On page 205 of Pontiac ad man Jim Wangers’ memoir, Glory Days, there’s a black and white photo of John Z. DeLorean at perhaps the height of his powers. It’s fall 1968, and Pontiac’s general manager is standing between two factory-fresh examples of his latest creation, the 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix.
The caption reads, “The 1969 Grand Prix was truly DeLorean’s car, with a little help from marketing researcher Ben Harrison, who suggested converting the full-size Grand Prix to the smaller A-body sedan chassis. It was an immediate success and became the image leader for all personal luxury coupes. In an era of excess, the 1969 Grand Prix could brag about having the longest hood in the industry.”
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I was in the parking lot in front of Plant #9 when the engineers brought a LeMans or Chevy coupe for Mr DeLorean to inspect with a new rear deck lid (short) and the long hood. the mis-matched panels were patched to hold the sheet metal in place. It was what John DeLorean asked for. As a young student employee, I was very impressed with how they went about doing what DeLorean wanted. He was a real leader. The time frame was short. I was also in the first introduction dealer meeting in Atlanta in what must have been the 1969 annual dealer announcement sales meeting. The dealers went wild when they un-vailed the 1969 Grand Prix! DeLorean was a real "car-man". My family all worked for Pontiac. My father started in 1935, my brother in 1962 and I started in 1964. Those were the "Glory Days" at Pontiac.
Fantastic cars! My father owned a 1969 SJ, what a fast car. I always remember as my mom would drop my brother and I off for school my classmates would say. "You mom's car is a kind of loud!" That's because the 428 cars came with special HP exhaust and no resonators. That car cold move!
Will always have a soft spot for these, beautiful car sir!
If not the top spot for personal peformance/luxury it'll always be near it. So much better than the Monte Carlo. Take care of it and enjoy the heck out if it! 🙂
DeLorean's era at GM was at the end of GM's 30+ year design superiority created by Harley Earl. Then, in the 1970s, the bean counters took over, and design and performance innovations began their decline into mediocrity.
Back in the mid 70's as I was starting out as a mechanic I got the job of rebuilding the 428 in an SJ. Car belonged to a camp owner who took out the oil pan on a rock on his camp road and subsequently seized the engine. Of course after the rebuild I had to take it for a test drive (you know....make sure everything was good). Never forget that car. What an awesome machine!
My grandparents bought a 69 Model J new. 400, turbo 400 and when they moved in 1976 gave it to my 16 year old sister.
Being a year older I would use it from time to time and I was the burnout champion at my work place with distances over 100’, no problem. I still have a ticket from 1977 for “disorderly person with a motor vehicle” for one such show.
A second ‘69 Model SJ would be mine later in ‘77 and with its 428 was a great car to cruise in.
Great article and thanks for the blast to the past.
In the late seventies and early eighties, SJs were a relatively cheap source for mechanical upgrades for earlier GTOs. The front disc brakes, the engines & transmissions, and the rear axles (Chevy 12 bolts on SJs) all fit the earlier cars. My favorite was a '65 Tempest with patina, a ragged bench seat, and all the original grease left on the '70 455, as well as the '65 air cleaner, suitably modified for the quadra-jet. It looked like grandma's hand-me-down and ran like a scalded cat.
I parted out a half-dozen or so. In retrospect, I feel kinda bad. Tons of fun at the time, though. I still have a '69 dashboard and automatic console I had intended to swap into a GTO, but l never got around to it...
Sure wish one could buy a car like this today, but with modern brakes, handling, and MPG. Now, all we seem to be getting are mostly-amorphous crossovers, and huge four-door pickups ill-suited to the tasks they are assigned.
A friend of mine in High school, had a 1976 (I believe that was the year) Red, with white pin stripes, white interior, and (If I recall correctly) silvered T tops, God that car was gorgeous. Dave TC MI.
My third "first" car was a white with white interior 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix. It was like this article states "a luxury muscle car." 400 cu. in. 4-barrel carb, dual exhaust and at that time when nobody really checked "gas mileage" got a fairly respectable 18 MPG on a trip. I absolutely loved this car and have missed it since I traded it on my then wife's 1980 Ford Fiesta! OH trust me, I know, but it was the first new car we bought and she was sooo proud of it! One of my bucket list cars is indeed a 1969 Grand Prix, heck, I'm not picky....a 400 cu. in. with a 2 barrel would work just fine for me! I have looked for years for some of those bucket seats to put in a hot rod or my 1973 Scamp, no luck! Really liked this article, keep up the good work!!
One of my best friends has a 1970 SJ, 455HO, 4-speed, black over black on silver, and it's one of my all time favorite cars. He's done a few things to it, but other than the 15x8 Trans Am "snowflake" rims, you can't see any of them without closely looking.
Great car, and a trend-setter.
I had a '69 J in dark green with a black vinyl top and green interior. It was a great looking and driving car. Traded it about 4 year's later for a new GP, black with a white vinyl top and black interior. The build quality was not as good on the new one.
I drove a 1969 Grand Prix SJ to college. Red with a white vinyl roof and white interior. It was such an awesome car. I have scoured the national ads for years but have never found another red SJ with a white vinyl roof. Unfortunately, the tranny dropped out my sophomore year and I replaced it with a Royal Blue 1967 LeMans Convertible.
I was told the short deck, long hood moved the firewall back so the engine could be moved back and down. Changes requested by NASCAR teams. Back when ' Win on Sunday sell on Monday' meant something to US auto manufacturers.
For several years I owned a 1976 Grand Prix SJ, black on black, with a 400 cu in motor I rebuilt with a high energy cam. Nothing radical but a few more horses with even better gas milage (if you kept your foot out of it that is) and I loved that car. It ran well, rode well, handled well, and had enough power although I wouldn't call mine a "muscle car" if I compare it to other cars I've owned.
I bought one of these long snouted babies in 1976 off of a buddy. Darn near needed binoculars to see over the length of the hood. J78-15 radial tires mounted on Cragar SS rims and the most nasty light green with dark green vinyl top. Pretty sure that 400 4bbl. could push the car to nearly 180 mph, or at least it felt that way.
I love these Grand Prixs too. In the late 70s I had a neighbor who had a '69 Grand Prix SJ with the 428 engine. I told him way back then that I believed that particular car would be a valuable collector item someday, partially because of the first year version but mostly because of being an SJ and having the 428 engine. When the gas crunch hit again in the early 80s he traded that car in on a Ford Escort. Oh well, I guess he put no faith in my prediction for his car's future value.
On another note, in that same neighborhood, I had an older neighbor who had been "bought out" by GM to take early retirement at age 58. He was a territorial accounts manager. As a result of that, he was with a lot of the big shots at GM. He and I discussed DeLorean (the man) once and he told me he had had traveled extensively with DeLorean on airplane flights and knew him on a first-name basis. And my neighbor said to me about DeLorean and these are his words, not mine, "That was the most arrogant **bleep** I ever met in my life".
In 1969 I was 9 years old and frequented the local Pontiac dealer Larry Hopkins in Sunnyvale where I grew up. When I saw the 69 GP on the lot I knew I would own one some day... fast forward to 1978 when I purchased my first car, a black 1970 GP. There was never any doubt my first car would be one of these amazing beauties, still my favorite car by far for body line, styling, torque and back in the day, its handling. Today I own a 1969 400 GP that was owned by a close friends parents. They purchased it in 1971 as the second owners. I grew up in that car, did a lot of work on it and cruised all over the place. The car came to me through the kindness of my childhood friend in 2008, his parents knew how much I loved that car. In 2012 my brother and I started to carefully restore the car and installed a factory correct 4sp while we were at it. When we take the car out on the road I'm that kid again on the dealers lot, not dreaming anymore about driving a truly magnificent automobile this is the Grand Prix of 1969.
It's unfortunate that someone discovered the "vinyl top" from a longevity standpoint. whether you like the look, the dampness that is destined to collect underneath is really a cancer death knell. Almost the same issue with "T-tops". They leak over time and cause corrosion. I have a '78 T/A 400 4spd and I found one without the T-Top.
The Gran Prix is wonderful and a great driver I'm sure...
I too am a Pontiac man as was my dad. I had an SJ 455 1974 Grand Prix & although detuned for emissions standards at the time, it was quicker than most cars on the road. I'll have to add one thing I disliked, as any Pontiac guy can attest to, changing the starter wasn't the easiest thing to do. Designers asleep at the switch there.
My '69 Grand Prix Model J has 10k miles on it. It is also the same color of the feature car but with white pearlescent vinyl buckets. About 5 years ago a guy wanted it bad but we were $500 apart. Lucky for me he walked away.