COAL: 1984 Pontiac Grand Prix – A Great High School Ride

Unlike the other cars, trucks and SUV in my stable, I have had either some kind of desire or a need to own them.  They are cars that I have either always wanted to own from my youth (Charger, Road Runner, Grand National, Malibu,) cars that have some sort of sentimental value (Delta 88, Satellite, Grand Prix #1) or came from a need to own and just never left (Challenger, Durango & Ram pickups)

This Grand Prix came to me in a different way though.

Paul has them categorized as a GM Deadly Sin.  http://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/curbside-classic-1978-pontiac-grand-prix-gms-deadly-sin-14/

I don’t totally disagree, although I’d be more apt to the list this car’s 1988 W-Body replacement as the bigger Deadly Sin and did more damage to the brand than the G-Body cars.  The G-Body Grand Prixes are not bad cars; they’re not poorly built and they’re certainly they’re not unattractive but does it live up to the power and style of the pre-1978 Grand Prixes?  Nope.  But the W-Bodys are cars that I truly love to hate.

Ick.  Seen one at a car show lately?  Seen one ANYWHERE lately?  Good riddance.

Ah, that’s better.   Unlike the white thing above, there’s not a bad line on any of the G-Body cars.  The Aerobacks?  I don’t hate them.

I’ve always liked the G-Body GPs.  I remember reading here that they were the not best selling of the Gs but they were certainly pretty plentiful in my youthful 1980s and it was one of the cars that, if you had one in high school, you were cool.

My next door neighbor had one when he was a senior and I was a sophomore; it was an ’80 with a 301, it was light blue with Cragar spoked wheels, it had a sunroof, and he was cool, like one of the really cool kids in the neighborhood, and he would often give me a ride home in it.

Another neighbor, a divorced older professional lady that was friends with my parents and had two daughters around my age and we were all friends, had a dark blue one, an ’86 or an ’87, and she was cool; a very nice lady who sadly recently passed away from cancer.

Yet another neighbor at the other end of the street had one of the really cool black over gold ’85 LEs with T-tops, identical to the one below.  I didn’t know him very well but that was a really sharp car.

Anyway, as far as I was concerned, an ’80s GP was a cool car with street creds, perfect for semi-innocent teenage cruising on Deer Park Avenue, but I never really had to have one.  Same for Monte Carlos, Cutlasses and Regals, all nice cars that would have been an amazingly cool high school car and I enjoy seeing them on the road and at shows but have never chased after one, except for a Grand National of course.

Plus, remember, I had my ’77 Grand Prix in high school, which is hard to argue against as being a much better looking car, but by the high school kid standards of the late 1980s and early ’90s, it was more of just an old car that was rapidly losing its cool status as they were making their way down through their third, fourth, and probably final owners.  Many of the colonnades by that time were rusty with faded paint, had engines that were barely running and bumpers that had been replaced with 2X4s.

I think all of the G-Bodys are great looking cars, and along with the B-Bodys, are the last of the great cars from the ‘old’ General Motors.

So why did I buy this car?

If you’re following my COAL series, you may remember that in 2016, my oldest daughter got her learners permit and was supposed to get my Durango as her first car.  But life happened, and my new wife and resulting new baby needed an SUV and the Durango was recalled into service to provide active child-carrying duties.  So now my driving age daughter would (theoretically) need a car as we had started her driving instruction.

My daughter started driving with, shall we say, a cautious optimism.

So as I started to teach her to drive in the Durango, I knew that we would have some time to work with in terms of when she would need a car since she was progressing at a snail’s pace.  And believe me, I’m fine with that.   She is very cautious behind the wheel and is not there yet, confidence wise, and if she’s not confident yet, Im not going to push her.  2 years later, we are still working on it and if it takes another 2 years, that’s fine too.  I don’t want her behind the wheel if she’s not confident.

I belong to a couple of classic Pontiac Grand Prix pages on Facecrack and just before Thanksgiving, 2017, an ad for this car popped up on my feed one night with a tag line that read something like “must sell this weekend” with a ridiculously low asking price.   Hmmmm…..

So Im thinking, man, that’s a cool classic Grand Prix for the price of a late model beater, this is worth a follow-up for my daughter’s first car.

So what if it’s 35 years old.  While she does not yet have a drivers license, she does have some basic mechanical skills-she can change a tire, change oil, top off fluids, stuff like that, and she’s helped me out in the garage over the years so she has seen the inner workings of cars so driving an old car in good mechanical condition is not intimidating to her, in fact she’s more comfortable driving the GP than she is any of the later model cars.  She can drive a stick and start and drive a carbureted car, too.  Not a lot of 18 year olds can make that claim.

As to the car itself, it only had 75K miles on it and its not uncommon for the G-Bodys to go well past 150K, and when they do break, they are stupidly easy and cheap to fix and parts are still easy to find.  Even the restoration companies are making parts for these cars now.

They are also safe cars.  NHTSA doesn’t agree with me but my near 20 years in the field in accident investigation says that there is a lot to be said for a big car with large rear and frontal areas and that wonderful body-on-frame construction built from thick steel.   I’d like a car with an airbag for a new driver but I’m more comfortable with her being in a safe, well-maintained car that doesn’t have any of the modern electronic screen distractions that can help her avoid getting into an accident in the first place.

See that Cutlass?  The driver was hit head on by another car that had crossed the yellow line at around 30 mph.  No injuries and the car suffered no damage past the front clip.  In fact, the shop just finished the car last week and its back on the road.   The other car was a late model sedan that was totaled, towed from the scene, the airbag deployed and the unseatbelted driver had some serious injuries.  The crumple zones from the newer car absorbed most of the energy from the collision, leaving the heavy steel perimeter frame construction in the Cutlass mostly intact.

And then there is the visibility.  As has been discussed here, the visibility in late model cars verges on being dangerous to the point where they have to rely on sensors and cameras to watch the road for us.

Sorry, but all of the automation in the world is not a replacement for a well-educated, safe and alert driver.

This is the view out of the Pontiac:

 

Versus the view out of my Charger:

Look at the difference in the size and area of the windows.  Those pillars are very wide too and are difficlut to see around going around corners.  That’s not even showing the blind spots to the rear, which leave you damn near blind. The trunk is so high and the rear window is barely more than a slit in the rearview mirror.  It is impossible to see what is in the rear three quarter view of the car.

Which do you think is safer for a new driver?

I had some personal motivations as well.  Boy would I have loved to have had this car in high school.

Remember the COAL on my first car?  It was also a classic red Pontiac Grand Prix, albeit one generation earlier.  A little bit of carrying on the torch I guess.

I got in touch with the seller, who was in Pennsylvania.   He sent me some pictures, I made an offer on the car and now its in my driveway.  After fixing the title that the seller goofed up, I got it tagged and insured and I went through my ritual of making it one of my DDs until my daughter is ready to assume ownership.

According to the ad, it had about 75K miles on it and was pretty much all original.  Similar to my ’71 Satellite, the original owner lived in PA, became a snow bird in Florida and used this GP as his winter car until he either couldn’t drive anymore or passed away.  I don’t know if the guy I bought it from was related to the original owner or not but he needed cash and had to sell it quick.

Its mileage is even similar to the Satellite’s.

Its an LE model and it has all the standard stuff you would expect in an up-level G-Body; landau top, velour interior, power windows, door locks and drivers seat, but even though the GPs have the nicest interiors and dashes of the era, this one only has idiot lights instead of actual gauges.  It has a Chevy 305 with the Metric TH200 3 speed instead of the more desirable TH200R4 OD unit.  It has, what I assume is, the puny 7.5″ rear with some really low gears in it, probably like 2.20s or something like that.  A stoplight bruiser, it isn’t.

 

 

I think I picked it up the week after Thanksgiving, and it was pretty much as he described.  And when he said original, he meant it-every wear item you can think of were the originals from the factory; the belts, shocks, plugs, wires, distributor cap, etc.; none of them had ever been changed and the car had never been tuned up; it felt like it ran on 4 cylinders.  There was also some rust beginning to form at the bottom of the doors, a common spot on the G-Bodies.   I got it home, tuned it up with Delco parts, put new shocks on it and fixed the rust on the doors and we were in business.

It came with dry rotted no-name WW tires.   I tried driving it to work on them and it didn’t work, I had a blowout at 65 mph.  Changed the tire, put the spare on and it blew out too.  I wound up having to Uber a ride home and went back with TBT and my trailer to bring it home.  The next day, I ordered the 245/60/14 BFG TAs that you see in the pictures and not only does it look cooler but it drives, handles and stops 1000 times better than the puny 205-series tires that it came from the factory with.

 

Other than tires and a tune up, it needs a headliner as it suffers from the typical saggy GM headliner of the day.  The air conditioner works but the system leaks and I traced it to the shrader valve on the low side that I just haven’t gotten around to fixing yet.   I’ll get to it before this summer and there’s always R12 cans for sale on Craigslist so I hope to have working A/C in it soon.

I’ve read where some on here describe these choked-down smog-era V8s as having “adequate”  power curves.

CC’ers, lets make something clear about these cars.  These engines have NO power curves.  The word “power” should never be used to describe any of these cars.  There’s just not enough engine in too much of a car.  By modern standards, they are dangerously underpowered.

But if I keep the car, we are going to change that.  These are cheap and easy cars to desmog, and when they are, they are quite fun.  I have a low mileage Pontiac 350/TH400 in my garage, or I might follow the crowd and do an LS swap.

Its a possibility, I guess, but despite what the magazines say, LS swaps are neither easy nor cheap.  I’d rather keep it a real Pontiac and use the 350 I already have using mounting parts for a 3o1, which was available in these cars from 1978-81.  Who knows; its low on my list of car projects as it runs fine for now and I have other cars I need to work on first.

For now though, it’s in my daily driver rotation until my daughter is ready to drive it.  So, about once every other week, it makes my daily 114 mile commute and I’ve put about 8000 miles on it since I bought it and its a pleasant driving experience.  I have to admit, I really like the car.  There is nothing on the road like it today.  The sexy bordello red interior.  The long hood with the GP ornament at the end of the chrome spear.  The quiet smoothness.  When I stop for gas or at a traffic light, I often get compliments on the car and many think its a Cutlass.

Sometimes, this happens when you are #livingtheoldcarlife.  This is what can happen with a remmaned alternator from a box auto parts store and driving an hour to work with the heat, wipers, lights and stereo on when its not completely charging and the idiot light never came on.  Its why I have emergency road assistance on my insurance policy.  Luckily, I don’t need it often.  Generally I use genuine Delco or Mopar replacement parts when available but this time I cheaped out and this is what happened.

Getting back to safety, lets talk about these headlights.  But first I’m going to give you all a little of my professional background so you know that I actually know what I’m talking about.  I’ve built myself into a neat little automotive-based niche in the law enforcement world.  I teach our new recruits pursuit and response driving as well basic vehicle control.  Basically I teach police recruits how to drive both in normal, day-to-day operations as well as how to SAFELY get into, and bring to a safe conclusion, vehicle pursuits, as well as some other neat stuff that I’m not going to get into.   I’m also an expert advanced accident reconstructionalist with over 15 years and more than 1000 accident investigations under my belt.  With all of those accidents, I’ve learned a thing or two about what makes cars safe, and aside from a good driver, the most important safety features on your car is not the seatbelts and airbags, its the lights and tires.

Really?  Yes.  Actually, an alert and competent driver is the most important safety feature in a car and I find American driver training (and general attitude towards driving) to be severely lacking, but I can’t really do anything about that except advocate for a better driver’s education program in this country.  Seat belts and airbags are vital to keeping you alive with as few injuries as possible in a collision but let’s prevent the collision from happening, OK?

I find most modern car’s HID and LED headlights, despite how effing bright they are to oncoming traffic, are inadequate for nighttime driving.  Some cars now have adaptive headlights and truthfully, I think that’s a gimmick.  In so many modern cars, including my own late model Dodge Charger and Challenger, you can hardly tell the difference between low and high beams.  Just because they are ridiculously bright does not mean they are effective.  Most newer cars low (and high) beams work great when it comes to lighting up the road directly in front of the car but do nothing for distance.  Well, at 60 mph when you are travelling 88 feet per second, it doesn’t do you much good to stop or avoid an object or living thing that is only 20′ in front of your car.

On the GP, as well as most other cars from the era with 4 headlight designs, have excellent light dispersion, as long as they are in good working condition.  The low beams easily light the road in front of the car and the high beams provide a nice, wide band of light exactly where it needs to be.  Just my .02.

Now, my daughter has built up enough driving confidence that she is going to take her road test during this semester’s Spring Break.  That will give her 2 months of high school, plus summer break, with the car before she heads off to college in the fall, where she won’t be able to have a car.  And I hope so because so many warm fuzzy high school memories are focused around our cars that I’m hoping she gets to get enjoy it for at least a few months.  But until then, I have a cool high school car.