At the time that I was drafting this piece a couple of months ago, I was departing O’Hare on a flight to the beautiful, Midwestern city of Omaha, Nebraska. As of October of this year, I am now able to say I can now count on two hands the number of times I have been there. Usually, my trips to Omaha are combined with a quick jaunt to Des Moines, Iowa, which is about two hours east, and where I spotted our featured car. Both are clean, really pretty towns with arts, culture, history, parks, shopping, architecture and just enough quirkiness to keep a guy with slightly idiosyncratic tendencies like me entertained and looking forward to my next trips there.
At my core, I am very much a homebody, and I cherish routine. There are few, simple pleasures I enjoy more than returning at the end of the day to my seventh-story condo, immediately turning on the TV to the vintage sitcom or game show channel, heating up dinner, and eating it on the couch while also watching passing Chicago Transit Authority “L” trains and planes in the distance while the light from the western sky fades. My home is my castle, and there are few other places where I more enjoy spending blocks of time.
With all of that said, I do enjoy the occasional change in my environment that comes with business travel. At the end of the first day of appointments, it’s often just me and my Canon camera as I head out to document my surroundings, armed with my wits, my imagination, and a keen sense of adventure. No laptop. No marketing guy. No work cell. It’s about as close to bliss as I can get while away from sleeping in my own bed. I normally also try to pick up a few, favorite snacks while I’m out exploring, for my evening back at the hotel room.
At most drug stores or gas stations across the U.S., I can usually find some Hostess Ding Dongs and/or a bag of Cornnuts – which are often a perfect complement to some evening TV in my room before calling it a night. In more than a few ways, this cream-colored creampuff of a Grand Prix reminded me of the automotive equivalent of these kinds of after-dinner comfort foods. The color scheme of our featured car is not dissimilar to a crème brûlée or cheesecake, both of which I find delicious.
Speaking of cheesecake, and maybe if I’m lucky, “Golden Girls” will be on TV Land when I get back to my room. This GP strikes me as being a total Dorothy-mobile. I don’t recall ever having seen any reference to any of the four gals’ household cars, but this Pontiac’s restrained, mature fanciness seems like it would fit Dorothy’s personality to a tee. (Her scarf in this picture even matches the color of this car.) Of the other three ladies, Blanche would be the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, being the looker of the bunch. Sophia would be the Buick Regal – all hard edges on the outside, but a real softy inside. Rose would be the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, seeming as wholesome as apple pie (or whatever that’s called in St. Olaf, Minnesota).
This ’85 Grand Prix was a non-LJ, non-Brougham base model, of which 30,000 were produced for the model year, out of just under 60,000 total. It was positively trounced in the personal luxury coupe marketplace that year not just by its own General Motors platform-mates (124,500 Regals, 119,000 Monte Carlos, and 99,000 2-door, G-Body Cutlasses), but also by the slick Ford Thunderbird (152,000) and even the weirdly aero-formal Mercury Cougar (117,000). It’s true that the Grand Prix’s identity was not in keeping with the sporty image of its parent make that GM Marketing was pushing at that time. In ’85, the Grand Prix might have been seen as something of an “orphan” in Pontiac showrooms next to the aerodynamic forms of the trendy, new Grand Am, the sporty Firebird, and the “fun-sized” Sunbird.
Nonetheless, this Grand Prix checks all my brougham boxes with its color scheme, wire wheel covers, velour interior, and with all chrome body jewelry and badges all present and accounted for. It’s like a living room on wheels, and the driver’s seat is your own, power-adjustable La-Z-Boy recliner, connected to a soft, floaty suspension, a V8 engine (a Chevy 305 rated at 150 hp), a column-shifted three-speed automatic transmission, and easy, breezy power steering. Aunt Carol’s knit afghan, a box of Kleenex, and a small tin of hard candy might as well also be sitting on the back seat, for the ultimate soothing effect.
