Legendary would be a good word to describe the Pontiac Grand Am, a mid-size car that was Pontiac's best selling car that would be produced from the 1970s through the 2000's. The 'mid-sized Pontiac with Foreign Intrigue', the conpact Grand Am was full of 'American ingenuity' with a European flair. Produced by the Pontiac division of General Motors, the Pontiac Grand Am was produced in two separate 3-year runs in the 1970s from 1973 to 1975 and once again from 1978 through 1980. The Grand Am was based on the GM A platform. In 1980 the Grand Am was cancelled and replaced by the Pontiac 6000.
The Grand Am returned in 1985 as the replacement of the Pontiac Phoenix. Before it was replaced by the Pontiac G6 (named as intended to be the 6th generation of the Grand Am), the Grand Am was Pontiac's best selling car. From 1973 through 1985 the Grand Am was produced in Pontiac, Michigan at Pontiac's main assembly plant at GMAD Lakewood. From 1985 through 2005 all Grand Am's were produced in Lansing, Michigan at the Lansing Car Assembly.
During the fall of 1972 the first Grand Am model was debuted as a 1973 model, based on the GM A-body platform, much like other cars; the Pontiac GTO, Chevrolet Chevelle, Buick Century and the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. The following year the GM A-body platform underwent major design changes that included removing the pillarless hardtops thanks to proposed federal rollover standards. The frameless windows were very similar to those of a hardtop. Because of these predicted federal rollover standards (which never even came to pass), no convertibles were produced. In 1974 new federal standards required a 5mph impact-resistant front bumper and a 2.5 mph impact-resistant rear bumper, which was increased to 5 mph, in addition to federal emissions regulations that reduced performance.
The Grand Am name was a collaboration of the 'Grand' signifying 'Grand Prix luxury' and 'Am' for 'Trans Am performance' and was designed by Pontiac as a match for European luxury sports sedans. The Grand Am was available as a 4-door Colonnade sedan or a 2-door Colonnade coupe and a total of 43,136 Grand Ams were produced the first year.
Powering the first generation Grand Am was either a standard 2-bbl 400 cu in (6.6 L) V8 engine with single exhaust that produced 170 hp, an optional 4-bbl version of this engine with dual exhaust that produced 230 hp, or an optional 4-bbl 455 cu in (7.5 L) with dual exhaust 250 hp. The 310 hp Super Duty version of the 4-bbl 455 V8 engine didn't become available. All Trans Am engines weren't available with a Turbo-hydramatic 400 automatic transmission as standard equipment. Though not a popular option, a 4-speed manual transmission was available with the 400/4-bbl engine in 1973 and 1974.
Unique in its design, the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am featured a unique flexible urethane front fascia center nose, known as the 'Endura' nose. This nose was squeezable and could easily return to its original shape in the event of a minor collision. Other modifications included new-energy absorbing bumpers, six grille openings with vertical bars, horizontal rear tail lights, round front turn signals with a cross-hair design and a chrome rear bumper. Other features include a Radial Tuned Suspension (RTS) as standard equipment with radial-ply tires, front and rear sway bars and Pliacell shock absorbers. Pontiac advertised the springs as being ‘computer selected'. In 1973 the Grand Am had the honor of being one of only three GM vehicles with standard radial tires and appropriate suspension tuning. (The other two cars were the Chevrolet Monte Carlo S and the Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon.)
Inside the Grand Am were plush Strato bucket seats with upholstery choices in Naugahyde vinyl or corduroy cloth, with manual recliners and adjustable lumbar supports, features more commonly found on European-style sports sedans not typically American cars of the time. The Grand Am also received the instrument panel from the Grand Prix complete with a Rally gauge cluster with fuel, oil, water and volt gauges, three-spoke padded steering wheel with brushed-stainless spokes, and Genuine Crossfire African Mahogany trim on the dash facing, radio and clock surrounds, along with the center console between the front seats. Optional was a tachometer or fuel economy gauge and on cars equipped this way the clock was relocated to a space on the lower instrument panel under the radio.
Common in imported cars for decades, the Grand Am was among the first U.S.-built cars with a turn-signal mounted headlight dimmer switch. Other standard Trans Am equipment included an in-the-windshield radio antenna, a 1.12-inch front stabilizer bar and concealed windshield wipers. Optional features included air conditioning, power windows-locks-seats, tinted glass, rear defogger, tilt-steering-wheel and various sound systems. Also optional was AM/FM stereo with a tape player.
