Curbside Classic: 1973 Pontiac LeMans Coupe- A Strong Start to a Weak Finish


(first posted 9/5/2013)     Oh look, a first year Colonnade coupe! From 1973 to 1977, the Oldsmobile A-Bodies became the dominant nameplate among the B-O-P intermediates, so you might think the 1973 Pontiac line came in third behind Olds. However, as of ’73 Oldsmobile had not yet gained total domination, and this green coupe (along with it’s brother the Grand Prix) came in second among GM intermediates, behind the Chevelle/Monte Carlo juggernaut.


Colonnade coupes remain a polarizing design. Many dislike the thick roof pillars and fixed rear windows, and despite being the largest intermediate GM ever produced, interior space does not reflect the exterior dimensions. Personally, I prefer the standard coupe to other colonnade body styles, and while I believe the styling declined from year to year, I find the early versions fresh and interesting. In my opinon, each successive year of the colonnades looked increasingly generic, but in 1973 the full range- Chevy, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick, all provided cars with strong individual character.


Looking at this view, I hope you agree. The stance of the car, the body lines, and the large single headlights all worked together to form a pleasing aspect. In addition, GM had yet to incorporate their sillier seventies styling elements (do NOT get me started on stacked square headlights!). On this car, there’s no gingerbread trim or vinyl top to distract, and I find the overall look quite pleasing.


The rear of the car also provides a distinctive look. The fenders and trunk draw together to form a horizontal crease across the back, and the designers mounted the tail lights on a sloping panel above the bumper. This one element keeps me from loving the ’73 coupe, but Pontiac made up for it the next year with new taillights mounted outboard of the trunk, and wrapped over the top of the rear fenders. If I ever decided to acquire one of these colonnade Ponchos, I’d try to find a ’74 coupe, and then replace the front grille with a header panel off a ’73 (or a Grand Am Enduro nose).


The exterior lacks any trim level designation, but the overall appearance indicates a lightly trimed base model, rather than a full-boat deluxe package. The wheel covers are a step up from dog dish hub caps, but they deliver the only exterior bright work.


A view inside reinforces this impression. Between the manual window crank, vinyl upholstery and bench seat, I’m thinking base model. A close look at the door panel confirms my suspicions.


The trim plate just says “LeMans.” In 1973, Pontiac offered their standard A bodies as the LeMans, LeMans Sport Coupe, Luxury LeMans, Grand Am and GTO (or should Grand Am come after the GTO?). Therefore, this green coupe is indeed the least of the Pontiac clan. If you’re interested, Mike Burns covered a top of the line LeMans trim level in his article on a 1977 Grand LeMans.


I said at the beginning of the article that the Pontiac intermediate line finished second among the GM nameplates in 1973. However, this was the only strong year for the LeMans, and the Grand Prix could not win the sales race by itself. LeMans sales slipped from 233,989 in ’73 to 148,254 in 1974. A year later, LeMans sales bottomed out at 48,589 (to be fair, 1975 was a bad year for all, but still!), and LeMans sales would not exceed 70k until the new model arrived in 1978. Among its brethren, Pontiac intermediates fell to dead last among the four GM brands in ’75 and ‘76, and only because of resurgant Grand Prix sales, came back to barely beat Buick for third in 1977.


This chart shows the steep decline of the LeMans nameplate, and also shows the strong rise of the Grand Prix in ’76 and ’77. Keep in mind, LeMans sales includes coupes, wagons and four doors, making the meteoric rise of the two door Grand Prix even more impressive. Why LeMans sales dropped so strongly when other colonnades built momentum is a question I can’t answer. Perhaps someone more familiar with 1970’s market forces can provide an explanation.

So we bid farewell to our 1973 LeMans coupe. If it came from an earlier era, people would line up to grab this clean, rust free coupe and turn it into a muscle car clone. In fact, if it were older, I’d have mentioned how unusual it is to see such a basic model still plying the roads, a car still sporting wheel covers instead of styled steel wheels. But since it’s a just 1973 LeMans, it’s just an old colonnade coupe, and there’s reason to make it a clone (even though we could make it a GTO!). Instead, our (not so) little coupe rests quietly on a California curb, a rare representative of the pinnacle year for the Pontiac colonnades.