The redesigned Grand Prix that debuted in 1969 featured a strong, performance-oriented app
The short-deck styling of the '69 Grand Prix becomes evident from this view. Dual-exhaust
Its suspension was designed for improved ride and handling, and received 14-inch wheels an
The Grand Prix interior featured cockpit styling that angled the instruments and accessori
It isn't often an auto manufacturer can dominate the new-car market with the introduction of a new model. But Pontiac did just that in 1964 with the GTO and again in 1969 with the redesign of the personal luxury car-the Grand Prix. The fresh styling lasted a few years before another redesign in 1973, which fostered even greater attention for the flagship model.
While most Pontiac hobbyists have no trouble distinguishing the Grand Prix from other Pontiac models, many are unfamiliar with the details that differentiate one model year from another. Our three-part series will take a closer look at how the Grand Prix evolved from 1969 to 1972 (including the SSJ) and then from 1973 to 1977, as well as discussing some detailed production numbers.
The Grand Prix was introduced in 1962 and built on the Catalina platform. Its image was one of personal luxury and performance with an understated appearance. Aimed at older, more affluent buyers, the Grand Prix was subdued, lacking much of the bright chrome found on other models. With several standard amenities that were otherwise optional on the Catalina, it was also more expensive. Drivetrain options even included the Super Duty 421 engine and a four-speed manual transmission, which meant one could produce a Grand Prix that was every bit as potent as its toughest competitor.
As years progressed, nearly every GM vehicle grew in size-and the Grand Prix was no exception. The additional weight negatively affected performance and handling. And a major redesign for 1967 produced a Grand Prix that shared little with what it was just a few years before. By 1968, Grand Prix sales figures had dipped below 32,000 units. Amid the increasing popularity of musclecars, the larger Grand Prix was doomed for extinction if drastic changes were not in its future.
During much of the '60s, Pontiac had been third in sales in the industry. The company was also well known for its trendsetting concepts. As the late-'60s performance-car market swayed heavily toward the intermediate and midsize platforms, Pontiac General Manager John DeLorean worked closely with design engineers to create an intermediate-sized Grand Prix for 1969 that was classy, luxurious, and sporty. He envisioned the new Grand Prix as the Duesenberg of its day, even designating the entry model "Model J" and the high-performance model "Model SJ" in Duesenberg fashion. It was with this that DeLorean saw Pontiac's newest trendsetter-but he left Pontiac shortly thereafter when he was promoted to general manager of the larger Chevrolet division.
The '69 Grand Prix was designed as a two-door hardtop model on an extended two-door A-body chassis similar to that of the four-door LeMans. Its wheelbase, however, was extended to 118 inches (as opposed to 116 inches for the four-door LeMans), but its body was 4 inches shorter than the four-door LeMans. The platform was designated G-body, and several Duesenberg-type styling cues were incorporated into it, including the traditional long-hood/short-deck theme. DeLorean also wanted the Grand Prix to have the longest hood in the industry-and Pontiac advertising made sure that this was a well-publicized fact.
Its interior resembled a cockpit with wrap-around styling, and its instruments and switches were angled toward the driver. Plush bucket seats; a center console; and a floor-shifted, three-speed manual transmission were all standard. This new model also incorporated such state-of-the-art equipment as a heated-glass rear window defroster and a windshield-mounted radio antenna. The concealed antenna consisted of wires that were captured between the two laminated panes of windshield glass, giving the Grand Prix an entirely uninterrupted exterior.
The new Grand Prix was introduced into a fiercely competitive new-car market where GM divisions were even searching for ways to get a jump on one another. In Pontiac's instance, they withheld publicizing the new Grand Prix until the last moment, which prevented other divisions from preparing competitive models. Once released, the Grand Prix was an immediate success with buyers and magazine writers alike. It even received Car Life magazine's prestigious Engineering Excellence Award for 1969-an award that hadn't been presented in either of the two previous model years.
Standard under the Grand Prix's massive hood was the 400 four-barrel engine with 10:1 compression, rated at 350 hp. It was backed by a standard three-speed manual transmission, while a four-speed manual and Turbo 400 were available at extra cost. Those buyers concerned with fuel economy or burning regular fuel could opt for the 265hp 400 with 8.6:1 compression and two-barrel carburetion at no extra cost. It was, however, only available with the Turbo 400.
