The personal coupe/personal luxury market took many a year to mature into the market definition it would become in the early 1970’s. As strides were made by individual brands in the early 1960s, there was a question of which tactics would be the most successful.
The key elements to this style of automobile were the perfect ratio of luxury, performance, style and accessible price. The 1953 Studebaker Coupes pointed in the initial direction, as did the 1958 Thunderbird. The initial response from all other brands ran a full gamut of responses. Pontiac had a special way of dealing with the dilemma as well.
Pontiac decidedly found itself being the king of swagger as the Fabulous Fifties turned into the Swinging Sixties. Formerly the King of frump in the lower edges of the medium priced field, a magic makeover gave the Indian Chief brand sex appeal that was virtually unknown to American Mainstream brands.
Pontiac started milking the personal luxury honey spot with their Ventura packages in 1960-61. However the emphasis at that time was on a gaudier Catalina; a smaller version of the Bonneville that was all show and not necessarily more go. It would return as an analogue for Oldsmobile’s Delta 88 mid decade.
By 1962, the answer became more clear. A balanced approach of refinement, performance and cutting edge style would be the key to success. Pontiac looked over at the relative success of Oldsmobile’s gaudy Starfire and went a similar but “shaved” custom look for its new offering, The Grand Prix.
The formula wasn’t all that different. The Grand Prix did differ a bit by not offering a base engine that was superior to all other options in the stable like the Starfire. At the base equipment level came the healthy 303 horsepower version of the 389 V8 found in larger Bonnevilles. From there however, was the option to purchase a number of any of the more hairy Pontiac V8 options, all the way to the 405 horsepower Super Duty 421 V8.
As noted above, in outward appearances, the Grand Prix ran the opposite of the Starfire. Where the Starfire continued to slather on 1950’s levels of chrome trim inside and out for 1962, The Grand Prix removed it or blacked it out. In actuality it was actually cleaner, leaner and meaner in appearance than most other well-trimmed Pontiacs that year.
Along with the re-birthed Studebaker Grand Turismo Hawk, it reflected a philosophy of “less is more” and discretion that would become more appealing to personal coupe buyers as the decade wore on. With pricing that was about a thousand dollars cheaper than some rivals (notably cousin rival the Oldsmobile Starfire), the Grand Prix showed the way to do the most with the least on a body shell not distinct from the rest of the stable. Among the full family of GM Bucket seat bombs (including the Impala SS, Starfire and Buick Wildcat) the Grand Prix survived and stayed on mission most prolifically through the decade.
When 1962 came to a close, the results were just over 30,000 units making their way to delighted customer hands that year. Of course that’s peanuts compared to the more than double production increase that the iconic 1963 version scored. It does function as an auspicious start for yet another underrated automotive icon of the 1960s.
Like a stealth secret agent finding out all of the answers to solve the mysteries, the original Grand Prix comes off like another iconic sex symbol of 1962: 007. With all of the right tools and a perfect suit, it learned how to endear itself to the masses one sequel after another.