In the early morning light at the 2013 Art Center College of Design Car Classic in Pasadena, California, with the red-rich rays of the sun illuminating dozens of vintage and classic cars being positioned onto the concours field, one solitary car drew our eye. At first glance, from the rear, it was unmistakably a '69-'72 Pontiac Grand Prix, but it was unlike any we had ever seen. Customized, its olive pearl reflecting light at odd angles, we moved closer for a better look.
Starting at the rear, its bumper was recessed into the refashioned bodywork, with the red lenses of the lights flanking a black, in-period, California-issued manufacturer plate. This set our minds racing. Was this some long-lost Grand Prix prototype? Looking at the roof line, it was immediately obvious the top had been chopped, giving the car radically different proportions, but it was ... how can we say this … subtle.
Designer Harry Bradley, one of the original Mattel Hot Wheel designers and a long-time fri
The driver-side door was open; looking in, we could see that the interior was mildly modified. All of the established Third-Generation Grand Prix design cues were intact, including the wrap-around instrument panel facing the driver with the center console. All were wrapped in three tones of buttery soft leather—Spinnybeck Leather's Sabrina (white), complemented by Ultrasuede Graphite and Taupe—with hand-stitched surfaces. We wondered how many cows gave the skin off their backs to trim this cockpit?
Moving to the front of the vehicle, its front fenders unadorned, we were confronted by what turned out to be its signature design element—a set of modern reflector-style projector headlights set within custom-fabricated lenses. Gone were the '69 Grand Prix's quad headlights. We quickly dismissed the thought that this was some long-hidden Pontiac prototype from deep within the basement of the GM Heritage Center.
As we were admiring each and every line of the car, owner Dave Crook popped the trunk, and got out his rags and detailing supplies to prepare the vehicle for judging with his wife, Lorraine, at his side. We introduced ourselves and exchanged contact details, and then moved on as we wanted to take advantage of the shadow-free light that was quickly fading. But since Mr. and Mrs. Crook lived in Southern California, this was a car we wanted to pursue.
More than 45 years ago, Crook was personally selected by GM Styling Chief William "Bill" Mitchell to join the GM design team. It made a life-long impression on him, and as a way of saying thanks, he built this one-off custom Grand Prix in conjunction with renowned designer Harry Bradley.
Crook grew up in Buffalo, New York, and bought his first car, a '48 Plymouth, when he was just 11 years old. That started him on a road to building more than a dozen cars over the next 50-plus years.
To give you an idea of the length of his involvement in the car hobby, he garnered his first magazine cover at 21 years old when his build of a '58 Pontiac graced the cover of the Feb. '64 issue of Car Craft as one of the Top 10 Customs of 1963. He went to work in the body shop of a Pontiac-Cadillac dealership from 1963 to 1966, then on to Fisher Body. Among his first jobs was that of instructor in Fisher Body's training center in Denver, Colorado.
While in Denver, he created a chopped-top Candy Apple Red '67 Catalina 2+2. In August 1968, he drove the just-finished custom Poncho from Denver to Detroit for GM's annual new-model training. The cool Catalina attracted the attention of a chief engineer at Fisher Body, who showed it to Mitchell. After Mitchell's review, he offered Crook a job as a clay modeler or a technical stylist. With the permission of Fisher Body in January 1969, Crook found himself transferred to GM Styling.
The front started with a horizontal grille similar to the original, and Bradley incorporat
In 1970, Crook wanted to attempt a major redesign of the then-new Second- Generation Firebird. There he connected with legendary stylist Harry Bradley, who was best known for his work with Mattel on its Hot Wheels. The collaboration on the Firebird started a friendship that has endured for more than 40 years.
Crook moved to California in 1979, first working as a field engineer for Fisher Body. In 1985, when the Fisher Body division was folded into GM, he went to work in field services for Cadillac. He served as the Western Region service development manager-body, until he retired in 1999.
Crook says, "While at GM Styling, I learned so much about design and building prototypes, I spent most of my lunch hours in the shops watching and learning the process of building one-off cars. Sometimes I felt like I should have been paying them instead of them paying me.
"Mitchell, like Harley Earl before him, built many concept cars for himself and many restyled production cars. I don't think I ever saw a completely stock production car in his parking spot in the executive garage. While working [in GM Styling], I built an almost exact copy of the '67 Cadillac Eldorado that Mitchell had built. Since he personally hired me and I learned so much while working there, building this Grand Prix tribute to him is the least I can do."
The 400-powered donor Grand Prix was acquired in Oregon from an ad seen on the Internet. The project started in April 2007, and together with Bradley, the design took shape. Crook provided Bradley with the idea of designing a Grand Prix that could have been a concept car conceived in '66 to preview the upcoming '69 Grand Prix.
We asked Crook if chopping the Grand Prix' top was the most work, but surprisingly this was not the case. "Lengthening the doors was much more work than chopping the roof," he tells us. "Part of the redesign of the doors involved moving the regulators rearward and eliminating the rear quarter window. I want to note that the windshield retains stock dimensions, but is raked back 42 degrees (versus 30-degrees stock) for the final version."
The wheel shown here comes from a one-off Budnik design with a center-cap emblem from a mi
The car was fully constructed and painted in Crook's on-site home garage. An English wheel, sheetmetal brake, hand shrinker, stretcher tools, and a planishing hammer are part of his toolbox.
The green paint is a PPG Envirobase formula inspired by a shade of nail polish Crook had spied while shopping in a drug store with his wife. As it turned out, Crook went to the Chip Foose/BASF website, where he was able to find a hue called Eye of the Tiger, and the formulation was an almost exact match to the nail polish. Consulting with Bradley and being a long-time PPG guy, he had a pint mixed for evaluation and then selected it as the final color.
Opening the driver-side door, one is overpowered by the odiferous call-out of the all-leather interior. The leatherwork came from legendary stitcher Ron Mangus. Crook notes that he did make suggestions for how the interior door panels were stitched from the original Bradley design.
As the photos show, the interior retains many of the production Grand Prix design elements, tastefully updated for a look that would not be out of place in a concept car today. Though Bradley was set on an all-new center console, Crook stayed with the OE design, updated with the original insert that was nickel-plated and brushed, which works exceptionally well.
It should come as no surprise that the car was well received at its unofficial debut at the Art Center College of Design Show, just weeks after its completion. Its formal premiere was at the 2014 Grand National Roadster Show in January.
According to its proud owner, this Grand Prix is a custom show car that the legendary William "Bill" Mitchell would be justifiably proud.
It’s rare that you see a ’69-’72 Grand Prix as the start for a custom-car project, but tha
Crook motorized the body-color panels to aid proper engine cooling, which flows through th
Crook’s Grand Prix is something of a chameleon, as the Eye of the Tiger hue changes color
Like many Pontiac interiors from the ’60s, Crook went with a three-color treatment for his
The modern projector-style headlamps serve up a contemporary concept-car look. Hot-rodder
Trimmer Ron Mangus suggested going with rear bucket seats, but in the end, the OE full rea