Graded: Pontiac Grand Prix

Welcome to Graded. Here we discuss legendary marques, models, or trim packages and affix a letter grade to a selection of vehicles falling under that topic. The grades mean nothing and are completely arbitrary. I fully encourage you to tell me what I got wrong and how you would grade them instead. Have some fun with it.

In the storied history of the defunct Pontiac Brand, the Grand Prix model line had a great run, lasting over 45 years. Along with the Firebird, Grand Am and Fiero, it is one of the most well-known nameplates Pontiac ever produced. Starting life as a massive rear-wheel wheel drive full-size car, the Grand Prix eventually morphed into a front-wheel drive mid-size sedan.

Regardless of configuration, one thing always defined the Grand Prix – performance. With a few exceptions, the Grand Prix was always a sporty coupe, convertible or sedan. Below, we have given grades to a collection of ten cars, representing every generation of Grand Prix.

1962 Pontiac Grand Prix 389 Trophy Tri-Power

Grade: B+

The original Gran Prix debut in 1962 and had a beefy 389 cu. in. V8 engine available at several different levels of tune. Like the Chevrolet Impala SS 409, this was Pontiac’s performance coupe at a time before muscle cars really came into favour. Styling for these cars was rather generic, but still elegant.  

1965 Pontiac Grand Prix 421 HO V8 Tri-Power

Grade: A+

The second generation Grand Prix furthered the theme of a full-size muscle car. Right from its introduction in 1962 it could always be had high power V8 engines. But it was in 1965 where it really hit its stride. With iconic dual-stacked headlights and a long silhouette, the Grand Prix had as much style as it did power. Sitting on top of the food chain was a 421 cu. in. high output V8 that made 376 hp. It was enough to propel this monster form 0 to 60 mph in six and a half seconds.

1970 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ 455

Grade: A

Now in its third generation, the 1970 Grand Prix had a more controversial look compared to earlier models and featured a protruding front grille that not everyone was a fan of. What it lacked in beauty it made up for with power. The most powerful Grand Prix had a new 455 cu. in. V8 generating 370 hp and an impressive 500 lb-ft of torque.  With the four-speed manual transmission in the right hands, this land yacht could hit 60 mph in less than six seconds.

1973 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ 455

Grade: B

In 1973 the Grand Prix entered its fourth generation of existence. Styling was an evolution of the latter third-generation cars, albeit smoother and better proportioned. Gone was the option of a manual transmission but at least in 1973 there were still powerful V8 options available. Most powerful of all was the 455 cu. in. V8 making an impressive 310 net horsepower.

1981 Pontiac Grand Prix Brougham Diesel

Grade: D

Yikes. How the mighty had fallen. After a few lean years with weak V6 and V8 engines, the Grand Prix hit rock bottom in 1981. New this year was a 105 hp 5.7-liter V8 diesel. Not only was it an expensive option to order, it was also incredibly unreliable. It took a day and half to reach 60 mph from a standstill, negating any performance preconceptions this coupe might have had. At least it was a classy looking car by 1981 standards.

1986 Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2

Grade: C+

Created at a time when NASCAR still required some semblance of stock body dimensions, the Grand Prix 2+2 featured an aerodynamic front bumper and large rear glass bubble. It was intended to improve aerodynamics on the super speedways and worked…to a degree. Although the rear glass did nothing for the looks of this car, it still has a cult-like following and the two-tone paint job combined with the red decals looks bad ass. Power was modest at best and handling was rather poor.

1989 Pontiac Grand Prix Turbo Coupe

Grade: A-

In 1988 the Grand Prix switched to a front-wheel drive, mid-size platform. In 1989, Pontiac unleashed a serious wallop of performance onto the Grand Prix courtesy of ASC/McLaren. The pedestrian 3.1-liter V6 engine was reworked and fitted with a turbocharger to create an impressive for the time 205 hp and 220 lb-ft of torque. This was more power than any other Grand Prix in well over a decade. It was also fitted with big tires and handled well for a mid-size car.

1992 Pontiac Grand Prix SE Coupe Richard Petty Edition

Grade: A-

Although the turbocharged engine was gone by 1992, there was a new engine in the Grand Prix that made similar power. It was a DOHC 3.4-liter V6 producing 210 hp and 215 lb-ft of torque. Best of all, unlike the automatic-only turbo coupe from 1989, the 3.4-liter engine could be paired to a proper 5-speed manual transmission. To honour Richard Petty’s career and retirement, 1000 special edition Grand Prix were produced in 1992 finished with a spectacular shade of blue and graphics that screamed this was the early 1990s.

1997 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP

Grade: B+

In 1997 an all-new Grand Prix was introduced with a sleek, if not gorgeous, new exterior. The top of the line GTP model had an impressive 3.8-liter supercharged V6 that made a very respectable 240 hp. That’s more than a Mustang GT was making at the time. Unfortunately it was saddled with a four-sped automatic transmission and despite Pontiac’s widetrack advertising, the car wasn’t exactly a great handling vehicle.

2005 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP

 Grade: A

As a last hurrah for the Grand Prix before it was put out to pasture, it once again received a V8 engine; albeit powering the front wheels. Still, it made 303 hp and 323 lb-ft of torque, enough power to propel the big sedan from 0 to 60 mph in just under six seconds. To help get the power to the ground and improve handling, this front-wheel drive car incorporated an unusual trick. The front wheels were 30 mm wider than the rear tires (255 vs 225). It did help make the GXP respectable when tackling corners.

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