Even with the sporty attitude of the Grand Prix Model J, one option gave buyers the chance to create the ultimate performance-oriented, personal-luxury vehicle. By selecting UPC Y97 on the order form and adding $244 to the window sticker, the Model J was transformed into the Grand Prix Model SJ boasting of several items that were otherwise optional, including a 370hp, 428ci engine with 10.5:1 compression; Rally gauges; a custom lamp group; an automatic leveling suspension; G78-14 white-lined tires; a heavy-duty rear axle; and specific SJ identification.
Those wanting to create the ultimate high-performance Grand Prix could opt for the L79 428 H.O. Boasting a 10.75:1 compression ratio, the 428 H.O. was rated at 390 hp and featured high-flow exhaust manifolds, a 273/289- or 288/302-degree camshaft, depending upon transmission type, and revised distributor and carburetor settings. Available on the J for $177 or on the SJ for $119, the H.O. engine could be had with either an automatic or manual transmission-but air conditioning was not available with the manual. When combined with axle ratios as deep as 3.90:1, vintage performance tests indicate that a 428 H.O.-powered Grand Prix was a solid, low-14-second quarter-mile performer.
The '69 Grand Prix was a major success, generating large amounts of showroom traffic and magazine exposure. Model-year production totaled 112,486 units-an increase in excess of 80,000 units from the previous year, which included 101,403 Model J and 11,083 Model SJ models. It appears that a total of 1,105 428 H.O. engines were installed-986 of which were backed by the Turbo 400. And 1,014 Grand Prixs received a manual transmission.
Given the success of the '69 Grand Prix, Pontiac would have been foolish to change much for 1970. With that in mind, exterior updates were limited to smaller details such as grille and taillight textures, and the repositioning of exterior trim. The interior was essentially carried over, but a bench seat was now available as a credit option, and only with the Turbo 400.
The 350hp 400 four-barrel was again the standard engine in the Model J, while the low-compression 400 two-barrel remained a no-cost option. The 428 engine from 1969 grew even larger for 1970. An increase in crankshaft stroke from 4.00-inches to 4.21 caused displacement to jump nearly 30 ci to 455. Although referred to in sales literature as "455 H.O.," the new 455 was similar to the 428 H.O. it replaced, but lacked the high-flow exhaust manifolds, and was subsequently rated at 370 hp. Transmission usage remained the same for each application.
An economic recession during this time had many new-car buyers searching for less-expensive models. And since most Pontiac offerings were slightly higher priced, Pontiac had fallen as far back as sixth in sales during the '70 model year. Grand Prix production not only reflected this, but it was also impacted by the competitive models being offered by other manufacturers. Total production fell to nearly half that in 1969 with just 65,750 units produced. The Model J represented 60,165 of that total while the remaining 5,585 units were SJs. Pontiac's 455 four-barrel engine was installed in 2,665 Grand Prix Model Js at a cost of $58. And manual transmission-equipped Grand Prixs totaled just 500 units.
The Grand Prix received some significant design changes for 1971. The most notable included single headlights that replaced the previous dual-style treatment, a new decklid with pronounced boat-tail styling, and new bumpers front and rear. Interior changes were limited, but the same overall theme was retained. It seemed as if excitement about the Grand Prix was peaking. Enthusiasm regarding what was underhood was another story, however.
General Motors imposed a compression-ratio restriction on all divisions for 1971. By limiting the ratio to a maximum of 8.5:1, engines could operate on lower-octane unleaded fuels, ultimately reducing tailpipe emissions. However, the reduction negatively affected engine output. If that weren't enough, a new method of net rating output-which more closely represented actual engine output when installed in a vehicle with all accessories connected and operating in normal underhood conditions-made it seem as if the '71 engines were mere shadows of their former selves.
The 400 four-barrel remained the standard powerplant in the Grand Prix Model J, but its new 8.2:1 compression ratio caused its gross horsepower rating to slip to 300. Its net rating was 255 hp-or what appeared to be nearly 100 less than the 1970 offering. As in previous years, the three-speed manual transmission was standard, while the four-speed manual and Turbo 400 remained extra cost options. Rated at 325 gross and 260 net horsepower, the 455 four-barrel was no longer available with a manual transmission. And the 400 two-barrel was cancelled.
