1970, 1971 Pontiac Grand Prix

The 1970 and 1971 Pontiac Grand Prix carried on even after the man who kept the line alive moved on. In February 1969, Pontiac General Manager John DeLorean went to Chevrolet, to be succeeded at Pontiac by F. James McDonald. DeLorean and his two immediate predecessors, Bunkie Knudsen and Pete Estes, were strongly engineering-oriented, but their manufacturing skills weren't all that great.

1970 Pontiac Grand Prix
Vertical grille bars were among very few cosmetic
changes on the 1970 Pontiac Grand Prix.

To correct that deficiency, DeLorean had brought McDonald in from Hydra-Matic, appointing him works manager -- which was fine, as long as he remained in that role. McDonald's strength had to do with controlling costs; a "product man" he was not. And at that point a product man, as Pontiac authority Tom Bonsall has pointed out, was "almost certainly what Pontiac needed most."

Inevitably, the Grand Prix's new-found success for the 1969 model year spawned imitators. Chief among these was the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, introduced on September 18, 1969, as a 1970 model. Built on the 116-inch wheelbase of GM's intermediate sedans, the Monte Carlo didn't have quite the elegantly long hood of the Grand Prix (though it was hardly short), nor did it have the Pontiac's aggressive, pointed nose. For that matter, its 250-horsepower, 350-cubic-inch V-8 was no match for the GP's 400-cubic-inch V-8. But the Monte Carlo was, nevertheless, an extremely attractive automobile, and its base price undercut the Grand Prix by $862 (21.6 percent).

There can be no doubt that the Monte Carlo cut deeply into the Grand Prix's market, for while Chevrolet produced 145,975 Monte Carlos for 1970, Grand Prix output plummeted 41.5 percent, to 65,750 (171 of them with three-speed manual, 329 with four-speed). The Riviera slipped, too, but by only 29.4 percent; Ford T-Bird sales held steady. Clearly, the upstart Monte Carlo was causing some pain at Pontiac.

Visually, there wasn't a lot of change in the 1970 Grand Prix, although sharp eyes noted vertical grille bars, revised tail-lights, flush door handles, and script Grand Prix lettering on the C-pillars (replacing block lettering on the front fenders). For cars with the $223-$244 SJ package, Pontiac's new 455-cubic-inch V-8 became standard issue. Horsepower remained at 370, the same as 1969's 428 engine, but torque jumped from 472 to 500 pound-feet.

1971 Pontiac Grand Prix
The 1971 Grand Prix got a facelift and was
slightly longer than the previous model.

The Grand Prix was reskinned for 1971. Its vertical-bar grille -- likened by some to that of the Duesenberg, although others find the comparison farfetched -- was less pointed than before, and the upper part of the bumper ran across the grille. Dual headlights gave way to seven-inch single lamps, mounted, as before, in square housings. Up back, a modified boattail-style rear deck was adopted, a Duesenberg roadster touch. The leather interior option, never very popular, disappeared, replaced by "a new grained vinyl you almost expect to squeal, it looks so much like pigskin."

Overall length grew by about 2 1/2 inches. Engineering improvements included variable-ratio power steering, standard power front disc brakes (previously optional on the J), and 400 and 455 V-8s featuring a new evaporative emissions system. Their compression ratios were lowered from 10.25:1 to 8.2:1 to run on regular or low-lead gas, causing their horsepower ratings to fall to 300 and 325, respectively.

Grand Prix sales fell, too, to 58,325 units, a loss of about 11 percent. Perhaps the men of Pontiac could take some comfort from the fact that sales of the Monte Carlo dropped, on a percentage basis, more than twice as much.

Commencing in March 1971, Turbo Hydra-Matic was made standard equipment, after only 58 GPs had been equipped with a three-speed stick, and another 58 with the four-speed. The Grand Prix's price, which had already been hiked $329 at the start of the model year, was refigured accordingly, bringing the tab for the base car to $4,557.

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