The cars we loved.
It would have been difficult for the typical American car buyer in the 70’s to imagine a future GM without Pontiac or Oldsmobile. Some of the very reasons that the purging of brands occurred less than 30 years later was due to the massive duplicity within GM and within its divisions themselves. The Grand Am was a textbook example. The Grand Am was Pontiac’s midsized car from GM’s A-car platform. The Grand Am’s styling made it arguably to most distinctive and by intent sportiest of its platform mates. The name was derived from the cars that the Grand Am aspired to in the Pontiac lineup, that being the “Grand “ from luxurious Grand Prix and “Am” from the sporty Trans-Am. The Grand Am was intended to combine both the traits of sport and luxury in a package that bypass old men (Grand Prix) or teenage boys (Firebird) and appeal to the buyer somewhere in between.
It’s broad mission meant that the Grand Am would be available in two door coupe or four door sedan form. All cars featured V8 power ranging from 170 to 250 hp. A four speed manual transmission was also available for those who decided to forgo the 3 speed Turbo Hydromatic. An important styling trait of the Grand Am was its Colonnade style roof, popular in the 70’s with GM and a rubber nose design that resembled the Grand Prix, but sportier with recessed headlights and a vertically slotted grille. The Grand Am’s mission was to fend off the coming tide of European cars like BMW’s new 3 Series and Audi 80. Content and mechanically speaking, the rear wheel drive Grand Am had more in common with the Thunderbird, Cordoba and Matador. All cars that (except for the Matador and sometimes Cordoba) outsold the Grand Am.
Pontiac never pushed the luxury or performance potential of the Grand Am to the point of infringing on sales of the more upmarket Grand Prix or Firebird. At one point Pontiac considered offering it’s SD 455 engine from the trans-Am as an option, but decided against it at the last-minute. The Grand-Am did have larger front and rear anti-sway bars to aid handling, but never really caught on as a performance or luxury car. It did however manage to but it confuse dealers and buyers alike. The lukewarm execution of its mission found dealers trying to decide where to place the Grand Am in relation to the better selling Firebird or Grand Prix. Most buyers who went into a Pontiac dealership in the early 70’s either wanted performance in the form of a Firebird or Luxury from the Grand Prix . The Grand Am was just too big to compete with the newly emerging European sport coupes and sedans with their smaller engines and lighter weight. It fared poorly against Ford’s Thunderbird, not to mention Buicks Regal and Oldsmobile’s Cutlass Supreme.
The situation did not improve for the Grand Am once the effects of oil crisis began to settle in for consumers. At nearly 4,000lb. for a so-called mid-size car, the Grand Am was a way too heavy and a noted gas guzzler. No efficient V6 engines were offered and sales, already slow fell of significantly. Pontiac called it quits for it’s A- body entry.
Pontiac did offer a variant of the Grand Am called the Can-Am in an effort to capture some of the overflow of Firebird buyers. It was basically a Lemans with sporty paint and a few choice Firebird parts. It did not arrive until late in the production cycle of the 73-77 A body, and only for a limited time in 1977. A few years would pass before the Grand Am was reborn into a boxy and bland coupe and sedan bearing front end styling vaguely reminiscent of the first generation. Sales were modest, but the Gran Am would not become a true sales start until the late 80’s and through the 90’s where it was consistently Pontiac’s biggest seller.