The new generation represented by the 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix had to share some key style and engineering elements with many General Motors intermediates. That was a blow to the GP's famous distinctiveness, but it was hardly a fatal one.
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The T-top removable roof panels, opera windows, landau vinyl roof, and stand-up hood ornament on this 1976 Pontiac Grand Prix were typical trappings all U.S. carmakers were using to woo buyers in the mid-70s. See more classic car pictures.
Conventional wisdom has it that the Seventies were dismal years for American cars. So long confident in its ability to master the public's tastes and needs, Detroit suddenly found itself whipsawed by strong competition from abroad and new layers of regulation at home. Trying to adapt the cars it had on hand to meet these challenges didn't always result in the happiest outcomes.
Tremendous gains in performance, as measured in raw horsepower, were swept away with a rising tide of safety and exhaust emissions standards. With that avenue closed to them, automakers turned to luxury as a selling point. All kinds of cars were newly dolled-up in plush trappings. The trick worked especially well on mid-sized, two-door "personal" cars that sustained the Big Three through these difficult times.
The Oldsmobile Cutlass became the country's most popular nameplate, spurred by strong demand for its formal-roofed Supreme coupe. New designs launched in 1977 resulted in the best sales years ever for the Ford Thunderbird and Mercury Cougar XR-7. Chrysler, staunchly dedicated to nothing but full-sized cars, could resist no longer and brought out the Cordoba in 1975. It was an instant hit.
That the 1973-1977 Pontiac Grand Prix would also turn out to be one of these successes seems to be no sure thing in retrospect. The car arrived under less than ideal circumstances. Through a series of delays triggered by the infamous General Motors strike in the fall of 1970, Pontiac was forced to delay its release. Instead of coming out for 1972, the all-new GP was held over to 1973. Though it did a very good job of continuing the Grand Prix tradition of personal luxury combined with sporty flair, it represented the beginning of GM's homogenization of its mid-size car platforms. The bold individual statement the GP had previously made was beginning to be quieted.
The Grand Prix's basic body was now shared with Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Buick. Additionally, the new GP was forced into sharing a 116-inch wheelbase used by the Monte Carlo and all intermediate four-doors. For the GP, this represented a two-inch loss from 1972.
Further watering down the Grand Prix's unique flavor was the fact that the new G-body for "personal coupes" was quite similar to the redesigned A-body for mainline intermediates. In fact, the Buick Century Luxus and Regal, as well as the Olds Cutlass Supreme, were A/G-body crossbreeds that grafted the G-body roof onto the 112-inch-wheelbase platform used by A-body coupes. Adding to the confusion was the new Pontiac Grand Am, which was also competing for the performance-oriented portion of the GP market. Unfortunately, this overlapping marketing would gain momentum in subsequent years and would come in for its share of blame for declining GM sales.
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