These are the kinds of comforting, domestic, familiar vibes that both personal luxury coupes like this Grand Prix and reruns instill in me. No matter where I travel, the sight of an example of this once seemingly omnipresent type of vehicle connects and grounds me back to a place where everything still makes sense, and life’s answers are simpler and as uncomplicated as the story line of a TV sitcom that’s almost always resolved at the end of the half-hour. Happiness is just a twin-pack of Hostess Twinkies away. Though I didn’t get a chance to visit Des Moines this time around, that’s all the more reason I look forward to going there the next time. To the great city of Omaha, I thank you once again for showing me such great hospitality. You are truly a gem in the American Midwest.
Downtown, Des Moines, Iowa.
Monday, October 14, 2013.
A related, must-read from Brendan Saur: Curbside Classic/Driving Impressions: 1985 Pontiac Grand Prix – Getting In Touch With My Inner GM.
Hard pass on these, although you’ve made me want to 1) watch more Golden Girls (excellent show!) and 2) visit Des Moines.
Unlike their A/G-Body coupe counterparts, these actually got worse-looking with the ’81 facelift. At least the interior was still nicer than the others, though… The Monte and Cutlass interiors were rather mediocre.
By ’85, these would have been looking pretty tired. I’d have much rather bought a Thunderbird or Cougar, even over the dashing Monte or handsome Regal and Cutlass.
I don’t know if the Grand Prix actually got worse with the ’81 facelift – at least it got rid of the heavy and busy-looking “double” bumpers on the ’78-’80 models.
IMO, it just looked less distinctive and looked even less sportier than the Regal/Cutlass/Monte. I know sporty wasn’t these GPs’ M.O., but you could dress the others up (T-Type, 442, etc) to look sporty. These GPs, even in SJ trim, just looked rather starchy and bland.
I actually liked those weird turn signals-between-the-headlights front ends of the ’78-80 GP and the ’80-81 Bonneville.
Those between-headlight turn signals were also on the ’77 GP, which to me is the best-looking colonnade GM car ever.
As far as I’m concerned, I could also use more “Golden Girls” in my life. (hashtag “wisdom”).
I flip-flop between which version I like better, between the 1978 – ’80 models and the 1981 – ’87 series. I used to prefer the refreshed ones, but maybe about four years ago, I saw a ’79 in gorgeous shape (wait… actually featured it here last year https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/in-motion-classic/in-motion-classic-1979-pontiac-grand-prix-lj-ride-on-the-rhythm/) that changed my mind.
Threads of automotive fact, personal reflections, pop culture and sweet treats all woven into another compelling tale. I enjoyed this take on elements I’d otherwise not notice and I look forward to the next serve.
My New Year’s resolution should be to look as kindly on things as you do, Mr Dennis. We shall see how that goes…
Jim, thank you so much. The truth is that I’m not always as charitable or optimistic about things, but as with anything, it takes practice, I guess. 🙂
I agree, I love this piece! It is so nice to know that others appreciate quietness with the occasional fun adventure, along with old cars and classic TV shows of course. 🙂
This is how I remember them. My friend’s dad had one almost identical. It was a great ride, and not the grandma mobile the featured car definitely is.
My Dad had one of these painted this way, only in Dark Blue over Silver.
The other difference was the wheel choice shown in the picture below.
Dad and I definitely liked our personal coupes (as I’ve stated here many times before… I really miss this style of car).
Although I had an ’83 Aero Bird at the time, I really liked his car. It handled really well, even though it was kind of an old school design compared to my much more modern Thunderbird. His was an ’85 like the subject car, but looked much more sporty like the example you’ve shown us above.
Oh, the wheels on Dad’s looked like these…
A friend of mine back then worked with his Dad in the body shop he owned, and took an ’82 or ’83 Grand Prix and custom painted it two-tone – metallic red over silver, but instead of a decal stripe as was used by the OEM, he blended the red into the silver with paint in a sort of stippling effect. He then installed classic Pontiac rally wheels to complete the look. That car was ANYTHING but a Golden Girls mobile.
Now you’re talkin’!
That photo from Hank looks like the ‘86 or ‘87 Grand Prix purchased new by the office manager where I worked at the time. Hers was burgundy metallic on the outside but I don’t remember the interior, in spite of the car being parked right outside our store window most days.
I thought it was a fine looking ride. The office manager wasn’t bad, either. A golden girl of a different sort, if you get my drift. 😉
Outstanding. The one in your picture is the kind of Grand Prix that still looked really hot to me by the mid-80’s, with two-tone paint, glass T-tops, etc. I knew of a family in the ’80s who had one just like this one, and their son and daughter were in my church youth group. Whenever the older kids of the bunch had to be drivers to go somewhere, I always hoped I would get to ride in the Halsteads’ GP, but it frustratingly never happened!
These are exactly the sporty trimmed Grand Prix units I think of when I think of one from that generation, never one with wire wheel covers. The Grand Prix was very close to the Monte Carlo in looks and when it was decked out in the right gear it was a fantastic looking ride.
I’ve always wanted to move to Omaha. I have a great idea for a restaurant there that, to my shock, nobody has been shameless enough to open- the Warren Buffet.
Did you hear my rimshot from downtown Chicago? 😉
I love the dessert theme. A lot better than the car, in fact. But might suggest that you missed the best dessert-match for this car?
Banana pudding – The kind topped with vanilla wafers. First, the colors are perfect. Also there is the brought-to-you-from-our-corporate-kitchen vibe that this car personifies. Finally, by 1985 the recipe on the box of Nilla Wafers was very out of style, as was this car.
I should add that for those unfazed by everything I just listed, the stuff (like the car) is actually pretty good. 🙂
Au contraire, banana pudding has never, ever gone out of style! However, I do agree that it is a fine counterpart to represent the car. Sweet, but not too sweet, and made simply but honestly. Soft, squishy, and yet smooth and creamy, regardless how crunchy the cookies used in making it started out.
Yummy. Too bad Stephanie doesn’t do bananas.
This gets me thinking, JP… I wonder if anyone has ever referenced a food for the color of a car’s custom paint job!
Well, of course you could consider Plum Crazy, Sub-Lime or Go Man-go or the other Mopar technicolors as possibly being named after the fruits, or candy colors (candy apple red, etc) as being food related. However, I don’t know if I would call “banana pudding” a good name for a color. That sort of seems more from the realm of baby poop brown than a compliment.
Chrysler did offer a bright yellow in the early 70s called Top Banana.
Also Lemon Twist and Citron Yella.
A finely penned tribute to the forgotten orphan of the G-body tribe! Being a base model, I have a hunch this GP has the 3.8 under that lengthy creamsicle hood.
One minor note:. The Chevy 305 was rated at 150 horsepower in the G-bodies, not 165 like in the larger B’s. Always wondered what accounted for the almost 10% deficit in power.
probably a more restrictive exhaust system than the B-cars had. The Gs had a sideways muffler behind the rear axle, vs the traditional layout of the B cars.
Eric, thank you so much, and I’ve corrected the text. My automotive encyclopedia has had typos in it before! My bad.
As far as engine choice, you’re right – it could just as easily have had the Buick 3.8 in it. I guess my thought process might be that if the original owner sprang for the landau top on a base model, maybe a purposeful upgrade under the hood might also have made some sense.
Nice writing as always!
Interesting thoughts on which Golden Girl might drive which car, but I don’t completely agree. Dorothy? Maybe. Blanche? No. It was her house, she had some money, so I say Eldorado. Sophia? A Century sedan, little old ladies at one time drove coupes or 2 door sedans, but never sporty/personal luxury coupes. Rose? No, not a Monte Carlo. She had the least amount of money of the three younger women. I suspect another Buick or a Chevy, but a Malibu…not a Monte Carlo.
I prefer Maude to the Golden Girls, seems to be just a bit…edgier.
One of the establishing shots shows an ice-blue, two door N-body Olds Calais pulling up in the driveway.
But I agree with you, Blanche definitely seems like a Caddy type. Eldo or Coupe de Ville – unless she bought new after the others moved in, in which case she’d go for a four-door since they probably take her car when they go places all together (which is increasingly often over the course of the show).
Sophia probably didn’t drive, having grown up in rural Italy before cars became at all common and spent the prime of her life in inner-borough NYC.
Dorothy seems too all-business for persolux. She’s been burned by one or two pieces of malaise-era Detroit’s “finest” but won’t pay VRA-era prices for a “real” Japanese car, so a NUMMI Nova it is, in five-door hatchback form.
Rose drives a Ford. St. Olaf is a writing-around-trademarks knockoff of Lake Wobegon (or started as such before they cranked the Scandinavianness up to 11) and she’s not a Catholic. Besides that, everything else about her background screams “we’ve-always-had-Fords”. I’m thinking Fairmont or Foxbody LTD.
I thought the episode with the blue olds pointed to it being Rose’s car…..
Sophia didn’t drive at least not anymore. Maybe not at all considering she was like you said from Italy and all the time in New York City.
I also remember an episode where Blanche was trying to sell her convertible, of course she was using that as a way to meet men.
I thought in an earlier episode, Rose made mention to the fact that she drove a Gremlin. Blanche went car shopping in one of the episodes too. I always thought she seemed like the type to drive a Riviera.
Yup, you’re right. I remember the same episode where Rose said that she drove a Gremlin,
And as I recall, Blanche’s car that she was pretending to attempt to sell was a Mercedes.
Some backstory about Rose being from “St. Olaf”. Those of us from Minnesota recognize immediately where she is really from; Northfield, MN. Northfield is approximately one hour south of the Twin Cities with a population of about 20,000, and has two very prestigious colleges (hence why they play up how naive Rose is). One is Carlton, the other is you guessed it; St. Olaf. The constant Scandinavian jokes stem from the college, as it was founded by Norwegian Lutherans and is literally named after a Norwegian king and Patron Saint. That said, if you have ever been there, it does not read like a liberal arts college town as much as one would expect. Rose driving a Gremlin being clueless of how much that would stand out makes perfect sence in this context.
Why do I know all about Northfield? Dad went to St. Olaf…
An N-Body Calais!! That totally makes sense and fits like a glove. I remember straining my eyes during the opening credits about two weeks ago to see what that light blue car was in their driveway.
This post actually almost veered into a completely different premise, as to which “Golden Girl” would be best represented by which divisional A/G Body coupe, but I thought that might be a bit nutty, even for me. 🙂
While I was saying that this Grand Prix definitely looks like a “Dorothy-mobile”, what I was saying about Blanche, Sophia and Rose wasn’t so much that they would drive a Cutlass, a Regal and a Monte Carlo (respectively) – rather I was drawing a line between those three characters and those cars based on what I saw as similar attributes. Does that make sense?
I totally agree with NLPNT’s assessment, for example, that Blanche would drive a Cadillac.
(I’m sorry… this series of comments has me laughing over here. I love it.)
One “GG” exterior shot had someone [obviously not one of the main actresses] opening the Calais driver’s door. But didn’t show the character’s face.
I had a beautiful 1987 example in black–sharp car–and I think it looked classier than the versions from the other divisions.
It was quiet and luxurious, handled great, and shook terribly on anything but billiard table smooth pavement, where, ironically, it rode like glass. The overlong doors creaked and closed with a tinny sounding slam. Sold it on ebay to someone who towed it home–600 miles away! As nice as these Grand Prixs look, I don’t think I’d buy another.
Note: Car shown is not mine–mine had no vinyl roof.
It’s been my experience with G-bodies that when the doors sound like you describe it’s because the hinges are worn. It doesn’t take long for that to happen so I suspect the hinge pins are just too small for the load of the coupe doors. It’s interesting to note that the hinges are shared with the 4 door G-bodies and the four door versions don’t usually suffer from that problem.
I haven’t logged on to C.C in quite some time..( Though I am a habitual Lurker)
Just wanted to say “excellent writing Joe”
Thanks, Mikey, and welcome home!
Great find and pop culture references!
I remember watching reruns of the Golden Girls with my grandmother when I was very little. It was one of the few shows my otherwise very reserved nana would literally laugh out loud to in her infectious giggle. Because of that it’s a show that holds a special place near and dear to my heart and one that will always bring me comfort if I can’t sleep at 2am.
What’s funny about you mentioning enjoying episodes of “Golden Girls” with your grandmother is that my grandmother forbid us from watching even a minute of that show when we were kids visiting their house. My family was attending my grandparents’ church with them once, when their pastor actually referred to them as the “Gutter Girls” as he thundered from the pulpit about how they portrayed such “filth” and “immmmmorality”. My brother and I still laugh (hard) at that from time to time.
What I love about that show in 2017 is that many things they were talking about in the mid-’80s are things that are relevant today. And Dorothy’s one-liners can still make me collapse from laughing so hard.
That’s funny how the Golden Girls was viewed by some as inappropriate, though even watching it today, I can see how some of the sexual references and innuendos might have been taboo in the 1980s.
I do recall, whenever something was on (and we’re talking like Friends or The King Of Queens) that made too many sexual references, my grandmother would exclaim “my this is some cookie show!” and promptly change the station.
I still do laugh watching Golden Girls today though. As I said, it’s comforting.
A great morning read!
Back in 1986 my Landlady’s son purchased his first new car, a GP. I thought this was an curious choice given he was in his late 20s. I told him he should of gotten the 2+2 Aeorocoupe, which he thought was ugly (and probably too pricey before it was heavily discounted a couple years latter).
Glad I’m not the only one who watches too much TV, as I was going to mention the N-Body Olds Calais establishing shot on Golden Girls! I believe the Olds was Rose’s. There was also an episode that Blanche got a Mercedes to sell & meet men – I think all four rode in the Benz while it was attached to a Tow Truck.
There is an architectural gem near Omaha. If you haven’t done so – make it a point to visit the Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City – this amazing Prairie School Skyscraper turns a 100 next year.
Paul, thank you for the great words, confirming the Olds Calais, and also for the reference to the Woodbury County Courthouse! I made my first trip to Sioux City, Iowa on this same, recent trip to Omaha. I don’t know why a city kid like me just loves this part of the United States. It’s just so beautiful and peaceful.
If I have a chance to stay overnight in Sioux City (which I didn’t), I’ll have to make it a point to check out that courthouse.
In many opening scenes of the Golden Girls, a blue GM sedan pulls into the driveway, and it appears to be an Olds Ciera, this was Dorothy and Sophia’s car; Blanche was mentioned once as driving a Buick (I can picture her in a LeSabre), and, yes Rose drove a Gremlin.
Malcolm, I’ll bet Rose bought that Gremlin new in St. Olaf, and that it was her favorite car at the time! LOL
Yes, I’m sure! Will never forget when Rose said back in St. Olaf she and hubby drove a
Nice photo, by the way. It looks like something Langdon Clay would have done.
Thank you so much – I’m a huge admirer of his work. CC featured this piece on his work from around this time last year: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/photography/the-nyc-curbside-classics-of-langdon-clay-1974-1976/
Sophia wasn’t supposed to be driving anymore, a running gag.
I just got home from a business trip on Saturday evening – you captured my homebody sentiments exactly. Nothing better than a scotch on the rocks and Perry Mason on the DVR in the comfort of one’s own living room.
A few months ago I caught a paler yellow, second-gen GP just a block from home. A real beauty in incredible condition (the white vinyl seats were just as nice as the exterior).
Given that white vinyl roof, let’s go with coconut cream pie on this one, CA Guy. 🙂
Perfect – If it were parked in that spot today, it would have ashes from the SoCal fires on that white vinyl roof – we could call it toasted coconut and the dessert image is fulfilled. I think I’m going to have to run out to the local pie emporium for dessert for tonight…
Wow… That GP is a stunner.
And the comfort of my own living room is something I’ve grown to appreciate more and more.
