1977 Pontiac Ventura SJ: Luxury Compact

Anthony Rose

Remember when General Motors made cars? No, really. Back in the 1970s, GM offered not only sedans, but wagons, sport coupes, plush full-size hardtops (with Landau tops? You betcha), and even personal luxury coupes in the form of the popular Grand Prix. No small SUVs, no combovers. Oops. I meant crossovers. And even if you chose a compact GM product back then, they didn’t have to be a no-frills penalty box. Case in point: The Pontiac Ventura SJ.

Anthony Rose

The Ventura nameplate went back to the 1960s, when it was essentially a deluxe interior trim package, available on full-size Catalinas. They were particularly colorful, and cars so equipped received “Ventura” nameplates instead of “Catalina.” This lasted through 1970.

Anthony Rose

But starting with the 1971 model year, the car became Pontiac’s version of the compact X-body, which up until then consisted solely of the Chevrolet Nova. But that would change. The Pontiac was the first corporate sibling, but both Oldsmobile and Buick added their own versions, the Omega and the Apollo, respectively, in 1973.

Anthony Rose

The Ventura continued with little change between 1971 and ’74, other than gaining 5-mph “safety” bumpers (and appearing in the 1973 classic The Seven-Ups—better chase scene than Bullitt, in my opinion), but in 1975 the car—and all of its corporate siblings—were completely redesigned.

Anthony Rose

While the Ventura continued with its traditional split grille (but of course!) the ’75 Ventura had a more upright, somewhat European profile, with a taller greenhouse and more glass area.

Anthony Rose

The 1976 Venturas were much the same, except for a revised grille insert, but the ’77s got a mild facelift with a larger squared off grille that now encompassed both the headlights and the side marker/running lights. The front turn signals, as before, were hidden within the grill bars.

Anthony Rose

While the SJ got the plusher interior and exterior trim, as before, the seats were now much Broughamier, with a diamond-pattern, button-tufted design on the backrests. The Ventura SJ was available as a two-door coupe, two-door hatchback, and four-door sedan.

Anthony Rose

SJ sedans like our featured car had a base price of $4012 (about $19,800 today); the basic Ventura sedan started at $3650 ($18,020). Not many ponied up for the SJ extras; only 4339 sedans were built, along with 3418 SJ coupes and 1100 SJ hatchbacks. Most popular ’77 Ventura was, unsurprisingly, the aforementioned base sedan, with 27,089 sold.

Anthony Rose

SJ niceties included a stand-up hood ornament, wide ribbed rocker panel moldings with rear quarter extensions, deluxe wheel covers (the turbine vane wheel covers seen on our featured car were an optional extra, as were the famous Rally II wheels), wider taillights, and bright wheel lip and side window moldings.

Anthony Rose

Inside, SJ owners got fancier seats, luxury cushion steering wheel, added sound insulation, padded door panels with map pockets, a passenger assist handle above the glovebox, woodgrain accents on the dash, a day/night rear-view mirror, and cut-pile carpeting.

Anthony Rose

As with all the other X-body GM compacts, these rode a 111.1-inch wheelbase. The Pontiacs were 199.6 inches long, regardless of body style. The 3.8-liter (AKA 231-cubic-inch) V-6 was standard equipment, with a three-on-the-tree, column-mounted manual transmission. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder was optional (really), and 301 and 350 V-8s were available for buyers who wanted more oomph. A 5.7 was available only in California and high-altitude counties, per my 1977 Pontiac deluxe brochure.

Anthony Rose

The expected options could be had, such as bucket seats with center console, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, cruise control, AM/FM stereo, and—of course—a CB radio. Hey, it was the year that Smokey and the Bandit came out.

Anthony Rose

As uncommon as these were, a couple friends related some Ventura stories. Freddy Hollingsworth remembered, “These were beasts! Super strong metal. We beat one up on the farm in the early ’90s. I couldn’t believe how stout the B-Pillar and doors were. These were extremely well-built cars! To this day I still have the Pontiac grill emblem.”

