Junkyard Find: 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix LJ

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

From the time John DeLorean and his Pontiac co-conspirators created the 1962 Grand Prix until the very last W-Body Grand Prix appeared a couple of years before Pontiac's demise, millions of North American car shoppers eagerly purchased the affordable sportiness of the Grand Prix. Today's Junkyard Find is an example from the very pinnacle of Grand Prix sales, found in pretty decent condition in a Colorado self-service wrecking yard.

The #1 and #2 all-time sales years for the Grand Prix were 1977 and 1976, respectively. 228,091 were sold for the 1976 model year. Throw in the even bigger sales for a couple of this car's A-Body siblings in 1976 (353,272 for the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, 385,578 for all two-door Oldsmobile Cutlass models) and you get a sense of the huge numbers of new A-Body coupes roaming the roads back then.

There were three trim levels for the 1976 Grand Prix: base, SJ and LJ. This is an LJ, which was the most luxurious Grand Prix available that year.

The LJ's price tag varied, depending on which paint and interior options were selected. This MSRP on this one (standard paint with 60/40 velour seating) would have been $5,568, or about $30,128 in 2023 dollars.

This was a lot of Bordello Red velour luxury for that kind of money, though we'll see that many costly options were purchased by this car's original buyer.

For example, this AM/FM/8-track stereo with built-in CB radio, which cost… well, I'm not sure. The AM/FM/8-track without CB was $337 (about $1,823 today), but this unit isn't listed in any of my reference books for 1976. It could be an aftermarket unit, or one swapped in from a later GM vehicle.

I thought about buying this one, but the microphone was missing (and I already have one from a slightly later Cadillac).

This thing is loaded, including power seats ($124, or $671 now).

Air conditioning ($505, or $2,732 today).

Power windows and locks ($99 and $62, or $536 and $335 after inflation).

The "Cordova landau top" came standard on the LJ. This one has been ravaged in the manner common to such tops that sit outdoors for long periods in High Plains Colorado.

The monogrammed quarter windows were standard equipment on all 1976 GPs.

This car appears to have the "Rally Gauges" package, which cost an extra $45 in the LJ ($243 in 2023 dollars).

As you can see from those preceding numbers, we are spoiled by all the standard features we get on even the cheapest new cars today.

Unusually for a midsize car from a low-prestige manufacturer in the middle-1970s, the 1976 Grand Prix came standard with an automatic transmission. Buyers of the closely related 1976 Pontiac LeMans got a three-speed column-shift manual transmission as base equipment.

The base engine in the 1976 Grand Prix LJ was a 400-cubic-inch (6.5-liter) Pontiac V8 with four-barrel carburetor, rated at 170 horsepower and 310 pound-feet.

For an extra $63 ($341 now), a Pontiac 455 (7.5-liter) V8 was available. That engine made 200 horses and 330 pound-feet, while providing single-digit gas mileage midway between the 1973 and 1979 Oil Crises.

The 400 wasn't much more economical, but so what? Not everyone was willing to drive a Corolla or Chevette in 1976. Just look at this car!

Chrysler (somewhat belatedly) recognized that the Grand Prix, Cutlass Supreme and Monte Carlo could be out-blinged, and so the even more rococo Cordoba hit the showrooms for the 1975 model year. Sales were brisk.

Performance wasn't great during the depths of the Malaise Era, but it was a golden age for strip-club-owner-grade luxury.

In fact, it's easy to picture Cosmo Vitelli driving a '76 Grand Prix (instead of his Cadillac) in " The Killing of a Chinese Bookie," which hit theaters in 1976.

This car is in good shape, with very little rust.

The interior needs very little beyond a cleaning. Some body and paint work would make this GP very nice.

Would a restoration of this car have been a wise investment? Maybe, though much nicer examples with even better options seem to argue against that idea.

For the 1978 model year, the GM A-Bodies got downsized. Grand Prix sales gradually declined after that, then picked up when the name moved over to the front-wheel-drive W Platform for 1988.

If you've been waiting since 1962 to be able to afford a Grand Prix, 1976 is your year!

Some say it's the most beautiful car in America.

[Images: Seller]

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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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  • Craiger Craiger on Apr 11, 2023

    This breaks my heart. Ever since i was a kid in the 1970s I've always loved the 1976 GP because of that year's unique grill design. All of the late 1970s GM A-bodies were badass first cars for young guys in the early 1980s, especially the GP and the Cutlass. In Brooklyn and Queens where I grew up, those cars were (almost) the blue collar equivalent of BMW 3 Series.

  • Jboi Carter Jboi Carter on Jul 25, 2023

    do u still have have the ac compressor

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X As much problems as I had with my '96 Chevy Impala SS.....I would love to try one again. I've seen a Dark Cherry Metallic one today and it looked great.
  • Susan O’Neil There is a good reason to keep the Chevrolet Malibu and other 4 door family sedans! You can transport your parents and other somewhat handicapped people comfortably and safety! If someone can stand and pivot you can put them in your car. An armrest in the back seat is appreciated and a handle above the door! Oh…and leather seats so your passenger can slide across the seat! 😊Plus, you can place a full sized wheelchair or walker in the trunk! The car sits a little lower…so it’s doable! I currently have a Ford Fusion and we have a Honda Accord. Our previous cars were Mercury Sables-excellent for transporting handicapped people and equipment! As the population ages-sedans are a very practical choice! POV from a retired handicapped advocate and daughter! 😊
  • Freddie Remember those ads that say "Call your doctor if you still have...after four hours"?You don't need to call your doctor, just get behind the wheel of a CUV. In fact, just look at one.I'm a car guy with finite resources; I can't afford a practical car during the week plus a fun car on the weekend. My solution is my Honda Civic Si 4 door sedan. Maybe yours is a Dodge Charger (a lot of new Chargers are still on dealer lots).
  • Daniel J Interesting in that we have several weeks where the temperature stays below 45 but all weather tires can't be found in a shop anywhere. I guess all seasons are "good enough".
  • Steve Biro For all the talk about sedans vs CUVs and SUVs, I simply can’t bring myself to buy any modern vehicle. And I know it’s only going to get worse.
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