Skip to content

1989 Pontiac 6000STE AWD: A Unicorn’s Unicorn

At TTS, we miss Pontiac. From the early days of motoring through the GTO and Firebird Trans Am – and with their attempts to transcend General Motor’s worst days of badge-engineering – Pontiac tried to build some level of excitement into their brand. The history is well-documented, but the exclamation point you should remember about Pontiac’s time as a manufacturer was the G8 sedan, a rip-snorting V8 hooligan in a decent Men’s Wearhouse suit.

In 1981 Pontiac debuted the 6000 sedan as a 1982 model, their take on the then-new GM A-body platform. The letter ‘A’ is pretty far away from ‘X’ in the alphabet, but don’t be fooled: The A-bodies were direct descendants of the ill-fated and largely evil X-body, most infamously known as the Chevrolet Citation.

Available in two-door coupe, and four-door sedan and wagon, the 6000 was very much a product of the General at the time – folded-paper design, lots of plastic that didn’t fit particularly well, and decidedly lacking in sporty pretensions. Arguably better looking than its A-body littermates, it was sort of a driver’s car with the optional V6 engine, a proper three-pedal manual, and alloy wheels. In the wagon. Which nobody bought.

Then the 6000STE happened. Boasting an uprated 2.8-liter V6, bucket front seats and center console, lots of gauges with a vehicle monitor, and a tuned suspension with fat Goodyear Eagle GTs, the STE was almost but not quite a competitor for the invading sporty Europeans ranging from Audi and BMW down through Mercedes-Benz and even to Peugeot and Saab.

The oddballs of the group are of course the rare manual-transmission 6000 wagons and STEs. But did you know that for a few years Pontiac made an all-wheel drive 6000? Available only on the STE in 1988-89, and then in 1990 on the SE sedan, AWD was barely a footnote with a total take-rate somewhere south of 2,000 units.

There’s precious little information about the AWD system as a whole, but we think we have a good bead on the bits. While most other GM A-bodies had moved to a four-speed autotragic by 1988, the STE AWD used the three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic 125 C (TH-125C AWD, due to its slightly different case) bolted to a larger 3.1-liter V6. The planetary gear transfer case, made by Magna Steyr, is bolted to the end of the transversely-mounted gearbox and sends 40% of the power to the rear wheels. A similar design was later used in the Pontiac Aztek/Buick Rendezvous twins, but with the 4T65E four-speed autotragic.

The STE had a button on the center console to engage a sort of high/low range, locking the driveline and at the same time disabling the antilock brakes. Here’s the warning sticker on the driver’s sunvisor:

The new rear differential took up the space normally used for the spare tire, relocating the fifth meat to the middle of the trunk. STEs with AWD had the aforementioned antilock brakes with discs all around.

Growing up, my cohort here at TTS had two 6000 wagons, one a special order base car with a V6 and a center console, the other an SE with most options except for digital gauges and steering wheel buttons. My first car accident experience was in the passenger seat of a 6000LE. Tales for another time, I suppose. Today, finding a decent 6000 of any variety can be challenge. Finding an AWD model is tough but not impossible. Finding an example as nice as this pristine 1989, for sale in Minneapolis, Minnesota of all places (go here if it disappears), really doesn’t happen.

This Pontiac presents… well, it’s flat gorgeous. The seller states the car has been detailed and has no rust anywhere. The door jambs are stunning. Under the hood is cleaner than I am. The trunk, with it’s air compressor port, is lovely. Those velour seats look inviting while only being slightly coffin-creepy. A new headliner has been installed, and other than a blemish near the radio buttons, all of the not-quite-carbon-fiber appliques look excellent. Even the shift handle looks flawless.

And speaking of buttons, holy hell are there a lot of them. Gather ‘round, kids, and let Uncle Stupid tell you how the degree of 1980s Europeanness was judged in part by how many buttons you could throw on a car dashboard. Not enough dashboard real estate? Throw them on the steering wheel, too! While you’re at it, interpret the analog ribbon instruments of olden days into the digital age of Tron, War Games, and the Tandy TRS-80. Kids? Come back! You little bastards!

As clean as it appears – and it is ridiculous how nice this car looks, given how many 6000s are run hard into the Earth – I’d want to crawl underneath and make sure it’s this nice everywhere.

Doing a bunch of Googling for this article, I found the same car for sale a handful of times over the last several years. It was featured on the Hooniverse in July, 2013, with almost the same verbiage as today’s Craigslist ad. Previous to that, in 2011, a reseller based in Missoula, Montana – CerealMarshmallows – featured what again must be this car in a YouTube listing.

I also found a stunning blue example listed last October which has apparently sold.

A colleague and I had a conversation yesterday about whether or not this Pontiac was worth a triple-mocha-latte less than $6,000. The consensus was probably not, given what else you could buy instead (Daily beater plus rallycross car, anyone?). Today, however, I’m in the mindset of, “Yes, but.”

Yes, but it’s a lot of coin for any GM A-body. Yes, but what do you do with it? You wouldn’t want to daily it, especially in winter. So, yes, but it would sit around quite a bit, even in the nice weather when there are more interesting cars to drive. As the seller you would have to either find the guy with the weird Pontiac fetish collection who has to have one of these, or accept the fact the next owner is just going to use it like some kind of weird hipster accessory and run it into the ground, having absolutely no idea how special it is.

