Glenn Kovach's '72 Grand Prix...
Glenn Kovach's '72 Grand Prix SSJ came loaded from the factory with power steering, power disc brakes, cruise control, air conditioning, tilt wheel, power driver seat, power windows, power locks, dome/map lights, AM/FM stereo with 8-Track, rear window defroster, underhood reel-out light, power trunk release, and Custom Sports steering wheel.
When Glenn Kovach, a 50-year-old customer service and warranty representative in Benton, Illinois, sold an extremely rare SSJ Grand Prix in 1977, he thought he'd never see it again, but a quirk of fate brought it back into his life. "I found the SSJ the first time one afternoon in 1975," Glenn recalls. "It was sitting on a used-car lot, barely three years old, with factory Cameo White paint and a bright gold hood. I pulled over, checked it out, and learned it was a '72 SSJ Grand Prix. I looked at my girlfriend and said, 'I've got to have that car.' After much pleading and promising to my folks, I bought it."
The limited-edition SSJ became Glenn's daily driver. "It sure got a workout," he tells HPP. "It went back and forth to school during the week and off to the dragstrip on the weekends. It did not take long before all of our friends got a good look at the SSJ. Most of them saw it as just a big Pontiac with a fancy paint job, but I knew it was something special."
Hurst Performance Research Corporation partnered with Pontiac and produced a limited quantity of SSJ Grand Prixs from '70-'72. The inspiration for the limited edition came from Pontiac marketing man Jim Wangers, whose personal Grand Prix caught the attention of Hurst founder George Hurst. According to Jim, "George came to Pontiac in mid-1969 with the indication that he wanted to do a special Pontiac. At that time, I was driving a white '69 SJ Grand Prix customized by Royal Pontiac. It was two-tone with my favorite color at that time, Tiger Gold. George fell in love with that car, thinking it was the sweetest thing he had ever seen. He bought it from me and used it as a prototype to develop the SSJ."
Hurst advertised the SSJ as the "Ultimate Grand Prix" and offered it in Cameo White or Starlight Black (though other colors are known to exist) with a stupendous second body color, Fire Frost Gold, an updated version of the Hurst gold hue, developed by Pontiac specifically for Hurst's promotional activities (primarily in the NHRA) in the '60s.
For $1,147.25, in addition to the price of a Grand Prix Model J, the SSJ option package featured Fire Frost Gold paint accents, hand pinstriping, a Landau-style half-top, and an electric sunroof. SSJ Hurst custom options available at extra cost included Auto/Stick shifter, Roll/Control, digital computer, and mobile telephone, among others.
According to The Hurst Heritage by Terry Boyce and Bob Licty, production totals for the SSJ were 272 in '70, 157 in '71, and approximately 60 in '72. It's also said that dealer-converted SSJs were offered to buyers sometime during the production run (see sidebar). Glenn's SSJ is possibly one of these. Jim Mattison, president of PHS Automotive Services, told HPP he thinks more '72 SSJs were produced, based upon the number of vehicles he's researched for customers. Regardless of the actual production totals, Don Keefe, HPP contributor and author of Grand Prix, Pontiac's Luxury Performance Car, summed up the SSJ Grand Prix's allure appropriately, "Next to the ultra-rare '62-'63 Super-Duty models, the '70-'72 Hurst SSJs are perhaps the most collectible of all Grand Prixs."
Lost And Found
Glenn enjoyed the SSJ for several years, but marriage plans prompted him to rethink whether he should keep it. "We really needed a pickup and it just seemed like we had to make sacrifices. My wife, Genia, told me, 'Don't sell the Grand Prix. We can get by,' but I did a stupid thing and sold it to a college buddy whose girlfriend really wanted it. That was the last time I saw it. With time, I forgot about the SSJ and life went on," Glenn remembers.
The engine bay features a...
