Standard equipment for the 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix included an aircraft-style cockpit with Strato-bucket seats covered in "fully expanded Morrokide" vinyl or a combination of fabric and Morrokide. Leather upholstery was optional, while a bench seat with center armrest was a no-cost option.
The 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix saw a huge jump
in sales thanks to its redesign.
The tall, padded console, complete with floor shift, prompted automotive journalist Tom McCahill to observe that "the driver can feel secure in his own little compartment and he can still shake hands with his girl friend though very little else." Lower door and rear quarter trim panels wore carpeting, and upper-level ventilation was supplied due to the absence of traditional vent wings.
"Up front," said Pontiac, "you're faced by a cockpit-style instrument panel that almost lays every gauge, control and switch in your lap." Its three-sided layout wrapped around the driver, with the center section filled by three pods: gauges on the left, speedometer in the center, clock or tachometer on the right (a hood-mounted tach was also available). Carpathian burled-elm vinyl inlay highlighted the dash.
"Pulse"-action, dual-speed windshield wipers with concealed blades were touted as an industry first. Another first was a hidden radio antenna, consisting of two wires, about twice the thickness of a human hair, molded into the windshield glass. An appealing gimmick, it proved to be a mixed blessing in the real world because it provided only fair-to-middling reception.
An excellent anti-theft feature, new to Pontiac but offered by Ford clear back in the Thirties, was the coincidental steering and ignition lock. A heavy-duty, three-speed manual transmission also came standard, but of the 112,486 GPs produced for 1969, only 338 got one. Likewise, just 676 GPs rolled off the line with the $185 close- or wide-ratio four-speed stick. Instead, 99 percent of Grand Prix buyers chose the three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matic, a $227 option.
Other Grand Prix extras included power steering ($116), air-conditioning ($421), leather upholstery ($199), Cordova vinyl top ($142), Rally II styled wheels ($84), and an electric rear window defroster ($47). A "space-saver" spare tire was a no-cost option. So was a two-barrel 400 V-8 with 8.6:1 compression, 265 horsepower, and 397 pound-feet of torque. Running through a 2.93:1 rear axle, it was the only Grand Prix engine that tolerated regular gas.
Motorists in a big-time hurry could order a 390-horse version of the 428-cubic-inch V-8 with a high-output cam, special exhaust manifolds, plus a low-restriction chromed air cleaner and chromed rocker covers and oil filler cap. Grand Prix V-8s came with standard dual exhausts, except curiously the 370-horsepower 428, for which they were "recommended."
The interior of the Grand Prix, shown here in an SJ,
was designed to wrap around the driver.
Not unexpectedly, the SJ was the performance champion of the Grand Prix line. With 370 horses, it claimed ten more than the Buick Riviera, in a car that was 480 pounds lighter. McCahill, putting a GP through its paces for Mechanix Illustrated, zipped through the 0-60 run in 8.1 seconds, and noted that the car "runs out of top speed just before it reaches 130." Road & Track, whose SJ test car had the 390-horsepower mill, rocketed to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, and blitzed the standing quarter-mile in 15 seconds flat at 97 mph. All of this suggests that the Grand Prix was significantly faster than the Buick Riviera, especially with respect to acceleration.
Nor was handling neglected. Road & Track's Henry Manney called it "a helluva lot better GT car than some celebrated ones I have driven, just between you and me and the camshaft." Bill Sanders, writing in Motor Trend, was more explicit: "It's not a sports car, so don't expect it to handle like one. With that long hood sticking out there you feel like the last man on a hook-and-ladder fire truck, so forget about drifting through the corners. Anyway, it wasn't built for that. But the GP will surprise the hell out of you when it comes to handling." Even the brakes were superior, stopping the car from 60 mph in just 158 feet, seven feet shorter than the Riviera.
During the 1968 model run, sales of the Riviera had held a 55 percent lead over the Grand Prix, but in a dramatic reversal, the 1969 GP forged ahead to outsell the mildly facelifted Riv by better than two-to-one. Small wonder, for the handsome new Grand Prix cost several hundred dollars less than either the Riviera or Thunderbird. Furthermore, it was a unique product.
Priced at $3,866 in base form, $710 more than the Le Mans hardtop, the new Grand Prix was evidently a highly profitable proposition for Pontiac. But it was the only really bright spot on Pontiac's horizon that season, as model-year production slumped 4.4 percent. Meanwhile, Buick managed a 2.1 percent increase, and Oldsmobile soared 12.9 percent above its 1968 figure.
Still, Pontiac hung on to the third place standing that it had enjoyed since 1962, and by a 150,000-unit margin, but the tide was turning. Over the next three years, Pontiac would drop to fifth place in model-year output, displaced first by Plymouth, and then Oldsmobile; soon Buick would be nipping at its heels.
For more information on different types of cars, see: