On-The-Go Classic: 1983 Pontiac Grand Prix LJ – Middle Child Syndrome

004 - 1983 Pontiac Grand Prix LJ CC

This car’s owner and I simply can’t be the only ones who like the downsized G-Body GP.  It was a perfectly good-looking, capable entrant into the still somewhat popular midsize, personal luxury segment.  My thought is that this car’s real problem wasn’t that it lacked substance on its own merits, but rather that it paled in comparison to the older GP in the Pontiac family that came before it – the popular Colonnade generation which bowed out after ’77, a high water mark year for production during which more than 288,000 were built.  The downsized ’78s had some big shoes to fill, and probably had something of an identity crisis.

I always considered the ’81 refresh to be good looking – adding just a touch more of the character of the Colonnade GPs to the understated 1978 – ’80 models, along with a higher rear deck which also took care of the sagging butt problem.  The front grille looked cleaner and better-proportioned, and the front turn signals were removed from between the headlamp clusters (which had never looked right to me).  I liked the way the character lines on the hood swept back from the grille, unbroken, to the A-pillar.  It grew modest hips.  The slight kick-out of the rear panel and modestly sculptured trunk lid were other visual details I really liked, which took away a bit of the bluntness of the pre-facelifted cars.

Of the four G-body coupes, only the Chevy Monte Carlo looked better to my eyes than the ‘Prix, with its handsome, 80’s-aero take on the pontoon-fendered models of the mid-70’s.  The Buick Regal, with its clean and linear look, always struck me as too plain, and I was bitter at Olds Division for removing the trademark Cutlass rear quarter panel “shoulders” for ’81.  This Grand Prix is an ’83, identifiable by the lack of hood ornament and rear trunk lock cover.  It is also one of 33,785 LJ models produced for 1983, out of 85,798 total for that year.*  This was against 121,999 Ford Thunderbirds ** and 190,632 G-Body Olds Cutlass coupes *** produced for the same model year.

090 - 1983 Pontiac Grand Prix LJ CC

It’s true that by the time this car rolled off the assembly line, there were no Pontiac-sourced powerplants available (this one is likely powered by a Chevy 305).  And this model will probably not go down in history as anyone’s favorite in the storied history of the nameplate.  But was the car itself really that bad?  What if it had been called something else other than “Grand Prix”?  What if Pontiac had decided to hang up the Grand Prix nameplate after ’77, and had come up with another moniker that suited the decidedly luxury-oriented midsizer a little better than that of a famous race?  How about the “Pontiac Palisade” after a kind of fortress of luxury?  It’s just a thought.

I’ve seen rather dashing examples of this bodystyle, including a two-tone graphite and silver t-top model, which managed to keep its brougham jacket buttoned and look a little sporty at the same time.  Since the Grand Prix’s dramatic reinvention for 1969 from a specialized full-sizer into a more closely-coupled boulevardier, it had been quite a distinctive, desirable, luxurious car which projected an image of success.

Then the ’83 Ford Thunderbird rolled out and reinvented the look of personal luxury.  There was not a padded vinyl roof to be found on the new ‘Bird, and it looked every bit as elegant as GM’s offerings, and also miles more modern.  What to do now?  It wasn’t that big of a stretch to see a Monte Carlo fastback with a large wraparound backlight grafted onto it, as the Super Sport variant convincingly looked the part of a modern day muscle car to many since its reintroduction for ’83.  (Suprisingly, my internet research confirmed that Pontiac eked out five NASCAR wins over Ford’s four for the ’83 season, despite the T-bird’s slippery new shape.  Chevy dominated with fifteen victories, and Buick scored six.)

But by the time the 2+2 Grand Prix came out for sole model year 1986, it was almost like it was saying, “You want aerodynamic?  I can do that!  You want muscle?  Look at me!  I can do that, too!”  I honestly like the ’86 GP 2+2 for its rarity and also for remembering that exact period of my life when I first saw one new at a local dealership, but that giant piece of wraparound, fastback glass on it reminds me a little of Jan Brady’s wig.


Like Jan, the G-Body Grand Prix was at its best when it was just being itself – its good, old, broughamy self – instead of trying to look like something it wasn’t.  The G-Body GP’s successor, the front-drive W-Body that won Motor Trend’s Car Of The Year award for 1988, would be much like the energetic, attention-grabbing youngest child who was pretty much universally adored when it first appeared.

So let us not pass judgment on the 1981 – ’87 generation of Pontiac Grand Prix for not being anyone’s particular favorite or for not setting the sales charts on fire.  Or for trying on a really bad wig that one season.  It was a decent car with its own set of strengths, and a pretty darned good-looking Poncho when it wasn’t trying so hard.

Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
September 2013.

* 1983 Grand Prix production numbers cited from gbodyforum.com.

** 1983 Ford Thunderbird production numbers cited from foxbirdcougarforums.com.

*** 1983 Olds Cutlass G-body coupe production numbers cited from gbodies.com.

Related reading:

Curbside Classic: 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix – Grand Size, Medium Prize

Curbside Classic: 1978 Pontiac Grand Prix – GM’s Deadly Sin #14

Curbside Outtake: 1986 Pontiac Grand Prix 2 + 2 “Aero-coupe”- My Reward for 2,200 Miles on the Road

Curbside Classic/Driving Impressions: 1985 Pontiac Grand Prix – Getting In Touch With My Inner GM