Cohort Sighting: A Pair Of Grand Prix – A Teaching Moment

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In an exciting coincidence, I found a white 1963 Grand Prix posted (by runningonfumes) to the cohort a few days ago right after coming across a white 1965, sadly sans camera.  Were I able to snap pictures, it would’ve marked the fifth or sixth white Curbside Classic I’d found, but as the ’63 seems to enjoy a more pristine reputation, and as Eric Clem very recently found and posted pics of a red 1964, it seems the gods really wanted something to be said about Pontiac’s specialty coupe sooner than later.

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Parked in front of a garage specializing in what seems like German auto repair, this Grand Prix teaches other contemporary classics a thing or two about style, presence and timelessness.  While all-American, its still shows an international flair.  It was a sensation in its day, despite the relative restraint in conceiving its look, and it translates into today’s context very successfully.

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Even half parked in a garage, there is plenty on display to gawk at and take pictures of.  The rear end makes for good viewing, with taillights that good in a very contemporary sense and highlighting the way the whole car has aged well.

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External appearances suggest this engine is largely stock, but given how clean everything is, I’m sure it’s gotten some “work” done.  I don’t know what transmission this car has, but automatic-equipped 1963s were saddled with the unloved Roto-Hydramatic.  The air cleaner suggests standard four-barrel carburetion, as opposed to the optional Tripower, but both the 389 and 421 came equipped both ways, so I don’t know which engine block is nestled between those wheel wells.  As the hood’s shut in other shots, I can only assume our photographer took some extra effort in chatting the owners up and getting a peak under the hood.  Bravo!

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No photographic documentation of a ’63 GP would be complete without a shot of the double-stacked headlights.  Pontiac popularized this look and almost always wore it best.  My favorite expression of this look is on the ’67s, but we don’t have to tell this car (and indeed, I may be in the minority in thinking so; I know Paul isn’t the biggest fan of loop bumpers and he can’t be the only one).

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Luckily, it’d be a few years before the Grand Prix would be seen with those late ’60s fashion items.  The ’64 Grand Prix seen here largely looks as the ’63 did (only not quite as pure; when you have to change your look each year, sometimes you end up losing your best ideas).

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The most notable differences between this and the previous year’s front clip were the relocation of the arrowhead badge to the hood (it had been between the two halves of the grille) and the widening of the grille-mounted turn signals into rounded rectangular units (or squared-off ovals, if you prefer).

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Gone was the horizontal chrome accent separating 1963’s grille into upper and lower halves.  The bumper had previously been a very straight-edged affair, with no integration of its shape with that of the grille or headlight surrounds, so call the red 1964’s a proto-loop bumper.

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Luckily, the red 1964 has what looks to be its original eight-lugged wheel/brake drum present.  Perhaps the owner of the white car was forced to get rid of these gorgeous period pieces (and they truly are gorgeous) to accommodate disc brakes.  There must be a good excuse.

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What Pontiac was seemingly unable to find any excuse for was the restyle of the Grand Prix’s rear clip for 1964.  Similar boomerang-shaped taillights made ’71 and ’72 Oldsmobile 88 the most attractive of its generation of B-bodies to my eyes, but on this very straight-edged car, the shape adds a hippiness at odds with the rest of its lines.  The next year’s all-new curvy (and panned as too-zaftig) Grand Prix wisely reverted to the previous year’s theme and when I came across the white 1965, its taillights were the most eye catching aspect of its design.  Simple, well-defined forms always look good, even when manifest as chrome-plated jewelry.

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That’s some interior, huh?  In terms of opulence, American cars reached their peak in the early-mid ’60s.  As the fluid exterior shapes of the late sixties and early seventies gained popularity, there was less brightwork on display inside, all too often replaced by more amorphous moldings.

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The Hydramatic was newly available in 1964, so let’s hope that’s what’s connected to that selector lever.  Bucket seats in a big car were still a somewhat exotic touch at this time, but my favorite flourish is the canting of the auxiliary gauges toward the driver.  These cars weren’t noteworthy for their handling, but a real effort was made to present them as a drivers’ cars and the interior is an especially successful expression of this ethos.

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Styling matters; at least, that’s what I took away from viewing these two Grand Prix.  This shape was successful in setting Pontiac’s tone during their golden era and judging by the copies of this design across Detroit (and even Kenosha), it earned respect beyond hearts and minds of Pontiac’s growing audience at the time.

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Related reading:

63 Catalina: Sexiest Big Sedan Of Its Time64 Grand Prix: Almost A Greatest HitCCOTY Nomination: 63 Grand Prix