(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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I agree, properly engined and optioned, this was a pretty nice car. This is one that I appreciate so much more now than I did then.
These sort of got lost between all of the other choices. In 1976, you could get a Granada/Monarch and a Volare/Aspen, which came off a little more refined. Or there was still the Maverick/Comet and Valiant/Dart for the more basically minded. This car was sort of halfway between the Granada and the Dart on the refinement scale. Then, these also got outclassed by the Oldsmobile and Buick twins.
I think the Ventura tried to defend a niche that was not big enough to be worth defending.
I briefly had a 1974 Ventura, the older rounded body but I think essentially the same car. Mine had the Olds 350 and was very torquey at low speed, unfortunately it also had rust, lots and lots of rust…
I used to hate the 75-79 X bodies…I thought they were cheap and low rent. Now I see them as four door F bodies….I wish I had known then. I had so many opportunities to own one when they were all over the place. Sadly, I have not seen one in years.
Add me to the list of “no love for these back in the day”. They all seemed rather beat up and worse for wear. But I’ve come around to some degree, especially on these Venturas. The slanted nose gave a Firebird-inspired touch to the styling, and one with the 350 wouldn’t be a bad ride at all with some tweaks from the wide array of F-body interchangeable parts.
The wheel covers that adorn the rear wheels of this car are from a ’78-’80 Chevy Malibu, by the way.
When we moved to the US in ’81, this car (in silver and a ’77 IIRC) is what my Dad bought. We toured all over the west coast in it, including frequent forays to the desert areas. I’m virtually certain that ours had the six, but my overwhelming memories are of endless rides in the back seat with windows that didn’t go all the way down, the back bumper occasionally dragging in the dirt as we traversed miles and miles of hilly unpaved desert roads in search of yet another Ghost Town, and, well, not much else… I believe that it was fairly reliable though and while I never aspired to own one myself it seemed to be durable and took a fair amount of off-road abuse.
Paul, I don’t think that is the original rear end.
The 75-76 Venturas had the same tail lamps–the looked similar to the Nova from a distance, and did not reach the license plate (which covered the gas cap).
That is a 76 Ventura from the front (the 75 had four openings, not two; on ours, the paint had pitted and sheet metal was starting to rust, so I sanded and painted it)
In 1977, in an effort to move upmarket (and justify the higher prices inflation was causing), Pontiac introduced an upscale Ventura called the Phoenix, with rectangular front headlamp and a bumper treatment that screamed “Brougham”. The full-width rear tail lamps on the Phoenix were like those in the photo. In 1978, Pontiac dropped the Ventura and just kept the Phoenix. You could even get it with the Iron Duke 151 cid 4.
Also, I think Pontiac’s 301 may have replaced the 260 as an option starting in 1977.
Our ’75 had the 260-V8. While during my “Wonder Years” I felt we had been cheated, having the power of a six with the gas consumption of a 350 V8, after driving other cars as a young adult, I remembered the Olds 260 was smooth, always started easily and ran well, and worked great with the auto, and came to appreciate it, even if it only got 15-17 mpg (19-20 on a trip).
The car had good steering and handling, as you say, and felt like a tank compared to our Ford Fairmont. Over 10 years and 70k miles (100k total), the only defect we had (besides aformentioned rust on grille panel and behind wheels) was a bad Electronic Ignition module, a year after my dad had bought the car (used with 30k).
Thanks for another good memory of my “Wonder Years”!
I think your right about the taillights. I cant find a single 76 with that taillight treatment. However, I ran body shop back when these were late models and things started getting really fuzzy after 1977 on the rear on these cars, I`ve seen both styles taillights you speak on a both Ventures & phoenixes from 77-79 plus some but not all of the last Phoenixes used a completely different wrap around tail lamp that required the use a different quarter panel. That I could never understand.
Here`s a picture of a 78 Phoenix from my files that that has the small taillights. If it was just one car I`d say they were changed but I`ve seen way too many Phoenixes with these lamps in all trim levels. Its almost as if different factories used different tail lamps
If I’m not mistaken, couldn’t that be the rear end of the skylark with Pontiac lenses?
The high end SJ models had the wider lamps in ’76-77. Then the Phoenix.
