Pontiac tried to re-establish itself as GM’s performance brand in the 1980s. To help it steer that course, they built the 1984–88 Fiero. Yet there was one model that had all the buzz before and during the era of the Fiero and today is all but forgotten — the 6000 STE.

For American automakers, it was a new era: Quarter-mile times were irrelevant — the new goal was balanced power and handling like the Europeans.

So began the American auto industry’s quest to make clones of European cars — or what their corporate minds thought a European car was.

So long, driveshaft

GM’s front-wheel-drive, A-platform cars were introduced in 1982. Closely related to their star-crossed X-car platform, they were GM’s largest front-drive sedans at the time, offered as the Chevrolet Celebrity, Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, Buick Century and Pontiac 6000.

Pontiac’s numerical name was chosen for a reason: It also aped what Audi was doing in 1982 with their full-sized 5000 (see, we’re a thousand better). Audi was fully engaged as the target for the 6000, although for that first year, the base level and LE were more aligned with Aunt Thelma for Sunday go-to-meeting.

New for 1983 was the 6000 STE (Sport Touring Edition). Cosmetically, it cast the mold for the STE look — with six-light grille (high and low beams, plus integrated driving lights), lower-body air dams, limited brightwork and alloy wheels. It ran a Chevrolet-sourced 2.8-L, 130-hp V6 engine and featured self-leveling suspension with 4-wheel disc brakes and 195/70R14 Goodyear Eagle GT tires — big meats for the time. The Getrag 5-speed was highly touted for the STE and is the best way to stir up some semblance of power from the 2.8-L V6.

High marks

The stick shift was one of the reasons Car and Driver magazine chose it for their second annual 10 Best list. C&Dseemed to have an ongoing love affair with the STE, as it made the 10 Best two more times over the car’s production run. Then again, they also had a love fest with the Chevy Citation.

It only took Pontiac one year to fix one of the more glaring miscues of the STE, namely, adding a tachometer. That tach was actually a string of LEDs, since the STE got a new electronic gauge cluster.

1986 saw the first major styling refresh, featuring flush-mounted lights plus deeper spoilers and side skirts. Functional changes included a 4-speed automatic, ABS, and the industry’s first steering-wheel hub-mounted control buttons. Coupled with the push-button HVAC, sound system options, and additional features as part of the Times-Square-by-night gauge cluster, it seemed like Pontiac had developed a button fetish.

In 1988, the wobbly 2.8-L was ditched for an all-new 3.1-liter even-firing V6 (the first application of this engine by GM). But the biggest change was an optional all-wheel-drive system. That system became standard for the STE for 1989 — the final year of the package.

Rare then, forgotten today

For most years of production, annual sales were in the range of 22k to 25k units.

Part of the blame for the lackluster sales was due to dealers, who by the 1980s were becoming parts of larger corporate chains. Chain dealerships were accustomed to relatively easy sales of pre-packed luxury options, and sporty cars were becoming tougher sales. As such, finding an STE on a dealer’s lot was a challenge, even then. It’s much harder to find one now, regardless of condition.

When the occasional one pops up on an online auction site, it tends to be the near-unicorn-rare 1988 or 1989 AWD version. These would be the ones to get — better sorted, higher performance and rarer.

Ten grand may get you the nicest one on the planet, on the MSO with no miles. If not, it won’t cost much more. Tired high-milers could be bought with couch-cushion change, if you want an interesting car to drive until it dies any one of 6,000 possible deaths.

In retrospect, had GM put the turbocharged Buick 3.8-L into the 6000 STE — or even just a naturally aspirated one — it would still be fondly recalled today as the Taurus SHO influencer that it actually was.

Yet for what was built, the STE may be the only 1980s A-body car to keep for posterity.

Comments are closed.