By on February 4, 2013

Personal luxury” became one of the few showroom bright spots for Detroit during the darkest days of the Malaise Era. The definition is a bit fuzzy around the edges, but the basic formula always involved a midsize-or-bigger two-door with a generous helping of disco-grade bling, maybe with some heraldic crests and pleather upholstery. Chrysler had the Cordoba, Ford had the Cougar, and GM had the Grand Prix, to name just a few of many examples of the genre. Why, even dowdy AMC got into the act with their Matador Barcelona. So many of these cars were built that you’ll still find examples now and then at self-serve wrecking yards. By 1976, personal luxury was being applied across whole lines, with broad strokes. Today’s find is one of the last of the big A-body LeMans family, built before the LeMans became a cruel Daewoo joke.
You had your Luxury LeMans, of course, but that car just wasn’t grand enough for the America of Watergate and the Fall of Saigon.
The French Cathouse Red interior fad reached its zenith with Japanese cars of the late 1980s (though Chrysler was still using up its stockpile of red velour well into the 1990s), but The General sure didn’t pull any punches with this car.
The Pontiac 350-cubic-inch V8 was one of the more reliable pushrod V8s of its time, but I’ve learned that I just get depressed when I look up horsepower figures on Malaise Era Detroit engines. Let’s pretend that this one made, say, 340 horses and leave it at that.
This clock almost certainly stopped working before the end of the 1970s, so I didn’t buy it for my collection. It looks cool, though.
Pontiac wasn’t going to let those 5 MPH crash bumpers take away their cars’ pointy snouts!

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63 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1976 Pontiac Grand LeMans...”


  • avatar

    Reminiscing about my father’s ’73 Grand Am (400ci, 4-door, same exterior color as above but less outrageous interior color) it occurs to me that in just a couple years, Pontiac had really become square. The first-gen Grand Am appears to be the link between those lovely early Firebird 400s and these awful Haute Malaise 2-doors.

    Sadly, Dad’s GA was woefully lacking in BHP, but it had Style.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I said it over on Curbside Classic and I’ll say it here:

    Of all the Colonnades, I feel the Pontiac Grand Am was the best, though it was toned-down slightly on exterior styling after the 1973 model.

    I’m strictly speaking about coupes, not sedans. I didn’t like any of them.

    • 0 avatar
      CobraJet

      My parents bought a new 73 Luxury LeMans coupe. I don’t know what the difference was between that an the Grand LeMans. I bought the 69 LeMans that they were going to trade in. The 73 drove well, but was way down on power compared to my 69. Both had 350 2bbl engines.

      They didn’t keep the 73 long, given the OPEC oil crisis, as it was not easy on fuel. I kept the 69 for 13 years and it was very reliable. Only had to replace a timing chain and gear set.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I’m one of those few who really likes the whorehouse cloth interiors .

    Sadly , as a Mechanic , I can’t have cloth interiors….

    -Nate

  • avatar

    The 1970′s in general were not kind to automotive design, neither here nor across the ocean. Were I actually alive at the time, the transitions of the Buick Riviera and Lincoln Continental (two genuine personal-luxury coupes) to their respective Malaise-Era successors would probably have killed me…

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Buford T. Justice is not gonna be happy about this…

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Against my better judgement I looked into the HP ratings of the 1976 Pontiac 350…
    Murilee, you need to think less 2012 Audi RS3 and more 2005 Scion tC.

  • avatar

    Between this bloated monster and the Daewoo hatchback era, the Le Mans had a brief downsized phase when the A-bodies all lost Na lot of weight and size. We had one of those cars (with what I think would have been the 301 V8, and it was a reviled alternative to our genuinely swanky ’78 Olds 88 (air, stereo, power everything, all the mod cons!)

    The car happily ran along without trouble though, until a drunk sideswiped it into the nearest junkyard.

  • avatar
    brettc

    My grandmother had a blue ’77 Lemans that I grew up with for the first 8 years of my life. Unfortunately it wasn’t whorehouse red but it was blue on the inside and outside.

