Planned obsolescence is when a product is designed from its inception to become unfashionable or obsolete shortly after its launch. In the 1950s, American automakers embraced this mantra and made extensive annual changes to the appearance of their vehicles in an effort to keep their cars looking fresh and their sales high. By the 1970s, these changes were becoming less and less dramatic as domestic automakers expanded their lineups to include heretofore nonexistent subcompact, compact, intermediate and specialty models and thus found the costs of these regular changes too much to bear. Intriguingly, during the 1971-76 run of GM’s last truly big B-Bodies, the Pontiac received fairly significant visual changes almost every year. This was despite Pontiac generally having the poorest sales of GM’s four B-Body lines and also despite Buick and Oldsmobile’s annual changes being arguably less distinct. So, which year did Pontiac’s Grand Ville, Bonneville, Catalina and Grand Safari look the best?
The 1971 full-size Pontiacs were perhaps the most dramatic, with a protruding grille and a very bluff facade that somewhat echoed the successful Grand Prix personal luxury coupe.
For 1972, things seemed to be toned down a bit and there was a more obvious front bumper which seemed to presage the upcoming 5-mph bumper legislation.
Of course, the bumpers needed to be a lot bigger for 1973 but GM also decided to dramatically change the front end of the ’73 Pontiacs. The grille appeared to shrink somewhat, but the hood was more sculpted and the overall look was just as formal.
For 1974, the front was bluff once again although a little less busy.
While, in my opinion, the rest of GM’s B-Body coupe fleet was much uglier for 1974, the Pontiac coupes’ new roofline seemed to fit better with the Pontiac’s elegant, almost coke-bottle contours below the C-pillar. Then again, maybe this is Pontiac brochure artists handicraft at play: the 1974 Pontiac brochure manages to make every car in the lineup look stunning.
Handsome new rectangular headlights were the biggest visual change for 1975 Bonnevilles and Grand Villes, and there were also new taillights and an attractive new grille.
The Catalina was less changed visually, retaining circular headlights and similar taillights to the 1974 models.
For the last year of the big Pontiacs before their dramatic downsizing in 1977, there were few visual changes. The Grand Ville was dropped, replaced by a new Bonneville Brougham flagship. Sadly, the slow-selling convertible was also gone. While the ’77 B-Bodies would be much more efficient and yet crisply styled and pleasing to the eye, there would unfortunately be no hardtop sedan.
While I love the clean rooflines of the ’71-73 coupes and sedans and the ornate styling of every year’s wagon, my personal pick for favorite full-size Pontiac of this generation would undoubtedly be the 1975 Grand Ville convertible. Being a convertible, its styling was never muddled by new rooflines and the front clip of the upmarket Pontiacs this year was the most attractive of the generation. Also, full-size convertibles were in their death throes and this was one of the last and one of the most beautiful.
What’s your opinion?