Tuesday, November 2, 2010

1969 Pontiac Grand Prix

As of this past Sunday, October, 31, 2010, Pontiac is officially "out of business". Last year GM announced that it would be one of the brands they would be shedding as part of their reorganization. The brand had been dying for over 30 years.

Talk about snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory... At one point Pontiac ranked third in overall sales, just behind Chevy and Ford. With the GTO it ushered in the muscle car era. It was a leader in technology. In a recent New York Times interview, retired Pontiac executive, Jim Wagners, recalled a time when BMW sent a team of engineers, designers and marketers to meet with Pontiac's team and study how the brand did so well.

If you ever want to know how to run a successful brand into the ground, study GM's handling of Pontiac for the last 35 years.

There have been hundreds of articles written recently about the demise of Pontiac. All of them mention the GTO, some mention the Firebird and a few mention the woefully underdeveloped Fiero. They're interesting cars - and the GTO was a great, groundbreaking car - , but the first Pontiac I noticed was this one, the 1969 Grand Prix.

I was just a kid when I first saw the 1969 Grand Prix. It was at the the New York Auto Show, an event my dad would take me to each year. My dad was a GM executive and one of the perks was being able to take home cars from the GM "pool". I asked him to bring home a Grand Prix. He did, and I spent a weekend in the driveway, just staring at it. I loved it. My dad used to buy a new car for my mom each year - it was the "family car" - and I asked him to buy the Grand Prix. He said "No, it's not a practical car for a family of five". In retrospect, he was right, but back then I was not happy. I think we wound up with a 4 door Buick Wildcat that year.

The Grand Prix name had been around since 1962. Earlier cars were based on the big Catalina chassis. It was really nothing more than a sporty Catalina coupe. The 1969 Grand Prix was based on the smaller Tempest / LeMans / GTO chassis and it got a body all its own. It had a monstrous hood, a short deck and a beak nose. It looked classy. It looked sporty. It looked different.

In typical 1960s GM fashion, they offered a variety of engines in the Grand Prix, including the 390 HP, 428HO V8. Innovation wise, the 1969 Grand Prix was one of the first cars to have a concealed radio antenna, an electrically heated rear window defroster and side-impact beams inside the doors. The dashboard was a wraparound "cockpit-style" dash, which put all the controls within easy reach of the driver. That's all common stuff today, but back in '69 it was new and different.

It's interesting. I am the son of a GM employee. When my father was alive I could get any GM car I wanted at a pretty good discount. Yet with the exception of a couple of used Opels and a few Corvairs, I've never owned a GM car. By the time I was old enough to afford a new car, GM had lost me. It's amazing that in a relatively short period of time, I could go from begging my dad to buy a Grand Prix to never setting foot in a Pontiac dealership. Like I said, it's a case study in mismanagement.

There are 3 1969 Grand Prixs being offered on eBay right now. All are in really nice condition. I chose this one simply because I like the color and the lack of a vinyl roof. (But I'd ditch the striping on the trunk.)

Located in Seffner, FL, click here to see the listing.

How much did I like the 1969 Grand Prix? I took the photo below at the 1969 New York Auto Show. As you can see, I still have it.(I have no idea who those people are sitting in the car, but that's my dad standing on the right.)


longrooffan said...

In 1969 I was 10 years old. My oldest sister had a boy friend who owned one of these! I fell in love with it. Those two later married and, ultimately, purchased a 1974 Gen 2 Grand Prix. I took that one to my senior prom! And the fact that you still have that old school photo from the New York Show totally ROCKS!

Jon said...

It's amazing how drastically the Grand Prix body styles changed from 1966 to 1969. I've always admired the 1967 models, especially the convertibles.

The body syle on this 1969 Grand Prix always seemed to outclass its cousin, the Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

It worked so well that the Stutz Motor Company simply tweaked it in the 1970's to make their Blackhawk series of cars. OK, maybe this was not Virgil Exner's finest hour, but the company charged a fortune for a their vehicles, and famous people bought them.

According to WIKI, the Blackhawk was priced at $43,000 in 1973.

The 1973 Grand Prix was priced at a little under $5000.

Dan DiBiase said...

My Dad had a '72 GP Model J with the 400 ci engine and the Rallye wheels like this car. What a beast! A very masculine car.

Anonymous said...

I bought one of these real 'hybrid' rocketship/barcalounger '69 grand prix's used for $1,300.00 in 1976 (post oil embargo and poor national economy) deja vu all over again today??- when no one wanted a big ride any more- tyvm!, I'll take it!!!..At the time, I wrangled an 18 wheeler all day~100,00 lbs. of bouncing like a bronc to be busted, and its no a/c and minimal heat, diesel belching, 13 fwd speed, 2 reverse speed, putridly foul- smelling 65 cubic yd load of garbage . When work was done, I'd settle into this triple green beautiful beast with its leather interior, tilt wheel,power windows and am/fm stereo tuned to a N.Y.C. jazz station, set the ice cold a/c to "stun" ,push the tilt wheel up and assume the "sicilian slouch" behind the tinted windows and just chill.If I wanted to haul ass, stompin' on the accelerator would snap ya back in the seat and get ya from here to there "most ricky-tick'..if ya wanted to just roll slow, it could handle that just as well.I was 25 @ the time, and I've never had anything like that since. The size, power and luxury combo was incredible (110 mph without breakin' a sweat and smooooth in the process on an interstate somewhere long long ago, as the urban myth goes)- too bad GM lost its mojo and cojones and offers up the wimpmobiles that they do today.Sad. I saw where someone called the Grand Prix a "GTO in a tuxedo" and that nails it for sure. My only complaint about this gem was the engineering flaw of a metal timing chain and the teflon -like crank sprocket- shredded plastic exploded out of the oil filter -luckily right in front of my house- it sounded like the ride took gunfire!- planned material obsolescence, I guess. Anyway, I loved this ride and wish that I never sold it- thanks for the opportunity to trip down memory lane