Well-Kept Four-Speed 1979 Pontiac Sunbird V8

Before the Internet, your odds of meeting the Pope at McDonalds exceeded those of spotting a GM H Body with a V8 under the hood. Believe me; my third car was a 1976 Buick Skyhawk (231 V6, five-speed), and my Step-Dad had a ’77 Sunbird (231 automatic), and I scanned every Chevrolet Monza I saw for the “5.0 Litre” badge on the front fenders. I’d have probably passed out if I spotted this 305 cid V8-powered 1979 Pontiac Sunbird with a four-speed manual transmission. Located outside Springfield, Massachusetts, this sub-compact mini-muscle car is listed here on Western Massachusetts craigslist with an asking price of $5500.

The listing offers minimal information about the car, and 26 of its 44 words are a warning not to negotiate until you’ve seen the car. I’ve seen hundreds of these and never a V8 Sunbird, let alone a four-speed. Still, I suspect the pool of buyers waking up every morning hoping this will be the day that a V8 Sunbird turns up numbers in the single digits, but perhaps there should be more.

As I recall, the factory steering wheel on these cars looks about twenty times better than this aftermarket unit. Otherwise the little 2+2 seems rather tidy inside, supporting the seller’s claim of 77,000 original miles. I bought my Skyhawk at 119,000 miles, sold it to a buddy at 250,000, and years later it exited my circle of friends with about 350,000 miles on (as far as we know) the original 231. Your results may vary.

 

This listing does not include a picture of the feature car’s engine, but this picture from an earlier Barnfinds.com post shows how the 305 looks in the H body. A friend of mine had a V8 Monza Mirage, and had to loosen the motor mounts and crank the engine to one side then the other with a spud bar to change the rear plugs. The Chevrolet-sourced 305 V8 made 130 HP and 245 ft-lb of torque @ 2000 RPM (some details courtesy of h-body.org). Consider the Camaro and Firebird got the same engine and weighed 900 lb more than these 2700 lb H-bodies, and you realize how this Sunbird, with no V8 callouts, could have surprised nearly any “normal” car produced well into the ’80s. In 1988 I thought long and hard about building my H-body’s 231 with go-fast parts from Kenne-Bell. That might have given me 250 HP (more than that year’s Corvette) but having landed my first real job and, considering the numb power steering and other H-body low-points, I bought an ’89 Mustang LX 5.0 instead… the only new car I ever bought (and I still have it). That’s the rest of my story. How would you write the next chapter of this H-body Sunbird’s story?

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Comments

  1. elrod

    Pretty sure your picture is from a 213 Buick V6. The distributor is in the front on an angle, and the valve covers are certainly V6 length. Still a great picture 🙂

    • Foxxy

      I see a hi energy distributor in the rear of this small block.

  2. Todd Fante

    The picture of the engine shown is a 231 v6. If it was any v8 Chevrolet the distributor would be in the back.

    • Greg Member

      Except the Buick 215 v8.

    • Angrymike

      Look again, it’s in the back !

    • George Thompson

      I don’t know what picture your looking at but the one here is showing the distributor in the rear with a holley carb honestly it looks just like my old ’75 monza although mine had the 262 v8 wish i still had it

    • Randy Hudson

      The distributor is either

      a. in the back of the engine, behind the air cleaner
      b. or the fan is at the back of the engine and the master cylinder next to radiator
      c. or some people do not know what a distributor is.

      I am going with “A”, but give a big shout out to “C” as well.

      1
      • Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

        Hello Randy. Your logic is irrefutable, and accurate based on the current evidence. However the real answer is “D. Author changed the picture after realizing it showed a 231.” Sorry for the confusion! -Todd

  3. rmward194

    I believe the steering wheel is original from the factory. Here is an image from the 1979 Pontiac brochure

    • Jack

      I was telling myself the same thing, I thought that was a stock steering wheel.

  4. Smackypete

    Certainly not a Chevrolet V8 in the engine photo.

