Ready for Winter: 1989 Pontiac 6000 STE AWD

Here in the northeast, we’re about to get the second major snowstorm of the season. It’s days like today that I wish my Subaru XT6 project was in top form, as churning through mountains of snow is what those cars were made for. So I can’t help it, then, that this unusual Pontiac 6000 STE All Wheel Drive example here on craigslist caught my attention, as this is one of the more hard to find members of GM’s A-Body family. 

I imagine if you like the pain and suffering of tracking down hard-to-find parts, an oddity like an AWD 6000 is right up your alley. Supposedly, right around or just under 2,000 AWD-equipped 6000s found owners in its lifetime, making this one of the more uncommon mid-sized sedans ever produced in the USA. These cars were powered by a 3.1L V6 paired to a 3-speed automatic that sent approximately 40% of its power to the rear wheels (hat tip to OppositeLock, which did a great job breaking down the mechanical components of these cars.)

Similar to my XT6 with the button on the center console that allows you to lock the differential for slow-speed crawling, the 6000 also had this feature, enabling drivers to toggle into a low-speed mode when extra traction was needed. Compared to some of the other offerings in GM’s product line-up at the time, this 6000 was downright exotic for a bread-and-butter family sedan. This listing here is sparse on the details, but it said to have passed its most recent inspection – and it’s only $1,100.

Image courtesy of Flickr user coconv

To me, the 6000 STE (like the Bonneville SSE of the same era) was another example of GM getting something just about perfect and then deciding to cancel it. While early 6000s were certainly nothing to write home about, later cars like this 1989 example were nicely optioned, and with all-wheel drive, they seemed at least competitive (on paper) with some of the mid-sized offerings from Audi and Mercedes. So, then, why did this car not succeed? Why were sales so disappointing? We’d welcome your opinions below.

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Comments

  1. Rustytech Member

    I thought at the time these were the best looking of the GM A- body cars, so I decided to look into getting one. I quickly found out I wasn’t alone, they were in such demand the dealer wouldn’t negotiate at all. I wound up buying the Old’s Ciera similarly equipped hundreds less. It was dependable but not very inspiring. I missed my RWD V8’s. This car is just plain ugly! Spending the money to put this car in order would be an exercise in futility. IMHO.

    • Pogo57

      ’89 really? I have socks older than this car.

  2. rmward194 Member

    If I remember correctly the STE AWD’s just didn’t sell very well at all. Most of them wound up as factory rep cars.

    I had a ’86 STE, not AWD, which ran and ran ran. A co-worker had this same car, same color and drove it forever.

  3. Gordon

    Owned two of them, great vehicles which were ahead of anything else GM was offering at the time!

  4. D

    I remember one of those coming in where I worked. I didn’t know they existed but, it needed tires. The correct size no longer exists so we had to test fit several of what we thought would be the next best choice. Size was P195/70R15, I think the Lumina APV and its clones also had that size for a short time also. But that body had a lot more room for tire clearances.

    • Leon

      Yes. I sold tires in late 80s and up. And that was an odd size. 195/70R15. At the time there were more cars with 195/70R14 or 13s

  5. David H.

    There just wasn’t much awareness of these cars, and GM didn’t really stick with the concept either. In the late 80s, Audi had the 5000 quattro, Mercedes the 4matic, BMW the 325ix, and Subaru was Subaru. All continue in some form today.

    I’d love it if someone kept this car out of the salt and rust just to preserve this piece of GM history, but I’m likely in the minority.

  6. SortedCorty.com

    A cars were fun with the 3800.

  7. mars2878

    used to have an awd 6000 wagon w/ woodgrain. loved that car. had it until the ri/mass road salt took its toll. would buy another, just never see them. this one is too far for me though.

    • Mr.pontiac

      No such car as an awe 6000 wagon.

  8. CCFisher

    If I recall correctly, the AWD system was similar to that used in the AWD Chevy Astro. The floorpans of these cars had to be modified to accommodate the extra hardware. This could explain the low volume and the relatively high price.

    Pontiac had a way of taking the same, basic GM bulding blocks and creating something that was more than the sum of its parts. The 6000*STE was one of those cars. My family had an ’84, and it was definitely special. Though much of the equipment was available on lesser models, there were details that set it apart – the 6-light grille, darkened taillights, unique wheels, suede upholstery, key-activated power locks (in the days before remotes), unique exhaust with a very distinct growl, stainless trim under the trunklid that covered the gap between taillights and weatherstrip, etc, etc, etc. I have fond memories of that car.

    • Jay M

      AWD system on the 6000 was a modified lockable Magna T-case designed for transverse mounted, originally fwd applications.
      Astro/Safari was a Borg Warner 4472 full time, single speed/viscous coupled unit for longitudinally designed/originally rwd apps.

      Like 2
  9. irocrob

    I always liked these but at the time could never have afforded one. My parents had a regular pontiac 6000 in the mid 1990s and it was a great reliable car.

  10. Andrew

    Car and driver or motortrend took one to the arctic circle way back when. I remember reading it in high school. Always wanted one after that

  11. jaygryph

    Ya know, this car would be even more fun with the later generation supercharged V6 in it. all wheel drive and a supercharger in a boring and cheap to insure wrapper. I’m for it. Be a nice sleeper I think.

    • Jay M

      Would be fun but the 3.8 will not bolt up to that trans. A 3400 and 3500 will though.

  12. rustylink

    it would be a great winter beater..

  13. Tom Driscoll

    I loved the STE, and can’t believe I never knew they offered an awd version (maybe my memory is going (gone!))!

  14. David Miraglia

    The fancy sporty version of my old Celebrity.

