Home Car Stories One Owner 1969 PONTIAC Grand Prix SJ- Jim and Sue
1969 PONTIAC Grand Prix SJ- Jim and Sue PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Wednesday, 07 November 2012 20:58

1969 PONTIAC Grand Prix SJ- Jim and Sue


69 grand prix SJ jim and sue logo

Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown

Sometimes I start to wonder if I have some kind of internal radar system that leads me to Pontiacs. Even when I'm not in my Pontiac I stumble over one owner Pontiacs.

I was in a small Mid Western town putting gas into my Corvette. I didn't have much in the way of camera equipment and no intentions of hunting for cars.

I noticed another red Corvette pulling in for gas. This was one of the 2000 Vettes, and the inevitable comparison chat with the owner, Jim about the different generation Vettes led to the discovery that Jim was also the original owner of a 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix. Not just any Grand Prix, but the model SJ which pulls 370 HP from the 428. Back in the day Jim took it beyond 370 HP with the potent 390 HP heads.

"I still have it."

I followed Jim's Corvette to a clean dry storage garage where the Grand Prix SJ is kept. Jim's son has shown some interest in bringing the GP back into the light of day. It could make a nice father-son project but just as it stands it is an impressive car. Yes it has wear on it, but you can drive it the way it is with some cleanup. In cramped space it's hard to get a full shot of the car, partly due to the extreme length of the hood.

69 grand prix sj jim and sue side view

The 1969 Grand Prix hood is incredibly long. Pontiac ads actually bragged that it was the longest in the industry. The new Grand Prix used A body frame pieces and a long 118 inch wheelbase to create a new body: the 'G' body. Because it used existing platforms, John DeLorean, the manager of Pontiac was able to force the new Grand Prix through the system in rapid time getting it ready for a Sep 26, 1968 introduction. 

The redesign for 1969 created a spike in sales well above the earlier versions of the GP which rescued the nameplate from oblivion. Pontiac had introduced the Grand Prix in 1962 as a full sized B body platform based stormer. It had lowered suspension, a four barrel 389 and minimal trim. The success of the GTO likely siphoned off sales from the GP which was floundering by 1968. DeLorean was justifiably proud of the second coming of the Grand Prix in 1969.   

DeLorean linked his Grand Prix back to the classic Duesenbergs with the extremely long hood (Duesenbergs had straight 8s and needed very long hoods) and short rear deck. The front 'radiator' style grille further captured some of the design. DeLorean didn't stop there: aside from design cues, his choice of names evokes this past glorious legend. The model J Duesenberg was designed to be simply 'the best car in the world'. Size, power and expense were projected beyond the Rolls Royce and Mercedes being offered at the time. DeLorean's tie in to this heritage made his message abundantly clear: this was a special car. No one talks about low price, practicality or anything except passion when discussing a Duesenberg and that was the way the Grand Prix was marketed.

The Duesenberg Model SJ which was supercharged offered incredible performance for the 1930s. DeLorean channeled that classic car with his use of the name 'Model SJ' for his high performance version of the Grand Prix.

The Grand Prix pioneered several Pontiac firsts that were later incorporated into other models. It had safety side impact beams in the doors, a hidden radio antenna imbedded in the windshield glass. One innovation that didn't become widespread was the Grand Prix flush mounted door handles that popped out to open the door. The door handles were advanced, but Jim Wangers recalls that within a short time complaints started to filter in that women were breaking their nails using these door handles. The door handles were phased out after a few model years. The Corvette ended up being the only car with recessed door handles until AMC and Chrysler came out with flush mounted inset lift up flapper type door handles. See the article below about Frank Hince's 69 Grand Prix SJ to see a few pictures of how the door handles operate.

When Chevy picked up the Grand Prix concept as the basis for the Monte Carlo in 1970 they enjoyed a massive sales success. Coincidentally, John DeLorean had been promoted to Chevrolet by then and was thus able to announce the Grand Prix as Pontiac manager for 1969 and then the Monte Carlo the following year as manager of Chevrolet! No wonder he was proud. Two home runs back to back.

Much was made of the 'personal car' design of the 1969 Grand Prix. Ads highlighted the 'cockpit' style driver's pod where everything was angled towards the driver the way a jet fighter was laid out. Even the console was slanted towards the driver. Chrysler must have liked what they saw, because a similar lay-out showed up the following year in the new E body 1970 Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda with a console that walled the driver off from the passenger compartment.

 In the picture below you can see how the corners of the Grand Prix dashboard curve inwards towards the driver so that he can reach radio or heater controls without stretching out his arm. The shifter angles inwards towards the driver and gauges point towards his eyes.

69 grand prix SJ jim and sue cockpit

Aside from being an ergonomic success, the layout psychologically reinforces Pontiac's driving passion philosophy. The driver is in control. This is not an anonymous conveyance vehicle where passenger and driver have equal access to heater/ radio controls and instrument readouts. The driver is separate from the passenger behind his console piloting his Grand Prix from an exclusive vantage point.

