y the time the 1960s rolled around, Pontiac's
reputation as a performance marque had been firmly entrenched on all fronts: stock car racing, drag
racing, and most importantly, on the street. Most of the hot Pontiacs sold in those years were
carefully optioned Catalinas and Venturas, and while they were unquestionably high-performance
cars, they had the same trim levels as the ubiquitous family transporters of those same model
names. Pontiac wanted to create a car that embodied performance, luxury, and styleone that
didn't owe its existence to a couple of option groups on an order sheet. This was to be the
flagship of the fleet, the Grand Prix.
With the four-seat Thunderbird in 1958, Ford had defined a new
type of vehiclethe personal luxury car. Product planners all over Detroit quickly realized
that this new market was indeed lucrative. Pontiac wanted to take the concept a step further,
though. Whereas the T-Bird was a decent performer, the new Pontiac would have the potential to be
a real mauler, if the customer desired.
As far as automotive historians can surmise, the Grand Prix's
beginnings came from the desire to design a successor to the 1957-58 Bonnevilles. Remember, in
1959, the Bonneville gained 2 inches in wheelbase and a full 9 inches in length. A car with a
leaner look was needed to carry the upscale performance tradition.
A drawing (right) unearthed a couple of years ago by
Pontiac's historian, John Sawruk, is believed to be the first recorded artifact of the Grand Prix
project. In it, we see the driver's-side view of a 1959 Ventura Custom Coupe, with a nonproduction
body style number of 2347. Of particular interest is the roofline, which has a formal profile,
unlike the bubbletop that eventually made production.
Sawruk recently conversed with a longtime GM Styling and Design
Staff employee who had just retired, and according to him, at least one 2347 Ventura was actually
built in 1959. Its roof was constructed of fiberglass and used specially made rear side windows.
The roofline was actually similar to the Ford retractable hardtop. An interesting side note to the
story is that the roof was later removed and grafted onto a 1960 Pontiac experimental car, which
the author discovered in an abandoned upstate New York salvage yard.
As time progressed, the formal roofline from 2347 was modified
a bit and adopted across the board for the 1962 full-size B-body coupes. It was from here that the
production Grand Prix began to take form. In those days, GM Styling used the name "Ventura" as a
generic moniker for most compact and full-size Pontiac design proposals, even though the same name
denoted a Catalina interior trim option (or a separate model, depending on year).
By 1961, the design of the 1962 Grand Prix had been finalized.
While sharing the same body as the Catalina/Ventura, many differences separated the GP from its
B-body brethren. For one thing, it would only come as a two-door hardtop. But more important, the
Grand Prix broke new ground for Detroit: It sought elegance in simplicity.
At a time when bigger was better, garish looks were in, and you
could calculate the sticker price of a car by measuring the square footage of its chrome surfaces,
the idea of a tastefully restrained exterior was a radical one. The car was nearly devoid of
bright side trim, save for a lower rocker molding. Up front, the grille was a fine-mesh design,
accented by a racing-inspired "chequered flag" badge. The rear-panel treatment was also unique to
the GP, with a full-width molding that mimicked the grille design, right down to the badge.