    Next she moved to an ’85 Cutless Ciera, and then to her final GM product, a ’95 Regal with the 3.1 V6. The Lemans was quite a boat, but it served her well even though she had her share of Malaise era problems that you would expect with a Lemans.

    • 0 avatar
      TCragg

      I’ll add to my brother’s comments.

      I think it was actually a ’76, purchased new from Stupka Pontiac in Sharon, PA. It replaced a cream yellow ’73 Catalina 2-door, which was preceded by a ’69 Catalina 4-door in dark green. Granny’s Lemans wasn’t a “Grand” model. Hers was ice blue with dark blue interior, full vinyl top, “radial-tuned” suspension, and an AM radio. The standard models also lacked the fender skirts and the extra set of tunklid-mounted taillights. She got 11 reasonably-reliable years out of it, which wasn’t bad for a GM car from that era.

  • avatar
    Towncar

    I wouldn’t call a four-door a personal luxury car–the fender skirts are cool on this one, though. I guess you could call the coupe version a kind of poor man’s Grand Prix (which was itself a poor man’s Eldorado).

    The Grand Lemans replaced the Luxury Lemans about ’75, as I recall–for whatever obscure reason is lost in the fog of GM marketing history.

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      Towncar, you are correct, all personal luxury cars were 2 door coupes.

      • 0 avatar
        BigDuke6

        So…
        if it has 4 doors it can’t be a “personal luxury car”?
        What the hell IS a “personal luxury car” other than some marketing BS definition. Kind of along the lines of “sport utility vehicle” or “crossover utility vehicle”.
        An awful lot of people drink the Marketing KoolAid……..

      • 0 avatar
        ZekeToronto

        BigDuke6: In the (admittedly BS) marketing vernacular of the day, what made a luxury car “personal” was the fact that it had two doors. It was a way of communicating that this wasn’t the car you bought to ferry the family around. In those pre-minivan and SUV days, that job fell to Mom’s station wagon.

      • 0 avatar
        fincar1

        The term “2 door coupe” is itself a bastardization of the language to suit the fancies of marketers. A coupe is a 2-door car. Period.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      Ford tried a four-door personal luxury car with the 1967-71 Thunderbird sedan. The idea never caught on with buyers and was dropped when the Thunderbird was redesigned for 1972.

      • 0 avatar
        Towncar

        Yep, Joe, you are right about the four-door ‘Bird. I was 12 when it came out, and it pretty much fried my little brain. I knew perfectly well what a T-bird was, but I just couldn’t connect the concept with a four-door. I never did get used to it, but now I wouldn’t mind having one–they’re rare and unique. BTW, I suffered similar cranial meltdown the first time I saw a four-door with buckets & console–a ’64 Wildcat. That also would be a rare piece to have–I’ve never seen another one.

  • avatar
    Mr. Bill

    Wow,that is certainly a fully loaded Grand Lemans with the automatic temperature control, power windows, locks, tilt, and cruise. I also see an am/fm radio and possibly 8 track tape player. I don’t recall ever seeing one of that vintage with all those options in place.

    My 1991 Park Avenue (base model) had a similar awful burgundy red cloth interior as well.

    Mr. Bill
    Hamlet, NC

    • 0 avatar
      doug-g

      One of the first things I noticed was how fully loaded the car was, too. My first thought was that it was either a demo or the dealer’s personal car. You just don’t see many intermediates of that period with automatic temperature control – that’s over-the-top loaded. My mother had a ’78 Bonneville Brougham and even it didn’t have the auto A/C.

      • 0 avatar
        Mr. Bill

        Right doug-g – I have seen my fair share of fully loaded mid-to-late 70′s period Caprices, Bonnevilles, 88′s, 98′s, LeSabres, and Electra/Park Avenues, and even among these, there were very few with Comfortron (Chevrolet), Tempmatic (Oldsmobile), and ATC, or Automatic Temperature Control (Pontiac and I think, Buick). Therefore, this Grand Lemans is definitely over the top.

        Like you, I think it could have been a demo, floor model, dealer/dealer’s wife personal car or, an example built for a Pontiac executive.

