1973-1975 Pontiac Grand Am

1974, 1975 Pontiac Grand Am

GM design vice president William L. (Bill) Mitchell had a few Grand Am specials up his sleeve. He built for himself an all-white 1974 Pontiac Grand Am variant with red-and-blue striping, which he called the "All-American." A similar treatment appeared on the Can Am, which Pontiac announced at mid-model year 1977 after some likely inspiration from Mitchell's car. Some 1100 were built on LeMans coupe basics, and one became the pace car for the namesake SCCA race series. Bill Collins and designer John Schinella Collins lobbied to have the Can Am put into limited production after surveying dealers.

The 1974 Pontiac Grand Am
The 1974 Pontiac Grand Am "All-American" was
white with patriotic red and blue pinstripes.

Before this, though, division design operations had split in two. The resulting Pontiac One studio remained under William L. (Bill) Porter, while Pontiac Two was put under Schinella, with responsibility for A-cars (LeMans/Grand Am) and F-car (Fire-bird). For 1974, Schinella's group undertook a Grand Am facelift, raising and squaring up the decklid to give more trunk space, adding more harmonious vertical taillights, and revising the soft front to open up the catwalk slots. Pontiac ad writers labeled the result "A case of unmistakable identity."

The 1973-75 Grand Am was, without a doubt, one of the most focused and well-executed cars Pontiac ever brought to market. It did precisely what its designers intended: provided handling, comfort, and performance in keeping with anything Europe could offer -- and at a fraction of the cost. Indeed, the Grand Am was a lot more capable than Mercedes or BMW liked to admit.

Disappointing sales for the 1975 Pontiac Grand Am led Pontiac to discontinue the model.
Disappointing sales for the 1975 Pontiac Grand Am
led Pontiac to discontinue the model.

Unfortunately, Pontiac launched the Grand Am at exactly the wrong time. The first energy crisis shook the world in October 1973, and Americans bailed out of large Detroit cars into smaller imports, especially Japanese models. Even intermediates like GM's A-cars languished on dealer lots. By 1975, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, a Grand Am with the 400 V-8 could return only 11 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway. (The 455 was the same.) Prices went the other way, thanks to a new round of inflation, and at just a smidge under $5000 to start, the '75 Grand Am was not exactly cheap.

So while Pontiac did well to move 43,136 Grand Ams for 1973, sales slipped to 17,083 for '74, then to a disappointing 10,679 for '75. With that, the Grand Am became expendable and would not be continued. Another reason was that rectangular headlights were coming in, which would have meant retooling the model's unique hood and front fascia. With sales low and not likely to recover, Pontiac felt it wasn't worth the expense.

As we know, however, the Grand Am would return, first in the downsized A-body LeMans line of 1978. Though this coupe and sedan had some unique touches, they were more trim variations than distinct models in the spirit of the original. Come 1985, Pontiac revived the name again for a front-wheel-drive compact based on GM's new N-body design, which is alive and quite well today.

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