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How Pontiac Works


Pontiac Phoenix and Pontiac 6000
The 1985 Pontiac 6000 fared well against sporty European competitors.

The second-generation Phoenix was the least popular of GM's four front-drive X-body compacts, likely because the same package was available with more model/trim choices as a Chevy Citation or with more nameplate prestige as a Buick Skylark or Olds Omega.

Pontiac tried to make the downsized Phoenix appealing by offering two-door notchback and four-door hatchback sedans in plain, luxury LJ, and sporty SJ trim (the latter two retagged LE and SE for '84). But nothing seemed to work, and demand fell off rapidly when numerous mechanical bugs began surfacing, with recalls to match. Phoenix never sold better than in its extra-long 1980 debut year: 178,000-plus. Volume dipped below 50,000 units for 1982 and dropped to under 23,000 cars by the 1984 finale.

Yet Phoenix was successful in a way, because it spawned a more rational and popular midsize Pontiac, the front-wheel-drive 6000. Arriving for model year '82, it was closely related to that year's new A-body Buick Century, Chevy Celebrity, and Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, but wore crisper, more "important" sheetmetal over the shared X-car-based inner structure.

Initial offerings comprised base and LE coupe and sedan, but Pontiac went a big step further with the STE (Special Touring Edition). Announced for the 1983 season, this enthusiast-oriented four-door represented a new Pontiac challenge to sporty European sedans from Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Saab, and Volvo.

The STE proved a surprisingly capable challenger. Quick-ratio steering and a fortified suspension with air-adjustable rear shocks and upgraded wheels and tires made the car supremely roadable. Appointments were tastefully understated, and equipment was generous (including even a leather-bound roadside emergency kit).

All it lacked was sparkling acceleration; the mandatory three-speed automatic transaxle strained the 135 horses of the standard "high-output" 2.8-liter/173-cid Chevy-built overhead-valve V-6. But the STE served notice that Pontiac was not only back to building driver's cars but could compete on a "best-in-class" basis against many comers.

Other 6000s bathed in the STE's glow, and by 1984 this line was Pontiac's best-selling larger car, bolstered that year by the addition of station wagons. Worthy improvements came almost annually: electronic fuel injection for the base 2.5-liter four (throttle-body, 1983) and V-6 (multipoint for all models by 1987); a more versatile and efficient four-speed automatic for selected models (1986); an S/E sedan and wagon offering much of the STE's panache for less money (1987); an all-wheel-drive option (AWD) and 3.1-liter V-6 for an extensively reengineered STE, plus optional five-speed manual (1988).

After dropping the 6000's coupe models for 1988, Pontiac gave 1989 sedans a restyled rear greenhouse and offered the STE only with AWD. The optional 3.1 V-6 picked up five extra horses for 140 total. By that point, the S/E was what the STE had been, yet was more price-competitive against comparable Japanese sedans at $16,000-$17,000. For 1990, the AWD became an S/E extra.

Amazingly, the 6000 was still around for '91, though that was its final year. It had served exceptionally well.

For more on the amazing Pontiac, old and new, see:

For more on the amazing Pontiac, old and new, see:

  • Pontiac New Car Reviews and Prices
  • Pontiac Used Car Reviews and Prices