The big car combines personal luxury with acceptable performance from the standard 350 HP 400. This was also the standard GTO engine. Placed in the Grand Prix, the abundant power of the 350 HP engine was sopped up by the greater weight and frontal area. The same step down 265 HP 400 engine provided in the GTO could also be ordered for the Grand Prix but it didn't make sense in the bigger car, or for that matter in the GTO either!

The model SJ was where things got serious. The SJ started with a 428 making 370 HP. But it didn't stop there: next step was a 428 H.O. rated at 390 HP, taking the GP into musclecar territory. Pontiac was confident that the 390 HP 428 H.O. was sufficient to placate the former GTO buyer making the transition into family man who needed a full size car. The former teenage GTO customers were entering adulthood as the 1960s drew to a close.

In 1969 Jim was one of those young men standing on the precipice. He was about to become a family man and needed a large full size car. He was still young and most importantly, young at heart. High performance cars were still a passion for him. John Delorean was really onto something with his new full size Grand Prix that could be easily turned into a muscle car just by optioning the model SJ.

Flip back to 1965 for a moment and we'll retrace Jim's steps to the Grand Prix SJ. Jim was living at home with his parents back in 1965 and could afford to save up for the right GTO. He ordered the dream GTO most guys create on imaginary order forms to this day. Jim bought a 1965 Midnight Blue GTO tri-power with close ratio 4 speed, 3.90 Positraction rear, quick steering ratio and metallic brakes.

After a few months Jim had racked up 3,000 miles of driving and the fully broken in GTO needed to be taken to the next level. Jim paid a visit to Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac in Royal Oak, Michigan. See a story about Royal Pontiac under MICHIGAN/ DETROIT SUBURBS in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website. After Jim's GTO received the Bobcat treatment it ran very strong. The only issue with the car was some trial and error working out a durable aftermarket exhaust system.

Before Jim could really enjoy his GTO the pace of his life ramped up full bore. In 1966 he was married to Sue. Before he could acclimatize to married life he was drafted in 1967. He enlisted in the flight program as a helicopter pilot. His rotary wing aircrew was in Vietnam for one year. Back in the USA Sue drove the GTO 4 speed with difficulty. She wanted to get an automatic. The plan awaiting Jim's return from duty was to start a family which would require a full sized car. These various pressures spelled the end of Jim's 4 speed GTO.

Jim looked at buying a new Grand Prix through the PX auto purchase plan. Guys on duty in Southeast Asia could browse brochures hunting for a dream car. The system let you buy your car while overseas. It was possible to order out a very wild car for quite a good price. Comparison of pricing led Jim to the conclusion that he could get a similar or better price from a known dealer in Detroit.

Here is where being several thousand miles away can muck up a good plan. Jim knew the exact car he wanted but obviously couldn't be present to ensure that it was ordered according to his needs the way he did with his 1965 GTO. Jim was willing to sacrifice his GTO so his wife could drive an automatic, but he wasn't going to settle for a garden variety car. Jim was very specific about what he wanted. Sue had power of attorney and got to work on the car switch. She sold the GTO outright and then went down to the Detroit dealer to lock horns with the salesman all on her own.

Jim's Grand Prix had to be the SJ model and it also had to have the optional 390 HP 428 installed. The salesman disagreed. He insisted that the potent 370 HP engine that came with the SJ was enough. Sue knew it wouldn't be enough for Jim but the salesman held firm. The salesman could easily obtain a 370 HP SJ and probably decided that the commission to be gained from the extra option 390 HP engine wasn't worth his bother of a special order. Jim was 8,500 miles away at the time so the salesman won that argument. Jim got stuck buying a car that he didn't want.

The Grand Prix SJ cowl tag tells us that it was built in the third week of January, 1969 (01C) at the Pontiac, Michigan assembly plant. Aside from the SJ option it had power brakes, power steering, air conditioning, automatic transmission and radio with Pontiac's innovative hidden antenna. The hair thin wires were imbedded in the windshield glass and ran up the center and then extended along the top of the windshield.

The Grand Prix SJ arrived at the dealership in time for Sue to take delivery exactly one day before Jim called long distance to announce he was on the way home. Sue came to Detroit Metro airport and picked Jim up in his new car. In some ways, it was an interesting first encounter with his new car. His first few steps back on American soil included his new car. But by the time the ride home was over, Jim had ascertained that the Grand Prix was soft compared to his old 1965 GTO. The 370 HP engine in a bigger heavier car just didn't cut it. 370 HP was enough for the salesman, but not for Jim. 

The Grand Prix had to go. Time to do things right and order a car his way right down the line. Jim wanted a no holds barred take no prisoners savage musclecar. With his mind set on a 427 435 HP four speed Corvette Sue's pleas defending the Grand Prix SJ fell on deaf ears. Sue pointed out what she saw as the strong points of the new car, 

"The Grand Prix is nice, it has air conditioning. It's the perfect car to start a family with." 

