Few treats seem to bring back the ’80s summertime nostalgia for me like a frozen Coke. Once I had started earning my own money with my newspaper route and daily deliveries of the Flint Journal in my neighborhood, a whole world of spending opportunities opened up, and it felt like magic. The only pop / soda / carbonated beverage in our household refrigerator was a two-liter of 7-Up, which was strictly for my dad. We boys weren’t allowed to touch it, though all of us would find creative ways to sneak some in small amounts in the hope we wouldn’t get caught or that neither parent could tell.
Once I had a source of income independent of my allowance from my parents, it was go-time with all the sugar, salty snacks, and treats I felt like having, back in a time when my adolescent metabolism was still sky-high. The freedom to enjoy and buy such things hadn’t even seemed fathomable before I had my own bank account. I would later “earn” the cavities to prove I had a sweet tooth, but it felt like a small price to pay.
Delivering the Flint Journal on my Raleigh ten-speed.
This isn’t to say I never drank pop (what we call it in Michigan) before then. Occasionally, say, while at a special event like the Shrine Circus, or while on my very best behavior during a shopping trip with Mom, I would be allowed to get a small Icee or a similar frozen drink. I loved and still love the “red” flavor (something approximating a combination of cherry, strawberry, and a few other berry-like tastes), but the frozen Coca Cola version had a little extra something. First of all, it was carbonated, so you got the bubbles on your tongue as you took small gulps out of the big, red, spoon-tipped straw. Then there was the flavor of the Coke itself. What is it about freezing a Coke that makes it extra delicious, in a way that’s completely different than when served in a glass over ice?
I was also that kid who would attempt to prolong the enjoyment of things by drawing out the process. Maybe it was prior experience with polishing off some treat, like an ice cream cone, while my brothers were still enjoying theirs and flaunting it in my face. Later on, though, I’d be gingerly sipping on that frozen Coke until it had started to melt and separate in the plastic container into cold liquid on the bottom and a floating slush-berg on the top. This is what the two-tone paint job of this ’86 Grand Prix reminded me of when I photographed it almost two months ago. By the time this car was new, the ’81 refresh of the downsized-for-’78 GP was already in its sixth model year, so like the inevitable emulsification (or whatever it’s called) of a frozen Coke on a hot summer afternoon, this design had been out for a while.
This does not mean that I loved this generation any less at the time. When I was growing up in Flint, at the end of and across the street from the Dort Highway exit ramp of the I-69 expressway was Superior Pontiac-Cadillac. This complex has long since been repurposed as part of Baker College, but any car ride that involved taking this exit would invariably have me craning my neck to check out the merchandise. It was particularly exciting to see one of the limited edition ’86 Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 fastbacks through the plate glass of the showroom windows. My family had also test-driven an ’86 or so Pontiac 1000 (Chevy Chevette clone) when we were looking for a replacement second car. The ’80s Grand Prix didn’t share the same high-tech image as many of Pontiac’s other offerings, like the Sunbird, Fiero, Grand Am, or the ’87 Bonneville, but I always thought that of GM’s G-Body coupes, it exhibited a particularly graceful balance between class and sporty style.
A license plate search indicated that this example is powered by the optional, 5.0 liter engine with a four-barrel carburetor and 150 horsepower. The standard engine in the ’86 Grand Prix was a 110-hp, 3.8L V6. Starting weight was around 3,300 pounds for the notchbacks, with the fastback modifications adding about 200 lbs. There were four variants offered that year, including the base model (21,700 units), the LE (13,900), the Brougham (4,800), and the aforementioned 2+2 fastback which managed just over 1,100 sales for its $8,000 ($20,700 / adjusted for 2022) premium over the $10,200 ($26,400) base model.
For about $500 over the cost of the entry level car and according to the factory brochure, the LE added such niceties as body-colored sport mirrors, rocker panel moldings, added insulation, and a four-spoke, sport steering wheel. For an additional $800, the $11,600 ($30,000) Brougham added special “Tampico” carpeting and nicer door panels, an upgraded 55/45 split front bench seat with a fold-down armrest, and power windows. A host of options were available for all trim levels, and the powerplant was not tied to the sub-model.
Total sales of about 41,500 units for ’86 were far from great, especially against those of the Pontiac’s GM cousins: 96,700 Buick Regals, 119,200 Chevy Monte Carlos, and 144,500 two-door examples of Oldsmobile’s rear-drive Cutlass. The Ford Thunderbird, with almost 164,000 sold, was the most popular of this type of car that year, while Mercury moved a very respectable 136,000 Cougars. So, what is it about this iteration of Grand Prix that I find so attractive? Going back to my earlier metaphor, I think that its hint of “Coke bottle” styling in its rear quarter panels was particularly well-executed and make it stand out among its personal luxury peers.
Most two-tone examples I’ve seen featured color combinations that were very appealing and chosen well by the product planners. This example features Light Chestnut Metallic (paint code 58) over Dark Chestnut Metallic (62), with a series of fine-line tape stripes between the two sections to give the illusion of color gradation. Combined with the optional T-bar roof, some multi-hued examples have been drop-dead gorgeous in my eyes.
I’m aware that with the most numerous ’86 models being on the lower end of the spectrum, many were closer to the celery green, ’85 model Brendan Saur had written about roughly seven years back. Celery isn’t my favorite vegetable (I always feel like I could floss my teeth with those fibers), and even if Brendan’s find was undeniably appealing to me in some ways, there’s no question as to whether my Freudian id would prefer a few celery stalks or a frozen Coke. Never mind that not long after finishing said frozen drink, I’d probably also then need some gum to keep my teeth from feeling fuzzy. Maybe there’s a part of me that knows that another frozen Coke or owning a car like this Grand Prix wouldn’t be the best thing for me, but darn it if I still wouldn’t enjoy one of both on a nice, hot day of summer cruising.
Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois.