What with the recent frenzy and all, feels like as good a time as ever for another instalment of the Colonnades of Melbourne. This week’s episode features the Grand Am, a styling standout from the period at General Motors. For me, it marks the last excellent body-contour nose-cone on a road-going Pontiac. And to answer Paul’s QOTD; it’s my third favourite colonnade.
The roots of the body-contoured Pontiac nose-cone can be found in the 1967 fullsizers. The Grand Prix had nearly half its frontal area unadorned by chrome, as if the body was wrapping round itself.
That year marked the last of the stacked lights for the standard fullsize face. Even these magnificent creations had quite a bit of bodily real estate folding over the front.
The intermediates were following a more traditional stacked light and grille arrangement, with the GTO continuing to receive detail changes while keeping Tempest sheet metal up front.
But with the new Pontiac A-bodies in 1968, it was the GTO that got the unique bodywork. The nose of the car now blended completely into the whole form’s contours.
The skin now seemed to be folding back into itself, giving a superb extruded effect.
The cone was made of endura, a specially formed closed-cell urethane foam that was bonded to a steel frame. It was famously hit with a sledgehammer in the hands of John DeLorean, showing little after-effect from impact.
And it allowed the body shell to be capped in its own kind.
The Grand Prix was also up for some more wrapping, but that was back when it was going to be a B-body. Instead, in 1969 it became a mini-Mark III with all the family silverware on display.
As top-halo, the Firebird should have been the first car to use endura. Given the quantum leap it enabled the stylist, the exotic F-body seems the logical place to start.
But it was rushed into production the year before endura, so it got looped chrome like the fullsizers. In 1969 it went halfway, with a body-coloured non-endura (I think) nose-cone with protruding chrome grille rings. The treatment was sophisticated, but no match for the simplicity of the previous iteration.
1970. Peak body-contured Pontiac nose-cone.
The Firebird landed a superb shape all round, with a front end providing a sophisticated counterpoint to its gorgeous Chevrolet sibling.
It extrapolated quite nicely into Trans Am and Formula, and for three years it was wisely left virtually untouched.
The 1970 GTO earned a great nose too.
Ironically, 1970 also saw the single worst face ever on a Pontiac.
Plenty of folded-over real estate, so little poetry.
This tendency to ugliness started to permeate the GTO. The 1971 nose cone saw larger grilles with protruding rim, and it felt like seeing the 1970 model distorted through a rain-dappled lens.
Things were looking up for the 1973 GTO, which was to be based on the incoming colonnade A-bodies.
I love the bottom sketch, Gena Loczi uses a great technique of ghosting the tyres and undershadow to make the car look like it levitating. The sculptural elements leading to the point of the nose are a perfect corollary for those fendor contours.
It takes that whole contoured nose thing into even better territory.
Ultimately, though, the 1973 GTO was to wear the bread-and-butter LeMans nose-cone and chromed bumper.
Sales of around 40,000 in 1970 had plummeted to just over 10,000 for 1971. And it didn’t recover. 1973 saw 4,806 being built. 1974 saw the GTO transferred to the compacts (cheers Leon).
The Grand Am was the GTO refined. Out was outright power, and in was an emphasis on driving dynamics and finish. In a European way. While Oldsmobile was adorning their cars with the flags of the world, Pontiac was identifying in the opposite direction.
The story of the shape’s evolution from How Stuff Works;
Wayne Vieira, who would become chief designer for GM’s Saturn small-car subsidiary, confirms that “Charley Gatewood was the designer who came up with the original front-end sketch. Charley’s a very modest person, and he would tend to say something like, ‘Oh, actually . . . I remembered an old sketch that Ted Schroeder did years ago. All I did was to do Ted’s sketch over again.’ But it was Charley who sold the idea.”
Vieira continues, “And to help sell the design to Bill Mitchell, Charley did this full-size air-brush rendering . . . a white rendering with black grille slots. It really stood out from across the room. In fact, when Bill Mitchell walked in, all he said was, ‘Jeeeeeeezus Christ!’ And we were off and running. He brought people in to see it, and it was really quite exciting. The graphics on the front were so strong and unique compared to what was on the road at the time,” Vieira recalls. “In fact, we all felt that when the car came out for 1973, it had by far the best front end of anything in the industry.”
As Bill Collins is showing us, this nose-cone was also made of endura.
A totally integrated shape. There’s no telling where the panels end, as if the whole body is sculpted out of a single piece of material. And a significant plus; it’s the assimilation with the bumper that makes this the overall success it is.
Looking down the hood brings even greater pleasures; clean forward-thrust supported by an absence of bumper in the fenderside.
The Grand Am was no quick-and-cheap application of a stabilizer bar, blackout trim and a vaguely foreign-sounding name to make a Euro-fighter. This was no Ford Granada ESS or Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport. The Grand Am was the ne plus ultra of the Colonnade cars, something that was distinctively American with a dash of something exotic and new. Daringly styled, dynamically poised – is it any wonder the Grand Am is a key member of my dream garage?
For anyone not familiar with this car I recommend you feast on William Stopford’s overview. He makes this a 1975 due to grille accents, and says that year there was no manual available.
They paid proper attention to the whole fenderside. The upper and lower taper like a well-relieved flame spear.
It worked nicely at the rear too. The rear bumper didn’t get as unique a treatment, but it still worked well in body colour.
My problem with the colonnade two-doors is that they look imbalanced to me. The ends are too long for the middle.
Both the 1972 Torinos and 71 Satellite/Sebring put the colonnade in the shade.
But with the colonnade, the sculpting into the flatter proportions gave the car a self-assured shape – in some ways more natural than any GM intermediate before it. It didn’t even need four headlights, and it still looked long and low.
As with Paul, I think the colonnade shape needs air. The sedan cabin gives those long ends sufficient distance between.
The Grand Am nose works on the other body configurations as well. The wagon, a desirable factory prototype; the pickup, a very appealing homebake. Hat tip to Krautwursten.
That said, the 1973-75 Grand Am is the best of the two-doors. This semi-fastback roofline suits the curvaceous lower body much more than the upright alternative. And the face on this one is the most integral of all the range.
GM were doing interesting things with endura. The Lagunas were themselves the most appealing of the Chev A-bodies. But not as successful in comparison to the Pontiac.
For the Firebird in 1974, the purity of the last three years couldn’t be worked around the bumper laws entering full effect. The chisel approach here was no match for the Grand Am’s bumper integration.
There were apparently plans for a 1976 Grand Am, but I’m not sure if it had a unique nose-cone against the newly overhauled intermediate front clips.
Above is a 1974 Grand Am All American, with added spoiler. That’s all I know about this. Over to you.
This 1975 Grand Prix concept shows some really nice touches. The frontal treatment here is more sculptural and better integrated than anything that would enter production from here on, making this in a sense the last of the superb body-contoured Pontiac nose-cones.
I first came across this one a few years ago. It was parked down the road from another first, the 1973 Buick Centurion I wrote up here. I figured they both belonged to the same person, but the while the Buick is there to this day, I’ve never seen the Grand Am there again.
But I am seeing it all the time.
Around Toorak Village, where this one lives.
And that’s not all, within a couple of hundred metres of this lives yet another colonnade. Go figure.
CContributor Jim has captured our hero car from his office window.
His shots show the actual colour; mine were taken from a cellphone camera that was rapidly developing a warm bias. I actually prefer the more magenta hue on this shape.
So the Grand Am – whether it be two-door, two-door plus tailgate, four-door or five door – is my third favourite colonnade.
Second: Buick sedan.
Not because Kojak, but because even in poo-brown this shape shines as the best of the sedans. A great basic face, with narrow jutting chrome bumpers emphasising the horizontality. The semi-fastback sedan greenhouse trails so well into that falling trunkline which both echo the 3D sweepspear. Nice.
Number One (a) and One (b). 1973 Olds or Buick wagon.
The more I look at these, the more I love them.
1973 GTO/Grand Am concept sketches at Dean’s Garage
William Stopford’s CC on the Grand Am
The Colonnades of Melbourne Part 1