1973-77 Pontiac Grand Prix

Speaking of the late Carrie Fisher and her AWESOME 1977 Grand Prix from The Blues Brothers movie, I have resurrected here my paean to that very car, formerly published at Car Lust.

I’ve no shame whatsoever: I see that photo up there and I just want to lick it, it’s so gorgeous.

I think this could quite possibly be the genesis, the dawning, the ultimate source, the Patient Zero of my youthful Car Lust: a maroon 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix. It’s certainly the first real car I recall developing a mad crush on, apart from the usual panoply of TV cars that I’ve mentioned over the years. Oddly enough, it was actually a Catholic priest thatgpblack piqued my interest in these things. Fr. Tony, newly installed assistant pastor at our little ‘burgh in central Wisconsin, showed up driving one that looked identical to the brochure image here. He was a neat guy (still is, actually), quite different from the usual stodgy priests I’d known up until that point, and he eventually became a good friend of the family.

As fine a shepherd as he was, it was that Grand Prix that really captured my eye. We’d had a similar vintage GM Century (which we all pretty much loathed), but Tony’s Grand Prix was a definite step above the old family hauler and grocery getter. Two doors instead of four, a long, luxurious hood ending in a, to my mind, elegant upright split grille, and a short deck accented with opera windows. And it was quiet inside: even though it had a V8 instead of our pathetic V6, the noise didn’t intrude much into the passenger cabin. And it was quite noticeably quicker than our misbegotten tank.

Of course, it might have been a similarly unreliable piece of junk for all I knew. . . . .but I digress. It.Was.Awesome.

As far as history goes, the Grand Prix got its start in that most auspicious of years, 1962. Back then it was derived from the full-sized Catalina (yet another of my family’s cars which will no doubt be featured here at some point). I really like the look of the first couple of years which, much like the earlier Wildcats, looked rather clean and spartan and fast even while standing still. The facelift in 1965 made them look butt-heavy IMO. All of them were nicely equipped with a range of good-sized engines, most putting out 300+ bhp, albeit in a very large car. They went along quite well with the muscle car era, but their styling for most of the ’60s leaves me somewhat cold.

gpgoldHappily, John DeLorean had them restyled for 1969 and that’s when they assumed the familiar shape of this post’s generation. The wheel base went down slightly, but the look of the car assumed the familiar long hood/short deck proportions that I adore. GM also put more emphasis on luxury apportioning, probably as part of the industry-wide (domestically anyway) “personal luxury” direction that was influencing everything from Thunderbirds to Mustang IIs. Performance was also upped slightly with a new HO version of the 428 that delivered 390 bhp to the back wheels.

One little-noted, but what I considered almost too cool for words, feature that the Grand Prix included in the second generation was a new “hidden” FM antenna: rather than a metal thing sticking out of the front quarter panel, it embedded two thin wires into the windshield itself. Our ’75 Century had the same thing, and I always wondered why the idea never really caught on (/audio geek>). It seemed a pretty good way to isolate the antenna from the interference-producing engine and metal body panels and also making for a nice dipole; all the while being barely noticeable in the windshield.

In truth, I probably could have extended the range of this post to include the 1969-1972 models as they are pretty similar in appearance to the 3rd gen, although they are a bit boxier for my taste. OTOH, they don’t combine the coming garishness of the later models quite as well (if one can reconcile that statement at all logically). The abundant nose, for example, just sort of sticks out like a sore thumb, IMO, and seems out of place in an otherwise clean-lined car.

But then came 1973 and they assumed the shape beloved by yours truly. Truth be told, the redesign was more of a radical evolution of the previous design than something totally new like (more or less) the ’69 had been. They retained the long hood/short deck, but bulked up some (literally and figuratively) and added a lot more in the way of — he says with a certain irony — styling. A lot of this can be traced to new safety requirements, including 5 mph bumpers front and (eventually) rear, and rollover standards. The latter gpside(which actually never materialized) made the pillarless design of the previous generation unsustainable, so they went to a pillared configuration with the much-celebrated/derided opera window. Some also sported that other 1970s staple, the T-top (photo below). The big central grille also stayed but I think it looks more integrated into the total design than it did previously.

Performance took a hit along with nearly everything else but, much like the Trans Ams of those years, it handled really well for a large car and, in fact, the front suspension was borrowed from the Camaro and Firebird. Still, power was way down, with similar-sized engines going down in bhps to the low 200s. Instead, interiors got better and early on included real wood inserts all around instead of the simulated sort. The seats were also upgraded and were, as I can personally attest, incredibly comfortable. And quiet: you could be barreling down the highway and actually carry on a reasonable conversation.

And they sold well. Really well. The 1973 model easily topped the previous high mark, 1969’s 112,000, with over 150,000 units and hit a high point of over 270k cars in 1977.

Now, elsewhere I have celebrated the redesign of the 1977 Chevys (even using a Grand Prix as an introductory photograph for that post), but I shan’t do the same here. Like the other A-bodies, it was quite radically downsized, and became so very bland and nondescript. And not even in a good way. From a luxurious cruiser, it went to a middle-manager rental overnight. It had some brief flashes of inspiration after that, notably in the automotive renaissance of the late 1990s and onwards but otherwise it was dead to me after 1977. I had some hopes that GM would do the G8 treatment on the Grand Prix and give us a true performance sedan for that venerable (to me anyway) nameplate but, alas, it was not to be.

You don’t see these too often anymore, but being in Car Lust Central as I am, there is a nice blue one somewhere in a 20-block radius of my abode. There will definitely be some consternation in the household if and when a For Sale sign ever pops up in its window, that’s for sure.

–Anthony Cagle

Credits: Top photo from McClelland’s Automotive. The second two photos are both from Wikipedia.The T-top is from PontiacsOnline.com.

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