  15. glennmat1

    in the early 70’s i had a matchbox car that was identical to this when it came out. i remember saying that to my mother when they advertised it. I wonder if gm and matchbox was trying out prototype oin kids to see if they liked them and to influence the parents? this was a great car loaded to the gils also .

  16. Clay Byant

    I had two of these in the same color. Beings this is a neighboring state wonder if this isn’t one. Fun car and the 4wd was great. What was interesting was at night all the lights on the dash, steering wheel and console. A real light show. Sold one to a lady friend so I got to enjoy it just a little longer…………

  17. SR

    I’ll take a amc eagle over this for only one reason. The availability of parts, like D was talking about the weird tire size, other than that it would be a great grocery getter if the wife had the grandchildren.

  18. DG

    My Dad had a number of GM A-bodies as company cars during the 80s, mainly Chevy Celebrity Eurosports and Pontiac 6000 S/Es. The one I liked the most was an ’85 6000 S/E with a specially ordered sport suspension. I guess it was a poor man’s STE, quad headlights instead of six, no fancy digital dash and button- laden steering wheel. but it did have the larger alloy wheels with fat Goodyear performance tires. I loved that car and hoped he would buy it, but he didn’t.

  19. Tacoma, Washington USA

    I remember the Pontiac 6000 AWD. I’ve never understood why it didn’t sell very well.

  20. RJ

    My folks bid on one of these at a cosignment auction in the early 00s. It was maroon and had been eldrely owned. Excellent condition except for the rear headliner falling down. My dad thought it would go for a grand or so. It ended up bringing $3,500 back then. I saw it around town quite often. Always made me sick that the people who bought it tore the crap out if it.

  21. Car Guy

    STE’s were great cars, but cost more than double the average grocery getter A body in the mid 80’s.

    When my father replaced his great looking 7.4 liter 73 Grand Am coupe with a boxy silver STE sedan, I was in mourning.

    Then I drove it. Excellent handling, decent power for a car in its class with a very European exhaust snarl. STE’s came with all kinds of neat equipment. Auto leveling suspension, aluminum hood and trunk lid, fully finished trunk including the underside of the deck lid, and had a built in air compressor that allowed you to air up your tires in your driveway.

    A cool gray leatherette STE accessory bag came with the car. It had a first aid kit, air compressor hose and pressure gauge, work gloves, ice scraper and other items I can’t recall.

    That car was bulletproof and still looked current when he replaced it with a head turning white 90 Bonneville SSE with gold crosslace alloys. I still miss Pontiac………

    Like 1
  22. mark

    I owned an 89 AWD 6000 STE for several years and about 70,000 miles. BEST winter car I EVER had. That car went through the snow like it was on rails, and living in Duluth MN with the hills here, that was just what you needed. Of all the cars I have owned over the years (at 61 there has been a lot!), that STE had the best heater, windshield washers, and high beam headlights of all! Had the rust not finally won (which it does to any car in MN) I would still be driving it. Had a 86 STE prior to the 89, and the 86 was a very good car too.

  23. Melvin Burwell

    For that price you cant go wrong. Awd is worth it.

  24. Nia

    David,I just picked up an 89 6000 LE.
    Shes got 110k,sweet pickup, no expensive creaks or sounds lol …the interior is good condition, but due to the heat in Florida, the fabric rips a little around the seams.My plan is a good paint job, redo the interior and enjoy this great mid-sized car.

  25. Aaron M Shensky

    Had a 86 ste with roadster top in 96. Great car. Broke down on me 1 time kinda sort of i kid you not. Stalled in middle of street snowy/slush coverered roads dead of winter. I got out kicked the front bumper after few times of cranking no start and it fired up. To this day not sure if distributor or wires got wet or electrical gremlin? M y awesome brother just found me one a just recently. Picked it up for 400$ in north Philadelphia (bad lands). Its a project but solid and no rust. Middle of back yard restoring now. To be continued….

  26. Yel0sub

    One of the best cars we ever owned. Available in blue or red only. I was always told that it was a “three-speed” but when I paid attention I could always count three shifts.

    The story I heard was that the 1989 STE AWD was assembled in the plant in Kentucky that assembled the Corvette. When we had to replace the exhaust system, the mechanic that we used for decades told us that it appeared that the exhaust system had been put on top of the frame and the body put on top, so the replacement had to be special-ordered since it was in pieces to allow it to fit in place of the original.

    Individual air bladders in the seat back, separate chiclet illuminated buttons for everything: when you turned it on in the dark it was like turning some kind of fighter aircraft. Little display to show you that all exterior lights were working.

    The air-over suspension was great; the air pump for the suspension could also be used with an air hose with gauge to inflate the tires. And yes, there was a road repairs bag with all kinds of things in it. Full matching spare, if I remember, and not much room in the trunk.

    This was probably the best snow car I have ever owned. And it was comfortable and quiet, and fun to drive. It’s a shame they didn’t sell better.

    The 1990 model was AWD, but called SE not STE, and was a terrible car. No air-over suspension, front seats were terrible without the bolsters and power adjustments.

  27. James Sutherland

    Had a FWD 89 STE.
    I thought it was a great car. Put almost 100k troble free miles on it.
    Comfortable, fast, and reliable.
    I thought it was a decent looking car as well

  28. Dave

    You got it wrong. You couldn’t be more wrong. I worked for GM back in the 80s/90s first off. Top calling these cars A bodies. They were H body. Same platform as bonneville, lesabre, park ave. A bodies ended in 1981. Second, GM sold more than 2000 ste’s awd. These cars along with the lesabre, park ave and bonneville of same era sold in droves. Dealers couldn’t keep them on their lots. These were the most reliable good looking vehicles gm produced. Please stick to Subaru facts and don’t speak unless you know what you’re talking about. The minute you called a pontiac 6000 a A body car i knew this was an article on something you have ZERO knowledge of.

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