1962-1968 Pontiac Grand Prix

The 1962-1968 Pontiac Grand Prix was created to compete with the highly successful Ford Thunderbird of the late 1950s. The Grand Prix also flew
high -- for a while.

If there was one word that best described Pontiac as most of us perceived that marque in the old days, that word was "substantial." Solid, conservative to the core, dependable, a lot of car for the money. And dare we say it? -- maybe just a little bit dull.

That is, until 43-year-old Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen moved into the position of General Manager of the division on July 1, 1956, and promptly took dead aim at the rapidly expanding youth market.

By now most everybody knows the story of how Bunkie stripped the "suspenders" -- the once-famous Silver Streaks -- from the hood of the 1957 model as a first step toward changing the marque's somewhat staid image.

Classic Cars Image Gallery

1967 grand prix convertible
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
For the first -- and only -- time, the 1967 Grand Prix lineup included two body styles: hardtop and convertible. See more classic car pictures.

Then came the high-styled "Wide Track" cars of 1959. That same year, Pontiacs driven by the likes of "Fireball" Roberts began to establish a reputation for outstanding performance, taking the checkered flag at both Daytona Beach and the Darlington 500.

During 1961, Pontiacs finished 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500, with a winning average of 149.601 mph. They also utterly dominated the NASCAR scene by capturing first place in 30 of 52 Grand National stock car events.

The result of all this was plain to see. When Knudsen arrived, Pontiac ranked sixth in the sales race with a 1957 calendar year volume of 343,298 cars. The division had held that same position, in fact, since 1954.

But then the climb began: fifth in 1959, fourth in 1961, and finally -- in 1962 on a volume of 547,350 units -- the coveted third place, a position Pontiac would retain for eight straight years.

In 1961, Knudsen departed to take the leadership position at Chevrolet, leaving the top spot at Pontiac to Elliott M. "Pete" Estes, formerly the division's chief engineer. Bunkie's parting shot was a new Pontiac that added even greater luster to the division's emerging image as the car for performance enthusiasts -- the crowd that 20 years later would be referred to as "yuppies."

The car was the Grand Prix, introduced on September 21,1961, as the flagship of the 1962 line. The market target was clear enough.

Jim Wright, Technical Editor of Motor Trend, put it this way: "Style-wise and price-wise it competes directly with the Thunderbird." To which Wright then added, "Performance-wise it's in a class by itself."

Pontiac thought so, too -- it hyped the Grand Prix as "The personally styled car with the power personality."

Learn about 1962-1968 Pontiac Grand Prix design on to the next page.

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1962-1968 Pontiac Grand Prix Design

To create the 1962-1968 Pontiac Grand Prix design, Pontiac took its basic 120-inch-wheelbase Catalina hardtop coupe, gave it a sports-car-oriented interior, and cleaned up its already attractive styling. Although the Grand Prix shared all of its body panels and the new-for-1962 pseudo-convertible roofline with the Catalina, the exterior was marked by sparingly applied bright-work.

It also sported a mildly revised grille, grillework in the rear cove between the taillights, and exclusive rocker panel trim. Lest no one notice that this was a special Pontiac, badges adorned the front and rear grilles as well as the recessed sculptures on the doors. All in all, the Grand Prix stood out as a masterpiece of understatement.

Inside, bucket seats were upholstered in Morrokide, a long-wearing material with the look and feel of top quality leather. Full instrumentation was standard, including even a tachometer in the center console, which also housed the shift lever and a locking glovebox.

The rear seat featured a fold-down armrest; above it was a rear-seat speaker. Notably, the interior was finished in a monochromatic theme (except with Parchment, in which case the dash and carpeting were black, red, or turquoise).

Powering this beauty was the Bonneville's 389-cid, 303-horsepower V-8 with dual exhausts and four-barrel carburetor. A three-speed manual gearbox was fitted as standard, but buyers overwhelmingly ordered Hydra-Matic, a $231.34 option.

The Grand Prix, whose power-to-weight ratio was nearly nine percent better than the T-Bird's, boasted a power team strong enough, according to Motor Trend, to hurl this two-ton automobile from 0-60 mph in eight seconds flat. The standing quarter mile took 17.2 seconds, with a trap speed of 85 miles an hour, and top speed came in at 103.4 mph.

1962 grand prix, red, left side
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Pontiac launched the Grand Prix -- a cleaned up Catalina with bucket seats -- for 1962.

For those who wanted a bit more performance, Pontiac willingly supplied a 318-horsepower Tri-Power (three two barrel-carburetors) version of the same V-8. A step up from that came the Trophy A high-performance V-8s, good for 333 horsepower with four-barrel carb and 348 horsepower with Tri-Power.