For 1971, the SJ package retailed for $195 and again included such items as the 455 four-barrel engine, Rally gauges, custom lamp group, and specific SJ identification. There were, however, a few new features in the package such as vinyl accent stripes, body-colored sport mirrors, and the Delco X battery-a high-tech unit that was completely sealed and required no periodic maintenance while offering higher power reserves.
As promising as 1971 looked for the Grand Prix, the UAW launched a massive strike on September 14, 1970, that halted vehicle production at every GM assembly plant across the country-including the three that built Grand Prixs. Sixty-seven days later, the strike was officially resolved, but it took some plants several weeks after that to resume production. The Grand Prix's Lakewood, Georgia, plant, for one, sat idle until January 29, 1971, greatly affecting availability.
The Grand Prix's appearance was redesigned for 1971, but the same overall styling theme wa
The rearend treatment of the Grand Prix for 1971 was boat-tail styled. This attractive app
Bucket seats were standard equipment, but beginning in 1970, a notchback bench seat was av
An 8-track tape player, when ordered with bucket seats, was located on the driveshaft tunn
Once production was back in full force, a running change to standard equipment was made midyear. Sales Information Bulletin 71-16 was issued on April 23, 1971, announcing the cancellation of the manual transmission on several models including the Grand Prix. It stated the Turbo 400 would become the only transmission available on vehicles in the affected model lines shipped on or after May 1. It went on to add that base prices would be changed accordingly.
Production records indicate that just 116 manual transmissions had been installed into Grand Prixs up to that point (64 400 three-speeds and 52 400 four-speeds), so sluggish sales may be partially responsible for the midyear cancellation. But the 67-day strike and resumption delays caused total production to dip to just 58,325 units for the model year. The Model J represented 53,441 of those, while 4,884 SJs were produced. Another 2,365 455 four-barrel engines were installed in Grand Prix Js.
Major changes to the A- and G-body platforms were scheduled for 1972. But because of the lengthy UAW strike the previous year, the changes were delayed and the '72 model year was a virtual carryover for the Grand Prix. Like 1969 to 1970, the '72 Grand Prix saw little more than minor changes to areas like the grille and taillights. Interior and drivetrain combinations remained much the same. Gross horsepower ratings, however, were no longer published.
The SJ package retained all the same components from 1971, but a new option was limited to the Grand Prix Model SJ only. As we learned in the article "Unitized Ignition, Anyone?" that appeared in the March '04 issue of HPP, the K65 Unitized Ignition was a self-contained, breakerless distributor that was virtually maintenance-free. Grand Prix advertising claimed that when Unitized was ordered, it, along with the Delco X battery and integral charging system, gave the Grand Prix SJ an entirely maintenance-free electrical system-with the exception of normal spark plug replacement. Production records indicate that 4,618 buyers purchased this $75 option.
Another Grand Prix option to emerge during the '72 model year was a radial tire package. Until this point, bias-belted tires and 14-inch wheels were standard. But on February 16, 1972, Car Distribution Bulletin 72-70 was issued stating that a package containing white-lined radial tires, 15-inch wheels with deluxe wheel covers, and special suspension components was available for $148. It added that when Rally or Honeycomb wheels were ordered with the radial-tire package, 15-inch units were supplied.
Production for 1972 increased over 30,000 units from the previous year to a total of 91,961-all of which were equipped with the Turbo 400. Of that total, 82,563 were Grand Prix Model Js. Including the 9,398 SJs, the 455 four-barrel engine was installed into a total of 13,560 Grand Prixs. In all, just 1,024 Grand Prixs rolled off the assembly lines with radial tires. It's unclear how many of those received 15-inch Rally II or Honeycomb wheels.
Although the Firebird and GTO were the division's hard-core performance models, they were considered by many as young-adult vehicles with high insurance premiums. The Grand Prix was much more elegant and nearly as sporty, but it wasn't within everyone's budget-which made owning one prestigious.
Next time we'll take a closer look at the special Hurst-derived SSJs.
Though power ratings and compression ratios varied over the years, the 400 four-barrel eng
A floor-shifted three-speed manual was the standard transmission for the Grand Prix from 1