        Mr. Bill
        Hamlet, NC

  • avatar

    I need those power window regulators! I might as well get the power lock stuff as well!

    That clock’ll probably working with about 10 minutes worth of tuner cleaner, and some slight persuasion of the escape mechanisim to start working again. I’ve only had one not come back to life and it was due to a burned coil.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    I look at that nose, and remember the milage my first car, a 1974 Plymouth Fury II, got; and how hard it was to drive. Then, I look at cars today; and now I know why the “bar of soap” cars from around the mid-1980s to around 2000 are my favorites.

  • avatar
    italianstallion

    discofabulous

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    These cars actually ran quite well if you could find one with the Poncho 350 4BBL or 400 V8 engines. The 301 was rather slow in these cars but got considerably better mileage which was the design goal of these lighter weight V8 engines starting in 1977. The Grand Am and rare Can Am were the ones to get.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick L.

      The 455 was available through 1976. With some minor mods, they performed well, albiet thirsty. Mine gets 15 on the highway.

      • 0 avatar
        msquare

        The 301 was the best balance of power and economy. No screamer at any rate, combined with a tall rear axle it got decent fuel economy without the roughness of the V6.

        The V6 was smoothed out with a new crankshaft for ’78 coinciding with the introduction of the Turbo. That was the first step towards creating the ubiquitous 3800 that powered just about everything GM well past the turn of the century.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    For the size and weight of these cars, they had supprisingly little interior room. Horsepower and mileage were also pitiful by both modern and 1960′s standards due to inept attempts at pollution control. It took another 20 years to get engines that were both clean and more powerful.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    At the end of the 1977 model year my father finally decided to trade in his 1972 LeMans sedan on a new car . The ’72 had been a horrible car from day one- premature rustout , upholstery and interior that fell apart within a year , water leaks ,broken rear axle and transmission .I wanted him to buy a new Bonneville which had been downsized and got better mileage and handled better .Of course he didn’t listen to me , By the time he started looking there were very few LeMans in stock- everyone knew that it too would be downsized for 1978 . He bought a base- IIRC- 1977 LeMans sedan in Frost Blue .It had the V6 and at that time it hadn’t been fully developed – it idled extremely roughly and really was inadequately powered for a car of that weight . It did handle much better and seemed much better built than the ’72 . I remember Daddy being disappointed in the gas mileage and the rough idle and traded it in after a couple of years . I thought that the styling of the sedan was more attractive than that of the coupe , particularly the ones with the trendy opera windows .Also some of the cheesy luxury features of the Grander LeMans I thought didn’t come off well , like the vinyl top and gingerbread , like extra brightwork on the trunk .

    • 0 avatar
      Rick L.

      I also had a 1972 LeMans, and was thoroughly unimpressed with it. It was a convertible, and creaked, moaned, handled poorly, and the dash was hell to service. Conversely, I have had many ’73-’77 A body Olds and Pontiacs, and other than rust, loved every single one of them. Still own 6, all Pontiacs.

      • 0 avatar
        bill mcgee

        I often wondered if lingering union anger over the 1970 strike or the ( allegedly ) last minute decision to delay introduction of the Collonade models resulted in lousy assembly quality on the 1972 models. In my own family we had several of the 1968-72 generation , a 1968 Tempest hardtop sedan , older sister’s 1968 Tempest coupe, a 1969 Custom S hardtop coupe and the ’72 LeMans sedan . Also I drove frequently an aunt’s 1970 LeMans Sport hardtop coupe . These all seemed much better built than the ’72, which also got much lousier mileage than the Custom S , even tho it had a 4-barrel , or the aunt’s car .The ’72 was delivered with a vent window that always leaked in the rain/ car wash , the A.C. broke a month later and an annoying rattle in the door panel turned out to be , classically , a GM coffee cup .I always thought the chrome looked a lot cheaper than the earlier ones and I always preferred the grill of the ’70 . Daddy hated the car , continually bitching about the crappy mileage and how GM should have gotten the bugs out by this time, as it was the same basic design as the ‘ 68 . Yet inexplicably and probably due to the lousy malaise era economy he kept the damn thing until 1977 .