The engine bay features a '70 455ci powerplant and 6X heads. The master cylinder cover and power brake booster were rebuilt and replated by Steve Gregori. Chrome valve covers and the air-cleaner lid aren't original and the air-cleaner lid decal is aftermarket. The Silver Blue metallic engine paint shown is correct for '66 to '70 engines. Note the cruise control assembly on the driver's inner fenderwell and the reel-out underhood light on the passenger side.
The SSJ is easily identified...
The SSJ is easily identified by its two-tone paint color. This example features Cameo White and obligatory Fire Frost Gold (repainted by the owner in a slightly different shade called California Gold). Notice the Landau top reinstalled during the restoration by Mild 2 Wild in Cambria, Illinois, and the SSJ decal on the rear decklid. Although Hurst SSJs received a rear decklid emblem, the owner says the reproduction decal seen here is identical to what he found on his SSJ when he bought it in 1975.
Original 14x7 gold Rally IIs...
Original 14x7 gold Rally IIs are wrapped in BFGoodrich Radial T/A P215/70R14 rubber with custom-made Hurst wheel centers. For wheel options, SSJ buyers could have also picked Fire Frost Gold Honeycomb or Fire Frost Gold accented American Racing wheels. The "455 CID" callouts are owner-added.
Years later he wanted it back-badly-and somehow the universe obliged. In 1989, Glenn, driving home from Mt. Vernon, Illinois, passed his old Pontiac on the highway. "I could not believe my eyes. It was the same SSJ I sold some 12 years before," he confides. He turned around, chased it down, and got the license plate number. Glenn was so pumped up by the time he got home that he repeated to his wife the exact words he said when he saw the SSJ for the first time in 1975, "I've got to have that car."
After some quick research, he found out where his GP was. "We spent the next weekend tracking down the Pontiac and speaking with the owners. They told me it belonged to their daughter, and they didn't know if she wanted to sell it. I gave them my name and phone number, and they told me they'd ask her when she got home. I guess it was my lucky day-she was willing to sell it and I once again owned the SSJ," he says.
Twelve years of abuse and neglect had taken a toll on the stunning SSJ. Its 455 had thrown three rods and expired-in its stead was a tired 428. The interior was trashed, most of the original options were broken or missing, and the beautiful gold paint was faded. "I don't know how many owners she had been through, but I knew I would be her last," Glenn recalls.
He took on the majority of the restoration work himself, including rust repair, bodywork, engine assembly, and interior installation. His focus was to build the Pontiac as he remembered it in 1975. Although the restoration isn't concours-correct, it truly reflects Glenn's impressions of his SSJ. "I tried to use all GM parts in the restoration," he explains, "and a Grand Prix parts car to bring my SSJ back to life."
Glenn began by taking the Grand Prix down to its frame, putting the body on a dolly and the frame on castors. He stripped the front and rear suspension, sandblasted the frame, welded minor repairs, and sprayed the steel with chassis black paint. Glenn also upgraded the crusty fuel and brake lines with OE-style replacements.
Next, he treated the front suspension to a complete rebuild and upgrade with PST Ground Zero front springs, rubber bushings, and KYB Gas-A-Just shocks. The rear suspension was similarly outfitted with PST Ground Zero coil springs, rubber bushings, and Monroe Air shocks. Braking power was restored to factory specs with GM single-piston calipers decked out with Raybestos pads and stock replacement rotors up front and drums in the rear.
A '70 455 (code YH), sourced from a Bonneville, was the next part of the project. Glenn rebuilt it with a 4.17 bore (0.020-over) and stuffed it with the machined stock 4.210-stroke Pontiac nodular cast iron crank, factory 6.625-inch cast connecting rods, and TRW cast pistons. He bolted on '76 6X heads with 101 cc combustion chambers, and Comp 7/16-inch pushrods that activate 1.5-ratio Comp roller tip rockers, compressing OE replacement double springs to open and close 2.11/1.66-stainless steel valves. This valvetrain action is directed by a Comp Cams Xtreme Energy cam with 212/218-degrees duration, 0.447/0.455-inch lift, and a 110-degree LSA. The compression ratio is 9.2:1.