Anthony Rose

My friend and Brougham partner in crime, Jim Smith, related that his sister owned a Ventura back when they were just late-model used cars. At the time he worked for a Chrysler-Plymouth dealer in greater Chicagoland. “I took a really clean gold one in trade in 1987. I sold it to my sister and she drove it for a couple of years and replaced it with a new ’90 Jaguar.”

Anthony Rose

Our featured car is a remarkably clean SJ sedan, painted in what appears to be Buccaneer Red, which was available on all ’77 Venturas, Firebirds (including the Trans Am, naturally), Astres, and Sunbirds. I remember seeing it in an online auction several years ago and saved the pictures to “The Vault.” It turns out that ’77 Ventura SJ was owned and sold by a friend of mine, Anthony Rose. After I posted some pictures of the car on social media some time ago, he mentioned, “Hey, that was one of ours!” He found the photo file on his computer and emailed it to me, resulting in even more pictures of it than I had. It really is a small world.

Anthony Rose

As for the Ventura, 1977 was its swan song. Midyear, Pontiac introduced a more luxurious version of the car with a more squared-off nose and trendy rectangular headlamps, dubbed Phoenix. Starting with the 1978 model year, all the Pontiac X-bodies became Phoenixes.

The Ventura nameplate quietly faded away. And starting with the ’80 model year, Phoenix would become drastically different, with front-wheel drive and an all-new look. But that’s a story for another time.

Jayson Coombes


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    Mike don’t laugh there were still a number of cars in this era that did not have or even in some cases offer radial tires. Pontiac was one of the leaders with the radial.

    Delorean wanted them back in the 60’s and was rejected. Imagine a 68 GTO with Radials from the factory.

    This is just another post Delorean Pontiac that shows how GM did not understand what they had in Pontiac or the level of the engineers at Pontiac at their disposal.

    Imagine this car with a Pontiacs 400 and a Trans Am suspension. This could have been turned into a real sport sedan and one that could have been s stunning car.

    But what we got was a Warmed over Nova with a little more trim that today is a forgotten car.

    This one is in nice shape and I am glad it survived as it is a perfect example of the toxic culture with in GM in this era.

    I can guarantee you Chevy would never let Pontiac apply the effort to this car that their engineers could have done.

    Better yet the light weight Pontiac 350 that never got approved would have been a prize in this car. Light weight and more power than a Chevy. Herb Adams with his work on the suspension and the kind of styling John Shinella would have really wanted vs this.

    My parents bought a ’76 2 door Ventura with the rallye 2 wheels and RTS, automatic and straight 6. It handled really well. As a matter of fact, few cars handled better in ’76, especially American cars. It had large front and rear sway bars and higher rate springs. Every afternoon when I left my high school parking lot, I four wheel drifted the car around the big corner of the exit road. One day after performing my ritual, I waited in line to exit onto Waldon Rd. There was a knock on my window and when I rolled it down, our vice principal provided me some advice. “Never, ever do that again”. All I could say was “OK. I won’t”.

    I had a “hand me down” 1978 four door Buick Skylark that I assume was a cousin of the Ventura. very similar body lines. Had the underpowered V6 and inadequate springs. it gave up the ghost at around 170K miles.

    Nice 70s car. The SJ was the “sport” version with upgraded suspension, as much as you could get back in the day. A friend had a 77 Grand Prix SJ, and his girlfriend had a Grand Prix LJ which was the “luxury” version.

    I can’t believe that no one knows the 350 cubic inch V8 and the 5.7 liter V8 are the same engine!

    I have a 1976 Ventura SJ two door hatchback, the guy before me dumped the 305 and dropped in a 455 Oldsmobile (from) a station wagon. This car will scoot.

    I’m Canadian with a Canadian built 1977 Pontiac Ventura SJ with 46,000 original miles. We’re looking at a rotisserie restoration on it. As I was reading I noticed you mentioned a 301 and a 350 engine however, mine has a stock 305

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