1969 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ

Some sources have credited stylists Jack Humbert and Irvin Rybicki with the design of the 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix, but renderings clearly show that it was actually the work of young Wayne Vieira, who went on to lead GM's Saturn studio -- an observation verified by Vieira himself. A clay model was rushed to completion in two weeks, an effort that evidently involved the entire Pontiac design staff. Approval followed immediately, and Pontiac General Manager John Z. DeLorean ordered the car into production for 1969.

1969 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ
The 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ was the higher-level
model, with 370 horsepower and other upgrades.

The new "downsized" Grand Prix was an exceptionally clever piece of work. From the cowl back it was essentially an A-bodied Le Mans hardtop. But ahead of the cowl, the wheelbase was stretched a full half-foot, giving the car, as Pontiac's sales brochure boasted, "the longest hood in the industry."

Thus was created the GM G-body, and the result was sheer elegance. As writers Jan Norbye and Jim Dunne observed, "Here, Pontiac got something unique at last -- a personal/specialty car at a budget price. The other divisions were caught off guard. There was nothing like it on the market." Pontiac called it "a contemporary 'original.' "

Pontiac's Tempest/Le Mans intermediates rode, in those days, on two wheelbases: 116 inches for the sedans and station wagons, 112 for the two-door models. But in order to make possible that long, elegant hood, the Grand Prix chassis was expanded to 118 inches, a dimension not shared that year by any other Pontiac, nor by any other General Motors car, for that matter.

1969 Pontiac Grand Prix sketch
The Grand Prix's long hood is clearly a main element
of the Wayne Vieira sketches of the car.

It's not difficult to imagine that the long hood -- which, in Pontiac authority Tom Bonsall's colorful phrase, "seemed to stretch from the cowl on into next Wednesday" -- must have been inspired by the great Classic Duesenbergs of the Thirties. That, of course, was exactly as Pontiac intended. And that's not all. Just as the Duesenbergs had been designated Series "J" and "SJ," so it would be with the Grand Prix. But there was a difference, for in the Duesenberg's case the letter "S" stood for Supercharger, a piece of equipment foreign to Pontiac until 1992.

In the case of the Grand Prix, SJ stood for an option package, rather than a distinct series. Priced at $315.96, it consisted of a 370-horsepower, 428-cubic-inch engine (in lieu of the 350-horsepower, 400-cubic-inch mill used in the J); automatic level control, activated by a two-stage vacuum-actuated compressor; power front disc brakes; high-performance suspension; performance rear axle; plus special gauges and tires, chromed valve covers, and an SJ badge located on the lower front fender on each side.

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