CC Outtake: 1976 Pontiac Ventura SJ – Still Kicking

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(first posted 6/25/2015)   It may be hard to tell, but it was getting dark when I ran into these in a nursing home parking lot. My old camera tried hard to make it look like day, but the result was…fuzzy pictures. But Venturas aren’t getting any more common, and this one sitting with a Cavalier that shared its roof line, called out to me. Don’t they all?


Pontiac 1976 Ventura SJ br

The GM X-Body compacts were substantially revised in 1975, when they got the Camaro and Firebird’s much improved front suspension and steering, as well as a new roof line that was clearly inspired by BMW. GM was re-positioned these cars from just plain old cheap compacts to compete against the Ford Granada/Monarch in the new international-inspired class of smaller American cars.

The Granada and Monarch ersatz-Mercedes look resonated more with the buyers, despite its modest Falcon underpinnings. The Nova and Ventura were understated, but handled just like a…four door Firebird. Which is essentially what the Ventura was, especially in SJ guise.

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By the mid-seventies, these cars came with engines from various divisions. In 1976, the Ventura came standard with the Chevy 250 inline six rated at 110 hp. The next step up was the Olds “Gutless” 260 V8, also rated at 110 hp, and almost certainly a worse torque curve than the six. The next step up was the genuine Pontiac 350 V8, in 140 and 155 hp versions. That was the way to go, if wanting to maximize the benefits of the Firebird’s suspension.

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The Nova and Ventura may have had BMW-esque exteriors, but that ended abruptly upon opening a door. A serviceable but uninspired IP greeted the driver. Ford’s Granada and Monarch had it all over these GM competitors on the inside.

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The rear seat on these none-too compact cars was also a disappointment, in terms of leg room and ambiance. No wonder the Granada/Monarch outsold them handily. But for someone wanting an exceptionally nimble, powerful and unassuming sedan, these were the ticket.

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This survivor is probably in the same condition as most of the residents of this nursing home: aged, worse for wear, and near the end of the road. But there’s still a bit of life in it left.