1972 Pontiac Grand Prix

The 1972 Pontiac Grand Prix brought an end to a popular generation of the car as changes in the auto industry were curtailing the very features that made it so desirable.

1972 Pontiac Grand Prix
The 1972 Pontiac Grand Prix was the last of its
breed, even though sales were strong.

An example is the the limited-production Hurst SSJ Grand Prix of the 1970-1971 model years. To acquire one, the buyer went to a Pontiac dealer and ordered a regular Model J coupe in either Cameo White or Starlight Black with a black, ivory, or sandalwood interior, along with the desired type of seating and choice of engine.

There were, in addition, several mandatory options, such as body-color sport mirrors, G78x14 whitewall tires, and Rally II wheels, although the last could be passed over in favor of Hurst gold-honeycomb wheels or American Racing wheels. Pontiac's optional handling package and mini spare tire were recommended.

Once ordered, Pontiac built the car and had it drop-shipped to Hurst Performance, in Southfield, Michigan. There, for an extra $1,147, the Grand Prix received Hurst's distinctive Firefrost Gold paint on the hood, roof, rear deck, and on the Rally II wheels. Pinstriping, done by hand, separated the Hurst gold from the factory paint. The rearmost part of the roof and the sail panels, meanwhile, were treated to a landau-style vinyl top, in white, Antique White, or Midnight Black.

Topping this was an electrically operated steel sunroof. Hurst offered further options: a Hurst shifter for bench-seat cars with automatic, an SSJ Hurst digital computer. Roll Control, and even a $2,100 mobile telephone.

Unfortunately, once Hurst had finished the SSJ, the buyer had to either pick the car up in Michigan or arrange for final delivery himself, an expensive proposition. This no doubt hurt sales, which were extremely modest in any case. Hurst Performance has stated that 200 copies were produced in both 1970 and 1971. In researching their book, "The Hurst Heritage," Robert C. Lichty and Terry V. Boyce contacted Dick Chrysler "at the parent company," who said that 272 SSJs were completed in 1970, plus 157 in 1971.

But for 1972, Hurst didn't even "acknowledge" any SSJ models, though Lichty and Boyce quoted a then-current Hurst employee as recalling that about 60 1972 SSJs were in fact built. It has also been claimed by former employees that some SSJs were painted in colors other than the approved white or black, such as dark green and maroon.

1972 Hurst Grand Prix SSJ
The Hurst SSJ Grand Prix was decked out
in Firefrost Gold.

We should note at this point that Pontiac, in common with almost the entire industry, had traditionally advertised "gross" horsepower ratings. That is, output was measured with the engine stripped of all accessories. The figures weren't realistic, but they gave salesmen something to brag about. Spurred on by the feds, this practice ceased effective with the 1972 model year, when more realistic "net" horsepower figures were adopted industry-wide. Thus, the Grand Prix's advertised figures dropped to 250 for the 400-cubic-inch engine, 300 for the 455. (One has to suspect that even these figures were subject to exaggeration!)

Largely because of a 59-day strike by the UAW late in 1970 and the need to meet tougher federal safety and emissions mandates for 1973, the all-new GM intermediates planned for 1972 were delayed a year. For that reason, changes to the carryover 1972 Grand Prix were modest. Pontiac proclaimed that the new cross-hatch grille "recalls the Golden Age of Automobiles," a continuation of the already-established Classic theme. High-intensity headlamps, a maintenance-free battery, and transistorized ignition were now supplied as standard equipment, while the base price was actually lowered slightly, from $4,557 to $4,472.

Inside, the instrument panel "looks like it was taken from a light plane," proclaimed Pontiac. Continuing with its wrap-around-the-driver theme, the instrument cluster was highlighted this year with "the look of rare Ceylonese teak." The bucket seats and "notch-back" front seat were available in "a vertically ribbed cord trimmed in vinyl so leather-like it smacks of saddle soap. Or the new perforated vinyl ... so you'll sit cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter."

Sales rebounded to 91,961 units for 1972, nearly three times the figure for Buick's Riviera. Clearly, John DeLorean's and Ben Harrison's mid-size "personal car" concept had proven to be a bonanza for Pontiac.

Still, the world marches on. Certainly the automobile industry didn't -- and couldn't afford to -- stand still. The fully restyled Grand Prix would finally arrive for 1973. Some of us might believe that it wasn't as good-looking as the 1969-1972 series, but the sales charts don't confirm that judgment. In fact, 1973 Grand Prix model-year production surged to 153,899 units, easily topping the previous record set in 1969.

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