Home » It’s What’s Inside That Counts: 1980 Pontiac Sunbird vs 1978 Dodge Maxivan

It’s What’s Inside That Counts: 1980 Pontiac Sunbird vs 1978 Dodge Maxivan

Sbsd 10 12 2023

It’s time once again for Shitbox Showdown! For today’s installment, we’re looking at custom interiors. Both vehicles featured today have been extensively modified on the inside, and the results are, well, a bit hit or miss, let’s say. But we’ll get to those in just a minute; first we need to settle up with yesterday’s red coupes:

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Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Naturally, the Honda took the win. But honestly, that Mustang put up a better fight than I expected it to. For those wondering about the turbo claim: yes, it’s there. On these, the turbocharger is under the carb and boosts the air/fuel mixture coming from the carb – it’s called a “draw-through” turbocharger, and no one makes them anymore because they’re a pain in the ass. But never mind, you’re all correct; the Prelude is the better deal here. Kudos to whoever snags it before the seller comes to their senses and raises the price.

One of the biggest complaints about newer cars that I hear is the lack of interior color options. Sure, at the Porsche end of the market, you can get almost any color interior you want, but the vast majority of everyday cars are black inside, or gray, or maybe tan if you’re lucky. More colors used to be available, but tended towards monochrome; if you ordered a green interior, everything was green, right down to the seatbelts, and it got a little overwhelming. And a green interior looked just like a red one, only green. For some folks, that just won’t do, so they take to altering the interior to better suit their tastes. But can you go too far in this pursuit? Take a look at these two, and then you tell me.

1980 Pontiac Sunbird – $4,250

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.5 liter overhead valve inline 4, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Cedar Park, TX

Odometer reading: 66,000 miles

Runs/drives? “Completely roadworthy,” they say

Lots of cars in the late 1970s had styling that didn’t match their performance, but GM’s H-body compact, in all its various forms, might be the worst offender. Available as a two-door notchback coupe, a three-door hatchback, and a two-door wagon, all the H-body variants looked sharp. Unfortunately, the engine choices didn’t back up the looks: you were stuck with a heavily reworked Vega four-cylinder, a Buick V6 in its bad old odd-fire days, an awkwardly-shoehorned-in 305 small block V8, or what this car has – Pontiac’s much-maligned but generally pretty good “Iron Duke” four-cylinder. Its horsepower rating is somewhere in the neighborhood of diddly-squat, and this one loses even more power through a mushy TH200 automatic. “It is not a quick car,” says the seller. Yeah, no shit.


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The good news is that this Sunbird runs great, and has had a ton of recent work done, including a rebuilt transmission, new cooling system, new fuel system, and new brakes, to name but a few things. Even the air conditioner works, though the seller says it’s a little weak. Maybe this one really does “just need a recharge.”

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Inside, the dashboard is brown, which I believe was the original interior color. However, the original bucket seats have been replaced by black racing-style seats with bright yellow stitching and piping, with matching carpet. It looks sharp, but with the brown dashboard and that clunky factory steering wheel, it looks unfinished. What about the back seat, you ask? Um, what back seat?

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Yep, it’s gone. In its place are a sheet of plywood, a whole lot of speakers, and what looks like a laser-cut or water-jet-cut ’50s style Pontiac logo. It looks cool, but I’m not sure it belongs in a car that represents the nadir of the marque’s performance.

1978 Dodge Maxivan – $3,800

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Engine/drivetrain: V8 of unspecified displacement, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Oakland, CA

Odometer reading: 119,000 miles


Runs/drives? “Ready to go” according to the seller

Before there was the minivan, there was the Maxivan, a long-wheelbase Tradesman with a couple of extra feet tacked on the end. Need more space? Just weld some more van onto the back, kind of like making an extra-long bread loaf by adding slices from another loaf somewhere in the middle. Add standard windows and a few rows of bench seats, and you’ve got the quintessential “church van.” Without the windows, you’ve got some extra square footage of blank canvas for a sweet mural.

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Whatever the outside looked like, it was against the law in the ’70s to drive a van without several square yards of shag carpeting covering every imaginable interior surface. No worries here. There’s so much blue fuzz inside this thing it looks like someone skinned Cookie Monster. And the requisite captain’s chairs look like they were made from Kitty Forman’s curtains.

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But it doesn’t stop there. A blue velour bed fills the entire rear end of this thing, complete with matching curtains over the windows. (Fifty-five gallon barrel of Febreeze not included.) It looks like there are two sunroofs, and a button-tufted headliner between them. It’s all well done, and in good condition, but holy crap is there a lot of fuzzy blue stuff in here. Think we’re done? Oh, no. There’s a kitchenette, too:

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Blue fuzz aside, we don’t have a lot of information to go on regarding this van. The seller says it runs great, but doesn’t specify what size engine is in it; it could be anywhere from 318 to 440 cubic inches. You’d have to check the tag under the hood to know for sure, I guess. Otherwise, the seller says it’s ready to go, perfect for camping at a Blue Oyster Cult concert.

Custom interiors aren’t much of a thing anymore, and I think that’s a shame. The interior is the place where you interact most often with a car; it should be a place you like. And if that means some modifications, so be it. Modifications like these are highly personal, of course, but one of these might fit your personal style. Which one?


(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
8 months ago

> a rebuilt transmission, new cooling system, new fuel system, and new brakes, to name but a few things.

So the owner spent big on refurbishing his shitbox, and he’s selling it for less than what he spent on the recent maintenance, not to mention the seats and stereo

Why bother doing all that work instead of parting it out or taking it out of its misery? I know it’s going to hurt my Gossin Stan cred, but some cars aren’t really worth saving.

> kind of like making an extra-long bread loaf by adding slices from another loaf somewhere in the middle


> you’ve got the quintessential “church van.”

That is most definitely not a church van. Imagine the unholy sinning that’s been happening in there over the decades.

Last edited 8 months ago by Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
8 months ago

It’s only “unholy sinning” if you’re religious. No religion, no unholy sin.

Problem solved!

8 months ago

I was a teen in the age when these vans were still roaming the roads. Even then I never saw one in better condition than this one on the inside.

It’s a flashback to the days of stems and seeds.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
8 months ago
Reply to  Anoos

Probably a fair amount of stems and seeds still in the carpet among other gross stuff.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
8 months ago

I liked the Sunbird until I saw inside. Oh Lort.

I wanted the van MORE after I saw inside. Yes. Perfect. Precisely as it should be.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
8 months ago

I voted for the Pontiac, don’t think I want such an extreme shag gin waggin second, or 5th hand at this point…

8 months ago

I’ll take the rolling Ramada Inn. I don’t know why that picture of Vin Diesel says Pontiac.

8 months ago

Van because of all the blue, has a V8, lots of room and is cheaper than the slow Sunbird-even though I do like it

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