Cohort Capsule: 1978 Pontiac Grand Am – Neither “Grand” Nor “Am”

GrandAm1978front(photo: AGuyinVancouver)

To many, the name “Pontiac Grand Am” stirs up rather dizzying thoughts of the over-styled, over-cladded N-body compact, that Pontiac peddled upon rental fleets and the general population from the second half of the 1980s through the first half of the 2000s. But, as is often the situation, automotive nameplates have a way of being recycled; twice in the Grand Am’s case.


The first Grand Am was the 1973-1975 A-body “Colonnade” coupe and sedan. Combining the luxury of the “Grand” Prix and the performance of the Trans “Am,” it was marketed as an alternative to European imports, and featured a special radial-tuned suspension, front and rear stabilizers, and steel-belted radial tires as standard equipment. To go along with its performance image, only the A-body’s largest V8s were available: a 400 cubic-inch (6.6L) and a 455 cubic-inch (7.4L).

Complementing its sweeping lines, its front was highlighted by the most dramatic interpretation yet of Pontiac’s “beak nose” grille. Made from a special urethane foam bonded to a steel frame, this squeezable “Endura bumper” had the ability to return to its proper shape following minor impact. Inside, a genuine African crossfire mahogany-trimmed console and instrument panel and reclining buckets with adjustable lumbar support helped distinguish the Grand Am from other Pontiacs.


But after a brief three-year run, the Colonnade Grand Am was discontinued, owing its death to falling sales and stricter safety regulations that would have required costly front-end design modifications. However, the Grand Am’s death was short-lived, for the name would return in 1978. Once again riding on the A-body (a.k.a. “G-body” after 1981), the second generation Grand Am was about ten inches shorter, five inches narrower, and 700 pounds lighter than its predecessor. Losing its curvaceous styling, special interior, and a significant amount of performance, this Grand Am was way more “Grand LeMans plus” and far less European import fighter.


Visually, just a Grand LeMans with a different grille, the Grand Am was wrapped in the straighter-edged, boxy sheet metal that dominated American automobile styling from the late ’70s through mid ’80s. In other words, it looked rather dull and cookie-cutter. At least its front fascia (which wasn’t particularly attractive) and hint of shoulders (which were rather two-dimensional due to slab-sided sheet metal) lent it some distinction over A-bodies from Chevrolet, Buick, and Oldsmobile.


Inside, Grand Am interiors looked very similar to other Pontiacs. Round “rally gauges” with full instrumentation and bucket seats with a floor console were both available. Gone was the special African mahogany, replaced with a cheaper simulated walnut appliqué. Found in other A/G-body Pontiacs, this woodgrain pattern, combined with the full array of round gauges, made for one of the more interesting dash designs of the period.

Standard power came from Pontiac’s 301 cubic-inch V8, making 140 horsepower with a two-barrel carburetor, or 155 in optional four-barrel form. In California only, a Chevrolet 305 cubic-inch V8, making 135 and 145 horsepower, respectably, was substituted due to stricter emissions regulations.


With nothing truly special to offer over a cheaper Grand LeMans, this car from GM’s “We Build Excitement” division was a flop, selling only about 16,000 units over the course of three years. Not many seemed to notice it then, and even fewer remember this brief second run of the Grand Am. Especially to younger generations, the below picture is the Pontiac Grand Am that will forever be ingrained into our memories.