  • avatar
    ZekeToronto

    My father had a Pontiac-Buick-Cadillac store in the 70s. I was still too young to drive, but worked in the wash bay after school, cleaning a steady stream of “personal luxury” cars. In our store alone we offered the Pontiac Grand Am and Grand Prix; the Buick Regal and Riviera; and the Caddy Coupe DeVille and Eldorado. I’m still amazed that all six entries found buyers, whereas today there doesn’t seem to be a market for even one.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Was there a year when Pontiac simultaneously offered the Grand Prix, Grand Am, and Grand LeMans? Talk about an embarrassment of riches! Well, an embarrassment at least.

    My nephew recently bought a 92 Accord with a red velour-ish interior, it’s pretty darn sweet.

    • 0 avatar
      Impalamino

      Don’t forget the Grand Ville!

      I think 1975 was the apex of the Grandification of Pontiac.

    • 0 avatar
      ZekeToronto

      Russycle wrote: “Was there a year when Pontiac simultaneously offered the Grand Prix, Grand Am, and Grand LeMans?”

      Yes, 1975. The lineup was essentially the same as in 1974, but Grand LeMans was badged as “Luxury LeMans” then. It was also available as a coupe–meaning 3 personal luxury coupes from Pontiac alone. I remember the Luxury LeMans coupe because the first one we received (Bimini Blue with a white landau vinyl top and a power sunroof) got written off by a customer during its first test drive :-)

      • 0 avatar
        Lt.BrunoStachel

        @Russycle@ZekeToronto:
        “Was there a year when Pontiac simultaneously offered the Grand Prix, Grand Am, and Grand LeMans?”

        1978-1980. GrandAm discontinued for 1981.GrandLeMans discontined for 1982.

      • 0 avatar
        gottacook

        My mother’s new 1974 Luxury LeMans coupe was purchased because she couldn’t see over the long hood of the ’74 Grand Prix. (I suppose she didn’t choose the Grand Am coupe because of the slotted rear quarter windows.)

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        From 71-75 There was also the Grand Ville which was an up market model above the Bonneville but still a B-Body. What the Centurion or Wildcat was to Buick a sporty model above the LeSabre but not as luxurious as an Electra 225 which was built on the C-Body platform.

  • avatar
    FordMan_48126

    Wow! Talk about a trip in the wayback machine. My first real “nice” used cars was my Grandpa’s 1978 tan (with darker tan 1/2 rook vinyl top) and tan on tan internor with vinyl bench seats) Grand LeMons. Had 305 small block, was not too goods in turns but was very smooth and had a good ride on the straigh & narrow….he always had Pontiacs to the day he died.

    I have fond memories of riding around with him (Gramps liked to drive fast, sometimes too fast on the corners on old Rochester Road in SouthWestern Michigan)in that car, and one of the reasons why I bought it from my Grandma 5 years after he passed…couldn’t stand the site to see such a lovely car sitting idle and collecting rust.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I had a 73 Chevelle Deluxe 4 door with a 350 2 barrell which was the same body as this Pontiac except is the stripped down model. It had air, AM radio, power steering, and power brakes but it was base otherwise. It was one of the best running cars I ever had. Not one of the best looking cars I ever had but it ran great and was very reliable. Some of the cars from that era ran good but they did not have the efficiency, the horsepower, and longer service intervals of today’s cars. This GM body style was from 73 thru 77, and although not the best looking cars they were decent cars and were relatively inexpensive.

  • avatar

    Found a car similarly bedecked with a crushed red velour interior just this weekend! A shockingly clean late 80s Bronco II at a Rhode Island wrecking yard. It was a perplexing sight for both its great condition and because it was a Bronco II in the flesh!

    http://www.peopleswheels.com/2013/02/04/wrecked-in-rhode-island/

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I am _loving_ the Jackie Gleason comments ! =8-) .

