Growing up, Pontiacs were a big part of my life. My father owned a '62 Bonneville convertible and my mother owned a '78 Grand Prix. When it came time to purchase my first car, I immediately looked to Pontiac. My first love, the GTO, was a bit out of my price range, so I ended up purchasing a '74 Grand Prix SJ. Its 455 made me fall in love with the Grand Prix.
It would be short-lived though-my '74 was stolen and totaled. My trail of bad luck continued when I lost my job. Getting a new Pontiac to replace my Grand Prix seemed just out of reach. However, I decided to go back to school and then shortly after, found a new job.
Over the next few years, I did a lot of research looking for my new Pontiac. Finally in 1979 my opportunity arose. Car and Driver magazine ran an article about the new '79 Grand Prix SJ with a four-speed. Impressed with my mom's Grand Prix, I visited my local Pontiac dealer and ordered one. It included a 301ci Pontiac engine, a four-speed transmission, T-tops, velour bucket seats, and every SJ upgrade available!
It was a Monday when I got the call from the dealer. I remember that day vividly. It felt like the longest day of work ever, but on May 21, 1979, I drove my new baby off the lot. I drove it every day I could. Rain or snow usually meant I walked, borrowed a car, or got a ride to work.
In 1983, I started to upgrade my baby. Using the advantage of working for a Pontiac dealership, I had the opportunity to get all the parts to build a fresh 400 Ram Air III engine. I installed the 400 engine and sold the stock 301 engine to the dealer.
After blowing out Second gear twice, it was apparent the Saginaw four-speed trans wasn't strong enough. I replaced it with a Borg Warner Super T10 that I had to slightly modify. Shortly after, I started blowing out spider gears in the rearend. I fit a GM 10-bolt 8.5-inch rearend in the car to address the problem.
I drove the Grand Prix for 10 years after that, but could not get the tires to hook. Several runs at the quarter-mile only resulted in 14-second e.t.'s with excessive tire spin. As an experiment, I decided to replace the Borg Warner trans with a Turbo 400 and a Coan 3,500-stall converter. These changes alone cut 1.2 seconds off my quarter-mile time.
In 1988 I noticed paint cracking in some areas, so I decided to pursue getting the car repainted. It was then I discovered rust in several hidden areas. With a lot of grief from my wife, I decided that a frame-off restoration was the best path.
Since it was all coming apart anyways, I figured this would be the best time to make some new upgrades. I wanted more power so I replaced the 400 with a 400ci '73 block with ported and flowed No. 12 heads and stainless steel valves. It's also got 0.030-over forged pistons, a Lunati cam with 238/242-degree duration and 0.476/0.485-inch lift, 1.5-ratio Harland Sharp roller rockers, an Edelbrock Torker II intake, a Holly 850 Double Pumper, a 150 shot of NOS, and an MSD ignition system and retard box. I'm very pleased with how the engine turned out. It made 463 hp at 5,200 rpm and 484 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm on the dyno.
Engine aside, I had already upgraded the trans to the Turbo 400 with a semi-manual valvebody, and added a 3.90-geared, 8.5-inch GM 10-bolt posi, custom-made aluminized headers with Flowmaster 40-series mufflers, and Trans Am splitter exhaust tips.
With the new motor, the stock hood no longer fit, so I made a new metal cowl hood. I removed all chrome (except the bumpers), completely stripped the car inside and out, and then repainted it with a high-quality urethane, two-stage system.
I added SSBC four-wheel disc brakes with drilled rotors. And to finish it off, I installed Billet Specialties wheels, 18x8 in front and 18x91/2 in back, with Nitto 555 tires, 245/45ZR18-inch in front and 285/40ZR18 in back.