Pictured above is the 1978 Pontiac Sunbird (glorified Vega) that I had built in 1978 and still drive to work today.
"Had Built" is the proper operative since out of 86,000 Sunbirds produced that year, most were 2 1/2 liter four bangers with automatic. Exactly 66 coupes were built with Chevrolet small block V-8s of over double that displacement and four-speed Muncie built gearboxes. Really wanted (and the car needed) a five speed but the Borg-Warner T-5 boxes available then were not up to the torque demands of the V-8.
Had to put up a U$1000.00 deposit on a U$5000.00 car befor the dealer would agree to order it - something about a car for south Florida that could not be ordered with air conditioning (added an ARA unit almost immediately)
Was looking for something to replace my '67 Camaro autocross/semi street car. Wanted small, overpowered, and unstable. Found that in the Sunbird. Fact that it was available with Formula Steering Wheel, Snowflake wheels, and limited slip differential had a lot to do with it.
Had spent a stint in the mid-seventies with Real Road Racing e.g. SCCA National, IMSA, and FIA competition licenses mostly with small block Corvettes. Knew a few things about them that the tech inspectors never caught on to. Was ready for Solo II.
But first I had to have the car - took over three months from the time it was ordered til it was built - first there was a shortage of the full instrument cluster, then it was the limited slip. Car was received about a week before my son was born in 1978 and both are still with me. Not entirely surprising since everything that could be ordered "heavy duty" was. Have had several people ask where the radiator came from since it is two inches higher than any ever seen in an H-body.
Are a number of "oddities" about the installation - chassis has many little struts/braces I have never seen on another H-body, the disk brakes are ventilated, not solid, and the V-8 installation apparently created problems all of its own: for eample every place a fraction of an inch could be saved in drivetrain length, it was. The heavy duty radiator is oversize as mentioned but thin and the fan almost touches the fins. The fan clutch is the shortest ever made - the bolts to the water pump and to the fan actually overlap each other, and the pressure plate is recessed into the cover.
Autocrossing began immediately following installation of competition seat harnesses, synthetic oil, and delrin suspension bushings.
To make a long story short, my every expectation was exceeded: two years running C Stock champion of Florida & 1979 Southwest divisional champion for the Southwest division after moving to Fort Worth. Would run with the Porche 911s to their great embarassment since C Stock (American Cars e.g. Z-28s, Mustangs, and Trans/Ams) was generally the slowest since big Amurrican cars could rarely navigate tight gates well.
My secret ? - The big muthering V-8 stuffed in the nose. Could plant the front bumper on a pylon, light up the rear tires, and just walk right around the pylon. Didn't require efficiency, just the ability to smoke the skins from here to there and back again. Rear wheel steering is not a new thing.
Actually was a bit too much, with the short tires and 3-series axle, first gear was almost useless, used to start in second to save a shift out of the gate. Now have a 2.79 fitted and it is just about right.
One thing about racing. Things break. Often if you run to win (what other way is there ?). Used to crack a 13x6 Vega GT wheel every weekend (usually the right front). Was getting A60-13 tires wholesale (one problem it has always has is getting enough tire under the wheelwells - came with B70x13s and today for street I use 195x70x13s and 205x60x13s for fun - is all that will fit) and wearing out two per weekend. Broke shocks, shocktowers, the "frame" has had to be welded back together at the front suspention three times, transmission and differential each have broken twice and have had to replace the clutch several times (and reinforce the firewall where the clutch cable enters, I cracked *that*).
But it just keep on going. Stopped autocrossing seriously a few years ago (surprised Porches had been replaced by surprised Misubish 3000 turbos) and began playing. Engine now sports dual AFBs. Getting that installed with the a/c and cruise control without changing ther hood line was an interesting exercise but who wants to advertise ? Clearance was a problem but solved with a custom made oval element air cleaner. Just could not use wing nuts, insted have tapped Chuck-E-Cheese tokens holding it down.
Last year I had my first accident. Was stopped waiting to make a turn and a lady in a van was driving down the *shoulder* and trundled into my front fender. Did over U$3000.00 damage to the front of the '93 Mazda and put a dent in my fender. Drove it home & still have not gotten around to fixing it. Think that says something but not sure what.
Over the years, I also have amassed an enormous pile of spares: a extra set of the rare 13x8 Snowflakes, set of 13x6 GT wheels, extra recessed pressure plates, transmissions, 7.5" H-body differentials, 4 bbl manifold/carbinterior plastic, complete guage dash, ultra-rare H-body V-8 motor mounts, complete front suspension...
But in the last lies the problem: over the years the stress on the front end has been too much and the lower A-Arm mounts are cracked with the rear passenger side area (also the side which always cracked wheels) broken away. This makes the Sunbird currently undrivable (though the engine/drivetrain are in good condition). It does appear towable.
Anyone know the right way to fix ?
BTW, it is untrue that you cannot change the spark plugs. GM made it very simple to unbolt the motor mount and jack the engine up...