No matter the make, there’s always at least one model that’s so boldly styled, it leaves opinions teetering between just enough and too much. One example that’s erroneously lumped into that category is the redesigned A-body for ’73. A take-it-or-leave-it look for many, automotive writers of the day seemingly gave the entire GM intermediate lineup lukewarm reviews, but when considering the obstacles designers had to hurdle, the product that actually resulted was a marvel.
New federally mandated bumper standards forced front and rear treatments that were quite a departure from the usual. Passenger safety was a growing concern, so a sturdier frame was employed, adding overall girth and weight, and a unique roof treatment designed to prevent collapsing in the event of a rollover crash added sturdy roof pillars to all models, which lent to the term colonnade when describing its styling.
On the patio at GM Design Staff studios sits a ’73 Grand Am prototype. The production mode
Pontiac’s offering had styling unique amongst its peers. While in many ways the ’73 GM intermediates are much more advanced from an engineering standpoint and seemingly share no visual semblance to their predecessors, Pontiac’s A-body actually contains lineage back to the ’68 GTO—a model revered by enthusiasts for its consummate style. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of its debut, HPP dove into the GM Media Archive files and uncovered some interesting images of Pontiac’s colonnade cars. Some you may recognize and others you may not, but if such models are your fancy, then you’ll certainly enjoy!
Pontiac had created several iconic styles during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Among them are the ’68 GTO, the ’69 Grand Prix, and the ’701⁄2 Firebird. At the helm while developing the new-for-’73 A-body was Pontiac Chief Designer Bill Porter. Fresh off the release of the hugely popular Second-Gen Firebird, Porter was backed by a skillful team whose work continues to fuel our enthusiastic passions today.
Though the roof treatment in this rendering is a bit exaggerated, it shows off Pontiac’s i
Since its debut in ’64, the GTO was built on the intermediate platform, and ’73 was no exc
Whether two or four doors, the new-for-’73 A-body platform included frameless door glass a
The ellipsoidal theme seen throughout the ’73 model is quite evident in the trunk area. A
With revised bumper standards for ’73, Porter and his team were hard at work to devise ways to best incorporate these federal mandates into the intermediate platform. “The A-body was entirely new, and I was interested in giving it a very distinctive nose treatment,” he says. “It eventually became the Grand Am. The LeMans was a much milder statement. The Grand Am nose took flak from critics, but it was just so distinctive. I felt it made a very dramatic statement and loved the way it turned out.”
While heading up Advanced 2 Studio during the middle ’60s, Porter developed a basic body shape that was ultimately handed off to Pontiac Studio and became the ’68 GTO. His design included very subtle bulges over the wheelwells, which are detectable on production models. “The side design for the ’73 A-body was a theme carried over from the ’68 GTO. For ’73, we amplified the elliptical bulges and then flattened them out. The result is a flat side with pointed ends,” he adds.
Pontiac’s Super-Duty 455, which was the division’s most potent mill for ’73, was planned a
To make the trunk area look larger, the A-body rear end was revised slightly for ’74, givi
The LeMans Safari combined sportiness with utility to give consumers what may be one of th
A common theme amongst the intermediate offerings from all GM makes for ’76 was a quad-rec
The LeMans GT package was introduced in ’72 as a low-buck performance option, and it carri
Pontiac aggressively marketed its LeMans Enforcer package toward law-enforcement agencies.
Beyond a revision to texture within the grille, the A-body models went on largely unchange
The GT package reappeared for ’77 after a single-year hiatus. Mostly limited to appearance
The ellipsoidal rear was a continuation of that overall theme, says Porter. “Dealers complained because the treatment made the trunk look small. It was more of an illusion, however. The trunk was actually enormous, but customers perceived it that way. When John Schinella took over as chief designer at Pontiac 2 Studio, he performed the facelift for ’74 and made the trunk boxier.”
There were many negatives working against the popularity of Pontiac’s new intermediate when it was introduced. As Porter explains, “Many of the young enthusiasts who could be potential buyers were in Vietnam. Lobbyists in Washington were pushing for safety. Insurance rates for performance cars were very high, and the oil crisis was looming.” Pontiac still managed to sell nearly 250,000 A-body models that year.
Mediocre media acceptance and poor times socially and economically make it seem as if Pontiac’s A-body was a lackluster seller initially, but production peaked for ’73 and waned to just 80,000 units for ’77. But to say the GM intermediates were never well received by the buying public is a gross misstatement. Oldsmobile’s variant, the Cutlass, went on to become America’s best-selling car in 1976 and 1977, with more than 1.1 million units produced during that time. It paved the way for the redesigned ’78 model to maintain that very status well into the ’80s.
While Pontiac’s ’73-77 intermediates weren’t as popular with average consumers as their Oldsmobile cousins, they maintained a sporty image throughout their five-year production run. Today that model line maintains a loyal following with a small-yet-dedicated group of Pontiac hobbyists. Those who have a chance to appreciate Pontiac’s ’73-’77 A-body’s ride-and-handling qualities and bold styling can attest they are excellent performance bargains. Now 40 years later, we hope to give them the credit that’s long overdue.