(first posted 5/16/2016) It is somewhat ironic that less than a week after I posted about how rare it was to see 1970s GM intermediate cars in Australia, that I saw this 1973 Pontiac. Identifying the car threw me a bit, because of the “Luxury LeMans GTO” badging on the front fender. Wait a minute…there was never a four door GTO, right? The GTO package was available in 1973 on either the base LeMans coupe or the LeMans Sport Coupe, but certainly not on the LeMans Luxury four door sedan. Someone’s messing with our heads here. But since only some 9,377 of these were made in 1973, it is still something of a rarity.
I’m not sure whether it had the 350 V8 or one of the optional 400s, but either way performance should be ample and fuel economy… shall we say, is suitable for hobby car usage? In front of the Pontiac is a well-preserved 1975-ish Toyota Crown, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air and a 1979-81 Ford Fairlane ZJ model.
My grandmother used to own a metallic brown Fairlane of this model, with the unique-to-Australia 302 Cleveland V8. I would assume this one also has a V8 (302 or 351) rather than the 4.1-litre crossflow six, but the layout of the plastic fuel tank means that it is difficult to fit dual exhaust pipes, so no clues available there.
The Chev was imported about half a dozen years ago, and usually wears the original wheels and trims with crossply tyres but the owner recently got this set of Cragars with radials for longer drives; it makes quite a difference.
To make up for this find being a bit of a cheat, at a car club outing, here are a few of the other cars present as a bonus: an E-Type Jag and Datsun 260Z 2+2 (in front of a steam roller, the site hosts a steam rally each year).
A 1938 Pontiac 6 sedan;
A 1954 Ford Crestline and a 1964 Thunderbird;
And finally a 1980s pairing of Mitsubishi Scorpion and Toyota Celica (with a Rover 3-litre Coupe ahead of them).
Wow, it is rare enough to see a Colonnade Pontiac, but the early Luxury LeMans sedan is a wowie. Part of the wow-factor for me is that my mother picked out a 74 version of this same car, right down to the color (though ours lacked the vinyl roof and added fender skirts). The fact that it only had a 2 bbl 350 was probably the one thing that kept me from killing myself and/or someone else with it given the way I drove it as a teenager.
How did the fender skirts work with those flared wheel arches? Or did the skirted version not have the flares?
The 74 did away with the flairs, one of the many reasons I liked the details of the 74 better than the 73. The 73 with skirts looked bad for just the reason you point out. I also preferred the taillight treatment and the more interesting sculpting that raised the decklid above the rear fenders by a tad. Here is the 2 door from the brochure.
We had a ’74 Luxury LeMans 2-door, green with white vinyl top and fender skirts, and a “radial tuned suspension” badge. As I recall, the decklid was raised to offer a bit more trunk room because there had been complaints about the ’73.
The ’74 was made of obviously cheaper materials, inside and out, than our previous (1960s) Pontiacs. Nonetheless I wouldn’t have minded a ’73 Grand Am with the nicer dashboard design (shared with the Grand Prix) and mahogany veneer.
That’s interesting – I remember the trunk space thought to be rather shallow because of the low sloping decklid of the 73s (not just for the Pontiacs). That makes sense!
I am seriously warming up to the Pontiac Colonnades. I think their swoopy sides match the greenhouse like none of the other Colonnades.
I liked the Monte Carlo-esque sculptured sides of the first Buick colonnade the best, followed by the Pontiac, Chevy, and the Olds Cutlass being the worst. Ironically, seems like this was about the time that the Cutlass was beginning its run to the top of the sales chart, and it did get better with the rectangular headlight refresh.
Those Luxury Lemans Ponchos seem like sort of an odd duck, i.e., Pontiac was the ‘excitement’ division. But, then, performance was pretty much a dirty word in the mid-seventies, with everything being either fuel economy and/or brougham driven.