The last employed a hotter cam and higher compression ratio (10.75 versus 10.25:1) and developed an impressive 430 lbs/ft torque at 3,200 rpm. And for enthusiasts, a four-on-the-floor manual transmission made it to the options list, priced the same as Hydra-Matic.

Although buyers seeking fuel economy were hardly likely to shop for a Grand Prix, Pontiac nonetheless listed a two-barrel-carburetor version of the 389 V-8. Available only with Hydra-Matic, it was rated at just 230 horsepower at 4,000 rpm but developed a satisfying 380 lbs/ft torque at a low 2,000 rpm.

Read more about the 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix on the next page.

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1962 Pontiac Grand Prix

By the standards of the time, the 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix didn't come particularly cheap. With a base price of $3,490, it cost $141 more, in fact, than the larger Bonneville two-door hardtop.

On the other hand, the Grand Prix stickered at a whopping $831 less than the base Thunderbird -- but Ford's flagship carried more standard equipment, so the difference wasn't nearly as great as it might have seemed at first.

Most Grand Prix buyers loaded their cars with such amenities as Hydra-Matic (88 percent), air conditioning, power steering, and power brakes with aluminum hubs and drums, the last providing Pontiac with what may well have been the best brakes in the industry. The Grand Prix received generally good reviews, though a few shortcomings were mentioned.

1962 grand prix, red, front view
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The 1962 Grand Prix boasted a unique grille and a convertible-like roofline.

For instance, the suspension was considered a little soft, especially for a high-performance car. The tachometer, mounted on the console, rode so low as to be almost useless; at high speeds it would have been folly for the driver to take his eyes off the road long enough to read it.

And on cars with Hydra-Matic, the shift lever lacked precision, making it nearly impossible to ascertain its position simply by feel.

But probably the most important criticism had to do with the automatic transmission. Pontiac used two different Hydra-Matics at that time. The Bonneville and Star Chief models -- six inches longer than the Catalina and Grand Prix series, and correspondingly heavier -- used the older, four-speed version.

But the Grand Prix shared with the Catalina the new "Roto Hydra-Matic," a smaller, lighter, three-speed unit incorporating a small torque converter.

Though its action was very smooth, critics found slippage to be excessive, and shifts weren't as crisp and positive as they might have been. (We have never understood, by the way, why Pontiac failed to use its best transmission in what it considered its top-of-the-line model.)

Grand Prix production wasn't bad the first year, but it wasn't sensational, either. For 1962, the total came to 30,195 units, nearly 12,000 units short of Oldsmobile's comparably-priced Starfire and far behind Thunderbird's 78,011 units. But better days lay ahead.

For details on the 1963-1964 Pontiac Grand Prix, continue on to the next page.

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1963 and 1964 Pontiac Grand Prix

Jack Humbert, Pontiac's chief designer, came up with some eye-popping styling changes for the 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix.

Although Pontiac continued to employ GM's "B" body, this time there was no mistaking a Pontiac -- any Pontiac, but especially the Grand Prix -- for any other automobile in the GM stable. A venturi -- or "coke bottle" -- theme was adopted, soon to be copied by other automakers.

The windshield "dogleg" of 1962 was eliminated, and curved glass was used throughout, notably in the concave-shaped backlight (shared with the Starfire). Stacked headlamps and hidden taillights were prominent features, while the split grille housed parking lights designed to look like driving lights.

Most noticeable was the fact that the sides were even more completely free of adornment than before. A thin, bright outline surrounded the wheel wells and a slim stainless-steel strip graced the rocker panels, but otherwise the body was virtually devoid of chrome or sculpture.

This represented a radical departure from tradition, for Americans had long been accustomed to equating chrome with class -- all too often with dismal results. Witness the "juke box" styling of the 1958 Oldsmobiles and Buicks, for example.

In contrast, as Tom Bonsall has observed, "Here was the most expensive Pontiac model, a stunningly beautiful car, whose main feature was the absence of trim . . ."

Having dealt itself a winning hand, Pontiac elected to stand pat with the 1964 Pontiac Grand Prix. There were no significant mechanical differences, although there were now three 421s rated at 320, 350, and 370 horsepower.

Styling modifications were largely confined to identification changes and front and rear details: deeper-set grille, rectangular rather than round parking lamps, and large vertical back-up lights.

Yet, for whatever reason, sales fell sharply. In 1963, the Grand Prix had accounted for 12.4 percent of Pontiac's total output, but for 1964 that figure fell to 8.9 percent. The explanation may have something to do with competition from the restyled Thunderbird, which scored a 46-percent sales increase that year.

Go to the next section to learn about the 1965 Pontiac Grand Prix.

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1965 Pontiac Grand Prix

Major changes came along for the 1965 Pontiac Grand Prix. The new B-body Grand Prix boasted a swept-hip perimeter frame and a one-inch-longer wheelbase, now 121 inches. Overall length went up 1.6 inches, width one inch.