The 78-79 LJ PHX had the wrap around tails.
Base Venturas and the base 78-79 PHX [rename of the plain Ventura] had the narrow ones. The
How do I know? I lived 1/2 mile from Pontiac dealer in the 70’s.
Now that makes some sense, thank you for clearing that up.
You beat me to the punch! I noticed this in my old Pontiac brochures a while back. The wraparound taillights were fancier-looking, so they were reserved for the high-end trim.
A buddy of mine had the Chevrolet equivalent back in the 1990s, a blue 4-door Nova with the 350. That motor actually put out a fair amount of power, especially by 1970s standards. Not a bad car at all, and ridiculously easy to work on. It never let him down, even though he treated it like dirt. I wouldn’t mind having one today.
The hot setup would be the Nova 9C1 police package. Would love to find one of those to play with.
Oh yes, absolutely! Followed by the Malibu police package, and then by the Boxy Caprice version.
The Nova version has to be the rarest of the three, from what I can tell.
Marin County Sheriff had a complete fleet of Nova 9C1 patrol cars. They handled as well as the Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare A38, rode a little harsher, but were quieter inside. Much less rear seat “prisoner space.”
The 350 power ratings of 140/155 were actually for the Buick 350 engine depending on if it was a 2BBl or 4BBL. The Pontiac 350 made a bit more on each count but less torque than the Buick engines. The 260 Olds V8 was indeed gutless. It made 110 Hp and 205 torque at a very low RPM. Note however that in these X-bodies it had slightly better gearing in the 2.56 range instead of the pathetic 2.29 used in the A/G body downsized cars and made a little more power than when used in 1979-1982 cars when it was de-tuned to a laughable 100-105 HP. We had a 1977 Olds Omega coupe variant of this car with the 260 and THM 350 automatic and woke it up considerably by removing the spark delay which held back advance timing and installing a Quadrajet carburetor in place of the un-punched Quad that was on the car with some tweaks to the secondaries. It felt like it gained another 20-25 hp and mileage actually went from 17 to 19 combined in normal driving with up to 24 on the open road!
IINM, for a few years in the mid ’70s, the B-O-P X-bodies were all built on the same assembly lines and used the same mix of engines, regardless of brand. For whatever reason, the 350 that was used was the Buick version. Other ’76 Pontiacs did get genuine Pontiac 350s; I believe that 1976 was the last year Pontiac built its own 350s.
According to http://www.pontiacventura.com/ventura_techfile_main.htm, Venturas used Pontiac 350s up through 1974, then Buick 350s in 1975-76. The author of that website seems to be unsure which version of the 350 was used in ’77 Venturas. By that time, GM was starting down the road of widespread engine cross-pollination, so it might have been anybody’s 350 (Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Buick).
I can imagine it –
One line supervisor to another: “Shipping just messed up and send us a freight train of chevy 350s and we have a fleet order for Oldsmobiles. What are we gonna go? I don’t want to hold the line up anymore until those lousy 260s get here”
“Don’t worry about it. Put them in there anyway. Just make sure the engine and emissions stickers are correct.”
“Deal! (hollering towards the workers) Start the line again, boys!”
“… then Buick 350s in 1975-76…”
That is one reason there was no ’75 GTO, they didnt want a “Buick GTO”.
Pontiac did another aborted attempt with Hurst to get a 1975 GTO. I scanned these photos from the June or August 2014 issue of Collectible Automobile.
Another set of photos of that GTO that might have been…
Absolutely right about the 350 Buick V8, and that was true in 1975, too. Previously, my 1975 Pontiac Ventura Sprint was posted on this website. I article stated that the 350 Pontiac was used, but not in mine with 23,500 original miles.
By the way, my 75 Ventura Sprint handles amazingly well, and its performance with the Buick 350 and 4 barrel is as good as any other mid to late 70’s car I’ve driven. I have another 75 Ventura Sprint with the 260 V8 Oldsmobile mill. It is silky smooth, but it has to be one of the slowest cars of the era. It may be a tad faster to 60 MPH than the 79 Chevette with 4 speed that I bought new.
