The General built cars based on the front-wheel-drive A platform (no, not that other GM A platform) for the 1982 through 1996 model years, with the profoundly unmemorable Chevy Celebrity as the most numerous type. Of all the millions of these A-Bodies that roamed American roads, the most interesting was the Pontiac 6000 Special Touring Edition, a sporty sedan version made to compete with the growing menace of speedy German and technology-stuffed Japanese machines. I managed to find an extremely rare early 6000 STE in a California boneyard in December, so let’s take a look.
The Pontiac Division was on a roll by the middle 1980s, reacquiring some of the old youthful-performance luster it enjoyed during the heyday of John DeLorean’s rule in the 1960s. This was a time when a Ypsilanti transmission assembler could become a Knight Rider star and then feature in a cheesecakey Pontiac calendar, and it seemed possible that Pontiac would soon strike fear into corporate hearts from Yokohama to Munich.
Of course, that all fell apart soon enough and the Pontiac Division spent the 1990s becoming decreasingly relevant, finally getting stuffed into The Crusher in 2010 after a long downward spiral. But the 6000 STE, for all its weaknesses, was one fascinating machine. Its dash bristled with dozens and dozens of bewilderingly tiny buttons and switches, and the instrument cluster looked like a video game. Take that, Nissan Maxima and Mitsubishi Tredia! Best of all, Pontiac ignored complaints from befuddled customers who couldn’t figure out the controls in the early 6000 STEs and doubled down by installing even more buttons to the later models. Even the very weird Subaru XT couldn’t out-science-fiction the late-80s 6000 STE!
The interiors appeared to have come from futuristic orbiting palaces built by a superior intergalactic civilization… that is, a superior intergalactic civilization that prized Michigan petro-velour and a tan-to-burgundy color palette above all other considerations. This one features lovely gold-and-plum upholstery and trim, which has held up very well after 37 years of California sun. Naturally, the 6000 STE came standard with air conditioning, power everything, a nice audio system, all the stuff that cost extra in most Detroit sedans of the time.
While it had the gadgetry and econo-plush interior to compete with Nissan, Subaru, and Mitsubishi, the 6000 STE’s true rivals hailed from Europe. To beat BMW and Audi, the 6000 STE needed power and plenty of it. For 1984, that meant the high-output version of the 2.8-liter V6 engine, rated at a pretty decent 130 horsepower. The BMW 528e had a mere 121 horses that year, while the Audi 5000 Turbo got the same 130. Sure, The General’s 60° V6 had pushrods and— for the 135 horsepower 2.8— a carburetor, but horsepower is horsepower (to be fair, the 528e annihilated the 6000 STE on torque, with 170 versus 145 pound-feet). The 6000 STE got a stiff suspension, quick steering ratio, and sticky 195/75R14 radials as well, and I’m just sad that Audi 5000-versus-Pontiac 6000 STE chase scenes didn’t become a staple of cop TV shows (the 5000 did become a staple of the TV news, however).
Unfortunately, lots of BMW and Audi buyers insisted on three pedals in those days, and the only transmission available on the ’84 6000 STE was a decidedly antiquated three-speed automatic. Later on, the 6000 STE got an optional four-speed automatic and even optional all-wheel-drive, but the primitive powertrains hurt sales just as much as they did with the Buick Reatta, Oldsmobile Troféo, and Cadillac Allanté.
Of all the GM A-Body sedans of 1984, the 6000 STE was by far the most expensive. The Celebrity sedan listed at $7,881, the Olds Cutlass Ciera Brougham was $9,712, the Buick Century T-Type was $10,674… and the 6000 STE cost $14,428 (about $39,805 in 2022 dollars). Meanwhile, a new ’84 Nissan Maxima cost $11,399, an Audi 5000S was $16,480 ($22,250 with turbocharging), a BMW 528e had a $24,565 MSRP, and— if you were willing to live with two doors instead of four— a new Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe and its 145 overhead-cam horsepower listed at just $12,354.
These cars do have a small-but-maniacal following today, so I expect that this one will have been stripped clean of STE-specific goodies by the time you read this.
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