Pontiac's great American/European...
Pontiac's great American/European nose job was exclusive to the Grand Am. This pliable rubber-like material was painted body color and was designed to rebound after minor bumps. Endura it was called in 1973 but it was not nearly as hard the Endura noses of the GTOs and Firebirds that came before it. The nose was shot on this car when Larry bought it. He searched and searched and finally found this one in Quebec, Canada. The arrowhead emblem on the nose is also difficult to find.
Florentine Red exterior paint...
Florentine Red exterior paint was applied by Chuck Irwin. Four coats of DuPont primer were sprayed and, after block sanding, that was followed with two base coats of Chroma-Base and three coats of clear. Wet sanding with 2000-grit paper was performed after each coat.
Aside from the nose, the remainder...
Aside from the nose, the remainder of the body styling was 1973 LeMans Sport Coupe. But when it came to decor and protection moldings, the Grand Am got bright metal roof drip molding, window sill molding, rocker panel molding, and wheel opening moldings (not shown on our feature car because they are nearly impossible to find) standard. Front and rear protective rubber bumper strips were standard as well.
Though this trick was already...
Though this trick was already employed on the '64-68 GTOs, Pontiac went back to the well to create this 6.5 LITRE emblem for yet another European touch (7.4 LITRE on 455 GAs). Curiously, Pontiac decided to use 6.5 LITRE on the 400 cubic-inch GA like the 389 GTO instead of 6.6 as was later used on the 400 cubic-inch Trans Ams. This taillight lens treatment is exclusive to the Grand Am.
Custom Finned wheelcovers...
Custom Finned wheelcovers (code 472, UPC PO2) were optional on other models in 1973 but were standard on the Grand Am. They feature a bright disc with raised fins surrounding an arrowhead adorned octagonal center cap. They look great and according to the owner are difficult to find and restore.
While people say it often, few who tell us that a story in the magazine inspired them really act on it. Larry McCauley of Cranberry Hill, Pennsylvania is the exception. In the December 1995 issue of HPP, then associate editor Jeff Koch penned a piece on the 1973 to 1975 Grand Ams. Sure, the article was informative but Koch probably never realized at the time that it would motivate a reader to embark on a restoration project such as you see here.
Larry took the article to heart and formulated a plan to find the Grand Am of his dreams. As the machinist remembers, "I finally located a '73 Grand Am at a musclecar auction in Pa. in 1998. It was a one-owner 50,000-mile Pontiac that resided about 25 miles from where I live and was never driven in the winter. So I purchased the A-body for $3,000 despite the fact that friends and family called it 'the ugly Pontiac,' and placed it in storage until I had time to work on it and enlarge my garage. The project began in July 2001 and was completed by June 2002 with help from my wife Teri and my painter Chuck Irwin."
And the result is what you see here. Obviously, beginning with a low-mileage original offered plenty of advantages because it's very rare that a hobbyist is able to complete a restoration like this in such a short time.
I first met Larry, his wife Teri and their Grand Am at the Ames Performance Pontiac Nationals this past summer. I was so impressed with the McCauley's '73 that I awarded it the HPP Editor's Choice trophy. Coincidentally, Jeff Koch who wrote the story that inspired the restoration was at the event as a freelancer for HPP after having moved on in the mid-1990s to work at Challenge Publications and then at Hot Rod. His career path has lead him to Johnny Lightning, where as brand manager he currently works on new designs for its ever-growing line of 1:64 scale diecast collectibles. Larry and Jeff had a few things to discuss regarding Grand Ams.
While the '73 to '75 Grand Ams have yet to catch on as serious collectibles, Larry certainly saw something special in his and they have been a favorite of mine for years. Pontiac, of course, had high hopes for the Grand Am back in the early 1970s.
This new model's moniker featured halves of two names already in the lineup, "Grand" from the Grand Prix, an American personal luxury car, and "Am" from the Trans Am, an American icon with power and handling to spare. The idea was to combine the luxury of one--plush interior and many standard features available optionally on lesser models--and the performance of the other--superior handling and optional high-performance engines. The problem was the division also wanted to sell the idea of the Grand Am as competition for the European Mercedes and BMW sedans at a much lower sticker price. This was done with European-like styling themes, componentry and suspension settings. Confused yet? Well the salesmen sure were, from many accounts, and the public never seemed to totally embrace the idea either.
Though initial sales in 1973 of over 43,000 seemed promising, many factors, not the least of which was the first fuel shortage in October 1973 and the recession that followed in 1974-75, contributed to the demise of the Pontiac after the '75 model year, due to plummeting sales. However, let's not harp on the negative. Rather, we'll accentuate the positive. Here is what the division said about the new Grand Am when it was introduced:
"The [new] addition to the intermediate line is the stunning Grand Am, which incorporates classic styling with unique ride and handling characteristics. A distinctive body-colored front bumper and flexible rubber-like urethane front end panel combine functional styling with engineering to give an improved bumper system." So said the September 11, 1972 Pontiac press release.
Under the hood came a standard L65 2-barrel 400 engine (coded X4 in Larry's GA). An L78 400 4-barrel and an L75 455 4-barrel engine were optional. Pontiac's famed LS2 SD-455 was supposed to be an option as well but a problem with the connecting rod supplier, according to historian John Sawruk, caused the division to limit its availability to the F-body. The standard engine produced 165 horsepower breathing through a single exhaust pipe. Not one to drive slow Pontiacs, McCauley has since swapped the intake and carb to 1972 units (pre-EGR) and has upgraded the exhaust to twin pipes with a pair of Flowmaster mufflers. The remainder of the engine is factory stock.
Switching gears is the standard Turbo-400 trans (a 4-speed was a delete option for 400 4-barrel models giving the buyer a $46 credit), which transfers the twist to a set of what Larry believes to be 3.23 gears in the optional Safe-T-Track differential. Though by musclecar standards of just three years prior, engine performance was nothing to write home about even with the 455, Pontiac went all out beneath the rockers and here is where the GA earned its "Am." A suspension system featuring computer-selected springs and a set of stabilizer bars that were sized 1.125-inches front and .94 rear and firm shocks was standard and worked in conjunction with special shock settings and the standard GR70x15 radials. (Curiously, the AMA specs list a .875 rear bar and the factory literature lists a .94 thick bar. Larry measured the rear bar on his 50,000-mile GA to clear up the confusion and the calipers read .89-inch. Go figure). The new suspension design for all 1973 intermediates also used taller front spindles and took other cues from the 1970 1/2 and newer F-bodies that further contributed to better handling. Variable ratio power steering was standard on the GA (providing a 16:1 to 13:1 ratio and 3.3 turns to lock) and so were power front disc brakes. The original owner of Larry's Pontiac even went so far as to order the firm ride option. "On the road the heavy-duty suspension and the firm ride package make the Grand Am drive like a dream," McCauley related.