Curbside Classic: 1993 Pontiac Grand Am SE – Extruding Strongly

On a recent Sunday outing, I saw this tormented snout from afar and exclaimed: “Ooh look! It’s a Ponti-yuck!” I’m clearly not a fan, but at least this car elicits reactions – and not just from me, but many others (and perchance you too). Goes to show that “Put your best foot forward” is not a motto GM always lived by. The author of the 1992-96 Pontiac Grand Am’s lines certainly seems to have used a lower appendage of some sort to design the thing. Perhaps this was not the most obvious candidate for a place on GM’s cross-Pacific export roster, but here we are.

I realize that, for many of you reading this, seeing a mid-‘90s Grand Am is the equivalent of a Monday afternoon in February. Pontiac sold over a million of these in North America, so they’re just an unfortunate part of the scenery, like incinerators, power lines or billboards. But for those of us who are located on other continents, the full ungainliness of this car is a starker shock to the system.

Most of you will doubtless know a hell of a lot more about these 2nd-generation N-Body abominations than I do. Basic recap for those who were lucky enough to escape prolonged exposure: on a dark day in the autumn of 1991, the Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac divisions respectively unleashed their new Skylark, Achieva and Grand Am sedans and coupes upon an unsuspecting public.

N-Body sandwich: Buicks up above, Pontiacs down below, Olds in the middle


Here they all are, as they came out for MY 1992. They did try to give these cars different personalities, compared to the cookie-cutter stuff from the ‘70s/‘80s. The Skylark was the glamour model, I guess. The Olds was the blander safe choice – the one your grandfather might have bought, as per the marque’s rapidly deteriorating image and self-conscious tagline highlighted. So what was the Pontiac’s deal exactly?

The new body didn’t hide anything revolutionary – it had all been seen in the previous Skylark/Achieva/Grand Am, though the dimensions were changed to match the Chevy Corsica more, to cut costs even further. Oh, and they reverted to drum brakes for the rear wheels for the same reason. Engine options were initially limited to a 2.3 litre 4-cyl. (either SOHC or DOHC “quad 4” variants) and a 3.3 litre V6, with either  a 3-speed auto or, for the 4-cyl. SE model only, a 5-speed manual.

In 1994, the 3.3 6-cyl. was replaced by a more modern 3.1 litre V6 and the slushbox was granted an extra gear; the Quad 4’s displacement was upped to 2.4 litre in 1996. Aside from that, the N-Body generally remained as was until it was given a facelift for MY 1996, during which the Pontiac version’s design was scaled back a bit. A completely new N-Body took over in late 1998.

Now that we got the potted history out of the way, let us ponder on this car’s presence near Nihonbashi in central Tokyo. Because I can tell you that these cars are very rarely seen outside of their continent of birth: I have never seen one in Europe and this is the first one I’ve seen in Asia.

In the US, these were known to be cheap and many were sold by the dozen to fleet operators, where the Grand Am’s uninspiring engine, dodgy fit and finish, slap-dash interior and ungainly esthetics mattered comparatively less than in other markets. But out in the cut-throat wider world, the odds were stacked against GM on this one.

1994 GM / Yanase Pontiac Grand Am SE Special Edition brochure excerpt


Did that stop them from including the Grand Am in their Japanese range? Sold by importer Yanase’s showrooms next to the C4 Corvette, the Fleetwood and the “Regal” – all of which are still seen fairly regularly here, the Grand Am claimed its place as the reasonably-sized American exotic. Initially, both the four-door and the coupe were on offer, but only with the 4-cyl. engine. The V6 was only made available for MY 1996 in the Japanese range, one year after the coupe disappeared. Yanase gave up on the Pontiac by early 1997, as far as I can tell – well before production stopped in Lansing.

Boy, did they try to look proud of that Grand Am. That GM emblem can often be seen on Buick “Regals,” as well. This one seems to have aged a lot worse than the car. What does that imply about GM? Draw your own conclusions.

An awed hush, please, for the absolute time capsule that this Pontiac is on the inside. There are a few scuff marks on some of the Rubbermaid bits tacked on to the lower half of the exterior, but that cabin is miraculously preserved in its original state.

I mean, it’s one thing to find mint condition Toyotas, Alfas or Mercedes-Benzes, but this is a Pontiac Grand Am. Folks who still drive these in the US usually do so because they cannot drive anything else. Here, it’s someone’s pride and joy.

Which is strange, because the Grand Am was apparently (and somewhat predictably) a complete failure in Japan. Whereas the Fleetwood offered opulence and space, or the Regal Estate had woodgrain on the side and decent forward momentum, the Grand Am’s only weapon was its price, which kept going down year after year. Another red flag…

I cannot read or speak Japanese, so I usually like to use Google Translate to get a sense of what the Japanese web has to day about things. Automatic translations can produce highly dubious results, so one must read between the lines and the nonsensical grammar, but let me just end this post by quoting a few Japanese reactions to the Pontiac Grand Am (also spelled “Grandum,” “Grand Dam” or even “Grandom” by the software, for some reason…), just for a giggle.

“The Grandum has an impressive insect-like front mask that extrudes strongly.”… “The unique exterior will have different tastes. In particular, the front mask is unique at best, and creepy at worst.”… “the car itself had a lot of engine vibration, unnatural handling, and the quality was not as good as the three [Toyota] Mark II brothers and the [Mitsubishi] Diamante.” … “Maybe because I used it too much, it started to break down after 70,000km.” … “It was natural for Grandum to come to the conclusion that “Japanese cars are much better for this amount of money,” and this also ended in failure.” Totally Grandom, dude! Sounds like Pontiac didn’t make many converts across the Pacific. Can’t win ‘em all.


Related posts:


Curbside Classic: 1995 Pontiac Grand Am – American Graffiti, by T87

CC Capsule: 1994 Pontiac Grand Am SE – All In The Eye Of The Beholder, by Brendan Saur

CC Outtake: 1996 Pontiac Grand Am – Busted, by Joseph Dennis