In 1978, the Pontiac Grand Prix was downsized, along with its corporate cousins, the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. And the Buick Regal, of course, which I covered previously here at RG.
Phase II of General Motors’ downsizing had begun. The Colonnade midsizers of 1973-77 were but a memory, and Bill Mitchell’s Sheer Look, pioneered by the 1976 Cadillac Seville, was applied to all A-bodies, including the A-special GP and Monte.
It was probably a surprise to showroom visitors. The previous Grand Prix was bold and flashy. Long hood, long doors, swoopy lines and options aplenty! But when the B-body full-size Bonnevilles and Catalinas were trimmed down in 1977, the Colonnade Grand Prix, Grand LeMans and LeMans were uncomfortably close to their bigger brethren, dimensionally.
But that was corrected for model year ’78. Everything was new. But while the trim levels and myriad options continued, the Grand Prix definitely had a new look.
Of course, the biggest difference was the trimmed-down size. But the sheer look replaced the swoops and curves of the 73-77 GP with a severe squared-off look.
For 1978, it was right up to date. Fresh and new, and sharing its modern look with the reduced-fat Bonneville Broughams, Bonnevilles, Catalinas and Safari wagons it shared showrooms with. It looked especially good in dark colors and a slick top, as our featured car shows.
However, many of the traditional Grand Prix styling cues were retained, albeit in smaller packaging. Neoclassical grille? Check. Long doors? Check. Broughamy options such as landau roofs with opera windows, crushed velour interiors, and wire wheel covers? Double check!
The quad rectangular headlamps with parking/turn signal in between aped the ’77, though the body color section between grille nostrils was jettisoned in favor of a more formal version.
Out back, the horizontal taillamps recalled the 1976 Grand Prix. And of course, the cursive badging and “GP” crests were retained.
Of course, the usual prose was well in evidence in the showroom brochure: “This year, a dramatically new car has earned the right to bear the Grand Prix name. To symbolize Pontiac’s dedication to styling flair and performance. To engineering innovation and luxury that never gets in the way of driving.”
“One look reveals this car’s heritage. The clean lines. The crisp flanks. The chiseled look of the new radiator-style grille. The tailored look of the new roofline. The styling has a strength that’s unmistakably Grand Prix.”
The usual model lineup continued, with base Grand Prix, sporty SJ and luxury SJ models. A standard GP base priced at $4,880, with a 105-bhp, 3.8 liter V6 under the hood. That zero-option GP would also have had a three-speed manual transmission, believe it or not. But the higher-end SJ and LJ came standard with an automatic.
I initially mistook our featured car for an LJ, as it was pretty well equipped. It even had the optional cornering lamps.
But wait! There’s no LJ badging on the front fender, as seen in the two tone car in the brochure picture further up! Of course, it could have been repainted at some point and said badges lost in the process, but this seemed to be a very original car, with only a recent-style aftermarket radio being other than factory spec.
The most unusual option on this car was the Astroroof. In the late ’70s the power Astroroof, GM’s term for a power glass moonroof, was not common on GM cars, though it was offered on many models, from Caprice Classics to Bonnevilles and Fleetwood Broughams. However, they were not cheap. Even on Cadillacs, they weren’t terribly common.
The red crushed velour interior with floating-pillow cushions was the uptown option as well. Bone stock base GPs had a pretty plain bench seat that would not have looked out of place on a Malibu station wagon. So this may actually be an LJ. It has the optional 60/40 front seat too.
But wait! The dash pad doesn’t have the fake stitching embossed into it!
As you can see from this brochure picture, the stitching was pretty visible, and was standard on both the LJ and the SJ, making our subject Grand Prix a standard one.
This picture of a ’79 spotted at the POCI meet in Bettendorf in 2016 shows what the standard seats looked like. Not bad, but not as Broughamy as floating-pillow backrests in red crushed velour!
Back then, you could still order whatever options on whatever trim level you wanted, with only a few exceptions. So until proven wrong (I do have a message in to Carmine for confirmation) I am going to call this an uncommonly loaded base Grand Prix! UPDATE: Carmine concurs. As he related: “Odd car, it even has the “custom aire” wanna be pseudo climate control which has temp gradients on the a/c instead of hot-cold.”
One interesting thing about the ’78s, the rear seat actually had more rear legroom than the 1973-77 Colonnade GPs. The recessed armrest in back to add elbow room was a cool touch too.
This car had the optional digital clock as well. One of the things I like about this vintage of Grand Prix are the “eyeball” A/C sockets. No mere up-and-down or left-and-right motion. Point them wherever you want!
So then, this pretty much HAD to have been an ordered car. No Pontiac dealer would have ordered a base GP, then added so many options, when they could have ordered an LJ or SJ and had most of those things included before extras were added. Nope, someone really wanted a base car, but loaded.
I spotted this particular example in April of this year. I had previously seen it a couple of years earlier, and have some pictures from that time as well, but at that time it had some goofy aftermarket chrome wheels on it. I knew it was a rare car, and figured I would write it up eventually, but those wheels kind of held me back.
So I was quite pleased when I drove by and saw it sporting period-correct whitewall tires and Rally II styled steel wheels. With those shoes, the slick top and in black over red, it was quite sharp!
The ask was $4K, and claimed that it had a “350 V8”. But if true, someone added it years later, as the available V8s for the 1978 Grand Prix were limited to a 4.9L 301 V8 and a 5.0L 301 V8. Odds are that this example has one of those, and it’s a case of mistaken identity. For some folks, everything is a 350 V8, haha.
The usual suspects love to hate on General Motors, and some love to cite the ’78 A-bodies as a turrible, turrible thing. Ooh, bad GM! Bad bad bad! But those people tend to be the grudge-holding, flaky type, who revel in taking things out of context decades after the fact.
How so? Let’s see. How do I put this? Well, there are sites out there, one in particular, that has a serious bug up his posterior about motor cars made by General Motors Corporation. Why? Maybe he wasn’t hugged enough as a kid. Maybe a Seville ran over his foot one time. Maybe he’s just an angry, negative person. But at any rate, this unnamed site likes to tell you how stupid GM is. They joyfully beat this dead horse over and over and over. And over. And over again. Gets old? Yep, you bet! But they do it over again and again! To the point that sometimes said bilious posts will get re-run. Or perhaps a “new” post that is a thinly veiled variant of an earlier post.
That is, when they aren’t ripping off three-year-old articles from Auto Week or swiping Road & Track articles and “publishing” them from their stash of thrift store issues from the 1970s. But, as is oft times the case, I am digressing.
The point is these cars, contrary to those who wish otherwise, were not sales dogs. The 1978 Grand Prix sold quite well, with 127,253 base models, 65,122 LJs and 36,069 SJs built for the year. While that was down 60,000 units from 1977, that is most likely due to knowledge of the ’78 downsizing and those wanting more Brougham for their buck rushing down to get a final Colonnade ’77.
“Ooh! Ooh! The 78 was a bomb because they sold 60K less than ’77! Baaaad GM hurr durr durr!” some folks might digitally state. But take a look into production numbers and you’ll see that was about the same as 1976 Grand Prix production, which was 228,091. And ’75 GP sales were only 86,582. True, 1975 was a recession year, but still.
Heck, even in the first year of Colonnade GP production, sales were 153,899. And ’73 was a banner year for U.S. car production.
But golly, that wouldn’t fit in with the anti-GM brigade. So they think what they think and type what they type, and continue their delusions. Hey, I know GM made mistakes. Heck, in the ’70s pretty much all auto manufacturers were tripping up over the new safety and emissions requirements that were being initiated over and over, seemingly every week.
My point is all manufacturers screw up. And have. And will. I try to accentuate the positive. When I was a kid a friend’s dad had one of these, a ’78 in Dresden Blue with a white landau top and crushed blue velour interior. Sport mirrors and the always nice Snowflake alloy wheels. And plenty of folks bought these in 1978-80. Were they perfect? No. But what was in the 1970s? Indeed, the 1978 A-body platform lasted all the way to 1987 on the Grand Prix, albeit with a somewhat extensive restyle in 1981. The GP’s siblings the Monte Carlo and Cutlass Supreme coupe sold even better, and those too lasted an extra year, to 1988, before finally being superseded by the W-body front-wheel drive GM coupes. Hardly fodder for a hit piece.
The point? Like what you like, and drive what you love. They remind me of my childhood, of cars seen on my parents’ street and downtown, and at the grocery store. They have a style of their own. Though they weren’t as flashy as the Colonnade GP, they still look good today.