Luxury WAS the excitement in 1973. Performance was a dirty word in Detroit, at least the kind of performance offered in your garden-variety supercar just three years before (they weren’t really called “muscle cars” when new).
At the very least, the insurance gods would get you and your little dog too!
Although all GM’s full and mid-size offerings received improvements in the handling department, I think Pontiac got some upgrades unique to the brand, and then the “European-style handling” was part of the marketing.
My mother’s car was indeed a crisp handler. It had front and rear sway bars and provided very flat cornering when going too fast (as I often did in that car.) The Saginaw variable ratio power steering was also quite quick. With another 100 or so horsepower, that thing would have been serious fun. It felt much more maneuverable than my stepmom’s 74 Cutlass Supreme coupe, despite the Olds’ significantly shorter wheelbase.
After DeLorean was promoted to Chevy and then left GM, the later heads of Pontiac wanted it to be just like Olds and Buick, while still offering cheap Chevy clones.
So, no more ‘muscle cars’. The SD455 barely survived and then was only for Firebirds for 2 years.
I’m in agreement. I really like that 2-door Luxury LeMans!!
Me too; I could have that feature car in the garage.
Nice looking Triumph 2000 peaking into the 6th shot as well
Roger did you notice the 1953 Riley in the last photo?
In the late ’70’s I lived in Fremont, California, at the time the home of a GM factory which built RWD A Bodies (later NUMMI, now Tesla). In what I assume was typical quid-pro-quo, the city police cars were A Bodies: LeMans 4 doors. Pretty much the only Pontiac police cars I’ve seen. I still drive through Fremont occasionally, but rarely get off the freeway, so I haven’t noticed if they’re using Teslas now, but I doubt it. They certainly didn’t use Corolla/Nova/Prizm or Matrix in the NUMMI days.
Did Pontiac ever actually offer a police package for those? At the very least, Sheriff Buford T. Justice drove one. “Daddy, the top came off.”
Yes, they did. I want to say a brochure can be found at Old Car Brochures. Further, I have seen pictures of these in department livery, New York City being one.
Yes. Didn’t they call the police package the “Pontiac Enforcer” back then?
Back in the seventies, the Arvada (CO) Police used Pontiac Colonnades. I was pulled over by several of them during my time in High School…
Yes. Where I worked the 1977 Pontiacs were a considerable step up from our slow, flaccid, cramped 1976 Ford Torinos but in 1978 were soundly beaten on the EVOC track by the Dodge Monaco, whose bid was also lower. The Pontiacs went from preferred ride to penalty box in one year…except for one officer who liked it for its stronger air conditioning.
When I moved to Upper St. Clair, PA in 1976, the Police were using LeMans crusiers. IIRC, they moved on to Malibus then Buick LeSabres – must have got a deal, that was around ’81 or ’82, and then M-body Dodges until I moved away.
The patrol cars were always white with green stripes, and when the had the Malibus, my dad had a white ’79 Malibu Classic (not that there was anything “classic” about it) that people always thought was an unmarked car.
These were pretty common police cars according to Car & Driver’s awesome 1977 “Bear Spotter’s Guide” –> http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/99/97/12/9997125a18c8c3c607a5500b255bd43f.jpg
I presume it was because, for that brief moment in time, the Pontiac 400 was the highest performance motor in the GM portfolio and Pontiac figured this was another way to capitalize on it.
“Put the evidence in the car!”
I remember the Luxury LeMans 2 doors, but the 4 doors were quite rare (the 2 door model outsold the 4 door usually 4-6 to one).
That Fairlaine looks kind of anonymous, somewhat like a mid to late 80s Japanese sedan.
Not sure which of the cars pictured I would want to own, perhaps the Thunderbird?
Ahead of its time! That Fairlane is a ’79-’82 model.
Having changed two older Chevies, a ’54 and a ’57 over to radials, way back in the day, the radials alone offer a HUGE improvement in handling and braking. Plus 1-2 extra MPG.
