Three of the first five cars I ever owned were Pontiac Grand Prixs. I bought a used blue ’89 with a manual transmission after college, then a used black ’94 GTP a few years later, and finally an ’01 GTP in Redfire Metallic, which was my first brand-new car.
The Grand Prix I never expected to drive is this ’63. It belonged to my father, Anthony Cotroneo, and it was his pride and joy. I was devastated when he died in November 2004 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 61, I and wanted to keep the GP going for him.
All-original with less than 50,000 miles since the day it was new, it has Starlight Black acrylic lacquer paint, a 421 H.O. Tri-Power engine, a four-speed on the floor, and General bias-ply tires on the 8-Lug wheels. It was the only thing left to remember my dad by, and I was scared to even touch it.
Dad bought the car from George Wilkinson (now deceased), the car’s second owner, in 1982. George, then in his 80s, was kind enough to come with me when I first drove the GP and give me pointers on maintaining it. He explained that the original owner (whose last name also happened to be Wilkinson and who also lived in Poughkeepsie!) apparently didn’t want any drain on engine power, so he ordered it without power steering or brakes, power windows, or A/C, but with an AM/FM radio, power antenna, remote mirror, electric clock, and 8-Lug wheels. I’ve since learned that of the 72,959 Grand Prixs made for ’63, only 5,157 were given stick shifts, and the four-speed synchromesh trans was an option.
The motor has 10.75:1 compression, 370 hp at 5,200 rpm, and 460 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm. The car weighs 4,123 pounds. In a Motor Trend road test in 1963, a similarly equipped GP did 0 to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds and a 15.1-second quarter-mile at 94 mph.
After seven years of practice, I’m finally confident driving my dad’s pride and joy, and showing it in his memory. This is after adding custom triple-white-stripe radials and new exhaust; having the carbs rebuilt; and replacing the heater core, fuel pump, battery, and thermostat, plus all wires, plugs, filters, gaskets, fuel lines, hoses and clamps (when I had the engine painted and detailed in 2011).
That’s when I got to see the 11B stamp on the block after layers of paint were removed. Only 1,365 of the code-11B 421 H.O./four-speed combinations were built, and those went into not only GPs, but also Catalinas and Bonnevilles. I spoke with Jim Mattison at Pontiac Historic Services in 2010, and he thinks most of them went into Catalinas.
Oh, and I added seatbelts. My six-year-old identical-twin boys come with me to car shows, often falling asleep on the way home, quite frequently with a trophy in hand. Their Pop would be proud.
P.S. I had a tough time finding a good location to shoot the car. But something told me/reminded me of the parking lot where my father taught me how to drive. And that’s where I decided to take these photos!
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