CC Capsule: 1986 Pontiac Grand Prix – On Its Way Back Up

I was on on my way to the office on a Sunday morning, and decided to stop and get some breakfast.  In the parking lot of the breakfast joint was this interesting Pontiac Grand Prix survivor.  I am not normally a GM person, but growing up I think most people acknowledged that the GM G-body coupes from 1978-1987 were the exception to the malaise era.  Generally well-built and solidly engineered, neither oversized nor prematurely shrunken, even in coupe form they had a comfortable interior for front and rear passengers.

The G-Body coupe was produced as the Chevrolet Monte Carlo (and related El Camino ‘ute), the Pontiac Grand Prix, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, and the Buick Regal.  In the case of the Chevy, Oldsmobile, and Buick, these cars represent perhaps the pinnacle of that particular model, a peak both in terms of sales and reputation that has not since been equaled.  People started to bring Monte Carlos of that era to classic car meets almost the year they went out of production, the Buick Grand National/GNX/Regal T-type is perhaps the last Buick to have won general respect from the car crowd, and the Cutlass Supreme of that era is perhaps The Definitive Oldsmobile, achieving a level of popularity almost imaginable now.

The Pontiac Grand Prix from that era is a bit different, in that The Definitive Grand Prix is almost certainly from an earlier era, from the first (1962-1968) or second (1969-1972) generations.   The Grand Prix of the 1978-1987 era, especially in coupe form, filled a niche and filled it very well – a bit more upscale than the Chevy, a bit sportier than the Oldsmobile or the Buick, and probably the most direct competitor to the Ford Thunderbird, which for most of this era was suffering a bit of an identity crisis, until the Aero-Birds came along in 1983.

This particular example is from 1986.  I found the owner, Fred, eating breakfast inside, and he graciously popped the hood and let me get some shots of the interior as he told me the story.  Fred bought it brand-new in Pennsylvania in 1986, and it came with him when he moved out to California on a whim sometime shortly afterwards.  Fred still drives it regularly, though mostly around town, which accounts for the relatively low mileage of approximately 80,000 miles.

It has the optional 4.3 L Chevy V-6, introduced the year before in the Monte Carlo and new to the Grand Prix for this year.  Fred told me it had the 4-speed automatic and gets good gas mileage (in the 20’s) though as average freeway speeds have continued to increase he doesn’t find the engine quite powerful enough for regular freeway use.  But it’s fine for around-town use.

And it has a T-Top, which Fred really enjoys.  The vinyl top has not navigated the ravages of time as well as the rest of the car.

It’s increasingly difficult for Fred to get the appropriate large-letter tires.  He’s bought a few sets and stored them.


Fred told me the car has spent it’s entire life outside, which accounts for the faded paint, the cracked vinyl top (according to Fred, he learned a bit too late that Armor-All has alcohol in it and is not a great friend to vinyl tops), and the degraded state of the interior.  But have no fear, Fred is a frequent purveyor of pick-a-parts and Ebay, and has acquired a new interior and a new vinyl top.  These will be installed when time permits.

But first, the Grand Prix has a job to do – in one of his trips to a pick-a-part he acquired a collection of vintage factory GM radios, which he is selling on Ebay.  But first, he has to test each one, which is why the Grand Prix instrument panel is partially disassembled.  It features the round dial gauges which John Delorean insisted upon for the earlier generations, and which Pontiac highlighted in their advertisements.

The paint is another thing – it was originally a dark burgundy, you can still see the original, unfaded, color in the door jam.  However, the paint isn’t peeling nor is there noticeable rust, the paint is faded but not damaged.  The car may never get repainted, it may just slowly fade to an even browner brown.  And that might just be the appropriate thing – the Grand Prix is a faded but noble reminder of a time, and a brand, which no longer exists.