste and looks like the car was taken care of..I wouldn’t kick it out of the driveway

    Like 5
  3. CCFisher

    Interesting (or useless, depending on your perspective) trivia: base Phoenixes used a non-wraparound taillight similar in shape to base Novas. LJs and SJs used a wrap-around design. So, base and upper-level Phonenixes used slightly different quarter panel designs.

    Like 2
  4. Todd Fitch Staff

    I had one of these! Mine was a sharp ’78 Phoenix coupe with finned hub caps, black with red pin stripes and a shiny red vinyl interior. The turn signals had two bulbs each so, in a line of cars, you always saw my signals reflecting off the road signs. I had bucket seats and an angled console. Lots of good memories from that car. I’ve never heard of one with more than a 307, but the 350 would be a great find. I hollowed out the catalytic converter and plugged the hole with a flattened out portion of a Campbell’s soup can. Good times.

    Like 8
  5. Michael

    I liked the older versions of this car with the FORMULA brand on it. Not many of them out there, if any.

  6. Stang1968

    Someone doesn’t know how to read an odometer. Shows 16,297.4 miles (however probably gone over once before). the black digit on white is tenths of a mile. 116K miles vs 162k is a big difference.

    Like 8
    • Miguel

      Stang, I am shocked at car guys that don’t know how to read an odometer.

  7. Dovi65

    White letter tires, aftermarket wheels.. Gramm/Gramps must have been quite the topic of talk at the senior center!

    Like 4
  8. jerry z

    At that price, won’t last long!

    Like 1
  9. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

    A buddy had one of these for his wife’s daily driver and he hated it. It had one issue after another while he owned it. She drove a lot of miles back and forth to work and really racked up the miles. He had to replace the timing chain every 10,000 which came around fairly often. The last time he broke down on the highway with his young son, junior took the keys out of the ignition while dad was under the hood and lost them. That was it for that POS as it was towed to the junkyard, never to return.

    Like 2
  10. Superdessucke

    A buddy’s parents bought a leftover ’78 in the winter of ’79. It was copper with tan interior. I recall it had the floor shifter and buckets. It smelled and looked so new. Probably wasn’t a particularly good car but I recall that, anyway. This one looks impossibly old in light of that memory!

    Like 1
  11. BigMark

    I worked on a Pontiac lot in 77,78 and 79 for the new car dept. One of these came through that had a 4 speed. What a sleeper!

    Like 1

    So the Phoenix replaced the Ventura? Wonder why they changed it. Fun cheap car to fix up, and get a little oomph from under the hood

  13. Little_Cars

    I’d forgotten about the Phoenix name change…these were always Ventura in my eyes. Why do we think the owner passed away or was elderly? Nice color, nice (Keystone?) wheels, good powertrain, naturally aspirated 4bbl carb. You needed one in these early emissions/pre REI examples of a ‘Murican made car. Seems a steal if you can do your own work.

  14. Hans Gyswyt

    My son has a well taken care of 79 Phoenix Coupe. 305 and the tallest gears, cause it just purrs at 70mph. It’s a smooth road car. All original, and garaged.

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