Not only was the 1965 Grand Prix actually a bit bigger, but the new styling deliberately gave an illusion of even greater size, this at least in part because of the additional emphasis given to the "coke bottle" theme.

Or as Pontiac put it: "And we don't have to tell you that the unique venturi shape that travels the full length of the car is going to be the most noticed shape of the year." If the car wasn't quite as sleek as its predecessor, it was unquestionably sexier.

1965 grand prix, black
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Though the 1965 Grand Prix continued with the basic styling theme set down earlier, new were vertical bars in the grille.

More important for 1965 were the mechanical differences. The base engine for cars with Hydra-Matic saw a horsepower increase from 303 to 325, apparently the result of improved breathing. Other engine variations ranged from 256 to 376 horsepower.

The Roto Hydra-Matic transmission (as well as the four-speed automatic used in the larger Pontiacs) was replaced by the new -- and vastly better -- Turbo Hydra-Matic. Pontiac claimed that it "whooshes you forward so quickly and so positively you think a new form of transportation has just been invented."

Like the short-lived "Roto," the "Turbo" was a three-speed unit, but with a much larger torque converter. As applied to the Grand Prix, this transmission could be shifted manually at the driver's option.

This was a real advantage according to Motor Trend's John Ethridge, who noted a definite improvement when the driver shifted for himself.

Compared to the base 1963 model, MT found the 1965 car to be 1.5 seconds faster in the standing quartermile, 2.7 seconds (27 percent) quicker from 0-60, and seven miles per hour faster at the top end.

The 1965 test vehicle was not fitted with the aluminum hub and brake drum option, however, and the stopping distance from 60 miles an hour was somewhat excessive at 202 feet -- 44 feet greater than MT's 1963 test car.

There were certain detail changes. The vacuum gauge was dropped from 1965's list of standard equipment, for example, and for the first time the Grand Prix could be ordered with cloth upholstery and even a bench seat.

Other standard interior features included nylon-blend carpeting, glovebox light, courtesy light, padded dash, padded assist bar, wood-grained dash, tachometer, and console.

Perhaps the most salient characteristic of the 1965 Grand Prix was its quiet operation. As John Ethridge noted, "It's so smooth and quiet that, without test instrumentation, we weren't aware that performance was nearly this good."

Very good, apparently, for Motor Trend gave Pontiac Division its coveted "Car of the Year" award, citing "styling and engineering leadership in the development of personalized passenger cars."

And yet, the Grand Prix continued to fade in popularity. For the 1965 model year, 57,881 were built, just 7.2 percent of Pontiac's total sales. That figure sank to a low of 4.4 percent for the nearly identical 1966 series, while output skidded to 36,757 units. Fewer than 1,000 had either the three-or four-speed manual gearbox.

Learn about the 1966-1968 Pontiac Grand Prix on the next page.

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1966, 1967, and 1968 Pontiac Grand Prix

The 1966 Pontiac Grand Prix received only a light touching up. Most noticeable were a new plastic grille without the vertical bars of 1965, more rounded grille outlines at the center; and smoother headlight housings.

The rear end sported taillights hidden behind horizontal ribs, rather than behind the grillework previously used, while the sides got a new ribbed bright-metal panel below the side sculpture line. Inside were redesigned Strato bucket or bench seats, with a new headrest option.

1966 grand prix, blue
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The 1966 Pontiac Grand Prix featured ribbed bright trim under the sculpture line on the lower bodysides. A GP emblem rode on the front fenders behind the wheels.

For the 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix, engine displacement grew from 389 to 400 cubic inches, thanks to a slight bore increase; that, plus a new, high-lift camshaft helped boost the standard horsepower rating from 325 to 350. The optional Quadra-Power engines were increased from 421 to 428 cid, with ratings of 360 and 376 horsepower.

The top version boasted a high-output cam and valve train plus special exhaust manifolds. Tri-Power was no longer available. Newly optional were front disc brakes (with dual master cylinder) and Rally II wheels.

Perhaps the most surprising news for 1967 was the introduction of the first (and, as matters developed, the last) Grand Prix convertible. Listing at $3,813, it cost $264 more than the hardtop and enjoyed a modest production run of 5,856 units.

Styling changes on the reskinned Grand Prix, which was hyped as "the most perfect Pontiac" in the 1967 brochure, included front fenders that swept forward, effectively hiding the lamps in profile view.

1967 grand prix hardtop
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Among the extensive style changes to the 1967 Grand Prix were the headlights, which were now hidden under the outer ends of the horizontal-bar grille.

This gave the illusion of greater length, though the car was in fact only an inch longer than the 1965 model. And this time the headlamps on both Grand Prix models were hidden under doors in the grille.

