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1973-1975 Pontiac Grand Am

1973 Pontiac Grand Am Chassis

The 1973 Pontiac Grand Am began as a GTO, was called Europa for a short period, and finally ended up with the name Grand Am. "[Product planner] Bill Collins had a thing about the word Grand," explains Vieira. "Everything [we had then] was Grand: Grand Ville, Grand Prix, Grand LeMans, Grand Am."

The soft fascia wasn't easy to model, but Pontiac design studio chief Bill Porter declares that Dennis Barnes did a marvelous job. "The Grand Am's front-end forms coming out and intersecting are quite complicated," Porter points out, "particularly the filets in the catwalk and how they intersect the nose form. Some of the surfaces had to be twisted and rotated to make the filets catch the light just right. It was quite a tricky modeling job."

The coupe and sedan were the only two body styles produced for the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am.
The coupe and sedan were the only two
body styles produced for the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am.

The studio staff was still working on spec, because GM materials people weren't yet familiar with all the techniques of mass producing pliable urethane, forming it, and, especially, coloring it to match the hues, fade resistance, and texture of paint. Designers called polyurethane "Polly Softstuff," but also "Baby Doll." Just before the 1973 tooling decisions had to be made, materials engineers did manage to work out the cost, color, and formability details of the soft fascia. Only then did it become producible -- a last-minute rescue.

Pontiac's product planners, under assistant chief engineer William T. (Bill) Collins, got behind the '73 Grand Am because they knew something different was needed to replace the GTO. By 1973, the GTO was breathing its last breath; dying by cubic inches, it had been done in by low compression and GM's need to meet fuel and smog mandates. Any politically correct car could no longer run around delivering eight miles per gallon between stoplights. And yet Pontiac had no intention of giving up its "excitement" image.

So the Grand Am offered a new opportunity. This was a car that Pontiac saw as the division's entree into the European sport-luxury-sedan field. Pontiac chassis engineers, under John Seaton, would de-emphasize straight-line performance in favor of crisp handling and overall responsiveness. Seaton based the Grand Am's readability on the division's trade-marked Radial Tuned Suspension, which in turn was based on new GM-spec steel-belted radial tires. Ten-inch front disc brakes gave the car wonderful stopability, and Saginaw Division set up the power steering with a quicker ratio and plenty of positive feedback.

"It was really the radial tires that gave us a clue that we could actually do something like that," says Tom Goad, an engineer and Pontiac product planner at the time. "They rode so much better, and yet we could have the handling with the bigger stabilizer bars and control the vehicle's motion with softer springs and good shocks. This became our Radial Tuned Suspension that we began promoting across all our car lines. It was standard on the Grand Am."

Inside, the Grand Am driver and the front passenger settled into supportive bucket seats equipped with recliners and lumbar adjustments. All doors had pull straps, not molded-in plastic grab handles, while the fully instrumented gauge panel and console presented touches of real African crossfire mahogany laminated onto a plastic substrate.

Yet the Grand Am couldn't be too European. It still had to be as American as any Pontiac. And indeed, it used not only the LeMans hood but the all same inner sheetmetal and most outer panels, as well as the two- and four-door "Colonnade" rooflines of the new corporate A-body. The big visual differences lay in Charley Gatewood's soft front end, the taillamps, standard pinstriping, and, for the coupe, distinctive louvers over the fixed rear-quarter windows.

According to Porter, that sail-panel treatment took some doing to make it practical. His staff tried all sorts of different configurations so the louvers wouldn't block the driver's over-the-shoulder view. "I remember there was quite a bit of fiddling around with those louvers to angle them so you could see out from the driver's side," Porter recalls. "Otherwise the sail would have been huge and very blind."

Initially, the Grand Am program called for not two but three body styles: coupe, sedan, and wagon. GM's Framingham, Massachusetts, assembly plant, which built Pontiac's A-body wagons, didn't want the hassle of yet another model variation, so the Grand Am wagon never made production. One engineering prototype did get built, however, and Tom Goad still owns it today. Like all of GM's "Colonnade" intermediates, the production coupe rode a 112-inch wheelbase, the sedan a 116-inch wheelbase. Both models were billed as "hardtops" despite having fixed B-pillars.

Goad mentions that when he went from Chevrolet to Pontiac in the mid-1960s, he was shocked by how primitive Pontiac's suspension systems were. "I couldn't believe it," he says. "Pontiac's systems were archaic compared to what we'd been doing at Chevrolet, with roll-couple distribution and tire sizes and all. Pontiac could make cars go in a straight line but not around corners." He notes that it wasn't until 1970 that the GTO got a rear stabilizer bar.

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