    In 1978 , we thought it prudent to purchase a 1976 Pontiac Police Car for under $1,000 for resale ~ it was from a small So. Cal. town ship and only had 35,000 miles on it , super clean , ran nice , ICE COLD AC , IIRC it had been a Metro car , no spot lights, white paint and so on… we scrubbed it whistle clean and re sprayed it Alpine White and added the then current Pointiac blue and red pin stripes , parked it out by the front of the shop where I was selling two or three VW Beetles every week….

    Oh crap ~ _NO_ONE_ even stopped to look at it ! it took us over a year to dump it .

    Lesson # 1 of ‘ curbstoning ‘ learned : don’t buy anything for resale unless you’re willing to drive it for a long time .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back in the mid-70 while many other teens swooned over F-body screaming chicken Trans Ams, disco boy Z28′s and the GTO was relegated to the Nova/Ventura platform. I yearned for a 73-75 Grand Am 2 dr of course offered up with a choice of 400 or 455ci power and a 4 speed or TH400. Pontiac’s attempt at a European sports coupe with what they called Radial Tuned Suspension and hi-tech looking for their time Honeycomb aluminum wheels. The Endura bumpers were way ahead of their as well as the Euro style buckets, wrap around cluster and full gauges. Granted it was a mid-sizer quite large for today. Obviously no 2002 or similar taunt German coupe but GM could have learned a little from the burgeoning imports and put a little more driver oriented sensibility into their vehicles instead of designing the X-car.

  • avatar
    chicagoland

    Only the Grand Prix was a ‘personal luxury’ car, since it was a 2 door with unique sheet metal.

    This Grand LeMans was top of the line mid size sedan, not ‘personal’ at all. Pontiac tried to sell police versions, but most departments stuck with full size cars, except ‘Sheriff Justice’.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I have an infinity for the ’75s, the last of the round lights and waterfall tailights.

    Was there ever a Grand Am wagon?

  • avatar
    stevelyon

    My dad had a ’76 LeMans. A car salesman buddy of his called when his dealership had an extra car left over from a local police department order. No “Grand” anything on this car – dog dish hubcaps, vinyl seats, but it was maroon with a maroon interior. Also had the 400 c.i. motor with a 4 bbl carb and the 400 transmission. Low gear was blocked out of the transmission, and I remember it also had a “certified speedometer”.

    Fun car, but man, was it ever hard on gas. I think my dad had it for close to 20 years before it finally rusted away and he sold it to a kid who wanted it for the motor. Must have had 150k+ miles on it by then.

    • 0 avatar
      Rick L.

      I have owned one of these extremely rare factory police package Enforcers for over 20 years. They have several durability/handling enhancements over a regular LeMans. It drives just like my father’s 1996 9C1 police package Caprice, because they share the same basic frame and suspension systems. In fact the police rubber floor mat that is in my LeMans came from a Caprice. The floor pans are virtually identical. The biggest issue with them is the rust, but I wouldn’t trade my car for anything.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I read an an article in Collectible Automobile a few years back and there is still a prototype Grand Am wagon in existence. IIRC it had Snowflake wheels and a moonroof with full Grand Am interior, but basically a LeMans wagon with Grand Am front clip . Nice looking car , actually . Of course, Pontiac made El Camino prototypes for this generation , as well as prior and subsequent versions . Sometimes they were called ” El Catalina ” , not exactly correct Spanish , but an interesting idea . I have heard Pontiac got close to production but GMC dealers complained , as they sometimes marketed their own El Camino clone .

  • avatar
    Rick L.

    The Can Am was a 1977 only model, with only 1377 produced as per Pontiac Motor Division documents. Over 360 are presently accounted for. Most were equipped with the 200 net HP W72 Pontiac 400. A very few which were destined for California had the 403 small block Olds with 185 net HP.

  • avatar
    Vasya Bricklyn

    One of many mid 1970′s Shitstains. This one wasn’t your average 1970′s Shitstain- it was a Grand Shitstain.

  • avatar
    Jols

    Would love to know where this car is, and if parts from it are for sale.
    We have one, running that we are restoring and would love to get parts for it.


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