Let’s get one thing clear at the outset: The 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix was a completely conventional large American sedan. It broke no new technical or manufacturing ground. It didn’t handle particularly well, nor did its standard 303 hp propel it to particularly noteworthy quarter-mile speeds. But what it did do was bring all the post-1959 concepts that Bunkie Knudsen and John Delorean had imbued throughout the Pontiac line into a single cohesive package. It was all about image.
Although Pontiac had debuted the Grand Prix in 1962, one could argue that the GP didn’t really come into its own until the next model year. In the ’63, it had all come together: The Wide-Track stance; the distinctive split grille, with the Lucas-style turn signals which had evolved into THE Pontiac visage; the unique aluminum wheels with integral brake drums; the performance image that Smokey Yunick had helped to build in NASCAR; and the clean, nearly chromeless styling that tied the whole enchilada together. It all added up to change that suddenly made the baroque ‘58s of five years earlier seem light years behind. And let’s not forget the advertising and brochure illustrations created by the team of Fitz and Van: Art Fitzpatrick, a former designer on the 1940 Packard team, and Van Kaufman, a former Disney illustrator. Fitz drew the cars; Van rendered the people and backgrounds. Together, they were able to create an idyllic and aspirational image for the Pontiac brand. People wanted to own a Pontiac, GP or otherwise, and by 1963 Pontiac was third in sales.
But let’s not minimize the terrific job done by the Pontiac designers on exteriors and interiors alike. As a kid I was knocked out by Pontiac’s metallic-vinyl interiors. Pontiac wasn’t the only manufacturer to offer the stuff (Pontiac dubbed their vinyl “Jeweltone Morrokide”), but the GP interiors were toned-down compared with those of the flashier Bonnevilles and Catalinas. Inside and out, the GP came off as restrained and cool…and who doesn’t want to be cool?