Scott Lear
Scott Lear
3/26/18 12:31 p.m.


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Story by Scott R. Lear • Photos by Anthony Neste, Tom Suddard, and David S. Wallens

A derelict, decades-old hatchback sits forlorn on the lawn. The car’s only company is some surplus vinyl siding and the clover growing around its deflated tires, neither of which can relate to its once-proud history. A fading dash decal states that this machine was once a contender, a participant in SCCA autocross competition in York, Pennsylvania. A roll bar and racing seats are proof that somebody felt like a hero in this car, but those times are past. Now it’s just a shell: no engine, no transmission, no green flag waiting to drop.

This 1980 Sunbird doesn’t even have a marque to call its own anymore, as GM shuttered the Pontiac division in 2010. When the owner finally got around to attempting a sale, he misspelled the brand, offering a “Pontaic” Sunbird on Craigslist. This small oversight planted the seeds of resurrection for this seemingly doomed machine.

“I often do Craigslist searches for oddball cars that I think I can make a few bucks on,” explains Andrew Nelson, a longtime competitor at Grassroots Motorsports $2000 Challenge events. “On that day my search was for ‘roll bar’ and ‘roll cage,’ and this one popped up.”

The Sunbird piqued Andrew’s interest because it’s from the GM family of H-body cars, which are aerodynamic enough to be well suited to land-speed competition, one of Andrew’s many automotive obsessions. The misspelling of Pontiac meant that the ad was likely getting minimal traffic, making it a potential steal.

Andrew flagged the sale and moved on, keeping an eye on the price. By the time the owner finally listed the car properly as a Pontiac Sunbird, the price had dropped considerably. “I called immediately,” remembers Andrew. “He needed the money right away. I showed up first with cash and scored it first.” Once the $300 changed hands, this seemingly doomed phoenix was granted an unlikely new life.

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A 401 CJ
A 401 CJ Dork
3/26/18 1:28 p.m.

GM took a page from Collin Chapman’s playbook on those and added lightness.  It doesn’t even take much of a motor to make them quick.  I had the Chevy equivalent back in ‘85 as a high schooler.  Even with just the torquey 305 it was quick for the day.  Too quick in fact.  I totaled mine before I even had my license.  I got in big trouble for that: sneaking cars out at night.  I’d been doing it since about age 14 and never got caught until I wrecked.

TheV8Kid
TheV8Kid HalfDork
3/26/18 6:43 p.m.

We've been getting a lot of love this week. Still one of my favorites. I can't deny it, I like it more with the turbo LS, even though it has yet to beat the small block.

te72
te72 New Reader
3/26/18 10:17 p.m.

Man, that intro had me eyeballing my former Supra, now just a shell in need of some TLC, sitting in my back yard... There's literally no point in me trying to fix it up, I have a perfectly good Supra of the same generation sleeping happily in the garage. Still... your words managed to tug at the guilt a little. Thanks a lot Scott! =P

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