Junkyard Gem: 1997 Pontiac Sunfire Convertible

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For the entire 24-year production run of the GM J platform (best known for the Chevrolet Cavalier), the Pontiac Division offered new J-Body cars for sale in the United States. First there was the J2000, followed in quick succession by the 2000, 2000 Sunbird and Sunbird. The Sunbird stuck around until the Cavalier got a major redesign for the 1995 model year, at which point Pontiac changed the car’s name to Sunfire. Today’s Junkyard Gem is one of those early Sunfires, a top-of-the-line SE convertible with the optional big engine and manual transmission.

The Sunfire was an extremely close sibling to the same-year Cavalier (by the late 1980s, all the other US-market GM divisions had dropped their J-cars, which meant no more Skyhawks, Cimarrons or Firenzas), quite difficult to distinguish from its near-twin at a glance.

The base engine for the 1997 Sunfire convertible was the pushrod 2.2-liter straight-four that powered so many J-bodies of the 1990s. That engine produced just 120 gnashing, valve-floating horsepower, not much by late-1990s standards. For a mere 450 additional dollars, however, the 2.4-liter Twin Cam engine and its high-revving 150 horses could be had by ’97 Sunfire buyers. That’s what’s in this car.

This is one of the members of the Oldsmobile Quad 4 family, though some fanatics will yell at you if you apply that name to the versions that don’t have big QUAD 4 lettering cast into the valve cover. This is the most powerful engine ever used in production Sunfires.

For 1997, Pontiac offered a four-speed automatic transmission for no extra cost in the Sunfire convertible. Buyers of all other Sunfire models that year had to shell out either $550 or $810 ($1,026 or $1,511 in 2023 dollars) for a two-pedal rig. That means that the buyer of this car really wanted the five-speed manual transmission (or just hungered for the $810 credit offered in the fine print for takers of the manual).

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Plenty of free-breathing engine power, five-on-the-floor driving enjoyment and the open skies above. What a fun car!

This one made it to nearly 180,000 miles.

For this car with the Quad 4 under the hood and a clutch pedal on the floor, the MSRP was $18,539 (about $34,584 today). Its Cavalier LS convertible twin with the same engine/transmission setup cost $17,365 ($32,394 now). This car has a bunch of options, including the 15″ Rally aluminum wheels, so the out-the-door price would have been higher.

The last year for the Sunfire was 2005, same as the Cavalier. The final Sunfire convertibles rolled off the Lansing line as 2000 models.

You’ll find one in every car. You’ll see.

A cool new way to worship the sun.

Let’s hope Edvard Munch’s descendants got paid well for this.

 

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