The 1962-1968 Pontiac Grand Prix was created to compete with the highly successful Ford Thunderbird of the late 1950s. The Grand Prix also flew
high -- for a while.
If there was one word that best described Pontiac as most of us perceived that marque in the old days, that word was "substantial." Solid, conservative to the core, dependable, a lot of car for the money. And dare we say it? -- maybe just a little bit dull.
That is, until 43-year-old Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen moved into the position of General Manager of the division on July 1, 1956, and promptly took dead aim at the rapidly expanding youth market.
By now most everybody knows the story of how Bunkie stripped the "suspenders" -- the once-famous Silver Streaks -- from the hood of the 1957 model as a first step toward changing the marque's somewhat staid image.
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For the first -- and only -- time, the 1967 Grand Prix lineup included two body styles: hardtop and convertible. See more classic car pictures.
Then came the high-styled "Wide Track" cars of 1959. That same year, Pontiacs driven by the likes of "Fireball" Roberts began to establish a reputation for outstanding performance, taking the checkered flag at both Daytona Beach and the Darlington 500.
During 1961, Pontiacs finished 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500, with a winning average of 149.601 mph. They also utterly dominated the NASCAR scene by capturing first place in 30 of 52 Grand National stock car events.
The result of all this was plain to see. When Knudsen arrived, Pontiac ranked sixth in the sales race with a 1957 calendar year volume of 343,298 cars. The division had held that same position, in fact, since 1954.
But then the climb began: fifth in 1959, fourth in 1961, and finally -- in 1962 on a volume of 547,350 units -- the coveted third place, a position Pontiac would retain for eight straight years.
In 1961, Knudsen departed to take the leadership position at Chevrolet, leaving the top spot at Pontiac to Elliott M. "Pete" Estes, formerly the division's chief engineer. Bunkie's parting shot was a new Pontiac that added even greater luster to the division's emerging image as the car for performance enthusiasts -- the crowd that 20 years later would be referred to as "yuppies."
The car was the Grand Prix, introduced on September 21,1961, as the flagship of the 1962 line. The market target was clear enough.
Jim Wright, Technical Editor of Motor Trend, put it this way: "Style-wise and price-wise it competes directly with the Thunderbird." To which Wright then added, "Performance-wise it's in a class by itself."
Pontiac thought so, too -- it hyped the Grand Prix as "The personally styled car with the power personality."
Learn about 1962-1968 Pontiac Grand Prix design on to the next page.
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