The 1962-1964 Pontiac Grand Prix achieved strong sales for General Motors during its run, thanks in part to two influential GM executives. If the 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix testified to the design brilliance of General Motors styling chief Bill Mitchell, the original '62 model testified to the marketing brilliance of Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen. The Grand Prix was, in fact, Knudsen's parting gift after six years as division general manager during which the Pontiac Grand Prix rose from sixth in industry sales to a strong fourth and finally third for '62 -- a stellar achievement for a medium-price make.
In creating the Grand Prix, Bunkie took his cue from the high success of Ford's post-1957 four-seat Thunderbirds. The idea was simplicity itself: a Catalina hardtop coupe with unique styling touches and a T-Bird-type buckets-and-console interior. Interestingly, the new model was conceived for the Ventura nameplate, and it effectively replaced that slow-selling Catalina-based series. But Grand Prix was an inspired choice, with its heroic images of Formula 1 competition -- and, of course, its literal French meaning, "great prize."
Differences from the parent Catalina were quite modest: slightly revised grille; dummy back-panel grillework; the Catalina's optional front bucket seats as standard; and a shiny center console with tachometer, gauge package, and monochrome color scheme inside and out. But the whole was far greater than the sum of these parts. As Motor Trend stated: "Style-wise and price-wise [the Grand Prix] competes directly with the Thunderbird. Performance-wise, it's in a class by itself."
True enough. There were no fewer than five versions of Pontiac's superb Trophy 389 V-8, from a 230-horsepower economy special to a high-compression Tri-Power job (three two-barrel carburetors) with a hefty 348 blip. Speaking of heft, less weight and more available power gave the GP a decided performance edge on the Thunderbird. MT reported 0-60 mph taking a brief eight seconds.
Three-speed manual shift was standard, but most GPs were ordered with "Roto" Hydra-Matic, a new three-speed torque-converter automatic shared with Catalina, priced at $231. For the same money, confirmed leadfoots could specify four-speed manual floorshift, as well as seven different axle ratios.
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1962, 1963, 1964 Pontiac Grand Prix
Sales for the 1962-1964 Pontiac Grand Prix varied by year. The 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix was a so-so seller. It wasn't that cheap at nearly $3,600, and it cost little less than a T-Bird when optioned to match. GP did best Oldsmobile's comparably priced Starfire, but trailed Thunderbird by 2-to-l.
The '63 sold much better, thanks to peerless styling. Like other big Pontiacs, the GP wore slightly curvier contours enhanced by newly stacked quad headlamps, clean bodysides devoid of sculpturing, straight A-pillars and-the crowning touch -- an exclusive razor-edge roofline with concave backlight (replacing the previous pseudo-convertible treatment). Despite a mere 1.3-inch gain in overall length, the effect was a larger, "more important" Grand Prix, and it turned heads everywhere.
The impression of extra bulk wasn't just visual, for Pontiac's 1963 "Wide Track" chassis boasted 2.9-inch wider tracks (64 inches total). But curb weight was hardly affected, and power was more plentiful, the two most potent 389s replaced by a pair of new 421s (a size first seen in '61) with 353 bhp (four-barrel) and 370 bhp (Tri-Power). Though they cost a towering $400 each, the 421s delivered equally towering performance. MT timed its 370-bhp job at just 6.6 seconds 0-60. Then again, even the lowly 303-bhp 389 could run that sprint in under 10 seconds.
Of course, no car is perfect and neither was the '63 GP. Suspension remained a bit soft, the Hydra-Matic was still plagued by excess slippage, the console-mounted vacuum gauge (replacing the '62 tach) was so hard to see as to be virtually useless, and a new "Cordova" vinyl roof covering was a questionable use of $86.08. But heavy-duty suspension was optional, too, along with Pontiac's handsome multi-spoke aluminum wheels ($122.13), and the performance and styling were all anyone could want. As a result, nearly 250 percent more buyers wanted Grand Prix in '63, a high-water mark that wouldn't be duplicated for another six years.
But this winning design wouldn't last long. The '64 was basically the '63 with a modest facelift and minor mechanical upgrades. After that, all full-size Pontiacs swelled to hippy, heroic new proportions. Not until 1969 would Grand Prix again offer the sort of manageable sports-luxury it had in the beginning, which explains why the 1962-64 models are now so coveted as collector cars. They were, and are, some of Pontiac's best.
The 1962-1964 Pontiac Grand Prix's performance was a major part of its appeal. Get the Grand Prix's specifications on the next page.
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1962, 1963, 1964 Pontiac Grand Prix Specifications
The 1962-1964 Pontiac Grand Prix came with a wide range of engine options.
Engines: all ohv V-8; 389 cid (4.06 × 3.75); 230/303/318/333/348 bhp (1962), 230/303/313 bhp (1963), 230/303/ 306/330 bhp (1964); 421 cid (4.09 × 4.00), 353/370 bhp (1963), 320/350/370 bhp (1964)
Transmissions: 3/4-speed manual, 3-speed Hydra-Matic
Suspension, front: upper and lower A-arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: 4-link live axle, coil springs
Brakes: front /rear drums
Wheelbase (in.): 120.0
Weight (lbs.): 3835-3930
Top speed (mph): 105-125+
0-60 mph (sec): 6.6-10.0
Production: 1962 30,195 1963 72,959 1964 63,810