I first did it on the ’54, back in 1975. I could only afford used take-offs, but what a difference it made over the original bias-ply tires. Plus my mileage went from 14 to 16 MPG.
In 1979, I needed new tires on the ’57 and hit the local Goodyear in Peekskill, NY for a set of radials…which the service writer REFUSED TO SELL ME, citing the potential horrors of running radials on a car “not designed for them”.
I was then bullied into buying some set of bias-ply tires that lasted ONE year. About 12,000 miles. Maybe only 10,000, I don’t remember. They turned out to be the most expensive set of tires I ever bought, considering how quickly they wore out.
But a switch to used radials yielded similar results on the ’57.
If you want to keep your old car otherwise original, at least this one change will mean miles of smiles IMO.
Interesting. I read the owner’s manual to my ’71 Fury II wagon I had back in 1980, it said that radials were not recommended. No matter, only had that car a couple months, huge POS.
On an aside, radials are almost required on a tandem axle utility trailer. I usually ran radials, but put the spare on the rear axle; brand new tire, lasted only one month of daily local driving before going bald and shredding apart.
About 1980-81 I bought a set of used radials for my 71 Scamp. Wow. They completely changed the character of the car. From a noisy, hard riding compact to a less noisy, less hard riding compact. 🙂 Actually, I remember thinking that my Scamp felt like a Cadillac as I drove it out of the tire store’s lot. Bias ply tires have never gone onto anything I have ever owned since.
I remember my first set of radials that I put on my ’64 VW. I’d been hankering for some, but they were so expensive. I finally splurged for the cheapest set I could find, a European brand that I can’t remember now (not Michelin or Pirelli). It made a huge difference; the car felt so much more stable and glued to the road, and the ride was better. A revelation.
My dad bought a brand-new 69 Camaro which came with red sidewall bias-ply tires. They were down to the cords in less than 8,000 miles (Not guilty! Honest!). Dad went out and got a set of Michelins which lasted 40,000. They really worked well on the car, improving the ride and the handling. The most interesting thing I remember those is how many people told him dad that his tires were low on air during that first year….
Semperit or Vredestein, perhaps?
The wheel skirts REALLY make the lines on the Pontiac. The vinyl top on the maroon one looks funny to me…like it goes too far back toward the trunk opening and follows the scallop on the quarter panel.
My parents had a ’76 Cutlass S sedan, and bitched from day one about the small trunk…it was really shallow, IIRC.
I don’t think that top is from the factory. Four door colonnades with vinyl were very rare (almost mandatory on the formal coupes), but I believe I’d remember that bottom…edge. My best friend’s parents bought a LLeMs 4 door without, and took it with them to Pearl Harbor in ’75. The dark brown vinyl seats must have been awful there.
Edit: here’s one claimed to be original:
This mustard-yellow-under-black one you’ve posted has a very similar vinyl top to the one my dad’s ’77 Cutlass had. The red-under-white one above…yeah, that doesn’t quite look like a GM job.
Question for our ANZ contingent – Was the LeMans built as an RHD car (by GM Canada, I assume), assembled by Holden as a CKD, or a local conversion?
Would have been a local conversion most likely by Chapel Engineering in Melbourne. Would have used a RH Holden steering box and cross shafts for the brake booster. Wipers may have been changed for RH sweep as well. Dashboard could be a full fibreglass reversal or the original ‘cut and shut’ for RHD.
Quite possibly sold new by a Holden dealer. My local Holden dealer (Les Vagg) always had something American GM in the showroom during the 70’s till the mid 80’s.
Looks like a high quality job regardless of who did it. The only thing that made me do a double take and notice the steering wheel location was the driver’s side mirror that didn’t quite look right. Thanks Grant!
There’s a suprising amount of interchange across the Pacific. The wheels alone are a bolt on for a contemporary Holden. Quite a lot of other small components interchange too.
Drivers side mirror is Holden most of the suspension and steering interchanges. Holden still offered the 350 imported engine when this car was built, but yeah RHD was mandatory.
