Junkyard Find: 1990 Pontiac Grand Am, With Quad 4 Power

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
I have photographed and wrote about interesting (to me) junkyard cars for nearly a decade, and so far I have not photographed a single one of the hundreds of discarded BMW E30s I have found in my travels. In fact, I just shot my first E30 the other day (a 325e with automatic, don’t get too excited), but first I must share a car I find far more interesting: an N-Body Grand Am with gray cloth interior and Oldsmobile Quad 4 engine.
Grand Ams are plentiful in junkyards, and they offer us a history of GM’s ups and downs from the beginning of the Malaise Era to the dawn of the current century. When Juggalos captures an alleged thief at the Gathering and his car destroyed by a vengeful, Faygo-fueled mob, what kind of car was it? Grand Am, of course!
During my junkyard adventures, I have photographed this Iron-Duke-powered ’89 with Field Expedient Lexan windows, this extremely hooptie ’91 with Iron Duke and scary stencils, this ’00 with RAM AIR and much plastic cladding, and this ’02 GT with a NO FEAR steering wheel. Yeah, yeah, that E30 is coming soon, I promise.
The Quad 4 engine was quite advanced for 1980s Detroit — maybe not as advanced as the Hydra-Matic transmission in 1940 or the small-block Chevrolet engine in 1955, but still a big technological jump forward. This one displaced 2.3 liters and made 160 horsepower, which was very impressive in 1990.
The original Grand Am (in 1973) also had 16 valves, but they were divided among eight cylinders.
The automatic seat belts of the early 1990s (mandated in cars with no driver’s side airbag) were pure misery, though not as maddening as the flaky seat belt starter interlock systems seen 16 years earlier.
Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole and the Reagan Administration made the center brake light mandatory in all new U.S.-market cars built after September 9, 1985, but it took a few more years for GM to integrate the “Libby Light” into cars in a manner that looked less tacked-on.
This pseudo-velour wasn’t the most comfortable upholstery material ever made and it stained easily, but it withstood harsh sun reasonably well.
If you can stand it this hot, the 1990 Grand Am is one red-hot ride!
Allegedly the best-selling compact in America.[Images: © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]
Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • CaseyLE82 CaseyLE82 on Aug 24, 2016

    This made me miss the first car I ever bought for myself, which was a 1988 baby blue Grand Am. My friends were "afraid" to ride in it, and I will say that it was in pretty bad shape. Cars that were 10 years old in 1998 (when I bought it) were a lot worse than cars that are 10 years old now. That's for sure.

  • THE_F0nz THE_F0nz on Aug 31, 2016

    I was a Quad 4 aficionado back in the day. Built multiple of them. My favorite was an N/A monster that idled like a Harley Davidson at stoplights. http://www.cardomain.com/member/phantomgtz/ (unfortunately all of my posts are jumbled with the new cardomain site. Just keep loading posts for pretty pictures.) Sold my last turbo motor to a Fiero race team before I could drop it in. I don't think it ever saw track time sadly, as the project moved on. Damn college tuition getting in the way of a 20 year old's dreams...

  • KOKing "One of the most interesting parts of this situation is that Stellantis, and by extension, the Chrysler Group, is increasingly considered a foreign company instead of a traditional American automaker."Does that mean Simca and Hillman are coming back?
  • Redapple2 34 yr in Michigan salt?
  • Mike-NB2 Zero. Not interested at all. I often don't have my phone with me, and if I do, I completely ignore it. Unless it were to catch fire, of course. But I'm old, so that has to be taken into account too.
  • Urlik It’s only important to me for navigation. OEM’s do Nav all wrong and charge for the privilege. While once they charged big money for map updates, they charge subscriptions for the privilege of a worse Nav than you have on your phone.The other stuff mirroring brings is mere gravy.
  • Rna65689660 Zero interest