The wrap-around tail-lamp probably used the same quarter panel as the Olds/Buick variants which had wrap around tail lamps.
Nova’s never did, but I think the LN or Concours had a ‘full-width’ tail lamp with no “wrap”
On the other hand, the Nova fenders had to be different from the Pontiac/Olds front fenders, because of the interface between the Nova headlamp to fender, vs the Pont/Old front end “clip” to fender. The Buick may have been different still. They all had different hoods.
One thing that I remember about these cars and their platform clones was that as they aged, they sometimes didn’t drive straight anymore. They sort of crabbed diagonally down the road. I never knew why and I wasn’t the only one to notice because when driving behind them I remember telling people “they always do that.”
There’s some sort of wear item on the rear suspension that fixes that when you replace it.
They were very prone to rear leaf spring breakage and that’s what made them dog track.
It can also be caused by rusted-out subframe mounting points up front. I’d say about 50% of the Novas I’ve seen of this vintage have the dog-track issue.
It was the leaf springs. I remember helping my neighbor repair her ’76 Nova some time in the 1980s. We got some leaf springs from the junkyard and replaced the broken ones.
When I came back from a year in Iceland these (actually, all the X body variants) and their Ford equivalents were the cars I considered. I found a 76 Phoenix with the “lozenge” front end but the Ventura tail lights and a 260 V8, an Olds Omega with a Buick V6 and a Nova with the Chevy 6. I bought the Nova as I wasn’t crazy about the corporate “cross-pollination” that was rampant at GM….one reason why I was looking at Granada/Monarchs and Maverick/Comets.
That Nova was a fairly decent car, but the assembly quality, especially of the interior was not confidence inspiring. Many of the parts looked too big for the “holes” they were supposed to fit into and/or were poorly aligned with their surrounding parts.
LOVED the looks, though.
This Ventura reminds me of how GM seemed to introduce higher-end equipment in phases based on the size class of the car, at least for Chevy and Pontiac. For instance, it seems like the Corsica and Grand Am were the first GM compacts that had any hope of having things like power windows, locks, adjustable seats (split bench or buckets) and upholstery that wasn’t vinyl or cloth as rough as a burlap sack. I’ve seen Granadas that were decently equipped, but never Novas. Not sure if such pleasantries weren’t available on them, or if everyone who wanted a Nova was content with straight vinyl benches, manual windows and AM radios. GM’s strategy seemed to be to force people who wanted any sort of luxuries into larger (and more profitable) cars.
Chevy did eventually (’77 maybe?) bring out the Nova Concours, which was intended to be the well-trimmed version of the Nova. Maybe they just didn’t stand out, or maybe it wasn’t a popular trim level.
The luxury trim ran from ’75-77, in ’75 it was the Nova LN and in ’76-77 the Concours which was listed as a separate model from the Nova and even had a separate brochure in ’77.
For 1978 they gave up on it but added most of the exterior bling to the former midline Nova Custom, maybe to make room for the downsized Malibu.
They had the Nova LN in ’75, along with the Omega Brougham, Phoenix SJ and Skylark SR. all of these could be ordered with Power Windows/locks and tilt wheel/cruise control.
Someone who had a site dedicated to Venturas said “There was no ryhme or reason for the different tail light panels”.
But, I sent a message pointing out the trim levels.
The car in the post is a ’76 SJ, with its original lights.
Did the paint on these ever NOT look like this? I swear every one I’ve seen in person, in pictures, in movies and TV(even from the period they were new) they all look faded, even paint on the brochure car looks like crap!
I guess these never really appealed to me anyway from a styling standpoint, I much preferred the 68-74s. GMs cribbing of the BMW roofline always came off as forced and completely lost whatever it is that worked on the real deal in translation, I never ever EVER would have associated these cars with BMW styling of the period until I saw someone else mention it years ago. Part of the problem in my eyesis BMW represented substance over style/form follows function at it’s purest in those days, therefore anything that ISN’T a BMW that’s copying BMW’s understated(frankly dull) styling just looks like a (dull)knockoff. Plus the front and rear end treatments all looked cobbled together, uninspired, indistinct and cheap, from Chevy to Buick, the 74s all looked better in that regard as well.
