Curbside Classic: The Most Beautiful Pontiac Ever? 1969 Grand Prix

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
curbside classic the most beautiful pontiac ever 1969 grand prix

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest Pontiac of them all? Pontiac’s golden decade, starting in 1963, has plenty of contenders. The ’63 full-size Pontiacs, headed up by the mile-stone Grand Prix shocked and revolutionized the whole industry. Some love the swashbuckling and hippy ’65 GP, or the even the more voluptuous ’67. The midsized Le Mans and GTO has its fans, as does the ’71 Firebird . But the ’69 Grand Prix may well be the one, for sheer dramatic effect, proportions, and its more restrained size. Well, even if you don’t think the ’69 is the one (and I may be in your camp), I’m going to blow my horn and say that this photo is pretty fair. Does it remind you of something you’ve seen before? “It” was in the back of my mind when I was shooting this GP, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well I had remembered “it” when I got back home:

Like (almost) all of my CC, this was not a staged shot in any way. I was driving out West 11th, taking my daughter to Target in the late afternoon, when I saw the GP. I was pretty anxious about how low the sun was already, because I’ve had trouble with that before, especially with dark cars. But as I stood facing that six-foot long hood, and saw how the low light and shadows were playing in its folds, I suddenly saw a ’69 GP ad in my mind’s eve, the one you’re looking at here. It’s been forty one years since I saw it in Time or Life, but Pontiac’s ads rendered by the team of Art Fitzpatrick (the cars) and Van Kaufman (backgrounds) were the equivalent of Van Gogh or Vargas in my youth.

They perfectly capture the magical essence of Detroit’s golden years, and despite their corniness and slightly psychedelic quality (or because of it), they are my favorite and most deeply impressed-in-my-mind ads of that time. I’m going to do a separate post on their Pontiac work to follow this CC.

The ’69 GP was a major departure for Pontiac, since it had always been the standard bearer of the full-size line. This car sits on an extended 118′ wheelbase version of GM’s mid-size four-doors, which had an extra four inches over the coupes beginning with 1968. Pontiac’s decision to move the GP onto this platform was both brilliant and yet somehow disappointing.

Brilliant in that it anticipated the demise of the full size car, or at least their leading role as trend-setters and glamor-mobiles. Increasingly, full size cars became more sedan-focused, as the big coupes became irrelevant. Which makes sense, given how huge they were becoming, especially after 1971. Pontiac saw this in advance, and their move with the GP signaled a coming corporate-wide shift to “mid-sized” coupes as the standard-bearers and as the big sellers.

The disappointment with this move is easily explained: just look at the interior of this GP. It’s virtually indistinguishable from a pedestrian Le Mans coupe of the same vintage. The big, old GPs came with buckets, console and those magnificent chrome-plated altars of a dash. Well, those were all being sacrificed on the altar of bean-counting anyway, as our recent ’68 Buick Riviera CC showed all too clearly. The sixties marked a big shift by GM and the rest of the US industry in de-contenting luxury cars to keep their cost down and dramatically boost volume. In the process, they lost their exclusivity, and opened the doors for the imports. Buckets and console, along with pretty much all the other goodies, were on the long option list. The 428 HO would be a good one to check off.

The ’69 GP’s price and sales stats tells this tale: its starting price, $3,866 ($22,460, adjusted) is lower than the the inflation adjusted price of its full-size predecessor, but not by nearly as much as it was cheaper to build. Let’s not forget that this is a Le Mans coupe with rhinoplasty and a new C pillar. Sales exploded, to over 112k, four times its bloated ’67 predecessor. Profit margins undoubtedly increased by at least that amount too.

The ’69 GP’s use of the 116″ mid-size platform did come with a price: it had to share the body shell with Chevrolet, for their new Monte Carlo. Pontiac did get the first year for itself, as a reward for its efforts. But sales dipped in 1970 and for the rest of this body style through 1972, probably because of the MC.

Speaking of 1971, there are some who probably like the refreshed face of the ‘ 71 – ’72 GP even more than the original. With its single headlights and more “classic” grille, it unfortunately became the prototype for all those garish seventies “Super Fly” customs and pimp-mobiles, like the Bugazzi. That’s where this handsome coupe starts lose it for me; it and the Lincoln Mark III shared the same proportions and details that were too obvious retro with their exaggerated long hoods, classic grilles, vinyl tops, and other affectations. The 1963 Grand Prix was still a trail-blazer; the ’69 a follower stylistically, and a trend-setter for a garish decades of coupes to come.

This GP also makes an interesting contrast to the XJ-C coupe we did earlier this week. They both came out about the same time (the Jag’s sedan donor, that is), and are clearly contenders for the all-time coupe beauty sweepstakes. Me? I’ll take the Jag with the Grand Prix’ engine and electrical system. And a nice ’63 GP to keep it company. How about you?

