When the 1964 GTO came out, it was the first muscle car in Motor City. But it wasn’t the first performance-oriented Pontiac from General Motors. On September 21, 1961, the Grand Prix came along and did that. The Grand Prix was a different kind of car, even though it was supposed to compete with the Ford Thunderbird. The T-Bird was more about personal luxury, while the Grand Prix was more about efficiency.
It began with the name. The Grand Prix was a lot bigger and heavier than a modern Formula 1 car, but the name said something. Pontiac made the smart choice to base its new model not on the top Bonneville, but on the three-inch shorter Catalina Sport Coupe, which is smaller and more agile. To make a European-style statement, the Grand Prix had less flashy metal trim than the Catalina. But at $3.490, it was the most expensive two-door convertible Pontiac had to offer in 1962—more expensive than even the Bonnevile. This was likely because it came with so many nice features as standard.
The Grand Prix’s cockpit was its most important element. It had leather-look Morrokide bucket seats, a full set of instruments, and a chrome center desk with a tachometer, a floor shifter, and a locking storage bin. There was a built-in speaker grille and a center arm rest that could be folded down in the back seat. All of this is pretty normal now, but the sporty outfit was huge in 1962.
The GP came with a 389 CID V8 engine that had a four-barrel carburetor, 10.25:1 compression, and 303 hp. A 389 Tri-Power V8 with 348 hp and two 421 CID V8s with up to 405 hp were options that could be added. A three-speed manual transmission came stock, and a T-10 four-speed transmission was available as an option. However, the $231 Hydra-Matic transmission was chosen by almost 90% of buyers. You could also get 8-lug metal wheels from Pontiac, but they cost extra. These days, it’s rare to see a ’62 Grand Prix without them.
When it came to performance, the Grand Prix was fine with its base 303-hp engine. But in March 1962, the late, great Car Life magazine tried one with the 405-hp 421 Super Duty V8, a four-speed transmission, and a 3.42 axle, and it was amazing. The editors liked how the GP didn’t have a lot of chrome on the outside, but what really struck them was how fast it went in the quarter-mile (14.3 seconds at 103 mph, shifting the 421 at 5800 rpm).
With about 30,000 sold, the ’62 Grand Prix wasn’t a sales threat to the T-Bird as was first thought, but it did great things for Pontiac’s image of style and speed, which was already growing. A few years later, as the Grand Prix got bigger and fancier, the GTO took over as Pontiac’s most powerful car. In 1969, it became an intermediate-class luxury coupe. The Grand Prix logo helped Pontiac make a lot of sales as the car went through eight generations and finally turned into a four-door family hauler in 2008. The 1962 Grand Prix was the best in a lot of ways. To have a 360 look at this fine machine, go through the video below.