    Interestingly – there is a section at the H-body.org site on swapping in a Cadillac 500ci V8. Whoa.

    http://h-body.org/library/hbodyfaq/hbodyfaq-9.html#9G.1

  5. Glenn

    These cars are so rare because buyers could also choose a V8 Fiebird or rear drive Phoenix. The Firebird was massively popular at the time and attracted more buyers

  6. Troy S

    With a V-8 this would be interesting, although that photograph is not a v-8 by any means. Yeah, the weight savings would make this car quick for the era if it actually had the lethargic 305 and the potential for a lot more is there in spades. Performer manifold, reworked q-jet, hiflow cat and decent muffler, etc…., nodody would suspect this thing had any power then Bam! Sleeper all the way.

  7. Anthony R from RI

    If the car is in Mass, why are all the cars in the pictures sporting Minnesota plates?

  8. DR

    Aftermarket steering wheel? Thats a Pontiac Formula wheel

  9. Rock On

    Every time a V8 Monza or this Sunbird turns up most of the comments are on how weak and slow the 305 is. Just think that GM did all the work of a V8 swap for you and replace the stock engine with a larger and healthier SBC.

    • Randy Hudson

      People do not understand nor pay attention. The 305 in the Monza was the same one in the Camaro rated at 140hp and 250ft/lbs torque. Car makers back in the day thought of horsepower numbers as marketing tools and basically made sure nothing would peak the interest of the insurance guy. A 140hp “net” rating corrects to around 200 “gross” which is what the venerable 283 produced and was run up the flagpole.

      Power to weight, or torque to weight ratio’s were very good in these cars and they could be easily hot rodded. Heck, simply adding a good holley 4 barrel and intake was a dramatic improvement.

      1
  10. Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

    Thanks for calling me out on the motor picture – I should have recognized the 231 as I owned at least three cars powered by it over the years. The picture came from a story on a V8 Monza but I didn’t look closely enough. I fixed the picture now. Also the Steering wheel may be original but looks like a $20 K-Mart special compared to my Dad’s ’77 Sunbird. This is the one I was picturing: https://farm6.static.flickr.com/5574/30746162634_dcea294fe7.jpg Thanks for driving process improvement!

    • Monzamarco

      The one you pictured looks like the one I have in this Sunbird I just got that I’m actually replacing for that formula wheel!

  11. Rock On

    Cool 😎 shifter handle Todd!!!

  12. Curt

    Every body loves these h bodys with v8 and 4 speed, but always comment on what junk the mustang ii is. If you look at them the 78 mustang had almost same hp and torque and about the same weight.i think it would be a fantanic race. Just goes to show how much everybody hates fords. I loved my 78 mustang ii with v8 and t-tops and cry every time i sit and think about it….but i wouldnt mind this car either .it would be fun.

    • Troy S

      Yea , but you’re comparing a mustang to a sunbird. Just not the same as say, a Trans Am or a Camaro which never strayed from their origin, at least in appearance. Ford’s forever, just not the lowly mustang ll.

      • DweezilAZ

        Actually Motor Trend and, I think, Car and Driver test compared the Mustang II and Monza V8s in 75 or so.

        I think it was a draw as to who the “winner” was.

    • Lonni93041

      Ford lover here. I turned 20 on Jan 28 1977 and there was a low mileage 77 hatchback black on black 302 Mustang at the Olds dealer in town. It was loaded with a 4 speed and I wanted that car soooo bad but $2995 plus fees might as well been a million bucks.

  13. grant

    Can we see your Mustang, Todd?

    • Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

      Hi Grant. Sure! This is from today actually – I’m close to being ready for inspection and having it roadworthy for the first time since Dec 2012 when a woman “adjusting her defroster” crushed my RR while I was waiting at a red light. I bought it back from Liberty Mutual for $414 and got one-quarter of a red ’93 ‘stang, drilled out about 300 spot welds, grafted on a chunk of the rear quarter, trunk floor, and tail light panel, yadda-yadda-yadda. I will probably do a piece on the car when it’s inspected. 232k on the original 5.0. ’93 Cobra rear axle with 3.73s otherwise stock. After the bodywork I’m thinking EFI 5.8 and maybe Targa Newfoundland. Stay tuned!

  14. Chuck

    The steering wheel is the same one used in GTOs, Trans Ams, Firebird Formulas, from 1970 through about 1981, and it’s several thousand times cooler that the brown plastic one in your dads car which is the same one used in station wagons, Bonneville sedans, and every other everyday car that Pontiac made. I mean really.

    • Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

      Ha! Thanks, Chuck. Now everyone knows your opinion and mine. I wouldn’t say either is right or wrong; life would be boring if we agreed on everything.

  15. John

    I always wondered why these v8 H bodies never caught on. In the mid 70’s, they were the go to body for Chevy racers in Pro Stock. At the time, it seemed like this and the v8 Mustang II’s would be the natural successor of the muscle car/pony car era. Sure the smogger v8’s were anemic, but as Rock On pointed out, the platform was there for a swap. Of course in the mid 70’s, a lot of bona fide muscle cars could be had for a song.

    • Lonni93041

      Respect the II it saved the Mustang. And the build quality was superior to any Generic Motors “thing” in those days. Their crap started to rattle on the first test drive. I drove my friend’s new Monza V8 and thought “You have got to be kidding me.”

      That being said they make a fine product now.

      • Greg Member

        I am a GM guy when it comes to classic cars, having owned Pontiac’s and Buicks. Love them. But I agree that the 70’s (and 80’s) were a dark era for them. I haven’t owned any NEW GM cars, but looking at Consumer Reports latest write up on reliability, it’s sad to see Camaro’s and Corvettes with such poor, bottom-of-the-barrel quality ratings.

    • Lonni93041

      You could get away with a swap for an older more powerful SB here in CA but the egr and other smog equipment had to be in place but performance was barely affected.

      Things changed in the late 80s though and it was no longer legal and they didn’t grandfather it in either. Big PIA for guys who had those cars.

    • Lonni93041

      Ford lover here. I turned 20 on Jan 28 1977 and there was a low mileage 77 hatchback black on black 302 Mustang at the Olds dealer in town. It was loaded with a 4 speed and I wanted that car soooo bad but $2995 plus fees might as well been a million bucks.

    • Miguel

      When I was younger, back in 1987, I worked for a Chevy dealer. In talking to the mechanics there one day we touched upon these cars.

      They told me generally the motor mounts would shear off and the engine would drop down onto the frame.

      It was a bad design from the start and it is amazing this one has survived.

      Structural problems usually means straight to the junk yard.

  16. Dan

    At least the comment about the rear sparkplug was made in the article and not the comments this time.

    • Car nut from Wpg

      Because no Howard😞

  17. Rustytech

    Todd I sure am glad I caught your comment about changing the engine picture! I was looking at the comments about the V6 and distributor in the front and thinking, what are these guys talking about? This looks like a fun car, but being from Mass. I’d want a hands on inspection before making an offer. Rust is common up the Rest!

    • Bodean

      I had one of these in a brown flavor. It did indeed have a Formula wheel. I had heard they were rare as Pontiac supposedly only made a couple hundred of them. Not particularly fast, but entertaining to drive. I traded it for a 1980 RS Camaro with a 305. What a mistake.

  18. z28th1s

    My ex-wife’s landlord had a blue Monza coupe (not the hatchback) that had the 5.0 Liter badges on the front fender and was a factory 4 speed.

    Every time he left his house he would get down on it and get rubber in 2nd gear. I always thought it was a cool car!

    The Sunbird in the ad looks pretty nice but what concerns me is the fact that it is from Massachusetts and that the seller has the condition listed as ‘fair’ in the Craigslist ad. It might have some rust issues on the underside.

    If it isn’t all rusty on the underside and the drivetrain is solid I think this would be a pretty fun car for somewhere around the asking price.

    The first thing I would do is ditch those ugly wheels and replace them with a nice set of Pontiac Rally wheels.

  19. Lonni93041

    You could get away with a swap for an older more powerful SB here in CA but the egr and other smog equipment had to be in place but performance was barely affected.

    Things changed in the late 80s though and it was no longer legal and they didn’t grandfather it in either. Big PIA for guys who had those cars.

  20. Rabbit

    When I was a kid, Monzas (et al) with blown-up 305s could be had cheap. I converted an SB400 (from Mom’s old Caprice) to fit in mine. Had to change over all the accessories, including the water pump & all the pulleys, plus had to drill & tap a couple new holes for the compressor. Car was a Sit & Spin off the line, but a real beast over 30. Had to get used to steering with the throttle. 😛

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