I drafted this piece about two weeks before a recent trip overseas. I had real anxiety about it (it ended up being incredible), so I was writing from a place of not wanting to be on a plane to Omaha, to Italy, or to anywhere. Writing this was a way of pacifying myself just a little. Of course, Omaha was amazing as I expected it to be. With that said, I don’t feel like going anywhere for a while after the holidays. 🙂
I’m reasonably certain I’ve seen and shot that same car. It was repainted a number of years ago (it was originally that color, but badly faded and worn).
My first thought upon seeing that picture was “I’ve always liked lemon meringue pie, and it’s been some time since I’ve had a piece.” Seriously, I’m really hungry for a piece now.
In your main article, you mention both Hostess Ding Dongs and Hostess Twinkies.
The illustrated yellow snack cakes are Twinkies.
This is a Ding Dong (photo attached below). 🙂
Yes, I ate junk snacks as a kid. Still like ’em!
Now, back to cars.
“Ding Dongs” still don’t sound right to me. I remember them as Hostess “King-Dons”… which I suppose makes even less sense as a name for these things, but that’s the name I associate with these.
I didn’t really start eating this kind of flagrantly bad-for-me stuff until I went off to college. But I soon discovered there were few things as awesome as binge-eating Hostess snacks and binge-watching great old shows or the “007” marathons on TNT.
Joe, you’ve got more packed in here than an overstuffed Twinky.
Omaha is indeed great. Next time you are there, head over to the Henry Doorley Zoo (I think that’s the name of it). It’s a very nice zoo and has had some recent renovations and updating.
Des Moines is a nice place also. My first time there, visiting the state capital building and grounds, I vividly remember the statue of the topless goddess. There is a picture of a young me basking in all her perkiness. I’ve liked Iowa ever since seeing that statue.
I have been aching to find a Grand Prix of this vintage. These seemed like the most bipolar of the G-bodies, although in reality the Monte Carlo was moreso in this department. I have fond memories of riding in a Grand Prix of this vintage. It belonged to my cousin and had the seldom seen moonroof.
As far as Ding-Dongs and Twinkys, I quit eating those years ago. Upon reading the ingredient list, they suddenly tasted quite nasty.
“As far as Ding-Dongs and Twinkys, I quit eating those years ago. Upon reading the ingredient list”
. . . If you’re not going to eat them, can I have yours? 🙂
Jason, ingredient-checking can be the biggest deflator sometimes! Hahaha. It’s not like my cupboard are stockpiled with unhealthy treats, but when I do choose to indulge, I am not trying to be looking at the ingredients!
One must go for healthy snacks. I’m partial to all-natural vanilla ice cream topped with homemade bacon (yes, we cure and smoke our own pork bellys). It has dairy and protein. Plus, the bacon grease helps lubricate the synapsis in the brain.
My father had a 79 LJ with t-tops and leather. 18 y/o me thought it the coolest car ever. I think it had a 301, and the transmission would linger in first, so it felt quick but then with a huge lurch into second. I had to think that was just the way they were, as it went on like that for years without issue.
I prefer the Cutlass, but would probably put the GP second.
I enjoyed visiting Omaha 20 years ago, but haven’t been back since. At that point there were still a lot of neon signs that gave downtown a cool ’50s-’60s look.
This is perfect timing for me; just yesterday I picked up a clean, 70K mile ’84 Grand Prix for my daughter for her first car. I think its a little more red velvet than Twinkie though. When I was in high school, the G-bodys (and F-bodys) were the cars to have, now she thinks its ‘retro-cool.’
That’s an awesome first car, I must say. Good choice. Hoping your daughter enjoys many happy miles in her new ride.
Surprised to see that sales of these trailed its GM siblings by this much. Pontiac seemed to have lost its way at this time, with no full size car and a muddled marketing effort for the rest. Always preferred the GP to Regal, Cutlass and Monte Carlo. The dash, especially with the “gage” package, (yes, that’s how Pontiac spelled it) was stunning.
Believe that the 3.8 six powered most of the non SE GP’s. CAFE concerns had most of dealer stock with the V-6. Same as all the other G bodies.