I think the 75-79s looked much cleaner and harmonious. The simpler the better: the fussier Omega is the worst looker.
I’m of the other opinion, I think that GM did a good job of making the Hofmeister kink their own on these, and it gave some needed lightening to the C-pillar compared to the thick one on the ’68-74 sedans.
We had a tragically green Chevy Nova version of the featured car. It was a shade of green reserved for soiled diapers…..We drove it cross country when it was already 20 years old pulling a camper trailer. We drove through St. Louis to visit the arch and ended up on the Illinois side of the city. Both occupants and car escaped the side trip unscathed….
My apologies to Paul, and everyone here–I was wrong about the wrap-around tail lamps.
The Pontiacs were not huge sellers,but ours was not the only one on Long Island in the late 70s either, and I never saw a 75-77 “Ventura with anything other than the “Pontiac-ized” Nova tail lamps.
Jamie, I like your Venturas! Do you still have them?
I stop watched our 260 Ventura and our 2.3 liter 4-spd Ford Fairmont in the early 80s. The Pontiac was slow, but quicker than the Ford (I think I did a ‘rolling’ 5-mph start to save both cars, esp the Ford’s clutch).
I suspect the Ford was quicker than the Chevette. Consumer Reports would be a good place to find out. Unfortunately, CR never tested a Ventura (or any GM compact) with the Olds 260; they did test a 77 Cutlass Sedan with the 260, but that car weighed 4-500 lbs more. I suspect a Ventura 260 would be on par with the 250 straight six that was the base engine in all 75-79 Novas and 75-76 Venturas, with the similar mpg. CR had several 250-6 and 231-V6 75-78 GM X-body compact tests–and also a Fairmont 4-spd 4-cyl
The year was 1977 and my sister needed a car for college. Dad saw an advertisement in the local paper for a 1976 Ventura sedan with only 5,000 miles on it for sale, as the owner had passed away. Well when we got to the owner’s son’s house, he pulled it out of the garage. When my sister saw the bland beige paint color and the hideous patchwork cloth interior, she walked away from it and said she wouldn’t be seen in that old man’s car (not very nice in front of the guy’s son, I know). Dad was mad as he said it was a good car and the price was right, too. Needless to say she ended up with an aqua blue ’77 Mustang II that ended up being my first car, too.
Radial Tuned Suspension option made these cars handle extremely well.
“and this one sitting with a Cavalier that shared its roof line,”
That must explain why the Cavalier looked disproportionate in its greenhouse size. It was just a tad too big for its body.
I like comparison shots when they pop up like this.
Not many cars this century have a downward-sloping body line and beltline. I wonder which car drove that design: Seville or Nova, or was it just coincidence? I read the Seville development was unusually quick, so likely they got it from Nova.
I would give anything to see a return of the low beltline and/or downward-sloping body line.
There used to be a ’78 Ventura Phoenix that parked in the neighborhood, right up to early 2019, in an advanced state of jalopic decay. I saw the owner once – he was sixtyish and looked every day of his age – and then it disappeared.
As a kid in the 70s when these and their GM cousins were everywhere, I didn’t like them one bit. They were the epitome of BLAH looking. Generic hubcaps, big dumb square rear lights, and what I thought were weird proportions. They were everywhere and about the least interesting car I could find.
Now that I know that they were a good-handling car, with Camaro underpinnings, and with what passed for decent V8 power (if so equipped) I see them differently. Or at least now I have some positive feelings which overlay the early-and-longstanding negative ones to balance my perspective.
Still don’t like the back lights, though.
-And as far as the Granada goes, it was about as far from cool as could be, and mostly still is.
I remember a commercial for the Ventura back in the day. A female announcer said “Ventura’s an ECONOMY CAR!” A male voice said “It’s a PRESTIGE CAR!” Together they concluded “Ventura’s an ECONOMY CAR with PRESTIGE”.
As a car buff this made no sense to me. Prestige car with a gutless 110 hp engine and cheap interior? Nope.
Of all the NOVAs (Nova, Omega, Ventura, Apollo) I remember seeing mostly Chevy Novas and Buick Apollos/Skylarks. Venturas and Omegas seemed always to be rare birds in the GM compacts of the 70’s.