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  • Hopponit Hopponit on Jun 23, 2010

    Still an impressive beast. I got my 69 to replace my 69 firebird 350 that was totaled (in aug. '72) by a guy having a heart attack. Mine was the high-output 400 4v with turbo400, 3.08 to 1 rear. It was one of only two in our town. The other was a triple white '70 SJ(455 was standard in the SJ in 70, the 428 was 69). The over heating problem was traced to a bad sending unit after a new pump, thermostat, and clutch-fan (a ten dollar part, after spending hundreds)and it needed all new springs due to the prev. owners son jumping it over hills (He had smashed the exh. pipes under the engine into a D shape when it hit the ground)I went for a stiffer springs but it still had some body roll when cornering at high speed. Motor Trends road test listed the top speed of the 69 SJ 428, auto 3.26 to 1 rear) as 129 mph. Being an idiot at the time I tested that personally on rt 60 from Malden to Witcher Creek. The stock non calibrated speedo said 130 after the last 5 miles of running flat-out. My firebird (350 2v auto, 2.56 to 1 rear) could never show more than 125 in the same run although it did it many times on the way to and home from school in Charleston. BY the way the GP had 2inch exh but the Mote Carlo had 1 3/4 inch. one of the ways at the time to help the flow of the MC was to order GP exh. I agree the 62,63, and 65 were great designs but I love the 69-and 70. When Professor Fulmer retired from Pontiac styling in '66 to come teach Engineering at WVIT He told me his last car he bought was his favorite styling he had done. He had a new '66 Lemans 4drht with the single overhead cam 6. It was light blue and well optioned. One thing the GP had by accident was a cup holder.I could place a tallboy style Pepsi bottle in the drivers ash-tray and have it diappear up to the top third of the bottle. God that was a huge ash-tray. The only one I've seen bigger was on my '66 Buick Riv.

  • Solemandd67 Solemandd67 on Jan 04, 2013

    1969 Grand Prix. The most beautiful car ever made. Why? The summer of '69. Our family members bought new cars. My aunt Nancy bought a white '69 Marquis Brougham. My aunt Bennie bought a '69 New Yorker. They were nice but... My mother, whom I lost this past April, bought a '69 Grand Prix Model J. She ordered it from Van Winkle Pontiac in Dallas,Tx. She wanted it painted a special color=Deep Water Blue. That's a '67 Chevorlet color. It came with a Parchment Cordova grain vinyl top and got the salesman to get her 1970 GP Parchemnt leather buckets. They were not available on 69's. She sold our '65 Corvair Monza and drove my grandmothers extra car, a '61 Falcon until our car arrived. It came Aug 1st. That June I turned 5 and she 35. Although I saw GP's in the showroom and loved the interior, I dont recall seeing a navy blue and white one. When the car was driven to the front of the dealership I was struck dumb. It's that moment that all car lovers remember when one car BURNS in your brain. It was beautiful! Tilt/AC/PW/PWR Drivers Seat. I remember that black dash and carpeting making the white seats float. We stood there as they removed the plastic pff of them. The salesmam walked to the fron of the car and opend that 6 Ft hood. The chrome valve covers on That 400 CID V8 made the Corvairs engine look like a toy. You could smell the fresh paint on the outside and the leather on the inside. A few salesman came from the showroom to look at it. The only thing she'd forgotten was the Pontiac mats, but before she pulled away, she paid for a set and the salesman placed them for us. It was odd back then for an African American woman to be so focused when purchasing a new car but my mother wasnt ordinary. She was divorced. She supervised the lab of Dr. George Miller, father of musician Steve Miller. She was intelligent and she loved Pontiacs and when she wanted something a certain way, she got it. I remember how long it took and the calls that salesman made just to order that car. He was very nice and when I got tired he'd get me a soda or hand me another brochure. She drove it to my grandmothers house and her neighbors poured over it. I remember the springs on those door handles being tight. For 5 consecutive nights she would take me out to the driveway to look at our new car at my request. Because it was the summer I stayed at my grandmothers while she was at work and one morning she stopped and treated us to Hostess cup cakes and milk before she dropped me off. She had pleanty of napkins and I was very careful not to drop anything. I couldnt figure out why I Hhad to ride in the back seat behind her at all times instead of the front seat until.... The night of she 6th day of ownership. She came to my grandmother house to pick me up. Since she was the lab supervisor she was the first to arrive and the last to leave frequently. I had talked about the car non-stop since she bought it. I held the brochures she and the saleman gave me. I was in heaven. My grandmother wanted us to spend the night and offered to wash my mothers uniform out for her. That way she'd not have to drive home and get up so early and drop me off. Plus she'd be closer to work. I put on a sad face. She knew I wanted to ride in the GP although I was sleepy. She relented to me.... We were 4 blocks from home. All I remember Is I woke upm just for a second before I felt the jolt, heard her scream NNNOOOO!and felt like I was floating. I woke up to her slapping my face. A drunk diver had totaled that beautiful car and the impact was so hard I flew over her head and into the windsheild. She always said the back seat was the safest place for a passenger per Ralph Nader. I know a Mothers love. When I apologized to her years later she told me it wasnt my fault and she never held it against me but none the less I still feel guilty just the same. I've had over 30 old cars and yes I did get a 69 GP Model J. It was just like hers except it was tripple white and had Morrokide interior. I was living in San Diego. She never sat in the car but I told her about it and sent her pics. I wanted to have it painted that same color but couldnt bring myself to do it. Everytime I see a 69 GP I think of My Mother. Thank you for the pics Solemandd67

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