GM’s J-cars were refreshingly good when they were new, though they later became frequent targets for critics as they aged (they were produced from late 1981 to 2005). But the J’s heyday was the #1980s
, and it was the first (and so far only) platform to be offered by all of GM’s global car brands - Buick, Cadillac, Chevy, Holden, Isuzu, Oldsmobile, Opel, Pontiac, and Vauxhall. That broad sweep came from a need to rationalize the many international small family car products GM produced, and by stretching the U.S. Js a little too thin (the Cadillac Cimmaron, but that’s another story).
Pontiac’s J started off as the J2000 for 1982, part of an alphanumeric naming scheme that came and went pretty quickly, with the car becoming the 2000 #Sunbird
in 1984 and just Sunbird by 1985. The basic J2000/Sunbird was a good economy-minded family car, powered by a 1.8 or 2.0 liter fours with a five speed or an auto box, but the really interesting model was the SE - a 1.8L 150-hp turbo that made the 2,400-lb. Sunbird genuinely fast for the time.
Another interesting version was the Convertible - Pontiac’s first since the 1975 Grand Ville. Convertibles were supposedly dead after 1976, but when rollover legislation never happened, they gradually returned - Sunbird Convertible sales were limited though, due to it’s high price (about 40% more than a Sunbird coupe or hatch) and construction by ASC, though prices gradually got a little closer to the closed Sunbirds.
The Sunbird SE was not a big seller, so Pontiac introduced the Sunbird GT for 1986 with partially hidden headlamps and fender flares. The former regular Sunbirds became the SEs, and the former SE became the GT. In 1987, the sleeker front end, but not the flares, were extended to the SEs, and the turbo upgraded to a 165-hp 2.0 for more #PontiacExcitement
. Fast in a straight line, they were a bit of a handful on a twisty road.
The J’s were generally regarded as cheap transportation by the end of the 80s and remained that way for years - they are only just starting to get collector attention. GM refreshed the front-end styling an kept shuffling trims around until totally restyling it for 1995 (renaming it the Sunfire).