I land somewhere in the middle. I’d love to drive it every day, and probably would, but I’d feel bad about it because even at six-large it is special. Very, very special.

20 thoughts on “1989 Pontiac 6000STE AWD: A Unicorn’s Unicorn Leave a comment

  1. Man does that bring back some memories.

    In 1989 I was selling Pontiacs in Memphis, TN (right out of college) when they rolled three 6000s off of the transporter – a red one just like this (STE but w/o AWD) and two white ones. I was doing pretty well back in the day, and I got to drive the red one for two months. IIRC correctly mine had a stick as well.

    With the exception of the turbo T/A (I was young then) the 6000 was absolutely the most outstanding car I had driven at the time. Great looking, and, as you said — more buttons per square inch than anything, anywhere.

    It was so cool that it was stolen two days before I was to turn it in (for a 1989 Lemans) right outside of the Memphis State library. The police could not believe that a 21 year old “punk” could have such a car – they were convince I was lying until the owner of the dealership showed up, mad as hell at me for having the car stolen.

  2. I’ve decided to chime in after many years of reading your frivolity on the sidelines. I feel compelled to stop the madness.

    To extoll the virtues of the Pontiac 6000 STD is akin to heralding the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The INSTANT you typed such words as “gorgeous” “nice” and “inviting” when describing this automotive catastrophe your computer (nay, the WHOLE of the Internet) should have rose up and smote you with a vengeance.

    I would encourage you to delete this entry from the pantheon of TTS entries and hope it is not used as evidence against you in your trial. This is the kind of madness that is blamed for corrupting impressionable youth, encouraging mass murder, promoting moral relativism, etc., etc.

    You guys need to pull yourselves together or I am canceling my subscription.

  3. If you cancel, you may miss-out on a killer upcoming feature on a super-nice Chevy Citation X11. Leave at your own peril. Besides, why you hatin’?? I mean, hey, there’s a catastrophe, er, car out there for everyone….!!

  4. My first car was an A-body. 1986 Chevy Celebrity Classic, complete with vinyl roof, wire wheel hubcaps, and a velour-outfitted bench seat interior – front & rear – that seated 6 high schoolers with ease. It was an absolute pile mechanically, but man I miss that car. The STE pictured in this ad looks like a miraculously well-kept time capsule. Wow.

  5. i adored my 89 STE 6000 in red. from the electric tilting headrest to the dash lights/speedometer/radio to the compressor to raise the back if needed due to heavy loads. i purchased it used in 96 and around 2000 i had problems with the brakes. for 6 mths my mechanics and brake shope would try to fix them. it would only work temporarily and i’d be back to having no brakes. apparently Pontiac kept it some big secret. they were new that year from what i understand and mechanics except for dealers had no clue. i finally went to dealer. first it was to cost $2500 (yikes) to repair. then i get a call it would be $5,000. one part leads to another that has to be fixed as well. i was heartbroken. i told him not to fix it. i drove it to my mechanics and told them to donate it to one of those charity’s. that was my only issue with the car. or Pontiac for that matter. .

    • Part of me is bummed this unicorn will be used in the winter and, most likely, dissolve into the Earth.

      The other part of me thinks you’re a hero, because this car is cool, and life is too short to not drive cool and interesting cars.

      Let us know how it goes!

      • I found two red ones (including the one pictured above – love it!) but I only really need one so I am selling the other one. I have it listed on eBay right now. I placed the above one in a car show and received some interesting looks.

    • I missed that blue one by a couple days. But later I found a another one in Ohio w/48kmi. I fixed all it’s little ism’s including the A/C and the tape deck and the rear air struts. I LOVE driving this car. I don’t really know why, today’s car’s are far more powerful, but this one is just fun to drive. I don’t drive it much, but I won’t hesitate to take it out in the snow, I just make sure to wash it (including thorough underbody wash) soon after. Last week I took it on a 500mi business trip in a heavy snow storm, it handles like champ on icy/snowy roads! Didn’t even really get dirty the first 200mi, just clean 2″ of snow on a mostly dry freeway, then i saw salt trucks and the road got messy them.

  6. We owned one of the red ones — AWD STE. Best car we owned for years, and we owned a ton of them, living in NH and commuting (weekends mostly, but not always) to CT, MA and NJ for work. Two real issues: the exhaust system was installed under the the body and on top of the frame during assembly, so when it had to be replaced, it had to be cut out and the new one — in sections — replaced it. And, it did not have any sort of treatment for salt and corrosion. Ours finally totally rusted out and was not reparable within ten years. Sad to see it go; still miss it.


  7. I happen to be the lucky one to buy one of Craigs. Just had it repainted and had some Cooper Snow and Ice tires thrown on it. It will be my winter car while my G8 becomes her winter garage queen (even when I used Michelin Pilot Alpines, the G8 was insane in the snow). Soon after winter, I will convert her to an Electric Vehicle. I think that will be a great legacy to the car. I want it to be a showcase conversion. I always wanted my dad to buy an STE when we were kids, but it was out of his budget at the time. So I’m happy as hell to have her as part of our Pontiac Fleet!

  8. I saw a Pontiac on a vintage episode of TPIR, and it made me remember my dads 6000STE. Some how I ended up here and read the article. Some kid nostalgia. He totaled the Pontiac into the side of a whitetail in western PA one winter evening. Then he replaced it with a newly available Northstar powered 1993 Seville.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: