Most of us Curbsiders are aware that Canada made its own variants of US cars. Of those cars, Canadian Pontiacs are some of the better known. Although they had similar styling to American counterparts, they were typically built on the smaller Chevrolet chassis making them slightly smaller overall. Pontiacs were part of the medium price field in the US, but in Canada Pontiacs competed in the low price field. Canadian Pontiacs were exported to other countries, such as those in the British Commonwealth. However, other than then the occasional used car being brought across the border, Canadian Pontiacs were not sold in the United States. There was no reason for Canadian Pontiacs to be sold in the US market, particularly since they were marketed completed differently in each country. That was until 1983. This was when the Canadian Pontiac Parisienne immigrated to the United States and was added to the US market Pontiac line-up.
Before we get to that story, let’s do our obligatory history lesson on the Pontiac Parisienne. For the 1955 model year, Canadian Pontiacs adopted a new formula which remained for many years; they used Chevrolet chassis, engines and body shells. The end result was a slightly smaller and differently proportioned car with styling that was very similar to US models. Canadian Pontiacs used a unique model line-up which was closer to Chevrolet model for model than the US market Pontiac. In the mid-1950s, Canadian Pontiacs had three models, the Laurentian, Pathfinder Deluxe and the Pathfinder. This mirrored Chevrolet’s Bel Air, 210 and 150 models.
In 1958, Chevrolet introduced the new Impala as a subseries of the Bel Air, and GM of Canada also released a similar Pontiac model, called the Parisienne which was a subseries to the Laurentian. For 1958 the Pontiac line-up was Parisienne, Laurentian, Strato-Chief (formerly the Pathfinder Deluxe), and the Pathfinder. In 1959, the Parisienne became a full model, just like the Impala and the Pathfinder was dropped, just as Chevrolet dropped the Del Ray. The three model line-up remained for a number of years, just like Chevrolet.
Canadian Pontiacs were highly successful. Pontiac gained market share through the 1950s and by 1960 was Canada’s number two selling brand after Chevrolet, with production levels 94 % of Chevrolet’s. By 1962 Pontiac became the number one selling brand in Canada, a title it held in until the 1965 model year. It’s easy to see why it was so successful. These low priced Pontiacs had styling very similar to their US cousins, but were priced very close to Chevrolet. A Pontiac for the price of a Chevrolet, undoubtedly thrifty Canadians couldn’t pass on such a deal.
Throughout the 1960s the Canadian Pontiac model line-up reflected Chevrolet’s. Chevrolet had its Impala Super Sport, Pontiac had its Parisienne Custom Sport (later the Parisenne 2+2). Chevrolet had the Caprice and Pontiac had the Grande Parisienne. This pattern continued for the most part until 1970, with a few minor exceptions. For the 1971 model year, things got really muddied. GM of Canada started to sell a mixture of American Pontiacs and Canadian Pontiacs. Canadian Pontiacs no longer used Chevrolet bodies and chassis; they used the same body and chassis as US market cars. The only remaining Canadian models were the Laurentian, which was essentially a stripper Catalina and the Parisienne Brougham, which was very similar to the US Catalina Brougham. The engine line-up was a mixture of Chevrolet and Pontiac engines. The smaller engines, like the 350, were typically a Chevrolet V8 while the larger 400 and 455 engines were Pontiac V8s (there were exceptions).
Canadian 1969 Pontiac Full-size Model Line-up
Canadian 1974 Pontiac Full-size Model Line-up
This Hodge podge of US and Canadian models continued until 1977, when things returned to a simpler line-up. Canadian full-size Pontiacs reverted to three models; Parisienne, Catalina and Laurentian. This line-up mirrored the Canadian full-size Chevrolet line-up of Caprice, Impala and Bel Air. The sheet metal, styling and interiors on these 1977-81 Canadian Pontiacs were essentially the same as the US counterparts. The Parisienne was similar to the US Bonneville, the Catalina was similar to the US Catalina and the Laurentian was a stripper Catalina. The engine and drivetrain on these Canadian Ponchos went back to using Chevrolet engines, with a powertrain lineup that was the same as the Chevrolet B-bodies (there were a few exceptions in 1980-81). This model lineup was satisfactory for the Canadian market but things changed after the 1981 model year. That’s when the decision to discontinue the B-body Pontiac in the USA forced a change to the Canadian Pontiac line.
As is well known, GM went on a downsizing binge in the late 1970s. In 1980 the fuel prices were sky high and big car sales were tanking. The 1977 B-body sedan may have been much smaller than the leviathan 1971-76 full-size cars, but they were still very large cars. So it seemed like a logical move for GM to continue to downsize its cars. GM had planned to eventually downsize almost all of its cars, other than the specialty vehicles like Corvette, to smaller FWD platforms. However, GM was a hot mess during this era and so things didn’t quite work out that way.
There were rumors during this era that GM planned to eliminate the full-size RWD B-bodies in the early 1980s. The 1982 FWD A-body sedan was to be the new mid-sized sedan and the old RWD A-body (renamed G-body for 1982) was to replace the larger B-body cars as interim full-size cars until the new FWD replacements were released. For reasons that were never clear, this really didn’t happen, except for Pontiac. For the 1982 model year, the Lemans was dropped and the Bonneville moved down to the G-body platform. The Pontiac B-body was dropped; making the G-body Bonneville Pontiac’s largest offering. Over at Chevrolet, the Malibu received more Caprice-like styling, but remained a mid-sized car which sold alongside the mid-sized FWD Celebrity, while the Caprice/Impala continued as the full-size offering.
This small Bonneville may have been an acceptable solution stateside, but it was not acceptable at GM of Canada. The Buick-Pontiac dealers in Canada had long relied on the full-size Pontiac in its line-up as it was a strong seller in the low priced full-size field. Canadians liked their Pontiacs. So with its limited resources, GM of Canada had to come up with a solution.
The answer was in the Chevrolet Caprice. Oshawa was still producing the Chevrolet Caprice during this time and so it could be used as the basis for a new Pontiac. To change the Chevy to a Pontiac, GM of Canada created a new Pontiac grille, new tail lights (in an Impala tail panel), along with unique Pontiac trim and emblems, and a Pontiac specific two-tone paint job. Compared to the 1981 Pontiac Parisienne, the 1982 lost most of the unique Pontiac features, like the Pontiac dashboard, interior and sheet metal. So it become a badge engineered Chevrolet, but it is somewhat understandable considering the context of the situation at hand.
The full-size model line-up was greatly simplified for 1982. The Laurentian and Catalina were no longer offered, reducing the model offering to the Parisenne and Parisienne Brougham. Both trim levels were offered as a 2-door coupe, a 4-door sedan and a 4-door station wagon. Mechanically, the cars were pretty well unchanged from the 1981 models and were identical to the 1982 Chevrolet Caprice/Impala. The only difference was the Pontiac base was the 231 cid 3.8L Buick V6, rather than the 229 3.8L Chevrolet V6, as was the case in 1981.
Stateside, the Bonneville Model-G continued as Pontiacs flagship full-size car for the 1982 and the beginning of the 1983 model year. Interestingly, GM of Canada did not sell the Bonneville Model G in Canada during 1982 and 1983. Instead, the Canadian RWD G-body Pontiac was called the Grand LeMans, which was literally identical to the Pontiac Bonneville, save for the nameplates and a Canadian engine line-up.
The US dealers were not overly happy with the Bonneville as a substitute for full-size car, in particular with the increase in large car sales. So the quick and easy solution was to import the Pontiac Parisienne from the Canadian market to the US market, which occurred in the latter half of the 1983 model year. The 1983 Parisienne was mostly unchanged from the 1982 models, with the most notable change being the 2-door models being dropped. The US and Canadian market cars were for once nearly identical, with the only differences being in the engine emission configuration. At this time Canadian emission standards were far less stringent than US emissions. So US cars used computer controlled carburetors while Canadian cars used mechanical carburetors. Since Oshawa already built both US and Canadian Chevrolets B-Bodies, doing the same for the nearly identical Parisienne wasn’t a problem.
The 1984 model year was the first full year of production for the Parisienne in the US market, but it saw only a few minor changes. The biggest change related to assembly. It was during 1984 that GM’s Oshawa plant stopped production of all B-body cars, including the Parisienne. So, for the 1985 model year, production of the Canadian Parisienne moved to the United States. With this change, the Pontiac division stepped in to make the Parisienne less of a badge engineered Chevrolet. The old sheet metal dies for the 1981 Pontiac Bonneville/Parisienne quarter panels were dusted off and put back into action. This change also included the addition of fender skirts. The front sheet metal remained unchanged, meaning it used the Chevrolet fenders and hood along with the Pontiac grille. Pontiac made more effort to differentiate the interiors for 1985, with the Parisienne Broughams interior living up to its name. The 1985 effort certainly tried to elevate the car somewhat above Chevrolet, unlike the 1982-84 models which were more of an alternative to the Chevrolet.
1986 was the last year for the Parisienne, and other than minor changes to the engine line-up, it was mostly unchanged. While 1985 Parisiennes’ only gasoline V8 engine was the Chevrolet 305, for 1986 Parisiennes received the Chevrolet 305 V8 or Oldsmobile 307 V8. For 1987, the 4-door sedan was replaced by the new full-size FWD sedan, the H-body Bonneville. The full-size wagon continued for 1987 to 1989, but was simply called the Safari wagon. And so with that, the great Parisienne model name became a historical footnote in the automotive landscape.
Today, many non-Canadians dismiss the Parisienne as just a badge engineered Chevrolet Caprice. Some don’t realize that the name had a long history of being a highly successful and reputable car sold in Canada from 1958 to 1986. The 1982-86 Parisienne might not have been the best of the lot, but it is historically important and one of the only times the GM imported a foreign market Pontiac into the US. It was also good enough to appease the demand for a real full size car in the US market until the release of H-Body Bonneville. Furthermore, these final Parisiennes, while hardly original or innovative proved to be good reliable cars that served many families, mine included, for many years of service. And for those reasons, it should be remembered.
We had the ’85 woody wagon version of the big Pontiac for awhile, bought from red Rose Motors (used) in Lancaster PA, a mint condition example, around 1992. It was amazing how cheap and tinny it seemed in comparison to the ’77 Olds Delta 88 and ’78 Electra 225 we’d previously owned. The additional weight reduction after ’79 really showed. Hated the car and got rid of it for an old lady ’77 LeSabre after a very short time. The earlier ’77 to ’79 B & C bodies were far superior, too bad the last ones were so crappy. My Dad’s ’85 LeSabre “Collector Edition” seemed equally cheesy, he closed the trunk on a suitcase once and it actually bent the trunk lid!
The cars after 1980 were somewhat cheapened out but I would hardly call them “crappy.” The Oldsmobiles and Buicks still felt very solid, if a bit underpowered.
In 1989, I purchased a grey ’86 Parisienne with 188,000 miles. New motor (307) and tranny at 150k miles.
A salesman repeatedly drove it from PN to FL
I loved that car.
Having owned several 77-79s and 80-90 B-bodies, the 77-79s were definitely more solid feeling. The doors in particular on the older cars were much heavier and more solid. That said, I agree with Canuckucklehead, while the newer cars were lighter and may not have felt as substantial but they weren’t crappy. Just because they felt lighter didn’t make them worse cars. The best B-bodys in our family in terms of reliability and durability were our Oshawa built ’84 Parisienne wagon and our Lansing built ’85 Olds Delta 88 sedan. Both were a significantly more reliable than then the late 70s Oldsmobile’s we also owned.
Doggone it, but that green 1958 in the third image sure reminded me, at first glance, of a mid ’50s Thunderbird. With that low set grille, and long flanks, it may have borrowed a styling cue or two in that design. It’s not like I haven’t seen a 1958 Pontiac Parisienne a thousand times before, but it gave me that image on first glance.
Great in depth piece Vince.
The 81-86 Pontiac Parisiennes are besutiful cars. I have an 85, 86 Brougham snd an 85 Safari Wagon.
In the sane league as the 91-96 Roadmasters!
Paul, Can you update your B There Till the Very End artivle and include the Parisienne Safari Wagon?
My 96 Roadmaster LTD Wagon is featured in this article.
What’s so ridiculous about all the car companies dropping full size passenger cars for “better fuel economy”, is that now customers for such vehicles are now buying crossover’s, trucks, SUV’s instead, all of which can be heavier and gas hogs, defeating the whole idea of fuel efficiency. By the way, why do all of these vehicles have to be four wheel drive, even in area’s that never see any snow?
I agree. The American car industry was held captive by myopic government regulations and foreign car marketing which came during the seventies when American cars were of poor quality.
We can turn that around with American ingenuity in design and engineering with new vision and leadership.
I have three Parisiennes that are looking for a new home.
Since Jim Klein sort-of-reviewed the Hyundai Santa Cruz a few days ago, we’ve had quite a few posts about cars with city names: the R4 Berline, the Dodge Daytona, and now the Parisienne. Coincidence, or is there a theme here?
Eagle One, abort mission.
Repeat, Stand down.
We are compromised.
Delay tomorrow’s report on the Phoenix until further notice as well.
Great article on cars that are getting thin on the ground. Attached is a shot of my ’84 with 305/4BBL.
Very nice Parisienne Dean! I haven’t seen a ’82-84 in some time around my part of Ontario.
I wasn’t sure at the time if the ’77 Pontiac’s sheetmetal was different from the Caprice’s, aside from the fender skirts and coupe greenhouses, and I still can’t tell. It’s odd that Pontiac was the last of the 5 divisions to use skirts until Cadillac brought them back on the FWD Fleetwood over a decade later.
The body shell is the same, such as roof, glass, and doors. Front clip and quarter panels are Pontiac only.
The Parisienne sedans with the rear wheel skirts are the best design. I wish they had skirts on the Safari Wagon.
They should have made a convertible.
Concerning your comments on GM’s plans to move the B-bodies to FWD:
Oil prices peak in early 1980 and then gradually decline to 1985 and collapse in early 1986.
GM introduce the FWD transaxle Citation as a 1980 model, the Celebrity as a FWD 1982 model and the Cavalier as a 1982 model. I think GM’s plans for the full size FWD were probably not scheduled for the 1983 model year.
Clearly GM put the C bodies on a FWD platform first, planned for the 1984 model year, but were delayed because of a transaxle design problem. So the C-bodies are 1985 models. But probably designing the C-bodies is well under way in 1981.
The Buick and Olds B-bodies become FWD for the 1986 model year. Probably plans for this is well underway in 1982, so production plans are committed before oil prices can make reconsideration possible. However the Chevy B-body may have been planned to move a year later, so delaying it and cancelling the move to FWD is possible. It would have been 1983 when the Chevy full size FWD would have started the planning stage.
Pontiac moved to the FWD B-body (actually the H-body) for the 1987 model year.
Nowhere does the article say that the full-size cars were supposed to be moved to FWD by 1983. I recall several magazines of the era predicting the large RWD B-body of the era would stop production but the smaller RWD A/G-body would be the interim replacement until the FWD “B-body” was released. This didn’t happen, and by 1986 the FWD “B-body” was instead called the “H-body” platform. Moving all B/C bodies to FWD would have been the most logical move. Further, there is no reason that the FWD C and H body couldn’t have been released at the same time, since they were very much related.
