Vintage Review: 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ – She’s No Fun, My Three-Oh-One

Grand Prix1

Hot off of Perry’s presses is this Motor Trend write-up of the ’79 Grand Prix SJ.  At MT, everyone’s a winner, so don’t expect any real sign in this review that this car is one of GM’s Deadly Sins, but given this week’s earlier articles detailing Pontiac’s 1970s trajectory, I figured this would make a relevant addition.

Grand Prix 2

It’s interesting when you consider how many rounds of downsizing the Grand Prix went through, going from a B-based design to two generations as an A-special/G-body; then to this downsized A-special/G, which shared the same wheelbase as its less glamorous LeMans sibling before finally ending life on the W-body.  I remember my babysitter drove one of these when I was very young; her car’s three spoke wheel and instrument panel were highly memorable, but can’t remember ever seeing one of these cars–or any 1980s G-body–equipped with a four-speed as the test subject seen here. By the mid-80s, it made a very declasse impression and it wasn’t long before it was traded in on a five-speed GTI (whose upshift light fascinated me).


To get the most out of the optional 301 (oops, I mean 4.9), the four-speed might have been marginally helpful and if nothing else, its selection resulted in a $200 credit.  The 11.8 second 0-60 time represented the car’s limited performance, as well as the standards of the era, but given the nature of the powerplant, I doubt the Turbohydramatic would’ve slowed the car down much more.  The editors complained that the heavy clutch and loose driveline mountings made for snatchy progress in traffic, but it’s hard to imagine that a torquey V8 of that size in a 3,600 pound car would pose a genuine challenge in that regard.


Their praise of the car’s dynamics is more believable on the other hand.  Downsizing or not, GM was getting it act together when it came to handling and with Pontiac’s $116 Rts suspension package, the on-paper stats look promising, with fast, constant-ratio 14:1 steering, a 32mm stabilizer bar in front and a 22mm piece in back.  With that thick of a front-stabilizer bar in front, this wasn’t a tail-happy BMW, but compared to the likes of the contemporary T-bird, it had to have been much more composed.


And that, along with efficiency and a degree of glamor, was what these cars were now about.  I doubt anyone expected old fashioned speed any real giggles behind the wheel.  In compensation, drivers recorded a 20-mpg average; nothing to sneeze at considering what’s involved in testing, to say nothing of the large-displacement 4-bbl V8.


As a car which did its job as promised, maybe it could be hard for some of the more sympathetic among us to see it as a Deadly Sin.  Perhaps it calling it a canary in a coal mine might be more appropriate, but ultimately, for $9130 in 1979, there was much greater fun, exclusivity and sophistication to be found elsewhere.

Related reading: Curbside Classic: 1978 Pontiac Grand Prix – GM’s Deadly Sin #14