Home Car Stories One Owner 1969 PONTIAC Grand Prix SJ 4 speed- Frank R Hince
1969 PONTIAC Grand Prix SJ 4 speed- Frank R Hince PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Thursday, 22 November 2012 18:08

1969 PONTIAC Grand Prix SJ 4 speed- Frank R Hince


Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown except for photos of the Grand Prix SJ coming out of storage which are copyright Jimmy Smith of Jimmy'z Classics, Brenham, Texas.

69 grand prix sj 4 speed frank hince front

This is the second 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ story in the ONE OWNER section. Coincidentally, they both are Liberty Blue with black vinyl tops packing the 428-370 HP. See the story above about the other 1969 Grand Prix SJ owned by Jim and Sue. The story on their car contains a detailed history of how the dramatic redesign for 1969 saved the Grand Prix nameplate from extinction.

For those of you who have read all the stories in the ONE OWNER section, you must be thinking that with all these Pontiac stories your faithful editor does nothing but attend Pontiac shows. Not so. Jim and Sue's blue 1969 Grand Prix SJ story came about through a chance meeting at a gas station with a fellow Corvette driver. No Pontiacs in sight! Frank's Grand Prix crossed my path at the all makes Survivor Car show.

This 4 speed Grand Prix SJ was owned by Frank Hince from June 7, 1969 until the day of his death November 29, 2007. Frank wasn't able to fully enjoy it for several reasons which will unfold in the rather sad tale of this rare 4 speed Grand Prix.

69 grand prix sj 4 speed frank coming out of storage

Frank Hince kept this Grand Prix SJ in storage and was preparing to take it out to enjoy it again after several decades when he suddenly died. The photos above and below (courtesy of Jimmy Smith) show the Grand Prix SJ coming out of storage for the first time in 20 years. The dust and dirt has just been washed off the car.

69 grand prix sj 4 spd frank back out of storage j smith pic

Note the old whitewalls, and the extensions on the exhaust. One owner cars frequently have extended exhaust pipes. Keeping the exhaust off the bumper saves the chrome. See the 1965 Bonneville and 1972 Skylark also in the ONE OWNER section. Both these owners likewise outfitted their cars with extended exhaust pipes.

Although Frank didn't drive the car for 20 years, it wasn't because he didn't want to. It was because of his attachment to the car that he sacrificed his driving enjoyment to store it.

Frank refused to sell his pride and joy and hung onto it through all those years. Pontiac people seem to keep their cars. Pontiac ad account promotion man Jim Wangers described the typical 1960s Pontiac buyer of the era through the lens of their market research,

"Male, in his thirties, married, may or may not have kids, but if he does have kids they are still young. He is the kind of guy who orders the Bonneville with his wife then secretly calls the salesman later to add the Rally Wheels and dual exhaust to his order sheet. He wants a car that has an aura of excitement and specialness about it. Pontiac had that in the 1960s. It's not what you are, but what people think you are. People felt a surge of excitement when they thought about Pontiac."

Below is just one of the innovative things Pontiac tried out with the newly redesigned Grand Prix. Instead of normal door handles, Pontiac designed flush mounted door handles. The indent at the rear of the door handle sinks into the door when you press it.

69 grand prix sj 4 speed frank hince driver doorhandle

Once you press in on the rear indent on the door handle, the long section up front pivots outwards. You grasp that piece of the door handle and it opens the door like a normal door handle.

69 grand prix sj 4 speed frank hince driver door handle unlatched

The Grand Prix also had a hidden radio antenna. Two hair thick strands of wire ran up the center of the windshield then branched out across the top and provided decent radio reception. The Pontiac people weren't finished with imbedding wire in glass with that radical step. They also invented a rear defroster using heated wires in the rear window. Speaking of hidden specials, the Grand Prix had hidden side impact beams in the doors. The prior year Pontiac introduced the radical Endura front bumper on the GTO. When you thought of Pontiac you thought of youth, excitement and cutting edge special details.

This may explain why Pontiac people are so prevalent in my ONE OWNER section. Someone who wants a special car chooses a Pontiac. That type of person is likely to keep the car, for the same reason that he bought it: he thinks it is special.

69 grand prix sj 4 speed frank hince int

This Grand Prix SJ has some twists and turns to the story. Right off the bat, production number fiends will be salivating about the rarity of a 4 speed Grand Prix. A 'stripped' Grand Prix is listed as a manual three speed in sales literature just to create a lower base vehicle price for salesmen to toss around. GM applied this strategy to the point of absurdity. Cars that absolutely no one expected to ever see built in 3 speed manual versions were listed as such in base form. GM's large personal luxury cars are always dealer ordered with an automatic. Special order cars of this nature favor A/C or power windows, not manual shifts. Buyers ordering one of these cars specify the automatic without a second thought. Virtually all copies of the 1969 Grand Prix and Grand Prix SJ were automatics.

