1980s Sport Coupes – 1988 Pontiac Sunbird GT Turbo vs. 1987 Renault GTA

Quick! Think of an affordable 1980s sports coupe! Scirocco…. Impulse…. Celica…. 200SX…. Corolla GT-S…. Camaro…. Sunbird…. wait, what? Back in the 1980s, when everything was getting a turbo – heck, Buick put a turbo in their Regal, for god’s sakes – Pontiac turbocharged their Sunbird. Blowing out GM Brazil’s 1.8-liter four to two liters and hanging a turbo off the side brought a total of 165hp and probably a good time with torque steer. To put that in context, at the same time, Audi’s 2.2-liter I5 turbo was putting out 162hp, and Saab’s 2-liter I4 turbo was making 160hp, both to motivate ostensibly heavier cars. You can find this 1988 Pontiac Sunbird GT Turbo for sale for C$1600 in east Vancouver, BC.

1988 Pontiac Sunbird GT Turbo right front

For less than US$1500, this almost looks like it’s a steal. Yeah, it’s a 1980s J-body car, and said to have 275,000km, but the paint is remarkably glossy, and all the tacked on 1980s aero bits are present and accounted for. Usually, if you can even find these cars, they’re faded, dented, neglected econoboxes. The seller says he’s only selling the car because it’s surplus to his needs, with 2 other cars taking priority. You can expect that the pictures are showing its best side, but still…

1988 Pontiac Sunbird GT Turbo left rear

Did anyone ever use that luggage rack? What kind of a trip is required in a car of this class that would mean you have to fill up the trunk and go beyond that? The rear view somewhat recalls the Saturn coupe of the same time, and while Saturn had a fun little 16-valve four in their top-spec models, this is no doubt more entertaining. Are those Canadian-spec rear fog lights in the bumper?

1988 Pontiac Sunbird GT Turbo engine

If it’s red, it must be faster, right? Shock towers look solid, as you’d expect in a western car, and overall the impression is of a clean, well-cared-for car. There isn’t even oil running down from a failed cam cover seal or anything like that, but that could be because of the recent work. The car has a new clutch, front brakes, winter tires, head and head gasket, and timing belt, but needs a new radiator. It seems like the last item should be easy to acquire, and hopefully wasn’t the cause of the head and gasket issues – it would be interesting to know if that was caused by a cooling or timing belt issue.

1988 Pontiac Sunbird GT Turbo interior

While the exterior looks reasonably contemporary, the interior is where the car falls down. If you don’t look too closely, you might think they took the design from a Pontiac Parisienne, shrunk it down, and added some circular gauges and silver finish. And of course some funny organic-looking rounded bits from their show cars, as seen in the steering wheel and shifter. This car has been listed for a month – why are people scared of it?

If a turbo Pontiac reminds you too much of Knight Rider, how about the French version? Three boxes, three famous letters stolen from Alfa Romeo, and all the 1980s sports cliches (almost) you can find, all on this 1987 Renault GTA, for sale for C$1500 in Burnaby, BC.

1987 Renault GTA right front

Yes, it’s got issues, and apparently they’re electrical. The car is said to not start all the time. It did start before, and the engine turns well. Based on that description, a can of electrical smoke and a new set of muffler bearings will have it back on the road in no time. That said, the car does look excellent, although the blurry pictures mean you’ll have to call/visit to get the full story.

1987 Renault GTA right rear

With 182,000Km, there may be more than meets the eye. Certainly some questions are in order, but even if significant work is needed, throwing a couple grand at it to have a decent runner would pay for itself in a couple of years. Which would you go for, Franco or American?

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2 Responses to “1980s Sport Coupes – 1988 Pontiac Sunbird GT Turbo vs. 1987 Renault GTA”

  1. steve in podunk Says:

    The Sunbird (0r Cavalier) to get is a (pre-95) V6 convertible; those are great little cars for short money and they scoot too!

  2. Milo Says:

    That Renault GTA has been for sale for more than two years. This is the first ad where he doesn’t sound like a complete nut job. The two photos showing a car outside of the garage are unlikely to be of the car in question as those are not BC plates on that car. Previous iterations of the ad said that it did not run at all and only showed the garage shot. He has claimed to need to sell it quickly for the entire time and has not changed his price. I’ve always been curious, but don’t have the money or space to experiment on this kind of thing.

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