One 1973 Grand Am station wagon was produced by Pontiac as a feasibility study. A LeMans wagon converted to a Grand Am, the station wagon featured a functional ram-air induction system developed for the Pontiac A-bodies utilizing twin NACA openings in the hood, but the option was dropped because of inability to pass federally mandated drive-by noise standards. Some Ram Air systems were sold over the counter. Though non-functional, the twin-scoop NACA hood was an option for any Pontiac A-body for all three years.
The 1974 Grand Am only featured minor styling updates that included a redesigned nose and grille with 12 openings with horizontal bars. The rear-end styling was redesigned for the new 5 mph crash standards and had vertical rear taillights and a relocated license plate and fuel filler above the bumper. The engine and transmission offerings from the previous year remained the same, but four-speed manual transmissions weren't available in California anymore, only the Turbo Hydra-matic automatic. Delamination issues on the 1973 models required a change to a simulated material rather than the genuine African crossfire mahogany trim on the instrument panel, though the real wood continued on the center console, optional console clock, and radio bezel. Unfortunately sales in 1974 dropped nearly 50 percent because of the 1973 oil crisis. Prices increased for all 1974 model cars while the recession continued, and only 17,083 Grand Ams were built.
Not many changes were made in 1975, but some cosmetic updates included vertical front grille bars and a body-colored rear bumper. Other updates included a catalytic converter single-exhaust, which mandated the use of unleaded fuel, along with GM's High Energy Ignition and other items developed as part of Pontiac's maximum mileage system. Grand Am coupes now wore a standard roofline with louvered rear side windows with the optional vinyl roof that could be ordered with a full triangular rear side window or a vertical opera window, very similar to the Grand Prix's.
The interior of the 1975 Grand Am featured updated vertical trim patters on the Strato bucket seats. The adjustable lumbar support controls were eliminated, and only the passenger seat featured a recliner, which was a 'safety practice' continued at GM for a decade. A no-cost option 60/40 bench seat with a center armrest was available this year.
New emission regulations were enforced this year, so engines were detuned with the compression ratio dropping to a new low of 7.6 to 1 on some engines. Standard this year was the 170 hp 400 cu in (6.6 L) V8 engine with two-barrel carburetor, while optional was a 185 hp 400, or a 200 hp 455 cu in (7.5 L) – both with four-barrel carburetors. Standard equipment was the Turbo Hydra-matic and the only transmission offered this year. The Grand Am could achieve 0-60 mph in just 7.7 seconds.
In 1975 a total of 10,679 Grand Ams were produced before the series was dropped due to declining sales and rising gas prices because of the 1973 oil crisis. Also on the horizon was all 1976 Pontiac A-body cars receiving the newly approved rectangular headlights which would require a complete redesign of the Grand Am's Endura nose. This overhaul was deemed to be too expensive of a project and one that couldn't be justified based on low production numbers. Until 1977 the basic GM A-body design remained the same.
The second generation of the Grand Am was introduced in 1978 and would be produced until 1980, riding on a 108.1-inch wheelbase, with an overall length of 198.6 inches and a width of 72.4 inches. Now based on the Grand Prix's G platform, the 1978 Grand Am was downsized from the previous generation and was now available in both two- and four-door models. The updated model now featured a vertical bar grille and other trimmings that separated it from the LeMans, upon which it was based. This Grand Am generation once again featured radial tires plus an upgraded Radial Tuned Suspension with front and rear sway bars.
The interior of the second generation was similar to the Grand LeMans with either a standard notchback bench seat, optional Strato bucket seats with console and recliner on passenger side or optional 60/40 bench, an optional tachometer, and buyers choice of either cloth or Morrokide vinyl upholstery.
Standard equipment on the 1975 Grand Am included power front disc brakes, power steering, Turbo Hydra-matic transmission and full instrumentation. Powering the compact was Pontiac's 301 cu in (4.9 L) V8 engine with two-barrel carburetor producing 140 hp. An optional version was a 4-bbl 155 hp engine with a variety of extra cost features like snowflake wheels, whitewall or white-lettered tires, power windows and seats, sunroof, tilt steering wheel and cruise control.
Pontiac V8 engines hadn't been available in California since 1977 because of strict emission regulations. Chevrolet V8 engines were substituted in CA to include a standard 135-hp 305 cu in (5.0 L) V8 with two-barrel carburetor or optional four-barrel version with 145 hp.
Minor updates in 1979 included the normal trim tweaks and the demotion of the standard powertrain to a Buick 231 cu in (3.8 L) V7 and floor-mounted three-speed manual transmission, now as standard equipment. Now optional was the 301 V8, rated at 135 hp with a two-barrel carburetor or 150 hp with four-barrel, and Turbo Hydra-matic transmission.
New this year was a four-speed manual available with the 150-hp 301 four-barrel in 49 states. California only allowed an automatic transmission and engine offerings that included the standard Buick 21 cu in (3.8 L) V6 engine with two-barrel carburetor and 110 hp or optional Chevrolet 305 V8 rated at 160 hp with four-barrel carb.
On the inside, aluminum trim replaced the wood-grained instrument panel, and the gauge faces were now black with white letters and numbers instead of silver with black letters and numbers. Once again interior choices included cloth or Morrokide trims with standard notchback bench seat, or optional 60/40 bench or Strato bucket seats with console. Optional for 1979 was an AM/FM CB radio combo and a heated rear window. The Grand Am was featured in the 1979 NASCAR Grand National circuit.
1980 was the final year for the second generation Grand Am. The two-door coupe was the only option as the four-door sedan was dropped. The coupe received only slight appearance tweaks that included Strato bucket seats in cloth or Morrokide upholstery as standard equipment, and a center console with floor shifter for the Turbo Hydra-matic transmission.
The only engine offering in 1980 was the four-barrel Pontiac 301 V8 with 170 hp as the V6 engine, two-barrel V8s and manual transmissions were dropped. In California the only available engine was the 160 hp Chevrolet 305 V8. Unfortunately slow sales caused the Grand Am to be discontinued after the 1980 model year. A victory was clenched by a 1980 Grand Am in 1982 in the first year of the NASCAR Busch Series, driven by Jack Ingram.
Wanting to replace the unpopular Phoenix, Pontiac recycled the Grand Am name in 1985 for a new compact car, built on the new (for 1985) N body. The new Grand Am shared the same front-wheel drive platform as the Buick Somerset and the Oldsmobile Calais. At first the Grand Am was offered in base or plusher LE trim in coupes only. The following year a sedan and sportier SE trim were added to the lineup. Powering the third generation Grand Am was the standard 2.5 L Tech IV and the optional 3.0 L Buick V6. Standard on the sporty SE trim was the V6 engine, composite headlamps, lower body cladding, an updated revised interior with different cloth on seating and door panel inserts, full instrumentation and standard 14' aluminum wheels.
Power was increased for the base engine in 1987, and a new Turbocharged four-cylinder engine was borrowed from the Sunbird GT. The SE model received the 2.0L turbo engine as the base for '87 and the turbo boost gauge would replace the voltmeter in these turbo-engined vehicles. Halfway through 1987 the Buick sourced 3.0L engine would be available in the Grand Am.
A new passive restraint mandate in 1989 required that the front seat belts be relocated to the doors from the b-pillars. In 1988 the Quad-4 LD2 engine was available for the Grand Am and replaced the earlier 3.0L V6 on the options list. New to the options list for 1988 was the 'Sport buckets' borrowed from the Trans Am GTA along with a moon roof, electronic trunk release and a Driver Information Center. After this model year the base model was dropped from the lineup.
New in 1989 for the Grand Am was a brand new front and rear fascia along with an interior redesign. The 2.5L engine received an increase of power along with balance shafts. The 2.0L Turbo engine was replaced as the standard SE engine with the 2.3L ‘LD2' Quad 4 halfway through the year. This would be the last year that the ‘Sport Bucket' seats were offered on the SE model.
Late during the 1989 model year the 2.3L ‘LGO' Quad 4 was introduced on the Grand Am SE's. A limited run model, only 200 models were produced and all vehicles were red on grey coupes with standard updates that included 16' machined face wheels, an optional only item on SE models. This was the first year that one could order the Grand Am with a factory installed CD player or 16' wheels.
The Pontiac Grand Am underwent only minor updates in 1990 and 1991. The standard engine for the SE was a brand new High-Output version of the Quad 4 paired only with a 5-speed manual. The 16' wheels became standard equipment this year for the SE model. Late in the 1990 model year the LE received a ‘Sport Performance Package', which included SE ground effects, standard 'SE' drive train, 14' aluminum wheels and a larger front and rear sway bar. (This sway bar had only been previously available on the SE model). Other additions this year included the addition of (ABS) Anti-lock Brakes System as standard equipment on all Grand Am SE's. For 1991 all Grand Am's received a 'short throw' shifter if the vehicle was opted with a five-speed transmission.
