A couple of weekends ago, my other half and I took a road trip to Ohio where we met up with friends to ride roller coasters at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky. (RIP Mean Streak, 1991 – 2016.) Being so close to extended family just two hours from there, we added a leg of our journey to go to Brookfield, in the northeastern corner of the state, near the border of Pennsylvania. It was in Brookfield that I spotted our featured car, less than half a mile from where I had spotted another front-lawn classic last August, a 1983-or-so Pontiac T1000.
I’ve written before about my impression of parts of rural / semi-rural Ohio seeming frozen in the 1960’s and 70’s. The custom paint and aftermarket wheels on this LeMans made it seem less a part of 2016, and rather like something from the summer of ’77 – when a car like this, purchased on the used car market, would not yet have found appreciation as a pristine or restored collectible. This car was for sale, so I parked our rental Sentra so I could a closer look. It seemed a miracle that this car was in this decent (though not perfect) of condition, and also that it hadn’t been turned into a GTO “tribute”.
This car is one of only 3,865 LeMans Sport convertibles produced for ’71, starting at just under $3,400 (about $19,800/ adjusted). This figure represents about just 2.3% of total LeMans production that year (about 166,000) over a comprehensive array of designations and bodystyles, ranging in rank from the plebian T-37 to the legendary GTO Judge. Pontiac’s A-body ranked dead last in sales that year against 184,000 Buick Skylarks, Specials, and Sportwagons, 260,500 Olds F-85s, Cutlasses, and 121″-wheelbase Vista Cruisers, and 335,500 Chevrolet Chevelles. That even the upmarket Buick A-body outsold the Pontiac was perhaps symptomatic of the by-then-confused identity of Ponchos not called “Firebird” or “Grand Prix”.
A $20,000 base price for this LeMans convertible seems like a bargain against the $11,700 ($27,000 / adjusted) base price of the new-for-’84 Pontiac 2000 Sunbird convertible, Pontiac’s first drop-top since ’75. While the ’84 Sunbird probably included more standard equipment which would have pushed up the price of a comparable ’71 LeMans, there’s no question of which car I’d rather have and which offers more substance to an enthusiast. Sometimes you don’t want a dry-roasted chicken (Sunbird turbo) sandwich – you want a big, fat, juicy burger, which is what his LeMans represents.
This car’s metal-flake paint and Cragars make it look like such a period piece. Granted, I was a toddler in 1977, when a ’71 LeMans drop-top would have been tricked out like this, but I’ve researched the 70’s enough to know this is how it was done. This car would be the perfect beachmobile to drive to Lake Erie or Yankee Lake (before the latter’s dam was imploded). That caramel-colored “Morrokide” vinyl interior would be somewhat impervious to sand and summer sweat, with the only danger coming from burning the back of your legs on the seats after returning to the car after an afternoon parked with the top down.
The American automotive landscape and consumer tastes had changed more in the six years between 1971 and ’77 than between, say, 2010 and today. This LeMans would have seemed a lot older in the summer of ’77 than a 2010 Buick Verano looks today. It’s true that annual model year-changes that occurred through the dawn of the 80’s contributed to the sense of a car’s aging, but to me, that makes this ’71 LeMans all the more interesting – mods and everything. I like the paint and Cragars on this car, and I hope the new owners don’t change a thing.
Saturday, July 23, 2016.
Related reading from:
- JP Cavanaugh: Curbside Classic: 1971 Pontiac T-37 – We Build Confusion; and
- Paul Niedermeyer: Cohort Classic: 1970 Pontiac Le Mans Sport – The Insurance Special.