By on April 9, 2020

Rare Rides reviews another Pontiac today. And much like the recently featured Bonneville, it’s large and in charge, from the Seventies, and has two doors. Let’s see how much horsepower the 1977 Can Am gained through stickers and spoilers.

The Can Am was one of the final developments of the fourth-generation Le Mans. A brand new car in 1973, the Le Mans used a new platform that still carried the title of A-body. Wheelbase remained unchanged at 112 inches for gen four, and many of the same engine options remained, as well. The exciting new Le Mans was available with power that ranged from a 250 cubic inch (4.1-liter) inline-six, through a 455 (7.5L) V8. Transmissions offered were three- and four-speed manuals, as well as a three-speed automatic. Given the world was still in the era of body style choice, Le Mans was available with two doors as a coupe, and four doors as a sedan and wagon.

Updates in 1974 brought the visage of Le Mans into the styling theme Pontiac would use through the entire Eighties (and into the Nineties). By 1977 the fourth-generation Le Mans was on its last legs; a downsizing in wheelbase, overall length, and engine displacement was imminent. Pontiac decided to develop a special edition at the last moment, introducing the ’77 Can Am at NAIAS in January of 1977.

Standard on this new special edition were the shaker scoop from the Trans Am and a 400 cubic inch (6.6L) engine. The 400 used was not the standard version, which made a strangled 180 horsepower, but rather the T/A W72. Said engine produced a more respectable 200 horsepower in those heady times. Pontiac shipped the W72 to 49 states, but customers in the Republic of California made do with an Oldsmobile 403 generating 185 horses.

Visually, all Can Ams were nearly identical. The only paint color available was Cameo White. Trim around windows was black instead of chrome, and there were black lower panels for a grounded to the ground look. Tape stripes of the flashy disco variety were added in orange, yellow, and red. On the shaker scoop, “T/A 6.6” was found on 49-state cars, and California versions read “6.6 LITRE” to make customers feel inadequate. The three-speed automatic was the only transmission fitted.

All Can Ams had a unique fiberglass spoiler not found on any other Pontiac. Color-key rally wheels were fitted as standard, but Trans Am snowflakes were optional. Also optional was the sunroof, which could be fitted in metal or glass. Inside, things were a bit more upscale than a typical Le Mans, as Can Am used the dashboard from a Grand Prix. Interior colors were standard Le Mans fare.

The process to turn a Le Mans into a Can Am occurred at Jim Wangers’ Motortown, where Mr. Wangers fitted the trim and distributed finished cars to dealers. Upon introduction, the Can Am was an immediate success. Though General Motors planned to make 2,500, they received more than double that in orders. But disaster struck! After six months and 1,133 Can Ams, the mold Motortown used to fabricate the rear spoiler was ruined. General Motors quickly decided to… can the project. Some Pontiac executives were never fond of the Can Am anyway, as they felt its use of the Grand Prix dashboard cannibalized sales from the more expensive model. A quick blip on the radar, and Can Am was gone.

Today’s Rare Ride was sold via a Florida dealer recently for an undisclosed sum.  It was in fantastic condition, with 16,000 miles.

[Images: seller]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

46 Comments on “Rare Rides: Aggressive Luxury With the 1977 Pontiac Can Am...”


  • avatar
    Dave M.

    What a great find from the era of “HP through tape stripes”, although I know this model got the 400. The Lemans was my favorite A body, and probably the slowest selling of the four. I never understood the love for the Cutlass until ’76-’77 where the front end was cleaned up nicely. I prefer the ’74 Lemans for the waterfall taillights; I’d also sell one of the kids for a ’73-’74 wagon with the Grand Am front clip…I saw one many years ago…

    • 0 avatar
      cprescott

      These Pontiacs have aged gracefully over the 40 plus years (egads!) since they were new. I just love the dashboard on this car!

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      What they lacked in horsepower they made up in stripes and louvers

    • 0 avatar
      msquare

      This was indeed the spiritual successor to the Grand Am, which was dropped about the same time the Chevelle Laguna was, as in right when the A-bodies got rectangular headlights.

      The Grand Prix dash was also standard on Grand Ams and Grand LeMans, so there appeared to be enough to go around for the Grand Prix, though the other two models were also available with four doors.

      One peculiarity of the A-bodies was that starting in ’68 the coupes had 112-inch wheelbases and the sedans 116 inches. As opposed to the single 115-inch wheelbase of the original 1964-67 cars. The Olds Vista Cruiser and Buick Sport Wagon had even longer 121-inch wheelbases but all wagons were on the 116-inch chassis from ’73 onward.