69 grand prix sj 4 spd hince driver cockpit

An SJ buyer is a little different than a base Grand Prix model J buyer who usually chose to stand pat with the standard 350 HP 400-4 barrel engine. The SJ option bumps the Grand Prix into musclecar territory with a 370 HP 428-4 barrel engine. It didn't stop there: determined buyers could opt for a 390 HP 428 H.O. engine, but this was rarely seen. It was also possible to order the 428 in a base Grand Prix but it was simpler for most buyers to just order an SJ to get the 428.

Frank R Hince was 27 years old when he bought his Grand Prix SJ, so he was a little younger than the typical Pontiac buyer described in the market research. Frank was born and raised in New Kensington, Pennsylvania which is north east of Pittsburg. On June 7, 1969 Frank brought his Grand Prix home. His first drive followed the winding river seven miles north to his house from Michael Pontiac Inc. on 201 Allegheny Avenue, Oakmont, PA See a story on Michael Pontiac in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website.

69 grand prix sj 4 spd hince window sticker

Frank bought a Liberty Blue Grand Prix SJ from Michael Pontiac that was very unique: it had a four speed. Frank knew exactly what he had.  The 1969 Grand Prix was a great sales success for Pontiac with 112,486 units sold. Out of that huge number of cars less than one percent came out of the factory with a four speed: 713 four speed cars were built. Most of them were M20 wide ratio boxes, but 30 came with the M21 close ratio. Funnily enough, the breakdown of M20s is almost evenly divided between base 400 engine (287) and 428-370 HP cars (302). There were 94 installations in the rare 428 H.O. which represents a disproportionate number ratio of four speeds due to the limited number of H.O. cars built. 

The first section of the VIN breaks down as follows:
2= Pontiac
76= Grand Prix
57= Two door hardtop
9= 1969 model year
P= Pontiac, Michigan assembly plant

69 grand prix sj 4 spd hince PHS documents

Frank not only bought a rare car, but it is also loaded with options. Inflating the cost of a car above $5,000.00 back in 1969 took some doing, but Frank did it. He ordered the Model SJ option which provided the 428-370 HP. Frank combined the potent 428 with other performance items such as rally gauge cluster, power front disc brakes, Rally II wheels, G78x14 white stripe tires, variable ratio power steering, four speed, Safe-T-Track and auto level control. 

Frank didn't just have a strong car, he also had a comfortable car with lamp group, Cordova top, leather custom interior, clock, AM/FM radio with rear speaker, Soft ray tinted windows all around, electric rear defroster, air conditioning and a heavy duty battery to deal with the plethora of options! The amazing sticker price came in at $5,753.13. To put this in perspective, the average annual income at the time was $6,500.00. The Pontiac Historical Services document above shows that the dealer was charged 4,135.32 for the car. A profit of $1,617.81 is a pretty nice amount of money for 1969. The dealership wasn't likely to forget Frank Hince in a hurry!

69 grand prix 4 spd hince protect o plate

Frank enjoyed taking this very special car to his work where he managed an auto parts supply business in Pittsburg. He was fastidious about his very rare car. Sometime during the 1970s or early 1980s Frank upgraded the GM sound system by adding some aftermarket boost. Below is a photo of the 'cutting edge' technology of the day, installed below the glove box.

69 grand prix sj 4 spd hince aftermarket stereo

Driving the car in the bad traffic and then parking at work in Pittsburg wasn't confidence inspiring. Pittsburg cars are dented up and dulled by smog and rusted from salt. Pittsburg was also like other major US cities at the time which were plagued with car theft. Parking that Grand Prix SJ out in the open where the only people parking in the lot with you are car guys could make someone a bit nervous about its safety. A huge number of gear heads were checking out the Grand Prix SJ. Most of the admiring glances and once overs were no more than appreciative, but there is a core of car guys who are highly adept at stealing cars and stripping them.

Back yard speed guys usually were wrenching on their cars with honestly procured parts, but there is subgroup of these guys who are part of the 'midnight auto supply'. Every neighborhood seemed to have at least one bunch of these guys who preyed far and wide on all the muscle cars. When I was growing up, there was a household composed of what seemed like a dozen brothers (it may just be perception, but you'd swear that a new one appeared like clockwork every nine months) who fixed and built cars in their yard. Every hot car in the neighborhood was a target for these guys who would strip your car overnight then blatantly try to sell the headers the next day. Most of us wouldn't give them the time of day, but someone was buying stuff off them or they wouldn't have continued doing it. See the story of the 1968 Firebird 400 H.O. in the ONE OWNER section for the story about car strippers taking the valuable high performance parts out of this cars engine overnight.   

This was a huge headache for musclecar owners back in the day. The worst car strippers were guys who stole cars outright and tore them apart to sell the parts. See the story in GONE FOREVER about Fidel's 1967 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 which was stolen and then cut up and destroyed by the thieves. Thrown into the mix of mercenary pros are guys who steal to joy ride or retitle musclecars. See the stories of Ron Ciraulo's 1964 Chevrolet Impala and Bill Nawrot's 1972 Pontiac GTO in the ONE OWNER section. Ron's car was stolen three times but thankfully recovered each time. Bill's GTO was stolen and recovered but with a damaged door. Both these owners got out there on foot and scoured the neighborhood relentlessly until they found their cars. Joe Oldham wasn't so lucky. Joe (famed for his writing in HIGH PERFORMANCE CARS) owned a black Baldwin Motion Camaro SS 427 for 2 months before it was stolen and never recovered.