Undoubtedly. GM’s original plan was to replace the RWD A/G-body with the FWD A-body and also replace the RWD B-body with a FWD. Instead, GM had a mess of new FWD platforms and old RWD platforms with lots of overlap. I am sure some of this had to do with the low profitability of the new platforms vs the high profitability of the old RWD platforms.
You did comment that there were rumors that the B-bodies would be FWD in the early 80’s. So after 1983 is not early 80’s.
I think that the oil price decline and then collapse changed GM’s plans by the mid 1980’s. What plans there might have been to move the B-body Chevrolets to FWD changed I think. However I don’t know what GM was planning for Chevrolet in the early 80s.
I think GM kept the RWD midsize cars because they were selling. Lower oil prices changed the market.
This is what I said:
There were rumors during this era that GM planned to eliminate the full-size RWD B-bodies in the early 1980s. The 1982 FWD A-body sedan was to be the new mid-sized sedan and the old RWD A-body (renamed G-body for 1982) was to replace the larger B-body cars as interim full-size cars until the new FWD replacements were released.
The Chevrolet B-Body was still a good seller during this time and I am sure that was part of the reason it stuck around. These old RWD platforms were long amortized and good money makers. Keeping them and the FWD platforms was a good example of the terrible leadership at GM during this time.
That 1981 red Parisienne interior is all kinds of gorgeous. I wish car interiors still looked like that.
I still don’t get why U.S. Pontiac didn’t just use the American Caprice as the basis for the 1983-86 Parisienne. Wouldn’t that have been easier than importing cars from Canada? I’m thinking it may be because GM still had relatively autonomous divisions at the time and Pontiac would have had to “buy” the cars from Chevrolet if they did that.
The seats got narrow when North America got fat.
The American Caprice did not have as nice a quarter design and had no skirts. The Canadian Parisienne was a much classier car.
The 82-84 Parisienne didn’t have skirts either, as the featured car illustrates. The 85-86 Parisienne (which was now built in the US) brought back the 1980-81 Bonneville rear fenders, rear clip, and side trim which had also been used on the 80-81 Parisienne. The front fenders, front clip, and dashboard remained Chevy Caprice pieces.
By this time, GM was already producing some US market cars in Canada while many US made Pontiacs were sold in Canada. No longer were all Canadian made cars just for the Canadian market. In fact, Oshawa built Chevrolet B-bodies for both the US market and the Canadian market. This is why it was easy to adopt the Parisienne to US market requirements, as the article alludes to. By this time, there were very minor difference between a Canadian Caprice and a US Caprice (emissions and metric instruments).
Thanks for this concise history. It’s a curious tale of cross-border intrigue.
Thanks for a fascinating read VinceC. This is the type of article and detail that I love and really makes CC stand out. NZ assembled Canadian-sourced CKD RHD Laurentian and Parisienne (and Chev equivalents) from 1960-70sish; the ’65-70 used the ’65 Impala RHD dashboard all the way through. Still a reasonable number around. Once GM decided to end RHD exports from Canada the Pontiacs and Chevs were phased out in favour of the Holden Statesman/Caprice.
Excellent article on the history of the Parisienne. I bought a 6 year old mint maroon brown 1986 Parisienne Brougham for $6K & owned it 5+ years. It was comfy on long trips & got 26 MPG on the Hwy. Several times I was approached to sell it & I finally did. It was one of the nicest & best cars I’ve owned since my first Pontiac I bought new in 1964.
I agree! I bought my 1986 Parisienne Brougham in 1999. It is one of the best Pontiacs. I still have it and will restore the black vinyl top and light grey headliner. I am looking for sources for both.
i have a 1982 brougham 2 door coupe ive been driving for 10 years engine went in the process of restoring it
Still enjoying my 63 Parisienne ragtop after nearly 40 yrs = )
Lil. 283. Slipnslide! All the power needed for cruising.