Three cars influenced by the Pontiac Grand Prix
The 1958 Ford Thunderbird often receives credit for popularizing the American personal-luxury car—a vehicle with sporting flair yet emphasizing luxury, style, and convenience. The 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix then reconfigured those elements into something that was relatively affordable at under $3500. And especially with the restyled and restrained 1963 model, Pontiac demonstrated that one did not need to spend $4300 or more to get a coupe with dramatic style. Grand Prix sales topped 72,959 that year, making other manufacturers to sit up and take notice. Here are some of their responses:
Sure, the 1961 Starfire convertible and its companion hardtop (introduced for 1962) were personal-luxury vehicles, but they were premium-priced chariots approaching Thunderbird territory. Oldsmobile felt there was an opportunity to introduce a “brilliant new sports coupe in the medium-price class”—enter the 1964 Jetstar I.
With a concave backlight borrowed from the Starfire, the Jetstar I came standard with a 345-horsepower 394 Starfire V-8 backed by a column-shifted three-speed manual (with Hydra-Matic Drive with T-stick control optional), 3.42 rear axle ratio, chambered dual exhausts, and Moroceen bucket-seat interior with console—basically, a decontented Starfire. Jetstar I buyers nonetheless could enjoy the same frills and thrills as the Starfire due to the “sweetest handling, most attractively priced sports coupe on the road,” sharing the same option list.
A newly modern and massive full-size “Rocket Action” Oldsmobile was introduced for 1965, with two-door hardtops featuring a contemporary semi-fastback roofline. (Except the Jetstar I and Starfire, which continued to use the concave backlight.) Added distinction for the Jetstar came via simulated air extractors behind the front wheels. Under the hood was a new 425 Starfire V-8 with 370 horsepower, which now was available with a four-speed in addition to the three-speed and automatic transmissions. Despite standard power that completely dwarfed the Grand Prix’s, Jetstar I sales fell from 16,084 to 6552 for 1965, so Oldsmobile decided to call it a day. Production ended after the 1965 model year.
With an all-new full-size product portfolio for 1965, Dodge’s C-body consisted of the Polara, Custom 880, and the brand-new Monaco two-door hardtop, which it called “the limited edition Dodge for the man with unlimited taste.” The interior was where the Monaco truly excelled: standard Rattan-backed soft saddle grain vinyl or cloth-and-vinyl front bucket seats, complementary integrated bucket rear seats, Rattan inset door panels, full-length center console with rear ash receiver and lighter, and premium touches like padded dash, left-hand remote mirror, full carpeting, and “sporty translucent triple-spoke steering wheel.” Outside, the Monaco stood out from run-of-the-mill Dodges thanks to a distinctive and clever taillight design featuring a full-width lamp/reflector motif with a floating diecast bar inlay.
Standard was a 315-horsepower 383 4bbl. backed by a three-speed, with TorqueFlite and four-speed optional; also available was a 413/340 and 426/365, the latter which came with a four-speed standard. Final production for the Monaco totaled 13,096, not including Canadian models, which were a different breed.
Like many manufacturers, Dodge took the equity of something good and watered it down. The following year, the 1966 Monaco became a full-line series replacing the Custom 880. The former Monaco became the Monaco 500, but it suffered from cost-cutting and lost some of the touches that made it truly special.
Mercury became “the Man’s Car,” in 1967. While the advertising campaign was unlikely to win the heart of Betty Friedan, the rest of the car-buying public found it difficult to resist the charms of the brand-new Marquis. Also new for 1967 was the car’s two-door hardtop model, dubbed “the most handsome interpretation of the Man’s Car.”
All Marquis were trimmed with standard levant-grain vinyl Oxford Roof and five full-length stripes running lower-body side moldings to the rocker panels. Inside, Twin-Comfort Lounge seats (each with individual adjustments and armrests) and wood-grain steering wheel showed the Marquis was “the kind of car every man promises himself ‘some day.’” The Marauder 410 with 330 horsepower was standard, with the 345-horse Super Marauder 428 as the only upgrade, both available with either Select-Shift Merc-O-Matic or four-speed. Only 6,510 were built for 1967, with the ’68 (now with standard 390/315) falling to 3965.
While the Marquis was seemingly more luxury than sport, the Grand Prix had progressed in that direction too. For 1969, in a bid to get back to its roots, the Grand Prix was drastically redesigned on a stretched midsize platform, influencing a whole new generation of 1970s personal-luxury coupes like the Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Chrysler Cordoba, and, ironically, the Mercury Cougar, among others. That same year, Mercury gave the Marquis full-line status, replacing the Park Lane as the brand’s top series. The new Marauder somewhat filled the role of Mercury’s personal-luxury chariot through 1970.