A little-known chapter in the Grand Prix's history actually pre-dates its introduction. At the time, General Motors was developing the personal luxury E-Body platform as a competitor to the four-seat Ford Thunderbird, but was unsure early on as to which Divisions would get it. There was even a plan to use this car to resurrect the old LaSalle nameplate, which was last seen as a production car in 1940 and the subject of two revival Dream Cars from 1955.
To settle the debate, there was an internal competition between the Divisions, and GM evaluated concepts to see which Division had the best understanding of the market and best exploit the idea of a personal luxury car. Pontiac, through the GM Advanced Design Studio, submitted the XP-756 Skorpion full-scale model.
Pontiac designers were also hedging their bets, and they developed a more practical and affordable personal luxury car, one with a performance-oriented attitude. It was based on their existing short-wheelbase version of the B-Body, which was shared with the Catalina. It reached the showrooms as the 1962 Grand Prix, and for Pontiac it proved to be the right car...and the start of a lineage.
Buick got the E-Body in 1963 and named it the Riviera, while the LaSalle version never materialized. The same platform would also go on, in modified form, as the front-drive Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado.
This month, Ted Alexander takes us on an intriguing flight of fancy, conjuring up what a late-second-generation E-Body Grand Prix might have looked like. Taking the basic shape and proportions of the 1966-70 Riviera, he adds a decidedly Pontiac design theme, drawing from both production and concepts of the era.
Up front, the family resemblance to the GTO is evident, though the details give this Grand Prix its own identity. The Goat-inspired Endura nose and grille mesh is 1968 correct, but there are several other details that demand some exploration.
The 1969 Pontiac Cirrus concept car (the revamped 1964 GM-X) is the inspiration for the front fender shape, which featured vertical air slots on the leading edge and fender extractors just above and below the fender crown. The Endura nose also features a chrome bumper/valance panel, which is slotted for air intake, with louvered details at the beak. The chrome extends to the lower leading edge of the fender, forming a bright band that visually flows back to the rocker-panel mouldings, which are adorned with 428 badges. The hood also features the influence of the Cirrus, with a prominent ironing-board contour, painted a semi-gloss black, and slotted eyebrow turn signals, embedded in the Endura bumper material. It adds an innovative and attractive touch.
The Riviera's roofline is replicated in this Grand Prix version but the rear quarter windows are completely different, and more closely identifiable to the LeMans and GTO than the treatment Buick used, which looked somewhat like an elongated version of the first- generation F-Car.
The rear quarters are also Pontiac influenced, featuring a lower skeg, similar to the 1967-1968 full-sized Pontiacs. The rocker trim extends to the lower rear quarters and picks up the contour of the rear bumper in the same way as it did to the front bumper. The red, inner fender liners and 5-on-5–inch bolt-circle Rally I wheels shod with redline tires add a racy flair to the big E-Body.
With a car doing battle with such vehicles as the aforementioned Thunderbird, the interior would have to be attractive, innovative, and luxurious. Inside, the E-Body Grand Prix features a cockpit-style dash, a scaled-up version of what was used in the 1969 production Grand Prix, with walnut accents, full Rally gauges, and a wood wheel on a tilt and telescoping column. Four bucket seats, trimmed in glove leather, are separated by a full-length console that runs from the dash and up between the rear seats. The console houses the shifter (Hurst for manuals and Hurst Dual-Gate for automatics) and front and rear storage compartments. Like the dash, it is trimmed in walnut, with chrome accents.
With such an upscale vehicle as the E-Body Grand Prix, only Pontiac's top powertrain options would be available—no economy-minded two-barrels here. Two very special engines are custom-tailored for this special car.
The base engine would be a 428ci version of the Ram Air II. The round-port heads, hotter camshaft, and the Firebird's exhaust manifolds would give the 428 a serious jump in power. Where the production 428 was rated at 376 horsepower, we underrate this engine at an even 400 horses, with the torque at 500 lb-ft. Available with either a Muncie four-speed or a Turbo 400, it would give the performance/luxury buyer a rare manual-transmission option.
The top engine is straight from Mac McKellar's secret stash—a 428ci version of the three-valve DOHC V-8 that was on the Mar. 1968 cover of Hot Rod. Originally built for a full-size application, this engine was a technological tour de force and no doubt would have rewritten muscle car and racing history.
This version for our E-GP would feature dual four-barrel carbs on a common baseplate and McKellar's innovative fiberglass belt-drive. The cam drives on this V-8 were supposedly too large for an A-body, but the cavernous E-Body engine compartment would have easily fit them, along with streamlined exhaust manifolds.
Reportedly, this engine was capable of over 600 horsepower, so a detuned street version would have still been over the 500hp mark. For the official horsepower rating, we'll take a cue from Rolls Royce and just call it "adequate."
While the idea of a Pontiac-specific E-Body is a tantalizing notion, given the market conditions of the 1960s, it probably would not have been the right car for the time. GM upper management wisely chose Buick to receive the E-Body platform, where the elevated price could be more easily justified. Our versions would most likely have broken the bank for both the buyers and for Pontiac.
An E-Body Grand Prix would also have likely prevented the release of the real winner in the personal luxury marketplace, the 1969 G-Body Grand Prix. Still, it is fun to imagine what could have been, which of course, is the whole idea behind this series.
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