Curbside Classic: 1985 Pontiac Grand Prix – A Familiar Dessert

(first posted 12/11/2017)       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.

The Simon Estes Amphitheater in Des Moines, Iowa, with the Des Moines River in the background.


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.