PCD in some Holdens is the same as their American GM cousins. It may be 5X120.65
That .65 mm means I cannot fit Chevy rallies or Torq-Thrust in my Commodore
Doesn’t stop some ignorant folk from trying, sadly. 0.65 mm might not sound much, but in engineering terms…..
To add to Grant’s answer, by this time Holden had their local long wheelbase Statesman/Caprice (114″) on the market which was a better option for local buyers, with more readily available parts and service.
That red car is beautiful. All it needs is whitewall tires to complete the look. I have always loved that style of Pontiac wheels, they look better to me than any aftermarket wheel available.
A confession: The Colonnades are growing on me. I just had to enlarge the your photos to find what state they’re from. Victoria, so I guess I won’t be seeing them at our Queensland All American Day. Thanks for the article & photos
There was a matte black Colonnade Pontiac on the Gold Coast a little while ago.Pretty scruffy, but wonderfully gothic looking with those sculptured lines!
They’re growing on me too.
I’m definitely of the opinion that the Pontiacs were the best-looking of the colonnades. That Luxury LeMans is quite the looker, though the GTO badges need to go. Maybe they should have done what Chevy did for ’73 and actually offered a GTO wagon–the Chevelle SS wagon for ’73 was a legit one-year wonder. There is a rough example here in Richmond.
That looks a lot better to me than the droopy sedan/coupe, quite often the wagon version can look better than a poorly-resolved sedan rear.
Holden did a limited edition Commodore SS wagon in 2003, including a manual gearbox option, before it rejoined the lineup full-time from 2010.
I would go Cutlass – Chevelle Malibu – Buick – Le Mans in the beauty contest. The Le Mans might get a disqualification for sharpness of the traliing edge being a danger to pedestrians, or anything else that it might encounter in its reverse travels. The Le Mans is a car that definitely looks better coming than going.
Like a 4 door GTO, there should also never have been a 4 door Cutlass Supreme. Stick to the 2 door coupe and leave it be.
I must apologise for not getting an interior photo again, but this was shot before the interest was pointed out. Hopefully I will get another chance to see the car.
The strange thing I always felt about the Colonnades was that the 2-door looked so “right” yet the 4-doors were somewhat odd-looking in comparison. I don’t feel quite the same 35 years later, but I will always first and foremost picture these cars in 2-door form probably because they were so popular and common back in the day. You would see ten coupes to one sedan. My 8th grade teacher had a ’76 Cutlass Supreme sedan. It was the typical bronze color with a tan vinyl top and tan vinyl interior. It was oddly equipped, too. It had power door locks but no power windows, a tilt steering wheel, and no A/C. I remember telling her how rare her car was and she said, “Not really Tom, a lot of people drive Cutlasses.”
Gee, I wonder where they were taken John 😉
And I have to say, that ZJ is one sharp looking car. I never paid much attention to them back in the day, being a definite Holden guy, but that one is a beautiful car!
Haha no points for guessing for you Brad!
That looks like Queenscliff there. If so, the train ride is nice, although a bit short.
Interesting to see those Celicas getting club permits already. The next generation is about to “graduate” to that status. Ummm…
E-types seem to be quite popular around here. Seen quite a bit.
No, quite a way inland from Queenscliff! I will do a CC walk and talk from the area soon (?)
Loved the original styling of these as a kid. Always thought Pontiac did a nice job with the wheel trim rings flaring smoothly into their Rally II wheel centres.
The 4 door Colonnades side glass is so evocative of the 1959-60 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. The B pillar ruins the look but you can see where the inspiration came from.
And was closely repeated in turn on the Oldsmobile Intrigue.
My ’73 Luxury LeMans Cpe. in 1976. Those skirts, full glass rear quarter windows, and rear end styling…what a sharp looking car. Wish I still owned it.
That “LeMans” Is a looker! The white “T Bird”, pictured half way through the article makes me happy too!