A GM HEI distributor replaced the original Unitized Ignition system and sends spark down Delco 8mm wires to AC Delco R45TS plugs. Spent gases are evacuated through Ram Air D-port cast-iron exhaust manifolds sourced from Ram Air Restoration Enterprises, and travel through 2.5-inch pipes, dual Flowmaster mufflers, and 2.5-inch tails.
To push the power rearward from the crank, a stock torque converter mates to a Turbo 400 rebuilt by Larry's Transmissions of Benton, Illinois. Manual gear changes, when desired, are handled by a Sport shifter and torque is delivered through a stock driveshaft to a '68 8.2-inch GM 10-bolt housing, a factory Safe-T-Track unit, and 3.55 gears.
The owner created a custom...
The owner created a custom plaque to show that he restored the SSJ himself.
Power windows and door locks...
Power windows and door locks are easily accessible to the driver and made the Grand Prix a popular favorite among luxury sports-car buyers in '72.
This Grand Prix's Ivory interior...
This Grand Prix's Ivory interior (code 921) features original dash, steering wheel, and console; and reproduction vinyl seat covers, headliner, carpet, and floormats. The headrests had not yet been reinstalled when this photograph was taken, but the optional 8-Track between the seats was. Factory Rally gauges with clock have been upgraded with a tach.
Memory Lane This '72 SSJ...
This '72 SSJ Grand Prix was a beautiful sight when it was nearly new. This photo was taken in 1975 or 1976, shortly after Glenn purchased the vehicle.
"It was important to me to have a fully functional rolling chassis," Glenn comments. "I installed the motor, trans, driveshaft, rear, and fuel system and hooked up the radiator and hoses so that I could start up and break in the 455 prior to setting the body back onto the frame."
Then he stripped the front clip and body, and discovered rust in the fenders, rear quarters, rockers, and trunk pan. Glenn welded in patch panels, and pulled the decklid, hood, and driver's door from the parts car to replace damaged metal. He primed the SSJ using DuPont Self-Etching Primer, followed by DuPont Fill 'N Sand Primer, and reattached the body to its frame. Clarks Body Shop of Cleburne, Illinois, finalized the paintwork with DuPont ChromaBase in Cameo White and California Gold, followed by four coats of DuPont ChromaClear.
Glenn says he had difficulty matching up the gold paint original to his SSJ Grand Prix and turned to Jim Wangers to help him choose the color. "While attending the GTO Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky, I looked across the parking lot and there was the gold I had been looking for. It was on Jim Wangers' GeeTO Tiger. It was a perfect match to how I remember the car in 1975. I met with Dave Anderson, while he was there with the GeeTO Tiger, and he agreed to send me the paint codes for the gold color. The paint finished up in late December 2006 and by early spring of 2007, the SSJ was on the road in all her glory."
Glenn tells HPP that the 17-year restoration of his SSJ was well worth his time and effort. "I knew it was special, and with the passing of time, I realized just how special it was to me and that I had to get it back. Once I did, I knew the restoration would be worth it, no matter how long it took.
"A lot of time has passed from that day in 1975 when I first saw the SSJ. The memories from the first time we had her and looking forward to the good times we will have, are priceless. My wife and son, Travis, have lovingly nicknamed the SSJ 'The Golden Child.' Maybe I do give it some special attention, but the way I look at it, she has earned it."
HPP would like to thank Jim Mattison, Jim Wangers, Don Morton, Rocky Rotella, Keith Vrabec, and Pete Serio for their assistance with this story.
Hurst SSJ Or Dealer Ssj, You Decide
Sketchy production numbers notwithstanding, Glenn Kovach's SSJ has a few more mysteries of its own. According to then-Hurst General Manager and SSJ Project Manager Don Morton, as he revealed in Pontiac SSJ Grand Prix-A Grand History (www.highperformancepontiac.com), one of the reasons production numbers are approximate is because a few dealers were building their own versions of the SSJ package with various options.
