The original plan for the...
The original plan for the '69 Grand Prix was to continue with the B-body and update the design with annual changes. This clay mock-up from October of 1966 shows the path that designers were taking. There is a definite GTO influence, particularly with the hidden headlamps and nose treatment. Both chrome and Endura themes were explored.
Though the design is getting...
Though the design is getting close to the final configuration at this point, several details still need to be worked out, including the wheel openings, the roofline, and the shape of the rear quarter glass. The angled accent line, ending just ahead of the rear wheelwell, was a vestige of the skeg design seen in previous years.
The rear appears to be the...
The rear appears to be the least developed part of the model, at least when these photos were taken. Of particular interest are the taillamps and the contour of the sail panel.
By the middle '60s, sales figures for the Pontiac Grand Prix had begun a slow but steady decline. From the peak of production in 1963 of 72,959 units, the Grand Prix slid to 63,810 in 1964, 57,881 for 1965, and then 36,757 in 1966.
Things improved somewhat in 1967 with a total of 42,891 cars produced. This was due to the 5,856 convertibles built that year, an anomaly that coincided with the dropping of the Bonneville Brougham convertible. Taking out the convertibles resulted in a coupe production figure of 37,035 units. When the top line Bonneville drop-top returned in 1968, Grand Prix convertibles were dropped, and the hardtop found just 31,711 buyers.
The reasons for the decline in sales of Pontiac's luxury/performance full-sized car weren't so much that there was less demand, but because there were more entries chasing the same number of buyers. Oldsmobile had the Starfire and Toronado, Buick had the B-body Wildcat and E-body Riviera, Ford had the Thunderbird and LTD, and Mercury had the Marauder. Even Mopar was in the game, with the Dodge Charger and Coronet R/T.
To make matters worse, the Grand Prix was struggling against competitors in its own showroom. At the time, Pontiac had too many full-size cars, with the Catalina, 2+2, Star Chief, and Bonneville overlapping equipment and prices. Even though there were a lot of exclusive styling and luxury appointments, it was getting harder and harder to sell the Grand Prix. Too many buyers looked for better value at Pontiac dealers and elsewhere.
Pontiac General Manager John Z. DeLorean saw what was happening and took measures to rectify the situation. His response was to recast the Grand Prix as something completely new in the marketplace. By stretching the A-body platform to a 118-inch wheelbase, the Grand Prix was reborn as a long-hood, short-deck personal luxury coupe unlike anything before. In one fell swoop, Pontiac reduced the number of full-size cars in its product lineup and brought a new kind of car to the market. DeLorean even went so far as to name the two versions "Model J" and "Model SJ," spiritual descendants of the legendary Duesenbergs of the late '20s and '30s.
As we all know, the '69 Grand Prix was a huge hit, but as with most car stories, there was more than what the public was told. Before the decision was made to reinvent the Grand Prix as a smaller, trimmer car, Pontiac's Design Studio was working on a Grand Prix version of the '69 full-size Pontiac.
In some ways, the entire full-size Pontiac line was becoming more like the Grand Prixs of the recent past, a bit more formal and a bit less sporty. From '63-'68, the GP received a roofline that was more upright and formal than that of the semi-fastback, hardtop coupe bodies. This roof, which was shared with the Oldsmobile Starfire, featured a unique concave backlite.
The '69 full-size Pontiacs, along with other GM big cars, dropped the sweeping rooflines in favor of a semi-notchback design that worked especially well with Cordova vinyl tops. Before the plug was pulled on the B-body program in early 1967, Pontiac designers were hard at work putting together what they believed would be the '69 Grand Prix. The plan was to take the iconic design elements that made the Grand Prix a stand-alone car and incorporate them into the new body style. Though the program was eventually dropped in early 1967, it made it to the clay-model stage, and variations on the theme were explored.
What we see here is a glimpse of what might have been. These photos are from two time periods in the development of the B-body Grand Prix. There are five shots from October 22, 1966 and one from January of 1967, just before the effort was abandoned. Obviously, more photos were taken at the time, but this is all that remains. With the inclusion of the shot from 1967, we can see a true progression in development. We will first cover the shots from late 1966.
Judging from the appearance of the clay models depicted in these earlier photos, it appears that neither the design of the Grand Prix variant nor the basic B-body shape had been finalized. Up front, the combination chrome/Endura-nose theme used in the '69 Pontiac front ends was employed, adding the disappearing headlamps, which were used since '67. From the look of the front-end shot, it appears the designers were considering dropping the chrome altogether and going with a GTO-style front end. With the hideaway headlamps, the overall effect was very GTO-like, more so than the chrome beak used on the '68 GPs.