I’ve never done an In-Motion article because others have done them quite well and even made something of an art form of them (most notably Joseph Dennis). I’m not that good at catching cars on the fly. My pictures here are of borderline quality, but I just couldn’t resist when I spotted this car. After pulling in the slack from my jaw and grabbing the shots I could, I noted that it’s a latter day Pontiac Grand Prix, though honestly it’s almost irrelevant what the underlying car is. I certainly don’t think of this four door sedan when I think of Grand Prix.
Firstly, I would think of this, the real thing. Sort of. I’m sure you all recognize the source of this photo and what a great documentation of that period of European auto racing it was.
Naturally, I would next think of this, the car named after the race. The appellation was meant to imply that it was a sophisticated, European-style touring car owned by men of refined taste. That reality might have been a bit strained, but the early Grand Prix was certainly an attractive 1960’s American cruiser. 1962 was the first year, many consider the 63 (above) the best looking of the early full-size models.
If I’m dreaming of the best Grand Prix ever, I’d probably be thinking of this, the much-loved second iteration when it moved to the midsize platform for 1969. The GP had it all then: totally unique styling, the most powerful drivetrains from the muscle car era, and an airplane carrier length hood. The G-body Grand Prix (shared with Monte Carlo) had a 6 inch longer wheelbase than the regular A-body coupes, and the added length was all ahead of the cowl. It made for a spectacular coupe that had the goods to back up its bold looks.
If I’m thinking back to my formative automotive years, I’d conjure up an image of something like this 77 model. These were still very thick on the ground for most of the 80’s. Despite being the last year of its generation, 1977 was the all-time best selling Grand Prix. Personal luxury coupes were selling like mad in the mid-late 70s, almost anything with two doors and a vinyl roof that wasn’t named AMC Matador was flying out dealer doors, but the GP was still an attractive package in its own right. Swoopy, beaky, opera-windowed styling, nice interiors, and [relatively] powerful engine options with GM’s trademark easy, comfortable drivability were hard for buyers to resist in the Disco era.
The 1988 Grand Prix that was introduced in my teen years might also spring to my mind. The musclecar lover in me was disappointed at the time to see it as a front-driver, but it really was a big upgrade over the boring 1980’s models up ’til then. It was a sleek-looking car that was about as distinct from other divisions as a GM car could get in those challenging times. By this time, it had to compete with BMW, Mercedes, Toyota Supra and other hyper-competent sporty imports, but it was pretty good judging on a GM curve. The 1989-96 Turbo and GTP models had legit performance and boss looks.
The harbinger of the Grand Prix’s limited future came in 1990 with the addition of a four-door model. To my mind, a Grand Prix sedan was an oxymoron, but I don’t think my mind was in tune with the market. The four door GP would be a strong seller right until Pontiac’s last few years.
What I don’t think of when I think Grand Prix is this sixth (1997-2003) generation sedan. I remember thinking it sharp and modern upon introduction, I just don’t think it has aged to have a very unique look. It’s much more curvaceous, but somehow more generic-looking than its predecessor. It got generally positive reviews, and in supercharged GTP guise, it staked it’s claim as GM’s discount BMW fighter. SE versions like our feature car had the 3.1L V6 standard, but the GT came standard (and SE could be optioned) with the naturally aspirated 3800 V6, that fact alone placing it among the more satisfying-to-own GM front drivers.
This generation of GP is notable for having a two door body style available, an increasing rarity in a largish car by the late 90’s. Pontiac called it a coupe, but I believe it would meet our definition of a two door sedan. The roofline and backlight are identical, only the side glass and doors differ (it is in fact listed in Paul’s encyclopedic article on two door sedans). The coupe was discontinued prematurely for 2003, one year before this generation ended. I haven’t been able to find sales figures broken down by body style or trim (SE, GT, GTP), though the SE was surely the volume leader and it was not available as a coupe.
The advertising for the new 1997 Grand Prix revived Pontiac’s classic Wide Track theme, with a very 90’s look. The car itself looked wide and was reported to be a good handler, but the track was not actually wider than most competitors. Front track was 2 inches wider than the Lumina, but between 0.1 and 0.5 inches narrower than Regal, Intrigue, Taurus and Intrepid. However, the car the Grand Prix would love to imagine as its competitor, the BMW 528i, had 1.5 inches less front track.
Which brings us to our feature car. I’ve never seen this version before, but I believe it’s the special and rare SE/WTF edition. This could stand for exactly what I thought when I first spotted it. Looking from the rear, it very well may stand for Wide Track as F*%#.
Seriously, though, I don’t know if I should take this car seriously or not. Like me when I spotted it, the owner was not thinking Grand Prix when he modified this car (assuming it wasn’t a dealer-installed package).
He was thinking something more along these lines.
Did the owner intend this car as an absurdist joke, or was he really following a vision for optimizing the Grand Prix? Pulling around to the front, I’m leaning more towards joke. That looks like a Mustang front bumper cover grafted on there. Hmmm, maybe it really was a vision he’s following, as I think the Grand Prix SE/WTF may be just a fresh paint job away from greatness!
2003 was the end of the line for this generation Grand Prix, replaced for 2004 with a heavy revision still on the W-body platform. It would come with 3.8L V6, supercharged 3.8L V6 and 5.3L V8 engines, making the Grand Prix go out with a powertrain bang, since the model would be dropped after 2008, briefly replaced by the slow-selling, abortive rear-drive G8. The final Grand Prix’s were available with the rare SuperScript package seen above.
I’m guessing the owner really loves his 2003 Grand Prix. From what I read for this article, there are quite a few owners and former owners who feel that way. For me, if I was looking for cheap wheels in the form of an older front wheel drive Pontiac sedan, the 92-99 Bonneville is a much better-looking car (IMO, and every one had some version of the 3800 V6). However, I wouldn’t mind a sixth gen Grand Prix in either GT or SE/WTF trim, thank you very much!
photographed on the West Loop, Houston, TX on August 11, 2021
Related reading: There have been quite a few articles on Grand Prix’s through the years, here are a few highlights
Curbside Classic: 1997-2003 Pontiac Grand Prix – Randy’s Here For Dinner And He Brought The Wild Turkey BY WILLIAM STOPFORD – A much more detailed and even-handed look at this generation
COAL: 1991 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP- Gargantuan Timing Problems BY KMCBRIDE – A tragically troublesome ownership experience with this hot car
Curbside Classic: 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix – Grand Size, Medium Prize BY PAUL NIEDERMEYER – A very sharp survivor
Vintage R&T Review: 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix – The American Espada BY PAUL NIEDERMEYER – An entertaining review with fantastic photos