Turbo Drop Top: 1989 Pontiac Sunbird GT

You have to love the subject line of this listing: “Used car.” OK, that’s true, it is a previously owned vehicle – but it’s also a very nice survivor of a rare car even when it was new: a Pontiac Sunbird GT convertible with the turbocharged four-cylinder 1.8L engine. This being a 1989 model means power got a bump to a respectable 165 bhp, making it a mildly fun cruiser (certainly more than the base model). Although not hugely valuable, GM fanatics tend to love these oddballs when in nicely preserved condition like this. Find it here on craigslist in Connecticut for $2,800.

The Sunbird is a hard car to find today, much like its many platform twins. Throw in the convertible top and turbo engine, and you’re talking about a very rare bird. I have affectionate memories of these cars thanks to a buddy in high school who loved 1980s Pontiacs and owned both a Firebird and a Sunbird GT Coupe. Similar to Saabs of the same vintage, it had a trick boost gauge in the cluster to measure just how much you were goosing it at a given moment. And of course, who doesn’t love flip-up headlights?

The engine bay and exterior both present as being in excellent condition, which makes the understated ad even more surprising. It feels to me like the car was put up for sale by an older owner not familiar with digital classifieds, or a family member who doesn’t wish to own such a car but was given it as an inheritance. If you don’t know about the rarity of the turbocharged engine and/or how hard it is to find one of these in nice condition, the significance of owning such a product may be lost on you. It’s too bad since it’s clear someone loved this car – even the factory painted turbo housing remains in outstanding condition.

You could get these with a five-speed, which really is the ultimate ticket. No matter which transmission you chose, you got the awesome aircraft-inspired parking brake handle. This Sunbird has the automatic, which probably helps explain why it’s remained in such prime condition. With the convertible top, you can see this being used as a summer-only cruiser, a nice change of pace from the many Mustangs that perform similar duties to this day. You can’t measure a car like this in terms of future value, but rather in the enjoyment of driving a car that is otherwise extinct and still offers decent performance in stock form.

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Comments

  1. Chebby Member

    The ragtop versions should have been called the Sunburn.

    15
    • Ryan

      I owned one, I always wanted a plate that read SUNBIRN GT

  2. Winnipegcarnut Member

    Displacement callout on the cam cover is 2.0

    4
    • Scott Williams

      Yep, they bumped displacement up to 2.0 in 1987, adding 15 HP to get to 165.
      My first new car was a 90 Turbo convertible with the 5 speed. Fun car, lots of torque steer, and lots of head gasket/turbo problems. I loved it when it worked.

      1
  3. grant

    Huh. A reasonable seller who understands the true value of what he has and prices accordingly. For $2800 it’s hard to go wrong here. That e brake handle is epic.

    5
    • Bestguest

      Never seen an e-brake like that before .Nice car for the money

      • Ian C

        I had a 91 Sunbird with a 3.1v6 and it had the same e-brake handle. The handle made for great sliding around turns. lol Or line-loc for burnouts. The release is in the front center on the bottom, so releasing is easy. Now that I think about it, that was actually a really fun car.

  4. Jack Mack

    I owned one just like this one for a number of years. They are known for cracking cylinder heads.

    2
  5. Jim in FL

    Really nice to see something like this as a clean survivor. As the comments and article attest, interesting cars of this vintage are starting to become nostalgia vehicles for a certain generation. That said, I don’t think people took great pains to preserve them. My experience was a white 1992, which bumped the engine up to a 140 hp v6, and cleaned up the front end a bit (in my opinion).

    What’s not to like? The price is super reasonable. Buy it and drive it. You pay $2,800 for a similar vintage Honda Accord. Torque steer was probably my only complaint. After a bunch of pressure from a coworker, I sold it to him so he could give it to his daughter for her sweet sixteen present.

    1
  6. TimM

    It seems like it would make a good first car for a high schooler!!! Drive back and fourth to band camp!!

    1
  7. Stevieg Member

    I had one of these about 8 years ago, a 1985. Had the same headlights & interior, different tail end. Mine was a mechanical nightmare and I quickly learned to despise it lol. But I kept it around because I had an uncle who was dying of ALS & he enjoyed riding with the top down. I am VERY grateful it never broke down on us lol.
    I bought mine from a guy who claimed it was purchased new by one of the members of some 1980’s rock band when they “made it big”. Seemed unrealistic to me at the time so I didn’t pay attention to who it was or what band. Even if it were true, so what? It was a beater car & not worth restoring.
    I wouldn’t mind another, just without a turbo this time please.

    2
    • nycbjr Member

      Sorry that interior was new for ’89. Had an SE 5 Speed. Great car!

  8. Robbie M.

    We rented one of these once when our vehicle was in the shop. My best bud was in town for the Gatornationals and whenever we had to go somewhere in it we would run up to it singing na na na na na na na Batman! and jump in without opening the doors, ala Robin. I know, stupid. But we had a blast. Was a fun car.

    3
  9. irocrobb

    I always liked the front end on them but I would not want to own any car with a turbo. Call me old.

  10. charlie

    An ideal car to tow behind your RV as you see the USA. Being an automatic you have to put it on a front wheel trailer, but, that will keep the mileage from mounting up.

  11. Greg

    I just bought a little1989 Sunbird SPL160 boat in red….this would make a great matching ‘2fer’ to tow the boat to the lake.

  12. Miguel Member

    The worst thing about the 1989 Sunbirds is that dash. It is claustrophobic.

    Here in Mexico, they used the Sunbird body with the Cavalier dash and called it a Cavalier.

    The Z-24’s are pretty good with the V6 and either auto or stick, and they go cheap.

    You get a lot of car for the money here.

  13. Randolph Dull

    Well, I pulled the trigger and bought this gem. Ron is a great guy and he represented the car honestly. The only mistake in the ad is the mileage… stated as 129K but it is actually 29K miles (6 digit ODO tells it all). I could hardly believe it when I looked closely, after arriving home. Ron could not believe that it was only 29K so he wrote the mileage on the title as 129K. What do I do now?

    • Ian C

      You could have him go to the DMV and get a duplicate title, then put the proper mileage on it when signing it over to you. That is, unless you already put it in your name.

    • Miguel Member

      Randolph, it doesn’t matter, it is over 10 years ls and will be exempt on the title.

      • Ian C

        It depends on his state I expect. That is not the case here in VA.

    • Miguel Member

      Randolph, what state are you in.

      If it is going to go on your title, have the man sign a statement of facts that he wrote the mileage wrong and the correct mileage is 29,xxx.

      That should work.

  14. Randolph Dull

    Miguel, I am in MD. Our daughter has a friend at MVA who is running this issue by a title expert. It may be as simple as you suggested, Thanks.

  15. Randolph Dull

    Thanks to all who commented with advice.

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