Jim saw a soft car ordered out with a salesman's compromise engine. Now that he was Stateside again, he could go down in person and order out a car exactly the way he wanted, not according to some salesman's convenience. The Vette he envisioned would be a hard as nails true rip snorting muscle machine. Sue asked,  

"Do you want kids or a Corvette?"

Nine months after that question was posed, Jim was bringing home a son from the hospital in the Grand Prix SJ. But it wasn't going to be a 370 HP car for long. Jim had given up his Bobcatted Tri- Power GTO and sacrificed a 427 Vette but he wasn't going to live with some salesman's idea of how his Grand Prix should be equipped.

Jim made the trip to Ace Wilson's Royal Pontiac again. Jim queried Royal Pontiac about upgrading his 370 HP SJ to 390 HP status which was the bare minimum that he was willing to tolerate. If they could take it further than the 390 level that was fine with him. All musclecar owners want to go to the next level, and then the next...  

A 1965 GTO Tri-Power spec cam with RA IV rockers was installed. Jim bought cast iron 390 HP heads. Jim paid the same amount of money for just the heads as the entire 390 HP option cost as a factory installation. Next came dual 2 1/2 inch exhaust feeding through two 2 1/4 inch diameter mufflers. The oil filter adaptor plate had to be switched to work with the new exhaust system. The car was now an enjoyable daily driver with some guts. The car was very well maintained which is typical of many Pontiac owners I have met. Jim's home is absolutely immaculate; a reflection of his high standards. Jim's cars and possessions are kept in top notch condition which is a common thread I have observed amongst loyal Pontiac buyers. The Pontiac man leans towards perfectionism and demands something special. Because he chooses special items he also looks after them.

The Grand Prix SJ fulfilled Jim's need for some power and Sue's vision for a family car. Jim's work commute, shopping and other family obligations were done in the Grand Prix SJ, but Jim wanted to spare the Pontiac vacation duty in summer of 1973. Jim's kids were bigger now and a lot of luggage and people justified his order for a 1973 Buick station wagon. The Buick didn't arrive in time for the camping vacation with his wife and two sons, so Jim had to improvise. He had a trailer hitch mounted onto the Grand Prix SJ and towed a travel trailer for the duration of the vacation. The trailer knocked the mileage down to 10 MPG, but the engine still had tons of power. When they went to the top of Pike's Peak with trailer in tow the 428 had enough power to still spin the wheels despite the massive load and steep grade. Jim recalls the gas gauge dropping like a stone on that trip. He laughs about the time he traded out the jets in the Quadrajet while parked in a rest stop!   

Eventually the Quadrajet became problematic, so it was replaced with a 1966 Tri-Power. Jim found a Tri-Power in perfect shape with three equal venturi 2GC carburetors. A Pontiac dealer sold him a NOS fuel line at a pretty steep cost and he was good to go. The Grand Prix SJ experienced a boost in power which kept Jim's daily commute interesting. Jim used the SJ to go to work five days a week right until 1989 when he bought a 1988 Pontiac Bonneville for daily driver duty.

69 grand prix SJ jim and sue tri power

Up to now Jim's Grand Prix had been fairly trouble free except for the starters. Pontiac starters seem to be plagued with heat soak which results in no starts when the engine is hot. The heat also creates shortened life spans for the starters. See the story about Bill Nawrot's 1972 Pontiac GTO in the ONE OWNER section for more on this. Jim solved the problem with a high torque starter.

The 428 engine was accustomed to high octane gasoline and thrived on aviation fuel when it was available. Things didn't go well after gas stations removed leaded gasoline and cut back octane levels. As the Grand Prix SJ crossed 120,000 miles at the end of the 1980s it required an engine rebuild. One entire bank of the engine had suffered broken piston lands. Broken piston lands are often associated with detonation. Detonation is also known as spark knock. It is a sudden spike in cylinder pressure after ordinary ignition has begun. Detonation is caused by unburned fuel suddenly igniting due to pressure and heat. Detonation commonly happens when the octane of the fuel isn't high enough to resist ignition.

After the engine rebuild, Jim's use of the Grand Prix SJ tapered off. Jim still drove it on occasion but no longer as a daily driver. Both of Jim's sons drove the Grand Prix SJ for a couple of years each. Jim's sons soon gravitated to using the SJ just for special occasions. As of 2009 the odometer only reads 141,770 miles.

As seen in the photo of the driver's door panel, a thick layer of dust combined with time has worn out the interior.

69 grand prix sj jim and sue driver door panel

 The body is straight and solid. It has had one repaint. The car was good enough to be acknowledged as a historical vehicle at one time as can be seen on the rear plate.

69 grand prix sj jim and sue rear

 Take a look at the story below this one. Frank Hince ordered a Liberty Blue 1969 Grand Prix SJ with the 370 HP engine. His car varies from this one in a few respects. Frank's car was a rare 4 speed and he left the engine in stock configuration. Frank's car went into storage earlier and with lower mileage, but the two cars share details in appearance and history. Both survived due to early storage.



Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 July 2013 22:11 )