Saturday, November 12, 2016

The transitional car from the bloated '70s to the squared-off '80s

I was biking along the industrial waterfront of red Hook in Brooklyn when this gently colored ride presented itself:
This is a 1978 Pontiac Grand Prix in Dresden Blue with a creamy white landau roof. This is a car with one foot planted firmly in the tired past and one in the uncertain future. Amazingly the result is better than it sounds!
This color scheme is so Leisure Suit '70s but the dimensions are leaning towards the '80s. The Grand Prix from its inception in 1962 through this vintage was always a 2 door coupe in the Personal Luxury style. 1978 introduced the 5th generation for the Grand Prix with more squared-off, angular body lines than its predecessor.
The '78 GP was a foot shorter and 600 lbs lighter than the '77 so even in this era of strangled low horsepower engines the performance was decent. This was the first year in the models history that a 6 cylinder was standard equipment. Technically a 3 speed manual transmission was standard as well but finding a 6 cylinder 3 speed GP would be a rarity.
The surefire way to identify a 1978 model is the grill; the 5 vertical bars on each side were 1 year only. 1979 brought a crosshatched grill. 1980 went back to a similar grill design but there were 9 vertical grill bars on either side.
That gentle V shape going from the corner of the grill back to the lower corner of the windshield is a shadow of what once was. In the earlier '70s Grand Prix the center portion would be raised in a full length hood bulge. The spaces directly behind the headlights were sunken down between that center V and the raised edges of the fenders.
If you look at the relatively enormous 1977 GP you see headlights in a rectangular box with the turn signal in the center just like this. The main differences in the overall width can be found the the extra space between the headlight pods and grill in '77 as well as a wide body colored section in the center of the split grill.
Besides that swooping line from the front fender point, under the side windows, and down the top of the quarter panel this is very much a squared-off design. You could carve this car out of a block of cream cheese.
Just look at the point where the fender, hood, and front connect; it is a perfect corner. This is a premonition of the next decade of styling.
Incidentally this bumper looks so much more integrated into the overall look than the mid-'70s version. Having a car that weighs so much less means not as much bumper is needed for the 5mph crash requirements.
The padded rear landau roof would stick around for another several years though not so puffy as this. The GP was available with T-Tops, the rear of which lines up right where this vinyl roof begins.
This car was ordered for a family as opposed to someone trying to look as cool as possible. The bench seat and column shift could just as easily been bucket seats and a console with floor mounted shifter.
There are a full compliment of gauges in the dash as well as what looks to be a/c and power windows.  That steering wheel is a holdover from the larger mid-'70s models. The year after this brought a real bro-edition tough guy wheel that I think looks kinda goofy.
That trunk lid is ridiculously square!
The previous generation had a large V shape on the trunk lid mirroring the hood. It was raised up in the middle like the hood as well, with the taillights set into indentations. Likewise the bumper used to jut out in the middle to accommodate the trunk shape.
Pontiac had a history of taillights being split into individual bars going back to the mid-'60s, most notably in the Firebirds and older Grand Prix. This is the final moment for this multifaceted taillight before they move onto a huge square slab of red plastic with a gaudy GP medallion in the center.
Being a body-on-frame rear wheel drive American car from the '70s the gas cap is located behind the license plate.
That gap between the rear quarter panel and the bumper was originally filled with a body colored plastic filler piece. These are notorious for hardening over time and cracking to smithereens on all GM models of this era (you'll often see Cadillacs with the metal ends to the quarter panels standing alone like tombstones with the plastic supports long gone).
These are original Pontiac faux-wire wheels that snap on just like any old hubcap. The red center had the Pontiac arrowhead logo reminding folks that this automaker is named after War Chief Pontiac of the Odawa tribe in the Great Lakes region.  
Boo hiss! From this angle you can see that those gauges are blanks! Looks like nobody opted for the optional full gauges so we have plain dials in their place. This is even more demeaning than having a blank stretch of dashboard. Every time the driver looks into those empty sockets it's like the missing gauges are saying "why didn't you order us?"
Well we'll leave this swooping square powder blue brick against a brick wall in Industrial Red Hook. This is the closest sibling to my very first car - a 2 door 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass Brougham in burgundy with a burgundy landau vinyl roof. I bought that car for $225 and it had a brand new $250 Alpine tape deck in it. I grabbed a couple of mismatched license plates off of 2 different friends wrecked cars, a registration sticker out of a wrecked Subaru, and drew my own inspection sticker with some markers before enjoying months of carefree driving. Life was great until I attempted a u-turn on a muddy field, sinking in up to the rocker panels in the process. I later got cornered by sheriffs while getting it towed out by a friend. That's a much longer story but suffice it to say this unglamorous body style has a lot of nostalgia for me.
Looking good at age 38 GP! Keep up the good work.

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