      My dad had a standard ’77 coupe with the 301 engine (slow with a very tall rear end but got great highway mileage), so I’m quite familiar with the cars. I can tell you this one has the base LeMans interior with bucket seats but with the upgraded dash. That in itself is an interesting combo.

      The drivetrain is straight out of a Trans Am, save for a manual transmission option. California Trans Ams also suffered with the less-powerful Olds 403, but the T/A 6.6 came out in ’77 with 220 hp, 20 more than the 455 had in ’76, its last year. All the 455’s were gone for ’77, the 454 Chevy was only available in trucks and even Cadillac shrunk to 425 cubic inches from 500.

      There wasn’t much of a weight difference between this car and the Trans Am, so the performance should be comparable. If anything, the handling might be even better as this chassis also carried over to the downsized B-bodies, which were considered among the best-handling cars made in the USA at the time.

      • 0 avatar
        Carlson Fan

        “There wasn’t much of a weight difference between this car and the Trans Am, so the performance should be comparable. If anything, the handling might be even better as this chassis also carried over to the downsized B-bodies, which were considered among the best-handling cars made in the USA at the time.”

        I owned a ’79 Trans Am and your correct that they were a heavy car. Mine had the WS6 and highly doubt that this car could have ever stuck with it around a clover leaf. Black on Black, SE, 400/4SP and every option you could put on it that mattered(T-roof, full power, AC, deluxe hobnail interior), it was pretty much the holy grail of ’79 TA’s. Damn I wish I still had that car!

        • 0 avatar

          What does hobnail even mean?!

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            Corey ithe cloth interiors in the cars during this time were referred to as “hobnail cloth”.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          @ square & Carlson Fan – In a premature senior moment, I conflated this vintage of A-body with the rwd X-body and was thinking these were semi-unitized. BOF it is, though. Some comments I’ve read in other threads on other sites seem to corroborate the notion that the ’77 B chassis can be seen as a progressive development of the ’73 A chassis.

          My seat time in the B-bodies was extremely limited, but I’d qualify the praise of their handling slightly. First, I think the baseline for comparison was the giant ’71 B-body – not exactly a high bar. Second, a lot of the praise we read is internet comments echoing other internet comments, which in turn are echoing the Oct 1976 issue of Car and Driver. That article’s praise is really focused on F41-equipped Caprices and Impalas. In reality, most B-bodies purchased by the average consumer were a good deal floatier. Now the counter-counterpoint to that is that the F41 package cost only $36, which was a huge bargain even if plugged into an inflation calculator ($153). In contrast, a present-day Camry SE is $1200 more than an LE and mandates boy-racer styling changes that make it meaningfully uglier.

          http://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/vintage-review-1977-chevrolet-caprice-a-whole-new-ball-game/

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Don’t recall ever seeing one of these, but with a few more than 1,100 made and a California only model, that’s not surprising.
    I would not have been hard to make a mold off of one of the production spoilers, but that’s probably not the way GM would do it.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I had the Grand Prix version of this with the 455ci engine, it was a good car, but it was definitely more steak with just a bit of sizzle

    • 0 avatar

      My parents had a 73 GP maroon and later a 77 GP in gold. Massive cars, but at 85 mph everything Detroit ever promised. I took my driver test in a friend’s Corolla, because parallel parking the GP with the opera windows was too much to ask, and the manual in the Toyota wasn’t an issue, because dirt bikes….

      The Can Am was super cool in the day. The GP was more lux…but I do recall seeing the CA.

      The big Pontiac chassis with a big block, steel belted radials-quiet, torque, you owned the road…

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    When I hear “Florida”, “dealer” and “undisclosed sum” used in the same sentence, my mind automatically goes to “money” and “laundering”.

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    Saw a very-nice-condition one of these not too long ago in a local collection. It was rather more impressive in person than I thought it would be. Nice car.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I remember these well. The “T/A 6.6” as seen here is the Pontiac 400, and the “6.6 LITRE” in California is the Olds 403, just like on the Trans Am.

    The Grand Am was cool too, plus you could get it with four doors, and with the 455.

  • avatar
    MeJ

    Want to hate, secretly love…

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    Loved these cars as a kid, saw a few of them around when they were new(er). My 7th-grade math teacher had one as her daily driver, and used to see her bombing around town in it. Couldn’t stand her, loved the car….

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I had a fully loaded 1976 Grand Prix SJ. Blue with a white interior and the 455 cid engine.

    The first time I drove it, I smoked the tires.

    Liked the ‘gage’ cluster and the number of interior lights. Despite its ‘radial tuned suspension’ it was rather ponderous in corners/turns.

    It came equipped with Firestone 500 radials. I had 2 of them blow out with very low mileage (on separate occasions). Both at highway speeds. One on Highway 401 and the other on the Don Valley Parkway just south of Bloor. Those who have driven these highways will realize that even in the mid 1970’s these were busy and fairly dangerous stretches to have this happen. The 2nd one prompted me to replace the Grand Prix. Yeah, I threw away a lot of money on vehicles back then and replaced them like Seinfeld replaced girlfriends.

    The Grand Prix SJ was just one of a string of ‘big engined’ PLCs of that era that I owned/leased. Including a Cordoba, a Grand Torino Elite and a Thunderbird.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Here’s a Dennis Gage jaunt in a ’76 Grand Prix SJ: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0SM04kYKqA

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @Featherston: Thanks for that. Mine had the same interior. “If you were driving one of these you were styling.” Well I certainly thought so. But those Firestone tires as noted were terrible when new, I wouldn’t want to drive on 40 year old ones.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Someone in the town where I grew up had one of these. It would stand out from other mid sized muscle and pony cars of the era.

    While others swooned over the screaming chicken Trans Am’s I was far more of a fan of the 73-75 Grand Am with its Endura nose and European tuned handling package.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I like these, but I’m tacky.

    Also makes me think of the Chevy Malibu Laguna.

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    Reading for comprehension is a requirement here??? We’re gonna lose a BUNCH of people then!

  • avatar
    downunder

    Was the metric “6.6” applied to give the vehicle a European flavour, as opposed to the muscle car cubic inches? I doubt that the buyer(s) would have been able to do the math to convert from liters to cubic inches

  • avatar
    71charger_fan

    I knew of one of these. A co-worker bought it new and last I saw it in the late ’90s, it still looked brand new. A nice package, especially for its era, but I just couldn’t get used to the front end. Would have been far more appealing with the ’73-’74 Grand Am nose.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    IMHO the Pontiac was the best looking of the colonnades. The Can-Am is very cool, but I prefer the Grand-Am (in blue or burgundy please). Pontiac definitely had the nicest interior as well. A 400 G/A with a 4-speed would be my dream Poncho.

  • avatar
    slap

    I started college the year this generation of GM intermediate cars came out. The previous generation had some of the best styling from GM. This generation was some of the worst, and to me embodies why and when GM started losing its way.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Cool car & awesome interior but it would look a whole better with a steering wheel in it from a ’77 Trans Am

  • avatar
    gkhize

    A friend special ordered a Can Am. When he told us what he’d ordered we all wondered what the heck it even was. He got the black interior and that thing did look sharp. To the best of my knowledge he never did get rid of it. The last time I saw it was a number of years ago and it was all rusted out and relegated to farm car duty.

  • avatar
    theoldguard

    T/A 6.6 was decent engine—for the times. Those 70’s cars ran much better when you pulled the catalytic converter off and ran real dual exhausts.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “T/A 6.6 was decent engine—for the times. Those 70’s cars ran much better when you pulled the catalytic converter off and ran real dual exhausts.”

      Agree, add a set of headers and a mild cam like my ’79 TA had and they went pretty good.

  • avatar
    427Cobra

    One of the houses on my paper route had one of these new. Was a nice change from the hideous orange/black ’74 AMC Matador coupe (Barcelona Edition). I guess it was foreshadowing… about 5-6 years later, I had a ’78 Pontiac Grand LeMans… two-tone cream & bronze, factory mags, velour interior… loved that car… had 236,000 miles on it when I sold it in 1991… still looked & ran great…

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • Fred: Manufacture’s go thru these buying spree and then the eventual sell off. Then again his allows some new...
  • SCE to AUX: Good, brief article on “Five Nines” as it relates to safety: https://www.eetimes.com/is-...
  • slavuta: This is the right way to have a debate youtube.com/watch?v=iAwioqbvui s
  • tankinbeans: A large misgiving of mine is the mechanics behind how the system works and losing track of what does...
  • Lou_BC: “left utopia” A utopia is by definition….? “place or state of things in which...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber