Welcome to the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Car Garage, a regular feature which aims to expand the notion of what a muscle car is, and to have fun while doing so. The Pontiac Grand Prix made it’s debut in 1962 as basically a re-styled Catalina. It was built as a full size, two door hardtop, than blended performance and luxury into a tasteful package. The full-size Catalina-based Grand Prix did very well through the 1960s, and is often credited with the move towards minimal exterior trim seen during this period. The Grand Prix also had a much stronger performance image than its competitors, as it was available with the full range of Pontiac Power, from the 303 HP 389, to the Tri-Carbed 389 HO producing almost 350 HP. The Grand Prix kept pace with the full size Pontiac, but it was rapidly losing sales to other personal luxury cars. The low point is the subject of this edition, with a one year only styling. Introducing the 1968 full size Pontiac Grand Prix.
The Pontiac Grand Prix was restyled, as were all full size General Motors products, for the 1965 model year. They had a more rounded appearance, with a distinctive “Coke Bottle” waist, sharing the 121″ wheelbase with the Catalina, but with a distinctively formal roof line. Sales were acceptable, and the Grand Prix received minor updates for 1966. The only year you could purchase a Grand Prix Convertible was 1967, and a little over 5,800 were produced, with total production of around 43,000.
The Pontiac Grand Prix was redesigned again for 1968, but it looked heavier, which further hurt sales. The Grand Prix now had a new peripheral front bumper and a massive pointed nose dividing a split, cross-hatched grille. It had hidden headlamps with the parking lights that were now exposed at the corners of the gravel pan. At the rear, large horizontal taillamps were house inside the bumper and were no longer hidden behind the grilles or slats. The rear side window lost its sharp trailing edge. Standard equipment included all GM safety features, Deluxe wheel discs, fender skirts, dual exhausts, padded bucket seats with contoured backs and armrests, center console, three speed manual transmission with floor shift and a 400 cid V8. The Strato bench seat and cloth upholstery could be substituted. Also available was a “halo style” vinyl top that unfortunately looked a bit awkward as it tended to exaggerate the lower half’s size even more than before. As for the powertrain, the two 400 cid engines were carried over, but the two 428 engines were improved. Four speed manual transmissions were limited to 428 cid engine vehicles. This would be last year that the Grand Prix would be based on the B-body. Pontiac only produced 31,711 of these 1968 models.
Engines availability ran from the 265 HP, 400 CID V8, to the High Output 428 producing 390HP. That little upturn in Grand Prix sales of 1967 proved to be short-lived, as 1968 sales fell almost to the disastrous 1966 level. Bill Collins, assistant chief engineer in charge of Pontiac’s body engineering group, has been quoted as saying “Our 1968 Grand Prix was a disaster,” and that “nobody bought it. It looked like a big fat turkey . . .” The hidden headlamps were retained, in combination with a rather garish full-width eggcrate grille.
All of which is not to suggest that the 1968 Pontiac Grand Prix was not a fine automobile. Car and Driver, impressed by the its quiet, smooth ride, observed that “The performance and roadability of the Grand Prix is excellent. Only its size (a 121-inch wheelbase) and its weight (well over 4,000 ground-crushing pounds) would keep the Grand Prix from being a Super Car.” But time had run out for the original Grand Prix. Either something radically different was called for, or the series would have to be dropped altogether. Happily, at the urging of John Z. DeLorean, Pontiac’s former chief engineer, who in 1965 had taken over the general manager’s responsibilities, the first alternative was chosen.
Thus, for 1969 the Grand Prix reemerged as a mid-sized car. Based on the LeMans series, it was built on an exclusive 118-inch wheelbase, and its crisp styling and smaller size helped make it the sensation of the 1969 season. Sales of this new edition leaped ahead by an astonishing 255 percent.
So there you have it, a full sized, 2 door hardtop, competing with the Ford Thunderbird, Buick Riviera, Oldsmobile Toronado, and even the newly introduced Cadillac Eldorado. It’s a big car, weighing in at over 4,000 pounds, but it packs a V8 punch, and was available with a 4 speed stick (though very few were so equipped). It sports a one year only body style, that some have found questionable, but it did spawn a very successful successor with the new 1969 Grand Prix. Is this heavyweight obscure enough to include in the garage, or is it just an overweight pretender? Let me know.
Please Note: All Images are screen grabs from around the web. If you want credit for any image, please let me know in the comments section. Thank You!