Graded: Pontiac Grand Am

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.

The Grand Am may have only last 31 years and five-generations, but it was still an important model line in Pontiac’s history. For a few decades through the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Grand Am carried the affordable performance torch for the brand and was a moderate sales success.

To celebrate the semi short-lived Grand Am, we have collected eight vehicles from the car’s model run and affixed a Grade to each one. Enjoy.

1974 Pontiac Grand Am 455

AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

The original Grand Am came out in 1973 as a rear-wheel drive mid-size car. It was designed to split the difference between the luxurious Grand Prix and the sporty GTO. Although it just missed the muscle car craze, 250 NET horsepower from a 455 cu.in. V8 was still healthy. The 1974 car received a minor restyle to the front grille which I prefer.

1978 Pontiac Grand Am

AutoLobotomy Grade: D+

After a few years’ hiatus, the Grand Am returned in 1978, once again as a rear-wheel drive mid-size car; albeit smaller and lighter than before. Performance for this car was as pedestrian as its styling, and after just three model years, it was discontinued.

1987 Pontiac Grand Am SE Turbo

AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

In 1985 the Grand Am returned once more, this time as a front-wheel drive compact car. After a few years on the market, Pontiac got more serious about the car’s performance and gave it a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that produced 165 hp – quite a lot for its time. The car was attractive, especially in coupe form.

1990 Pontiac Grand Am SE QUAD4

AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

A mid-cycle refresh of the Grand Am gave it a more aerodynamic front end. The old turbocharged engine was dead by this point, replaced by a more potent 180 hp QUAD4 2.3-liter four-cylinder. This was quite an engineering achievement at the time, and paired with the five-speed manual transmission, made for an entertaining car to drive.  

1993 Pontiac Grand Am GT

AutoLobotomy Grade: A

The fourth-generation Grand Am debuted for the 1992 model year and included sleeker styling. Top of the line GT models still included the 2.3-liter QUAD4 engine that was refined for the 1993 model year, offering better livability and reliability, at the cost of a five horsepower loss (now rated at 175 hp). This was the high point of the Grand Am lineage.

1996 Pontiac Grand Am GT

AutoLobotomy Grade: C

After a refresh in 1996, the fourth-generation Grand Am looked more modern, but had lost a lot of its performance. Despite the sporty look of the GT model, which I quite like, it had been stripped of its high-output engine. Now the GT only included a choice of a 155 hp V6 engine paired exclusively to an automatic transmission or a five-speed manual transmission attached to a 150-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder.

1999 Pontiac Grand Am GT

AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

The fifth, and last, generation Grand Am returned some performance to the model. Manual transmissions were still only available with the less powerful four-cylinder models, but the GT did receive a larger 3.4-liter V6 making 175 hp. That was a five-horsepower increase over the Grand Am SE trim level thanks to the GT featuring ‘Ram-Air’ (which was more of a marketing gimmick). Styling was quite nice on the GT as it avoided the unnecessary body cladding of the SE models.

2005 Pontiac Grand Am GT

AutoLobotomy Grade: B

The final year of the Grand Am didn’t see many changes compared to the 1999 model other than the addition of more equipment and a cool S/C hood option. It’s a shame though that Pontiac didn’t give the Grand Am a GTP model during this final run of cars. Imagine if the 3800 supercharged V6 was dropped into this car? Heck, even a naturally aspirated 205 hp 3800 V6 would have made this car a quasi-sleeper. Oh what could have been.

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