The situation created a major hassle for musclecar owners and an insane scenario for Corvette owners. At one point it was virtually impossible to insure a Corvette in New York because they were being stolen the instant the new owner drove them off the dealership lot. An oft repeated quote estimated the average life expectancy of a new Corvette in New York at 30 seconds.  

Just to make it a little more uneasy for Frank Hince, a local motorcycle gang had taken an interest in his Grand Prix SJ. For his peace of mind he decided to get it off the street and out of the public eye. The photo below shows the optional gauge package. Oil pressure and temperature gauges were added to the fuel gauge pod. Note the 140 MPH speedometer. To the right, a tachometer is redlined at 5,000 RPM.

69 grand prix sj 4 spd hince speedometer

In 1987 Frank stashed his prized Grand Prix SJ in storage with an odometer reading of 44,271 miles and virtually no rust.

69 grand prix sj 4 spd hince vinyl top

There are a couple of faint bubbles in one corner of the vinyl top otherwise the car is solid. In order to avoid rust during 18 years of driving the car would have to be off the road for winter. 18 years of normal driving averages 10 to 12,000 miles annually. A normal driver would accumulate 180,000 to 200,000 miles in 18 years. Halving this (assuming winter storage) usage results in 90,000 miles. Frank babied his car and didn't drive it as much as average, so it is possible that he only logged 44,000 miles. The car is straight and rust free with original paint that shows one minor scratch right above the driver's door handle. The overall impression is that the miles are really this low; however there are contradictory signs inside the car.

The ignition switch has quite a bit of wear on the steering column that could be from 144,000 miles of use. It could also be caused by a large key chain set rubbing on it as the car hits bumps in regular driving.

69 grand prix sj 4 spd hince st column ign switch

It's common to see heavy wear on the clutch pedal on four speed musclecars even with minimal mileage. However, not only the clutch pedal, but the right corner of the brake pedal shows heavy wear which suggest the odometer has made one spin of the dial already.

69 grand prix sj 4 spd hince clutch pedal

The other wear areas such as the door panel and seats are in terrific shape. The leather seats have no cracks or rips so it's hard to know for sure if the miles are 44,000 or 144,000. Below are the last inspection stickers at the base of the windshield on the driver's side.

69 grand prix sj 4 spd hince windshield insp stickers

You might question Frank's decision to take the car off the road. Isn't it better to just enjoy the car and if something happens, then so be it? Anyone who has sold a car and regrets it only knows a smidgen of the regret owners feel when a car is stolen and then recovered. All those years of care and then someone abuses the car and screws it up. The regret is much heavier if the car is lost forever. In Frank's case, it was a certainty that the car was destined for theft based on the suspicious actions of the gang, so he chose the lesser of two evils.

The ONE OWNER personalities share in common a respect and appreciation for cars. Someone could argue that it is 'just a car' but just because they are a familiar consumer item doesn't change the fact that cars represent a sophisticated achievement. The ingenuity and creativity behind the function and design of a car is impressive. ONE OWNER people become attached to their cars for the special qualities of the car itself in addition to the memories evoked every time they get into the car. Frank preferred to not lose his car to a thief and have it totaled or stripped even if it deprived him of his enjoyment of the car for a time.

As the years passed, Frank's family grew up and moved out. By the time grand kids appeared Frank had some more time on his hands and his thoughts turned back to his Grand Prix SJ. Frank was managing Advance Auto Parts in Etna and had just turned 66 on November 19, 2007. He decided that it was time to get to his car again. Preparations to get that Grand Prix SJ out of storage were underway when tragedy struck. Frank was a health nut and justifiably expected to enjoy a lengthy retirement time to do the things that had been put off till now. It was a sudden shock when he was diagnosed with leukemia and died just two days later. Frank died without ever being able to take his special car out again.

The silver lining to the story is that Frank's car will be preserved indefinitely. It will never be used as a daily driver and will be properly stored and cared for just like he always did. An unfortunate circumstance actually fulfilled one of Frank's wishes for the car which was to see it treated as a special car. The threat of theft kept the car stored, saving it from an accident, rust or from wearing out due to overuse. With so few of these cars made, the ones that have survived are even rarer today and not many have all original paint, interior and drive train. So Frank's sacrifice ensures that a piece of his personal history will be preserved by new collectors throughout the years.  

69 grand prix sj 4 speed frank hince rear

Frank's 1969 Grand Prix SJ was taken out of storage and brought to Texas where it was put up for sale by a car sales company named Jimmy'z Classics run by Jimmy Smith of Brenham, Texas.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 28 August 2013 13:09 )