Pontiac 6000 STE: 1980’s America’s Ultimate Sedan?

- in Cars

I have absolutely no idea what to make of the Pontiac 6000 STE. At its heart, it is simply a Chevrolet Celebrity clone; which itself was an outgrowth of the much-maligned Chevrolet Citation.

1983 Pontiac 6000 STE
After the twin gas crises, American automotive design was at its nadir. Cars like the 6000 STE always seemed like stop-gaps, something put together from what was on hand. The problem became that there wasn’t anything down the line to make up for it in time.

And yet … and yet, there was a period of time in the early 1980s when the 6000 STE was regarded by the leading automotive journalists as the finest sports sedan in America. Like the Cadillac CTS-V today, the 6000STE was considered GM’s credible BMW imitator, a world-class sports sedan that melded American attitude with European driving dynamics.

1983–1984 Pontiac 6000 STE
In fact Car and Driver named the 6000 STE one of the 10 Best Cars of 1983. The rest of the list was made up of such luminaries as the Porsche 944, Mk. I Volkswagen GTI, Toyota Supra, Honda Accord, Ford Mustang, Mazda RX-7, Mercedes-Benz 380SEL, Chevrolet Caprice (the revolutionary downsized version), and, um, the AMC/Renault Alliance. Hey, nobody’s perfect. The point is, C&D thought the 6000 STE was one of the best cars in the world; it made a list that included no BMWs, a list from which C&D reluctantly bumped the excellent Porsche 928.

Read what C&D had to say:
“If the downsized General Motors big cars of 1977 were the best American cars since the end of World War II (!), the 1982 General Motors A-bodies are the best since 1977, and the Pontiac 6000STE is the best of all. Exactly opposite the Firebird, the 6000 STE is light and lively, features the most up-to-date technology available from GM, and comes wrapped in sheetmetal that can only be described as controversial. … It is … the most handsomely trimmed and detailed new product in the current GM portfolio. It is also the least compromised, and the one that does the best job of telegraphing exactly what kind of car it is, and to exactly what kind of driver it is supposed to appeal. This is in every way a Car and Driver kind of car. Fun to drive, economical, distinctive in appearance, comfortable in an active participant’s sense of the word, and absolutely contemporary.”

1985 Pontiac 6000 STE
Wow. C&D didn’t exactly recant upon further reflection; the 6000 STE also made the list in 1984 and 1985. C&D wasn’t alone in praising the 6000 STE, either; it was regarded as a world-class car in a way in which, say, the Celebrity Eurosport was not. Yet it was fundamentally the same A-body underneath as the Celebrity and Cutlass Ciera–two cars known as mediocre at best, disappointments at worst. The 6000STE had the same 2.8-liter, 135-horsepower carbureted V-6, and the same 3-speed automatic transmission as the other A-bodies.

1985 Pontiac 6000 STE rear end
I understand that the sports sedan bar was considerably lower in 1983 than it is now; but was it low enough that a Cutlass Ciera clone with a sport-tuned suspension qualified?

In later years, the 6000STE would gain fuel injection, an all-wheel-drive system and a larger 3.1-liter V-6, but at its heart, it was still a GM A-body–a pushrod engine in a package for blue collar class.

1988 Pontiac 6000 STE
I have no idea how to resolve this apparent contradiction. For years, I have kept the 6000 STE on my beater watch list, both to test it out and because it has major-league sleeper potential. After all, what could be a more unlikely sleeper than a 1980s BMW-caliber Pontiac sports sedan? Now, however, I fear that it’s just too late to fairly evaluate the Pontiac. Audis and BMWs of this vintage are enough hard to find in good condition, and I’m guessing finding a mint 6000 STE would be nearly impossible.

Pontiac 6000 STE interior
So, since the 6000 STE has left me flummoxed, I’m looking for help. Does anybody out there have enough experience with the 6000 STE to render judgment on whether it’s as unexpectedly great as my heart wants it to be, or as mediocre as my mind has concluded it must be?

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