1990 Pontiac Sunfire Concept Car

1990 Pontiac Sunfire Concept Car

As Pontiac’s star waned in the Nineties, a concept called the Sunfire offered a glimmer of hope. Sadly, as Richard Heseltine discovers, it was a false dawn…

Richard Heseltine

Images: GM Archive

From here to obscurity

Richard Heseltine’s weird and wonderful American cars from the past.

It was all smoke and no fire. The production Pontiac Sunfire came as a bit of a letdown after the concept car that bore it. If only it had an iota of the 1990 showstopper’s styling elan and technical interest, it would be a copper bottom classic by now. But it didn’t. That is so often the way with concept queens: after lots of build-up, the end result often comes as a bummer. It was left to others to appropriate design features from this super-smooth prototype…

1990 Pontiac Sunfire Concept Car

According to promotional material from the period, the Sunfire show car was powered by a 16-valve, DOHC two-litre four-cylinder engine that was also equipped with a turbocharger. It purportedly produced 190bhp and was allied to a five-speed Getrag ’box. It featured front-wheel drive, ABS, and conspicuously large wheels for the time: 20-inch items up front and 22-inch units out back. The super-sleek body, meanwhile, was crafted from carbon-fibre. And what a body. This sleek and low-slung design boasted two signature features: firstly, there were the concealed headlights that rotated upwards and into position at the base of the windscreen. Then there were the small rear-hinged half doors that allowed access to the dramatically sculptured bucket seats at the back.

This feature is now relatively commonplace on US pick-ups, and it was appropriated wholesale by Mazda for the RX-8 coupé. However, it appeared strikingly new in period, even if their worth was doubted in print in some quarters. The upper half of the car was all glass, which curved from the windscreen to the base of the double-curvature rear screen.

There were no physical pillars despite appearances to the contrary.

You entered the car via an ‘E Key’ and thumb- pad sensitive pressure points which opened the doors and returned the mirrors from folded to pre-set positioned. Once inside, many of the minor controls were positioned on the steering wheel boss, including the controls for the 10-speaker CD player. Other features included an analogue-dial instruments arrangement with an electronic heads-up display, voice-activated cellular phone and no door handles: you used a touchpad to activate the doors.

The brochure proclaimed: “The Pontiac Sunfire is the future concept from the excitement division of General Motors. This four-person subcompact sporty coupe offers expressive styling and aggressive performance for tomorrow’s image-conscious buyers.” It was purportedly a runner, too, with footage of the car moving under its own power appearing at the time (even if it was going suspiciously slowly). And then… nothing.

In 1994, a further Sunfire concept car appeared, this time in roadster form, which looked rather sober by comparison. It featured fixed headlights and wasn’t lacking in awkward angles. It foretold the production Sunfire which arrived shortly thereafter.

Sadly, the mainstream offering was effectively a ‘J-Car’ of old in new clothes; rather dowdy attire. Nevertheless, it sold in reasonable numbers.

All of which goes to show that style and innovation will only get you so far. As for the fate of the original Sunfire show queen, we assume it was scrapped. If you know differently, do please get in touch…

1990 Pontiac Sunfire Concept Car

On paper the Sunfire was amazing!

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