Before 1975, I seem to remember virtually all Novas, with the stray Ventura for Apollo.
With the 1975 N-V-A-O, I remember the vast majority were Novas. There were a a few 75-76 Venturas, and a few Buick Skylarks. Omegas were rare, as were the 77-78 Venturas, despite their dazzling multiple tail lamp configurations.
What was the point of offering the 260 V8, if it was no more powerful than the 250 six and had a worse torque curve? Surely not just so people would have the V8 sound? Surely…..
People will pay more for a V-8. There is a profit margin included in the cost of the optional engine. It doesn’t matter if it makes more power. It makes more money. Most people don’t know what cylinders are, but if the base car only has six, then eight must be better.
We had a 1976 Ventura in the family when I was growing up; it was a non-SJ 4dr sedan in the same color combo as this one, but with a white vinyl top. Equipped with a 2 barrel Buick 350, it performed adequately. To sum up the car, it had the interior space of a compact, the footprint of a midsize, and the fuel economy of a huge luxury cruiser. Comparing it to my similar sized 1979 Malibu coupe, the difference in room for passengers and usable luggage space was astonishing.
One thing that was notable about the Ventura was its stability and handling at high speed, which I of course tested to the limits when I was 16. The engine was running out of breath at 90mph, but you *could* nudge the needle up against the stop at 100mph if you kept your foot on the carpet. Out of the 1968-79 X-bodies, I think I might prefer the appearance of the non-SJ 1976 Ventura the best… in 2 door form. Combine that with the rear lamps with amber turn signals from the 1977-79? Phoenix, one of the four available 350’s, and I’d be set. Would be awesome if the BW T-50 five speed they offered behind the Olds 260 could handle the beans of a 350 without blowing its guts out, but I guess you can’t have it all.
My friend bought a ’78 Pontiac Phoenix new, with the 305. (I wonder if that was a Canadian-only thing?) Anyway, very good car – looked good in metallic blue, was quite reliable, had very good power, and was not a gas-hog.
It seemed to me that compared to the Aspen/Volare or Granada/Monarch twins, the Phoenix was head-and-shoulders above.
It was really ’77’s and ’78’s, and rather than Pontiac, more likely Oldsmobile Omega or Chevy Nova, but I drove quite a few of these when I worked for Hertz as a transporter those 2 years. Being Hertz, back then they had mostly Fords, other than a Pontiac Grand Prix (’77..Colonade) and one time driving a Chevy Impala back from Albany Shaker airport that had been stolen and a bit abused (it drove like it needed an alignment) back to our home base in South Burlington and (whoops almost forgot …Buick Regal in ’78), I don’t recall many GM cars in those years…quite a few more Chryslers (really Dodge, no Plymouths) and even a few AMC’s and a dabling of imports which were still pretty rare in our fleet (a ’78 Datsun 510 and a ’77 Toyota Corolla liftback). But this “size” GM (Nova and it’s kin) were pretty common.
For some reason I remember taking several to Montpelier (Harold’s Gulf station was the location…for those who haven’t been to the Capitol it isn’t a big place, not that Burlington was too much larger) as well as Dodge Diplomats. Montpelier was the closest location for pickup, only about 45 minute trip one way, but small enough that we bypassed it on many trips, such as to Framingham or Manchester NH. It’s been long enough since I’ve lived there (41 years) that I’m no longer familiar with the locations there (though my niece still lives up in Burlington, I’ve not been there in 30 years). When my Uncle died almost 5 years ago in Lowell/Chelmsford Ma, my cousins wondered why I flew into Logan airport instead of Manchester NH…which really wasn’t on my radar as a potential airport to fly into, same with Stewart/ Newburgh. Guess the reduction of air force bases has seen several converted to public airports since un-spoken for land close into cities is scarce.
Really never expected that Nova class cars would become less common…they were all over the place back then, but that’s what 44 years (shudder) does. I preferred taking a Diplomat to Montpelier to a Nova/Omega, but it was such a short trip, it didn’t matter much…oh, forgot taking a Granada or two there, but for some reason we seemed to take a lot of them up to Dorval in Montreal (closest big city to Burlington).