The 1976 Pontiac Grand PrixFor 1976, Pontiac performed a major facelift of the 1973-vintage Grand Prix. The new styling effectively updated the look and significantly broke with tradition. Up front, the familiar dual round headlamps were replaced with four rectangular units. Likewise, the grille was an all-new "waterfall" design that folded over the top of the header panel. This cleverly executed update was a dramatic change from the previous Duesenberg-inspired design, which could be traced back to the 1969 model year.
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A sweeping facelift greeted the Grand Prix for 1976, which was Pontiac's 50th anniversary year. One of the 4,807 golden anniversary specials made that year posed with a 1926 Pontiac coupe.
In order to increase sales in the lower end of the personal luxury market and fill the void left by the departure of the Grand Am, Pontiac made a "value leader" out of the entry-level Grand Prix (no longer going by the Model J name). Base price was reduced by $500 and the standard equipment level was lowered somewhat. This price fighter arrived with a new 60/40 full-width bench seat with fold-down center armrest. Power came from a 160-horsepower, 350-cubic-inch V-8 equipped with a two-barrel carb (Californians received a four-barrel version) coupled to a Turbo 350 automatic transmission, both borrowed from the Le-Mans line. The 350 V-8 was the smallest engine ever offered in the Grand Prix up to that time.
Of course, if a more upscale version was desired, the SJ and LJ were still both available, each returned with similar levels of trim as in 1975. Furthermore, to commemorate its 50th anniversary, Pontiac released a special limited edition Grand Prix LJ. As one would expect, all were painted gold and featured such niceties as removable roof hatches, a specific 50th anniversary hood ornament and trunk lock cover, and unique pin-striping. Pontiac built 4,807 commemorative Grand Prixs. Already fairly rare when new, they are even more so today. Anniversary models could be considered a good bet for future collectibility, as few are ever seen at car shows.
As well as the aforementioned Pontiac 350, available engines for the 1976 Grand Prix included the 185-horsepower 400 four-barrel, now the standard engine in the SJ. The 200-horse, 455-cube four-barrel was now an option for all models. (Pontiac also built one 1976 Grand Prix with the as-yet unreleased 301-cubic-inch V-8. The GP and a companion 1976 Sunbird -- with another impending engine, the four-cylinder "Iron Duke" -- were part of a publicity campaign sponsored by Pontiac and National Car Rental. The two cars were driven around the world to show that National's rental fleet, and its Pontiacs in particular, were reliable.)
The reshuffling of standard and optional equipment was exactly what the market demanded, and Pontiac was rewarded with a new Grand Prix production record in a model year when sales of larger cars were generally on the rebound. The combined totals tallied up to a whopping 228,091 units. (The base and SJ series each accounted for more assemblies than the entire 1975 Grand Prix line.) While this was still considerably shy of the 353,272 Chevy Monte Carlos made for 1976, it represented a 163-percent jump in GP production, a tremendous increase by anyone's measure.
On the next page, find out how Pontiac updated the 1976 Grand Prix lineup.
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