Initially introduced in 1960 as an upscale version of the full-size Pontiac Catalina four-door Vista sedan and also the two-door hardtop, the Ventura was based on GM's B-body. The Ventura had exterior identification, a sport steering wheel, deluxe wheel covers, and distinctive tri-tone seats done in 'Morrokide' which was Pontiac's leather-like vinyl upholstery.
The Pontiac Ventura's length for 1961 was 209.7 inches with a wheelbase of 119.0 inches and a weight of 3,680 and 4,005 lbs depending on what options and engine were available for the car. The 389 cubic-inch engines were standard and the 421 CID engine was a special order option. The Star Chief middle-of-the-line model was reserved for four-door sedans and hardtops and continued on to the longer wheelbase that was shared with the Bonneville. The Ventura came with only two doors and was smaller and lighter, but it was similar in price.
Halfway through 1962, Pontiac unveiled the similarly-sized, but more expensive Pontiac Grand Prix coupe. Also for this year, the Ventura returned as a trim option for the Catalina which often used interior trim similar to that of the slightly bigger Star Chief/Executive. The Ventura returned as a model for 1969 and 1970. For the 1971 and 1972 model years, the Ventura was replaced by the Catalina Brougham.
Pontiac moved the name Ventura to their new X-body Nova clone; the Ventura II in 1971. From 1971 until 1977 the Ventura II was produced and after 1972 the 'II' suffix was dropped from the name. The Phoenix name replaced Ventura in 1978. For the abbreviated 1971 model year, the engine offerings included a 250 cubic-inch six-cylinder or 307 c. in V8 or the 350 cubic-inch V8 (Sprint Package) all Chevy powerplants.
Pontiac introduced a Pontiac-built 350 cubic-inch V8 for 1972 with a two-barrel carburetor being added to the options list and becoming the base V8 for 1973 and 1974. Transmission options consisted of a standard column-shift three-speed manual with options including a four-speed manual, two-speed automatic with six-cylinder, or three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic with V8s. The six-cylinder Ventura in 1983 was the final Pontiac model to offer the two-speed automatic, a badge-engineered Chevy Powerglide which was dropped completely from all GM cars and trucks following this model year in favor of the Turbo Hydra-Matic.
Two-door models from 1971 until 1975 were offered with a Ventura Sprint option package that included three-speed transmission with floor shift and optional 350 cubic inch V8 equipped four-speed, custom carpeting, body-color mirrors, all-vinyl upholstery with either the standard bench of optional Strato bucket seats, blackout-grill trim, Custom Sport steering wheels, unique striping, blackout grille, and 14x6' wheels.
Halfway through 1972 Pontiac unveiled the limited-production Ventura SD for the Southern California market as a sporty-luxury compact to tip the scales against imported luxury sedans that were currently taking the U.S. market by storm. The SD option came with the high-back Strato bucket seats from the Firebird as well as a Custom Sport steering wheel, uprated suspension, Rally II wheels, and other various items. Around 250 Ventura SD's were constructed for 1972, all of them at the GM Nova/Ventura assembly plant in Van Nuys, California plant.
For 1974 the Pontiac GTO name was relocated to the Ventura from the intermediate LeMans line. This package gave the basic Ventura a 350 cubic inch 5.7: engine with a four-barrel carburetor of around 200 hp. This GTP package also came with a functional 'shaker' hood scoop, Rally II wheels, tri-color GTO decals, and unique grille-mounted driving lights. This package could be ordered on the base and Custom Ventura coupes as well as the hatchback. In 1975 the GTP was dropped, along with the Pontiac 350. The Ventura could be instead optioned with the Buick 350 V8 instead.
All new in 1975 was the Ventura SJ. The Ventura and other GM compacts were restyled with all new rooflines along with improved suspensions shared with the Camaro/Firebird, plus standard front disc brakes. Marketed as an American rendition of a Euro-style luxury sport sedan that Pontiac had created with the larger mid-sized Grand Am in 1973, as well as a competitor to the new-for-1975 Ford Granada and Mercury Monarch, both which were marketed as luxury compacts designed to compete with more pricy imports such as Audi and Mercedes. The Ventura SJ came with an updated interior that featured reclining bucket seats in either vinyl or cloth along with a center console, rally instrumentations, and other various items.
For 1976 and 1977 only minor updates were made to the Ventura which included new grilles and updated taillights. The Chevy 250 six was replaced with Buick's 231 cubic inch V6 in 1977 as the base powerplant and the Chevy 305 cubic-inch B8 was introduced as an option. The Ventura SJ was the top-line model at the beginning of the 1977 model year but halfway through the year, it was replaced by the Phoenix. The Phoenix featured a distinctive center grille and rectangular headlights and the most lost lush interior available in a Pontiac X-body car.
The Ventura nameplate was retired in 1978 and all X-body vehicles were sold under the Phoenix nameplate through that year and into 1979. The top-line Phoenix SJ was designated as the top-line series.By Jessica Donaldson