These GPs weren't converted at Hurst Performance. Instead, they were transformed at the selling dealer. Some even made SSJ emblems for their in-house creations. Glenn's may be one of these dealer-built cars. We say this because the billing history in the PHS documentation provided by Jim Mattison reveals no drop-ship code of 50-012 near the bottom right-hand corner, which would indicate the GP was sent to Hurst Performance in Roseville, Michigan, for the conversion prior to being shipped to the selling dealer. (For 1970, the codes were 50-010 Southgate, Michigan, or 50-011 West Los Angeles, California.) It was instead delivered directly to Bergeron Pontiac in Kankakee, Illinois.
Further evidence is that our feature SSJ is based on an SJ, which wasn't possible for '71-'72 models because of a striping difference between the Model J and SJ in which the latter interfered with the Hurst paint treatment, so Hurst SSJs in these years were based on Model Js.
The owner washes off years...
The owner washes off years of neglect after buying his SSJ back in 1989.
This Grand Prix was in really...
This Grand Prix was in really bad shape. "It broke my heart when I saw it in this condition," Glenn says.
Glenn sourced a replacement...
Glenn sourced a replacement 455 motor from a '70 Bonneville. This is what it looked like before teardown.
This Pontiac has no sunroof-Hurst lists the electric sunroof as standard equipment. According to the PHS, Glenn's GP was ordered with a Cordova top-Hurst didn't order them this way since it installed a Landau top as part of the conversion. Trunklid SSJ identification on Glenn's GP is a black rectangular decal with white lettering, while the Hurst SSJs we've seen have die-cast chromed and painted SSJ and Hurst emblems.
This SSJ frame is restored...
This SSJ frame is restored and ready to reattach to the body. Notice that the front and rear suspension components are reinstalled. The owner attached the frame assembly to a home-fabricated roller system so he could easily move the frame around in his garage.
Glenn prepares to bolt the...
Glenn prepares to bolt the replacement 455 and the Turbo 400 into the rolling chassis.
The rolling chassis was sent...
The rolling chassis was sent to Yadro Auto Parts in West Frankfort, Illinois, to bend and install the exhaust.
Bucking the dealer-built trend, however, is the fact that the emblems and decals say "Hurst" on them. Don said that one way to identify a dealer-built car is by the absence of Hurst emblems. Also, the feature Pontiac has one-piece "SSJ Hurst" emblems for the front fenders (not on the car yet in the photos). Glenn stated that every SSJ he's seen from this era has two-piece "SSJ Hurst" fender emblems. They may be decklid '70 SSJ emblems, according to noted SSJ collector Keith Vraberc.
Regarding the gold paint on the upper panels of the GP, it appears to be darker and more orange than the Fire Frost Gold, but that's how Glenn remembers it. Is it possible this is a dealer-built car and the dealer didn't even use Fire Frost Gold to paint it? We don't know-the dealer appears to no longer exist.
These differing physical features lead to many questions: Did a dealer take the time and money to recreate the fender emblems, but did it incorrectly? Or was it able to source '70 decklid emblems, but not the rest? Why spend the money on the fender emblems and then use decals everywhere else? How could the dealer legally use the Hurst name if the GP was neither converted by Hurst, nor the dealer licensed by Hurst to do it? Conversely, how is this a Hurst-built SSJ if no record shows it going to Hurst for the conversion, it's SJ-based, has no sunroof, was built with a Cordova top, and has decals where emblems are normally affixed?
What conclusion can be drawn? That's up to you. You have the facts that Glenn and HPP have uncovered.
Regardless, the Kovach family's '72 GP SSJ is a very interesting and desirable Pontiac given its history, its options, and the memories they've made with it. That's what's important to Glenn.-Thomas A. DeMauro