In the 1992 the fourth generation of the Grand Am was redesigned with new bodywork and an updated interior. Powering this generation was the 160 hp 3.3 L 3300 V6 engine, and the 2.3 inline four came as either a SOHC or DOHC. Also available this year with a high output version of the DOHC. Pontiac offered a new GT trim this year with a sportier set of wheels, larger, smoother cladding and more standard equipment.
The noisy Quad 4 was further refined for 1993 which resulted in the loss of 5 hp to all engines. GM introduced a new 3.1 L 3100 series V6 engine and new 4-speed automatic transmission replaced the V6 and standard 3-speed powertrain in 1994. Newly standard this year was a driver's side airbag though the door-mounted automatic seatbelts remained. The following year the Quad 4 engines were given balance shafts along with a direct driven power steering off the intake camshaft. Optional now was the four-speed automatic joined to the 3.1 as an improvement from the three-speed on the new Quad 4 engine.
Halfway through the generation in 1996 the Grand Am underwent a minor facelift that included a revamped front fascia, rear fascia and side skirts, which gave the vehicle a smoother rounded look. The inside of the Grand Am also underwent a redesign with included dual airbags, a more user-friendly audio system, HVAC controls and softer plastics. A new ‘Twin Cam' 2.4 L DOHC (Dual Over Head Cam) four-cylinder engine replaced the Quad 4 engine. The new DOHC was based on the Quad 4, but was a re-engineered version of the earlier year's 2.3 L with SFI fuel injection and made 155 lb/ft of torque at lower rpm than the older 2.3 L. Still remaining an option was the 3.1 L V6 engine. For 1996 the 3-speed automatic was dropped and the 4-speed automatic featured standard traction control. New as standard equipment this year was daytime running lamps with automatic lighting control. The following year air conditioning became standard.
In 1999 the Grand Am went through a total redesign for its fifth generation. The new design was shared with the Oldsmobile Alero and the Chevrolet Malibu and featured a shortened length on a higher wheelbase. The Grand Am now featured fully independent suspension and had a revised MacPherson-Strut design up front and featured a more refined rear suspension of Multi-link design.
Pontiac offered the Grand Am in five trim levels: SE, SE1, SE2, GT, and GT1. Powering this generation was the 2.4L Twin Cam engine carryover with 150 hp and 155 lb/ft of torque. Optional this year on the SE and SE1 was GM's 3400 V6, which had previously been exclusive to their Minivans, was now standard on all other trim levels. All of the Grand Am models featured a four-speed automatic transmission.
The GT and GT1 came with 4-wheel disc brakes, and all Grand Am models included standard ABS and Traction Control until 2003. The Grand Am GT also had a Ram Air induction system with an extra five horsepower and 5 lb/ft of torque compared to the 3.4 L V6 when installed in any of the SE-level trims.
For 2000 the Grand Am received a Getrag give-speed manual transmission standard with the four-cylinder engine. A concept design for the Ram Air hood and body package, ASC Creative Services designed the Grand Am SC/T for the SEMA show circuit. Beginning in 2003 the SC/T became an appearance package. Car and Driver tested the SC/T and found that it had a 0-60 mph time of 7.7 seconds in a GT sedan with an automatic.
The SE2 trim level was deleted from the lineup for 2001. New this year to the Grand Am was new wheel designs and a new array of Delco stereos. The radio size was upgraded from a 1.5 DIN size to a full 2 DIN size. A new updated 2.2 L Ecotec four-cylinder engine halfway through 2002 replaced the Twin Cam 2.4 L engine. The Ecotec engine produced less output; 140 hp and 150 lb/ft of torque. Other updates this year included a stationary cup holder in the center console instead of the previous removable one.
In 2003 the body cladding on SE models was removed in a change that affected other models throughout the Pontiac range. Optional on the SE this year was anti-lock brakes and traction control. The following year an MP3 player was added to the up-level CD player. In 2005 the Grand Am lineup was slowly being phased out in preparation for the new G6 replacement. The final Grand Am model available for public sale was the GT coupes while SE sedans were retained for fleet sale.
On May 10, 2005 the final Pontiac Grand Am rolled off the assembly line at Lansing Michigan's, Lansing Car Assembly plant. Not long after the Lake Orion, Michigan plant began assembling G6 coupes, the last car to be produced at Lansing's old Fisher Body plant. Sources:
By Jessica Donaldson