Vent windows were eliminated from the hardtop, a harbinger of a trend that some of us still think of as a backward step. And both hardtop and ragtops featured concealed windshield wipers, industry first. Cornering lights were a new option.

Industry-wide, automobile sales fell more than seven percent in 1967. Pontiac suffered less than most, actually increasing its market share, and the Grand Prix's output of 42,981 units made off with a slightly larger (5.3 percent) share of the Pontiac pie.

Even so, Pontiac's flagship again failed to live up to its early promise. No doubt that disappointment, coupled with the fact that the ragtop accounted for only 13.6 percent of the Grand Prix's 1967 sales, helped bring about the decision to drop the convertible after only one season.

That little upturn in Grand Prix sales proved to be short-lived, however, as 1968 sales fell almost to the disastrous 1966 level. Bill Collins, assistant chief engineer in charge of Pontiac's body engineering group, thought he understood why:

"Our 1968 Grand Prix was a disaster," he later recalled. "Nobody bought it. It looked like a big fat turkey . . ." The hidden headlamps were retained, in combination with a rather garish hill-width eggcrate grille. Collins was right -- the effect was not good.

1968 grand prix, front view
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The Grand Prix departed from tradition by trading its horizontal-bar grille for an eggcrate pattern in 1968. It was bolder, bigger, and featured a prominent beak.

All of which is not to suggest that the 1968 Pontiac Grand Prix was not a fine automobile. Car and Driver, impressed by the its quiet, smooth ride, observed that "The performance and roadability of the Grand Prix are excellent. Only its size (a 121-inch wheelbase) and its weight (well over 4,000 ground-crushing pounds) keep the Grand Prix from being a Super Car."

But time had run out for the original Grand Prix. Either something radically different was called for, or the series would have to be dropped altogether. Happily, at the urging of John Z. DeLorean, Pontiac's former chief engineer who in 1965 had taken over the general manager's responsibilities, the former alternative was chosen.

Thus, for 1969 the Grand Prix reemerged as a mid-sized car. Based on the LeMans series, it was built on an exclusive 118-inch wheelbase, and its crisp styling and smaller size helped make it the sensation of the 1969 season. Sales of this new edition leaped ahead by an astonishing 255 percent.

Find 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix specifications in our final section.

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1963 Pontiac Grand Prix Specifications

The 1963 Pontiac Grand Prix was selected for the following table because it was the most popular first-generation Grand Prix. Specifications include Hydra-Matic, power steering, and power brakes -- popular options that most buyers selected.

1963 Pontiac Grand Prix Specifications


Base price

$3,490 f.o.b. factory, federal excise tax, and preparation charges included

Bore x stroke

4 1/16 x 3 3/4 inches
388.9 cid
Compression ratio
303 @ 4600 rpm (gross)
425 @ 2800 rpm (gross)
Valve configuration
Valve lifters
Main bearings
Lubrication system
Cooling system
Centrifugal Pump
Fuel system
1-4 bbl carburetor, mechanical pump
Electrical system
Exhaust system
Hydra-Matic 3-speed automatic planetary with torque converter, floor-mounted selector
Ratios -- 1st
Maximum ratio at stall (torque converter)
Rear axle
Drive axles
Recirculating ball bearing; coaxial power assist
17.5:1 gear, 22.5:1 overall
Turns of wheel, lock to lock
Turning diameter
42.8 feet
Ribbed aluminum air-cooled drums with bonded alloy cast-iron braking surfaces; power-assisted
Drum diameter
11 inches
Effective area
173.7 square inches
Boxed, perimeter type
Body style
Five-passenger hardtop coupe

Independent, ball joints/coil springs; stabilizer bar
Solid axle, coil springs
Shock absorbers
Delco direct-acting 2-way telescopic
8-lug steel disc, drop-center rims
8.00 x 14 tubeless

5 quarts (including filter)
Cooling system
19.5 quarts (including heater)
Fuel tank
25 gallons
Automatic transmission
12 pints
Rear axle
5 3/4 pints
Measurements and Weight


120 inches
Overall length
211.9 inches
Overall width
78.7 inches
Overall height
54.1 inches
Front tread
62.5 inches
Rear tread
64 inches
Trunk capacity
16.4 cubic feet
Minimum road clearance
6 inches
Shipping weight
3,915 pounds
Calculated Data

Horsepower per cid
Weight per horsepower
12.9 pounds
Weight per cid
10.1 pounds
Weight per square inch (brakes)
22.5 pounds

Acceleration -- 0-30
3.6 seconds
0-45 6.6 seconds
9.9 seconds
Standing quarter-mile
18.1 seconds/80 mph
Top speed
108 mph
Stopping distances -- from 30 feet
30 feet
From 60 feet
156 feet

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