Grand Prix. Close your eyes and say it out loud, slowly, and keep track of the images that your mind cooks up. I automatically think of Formula One racing. Engines screaming, cars flying by at insane speeds, only a few feet away from the spectators, the sights and sounds from a Grand Prix Formula One race are spectacular, and its one of the many great things that is associated with the name Grand Prix, and its to no surprise. When you have grand in the first part of the name you expect everything it’s associated with to be exactly that. That’s exactly what John DeLorean was thinking back in 1963 when he was an assistant to the chief engineer at Pontiac Motor Company; he was a major reason why this My Car Monday was even possible. If you’re thinking you’d heard the name DeLorean before, think no further, this is the same guy that went on to develop, build, and sell one of the most iconic cars in history, the gull-winged, back to the Future, DeLorean DMC-12. With that type of pedigree added to the equation you’d expect the car to be discussed here today to be extraordinary, and it certainly was.
1997 Pontiac Grand Prix SE
My parents needed a different vehicle, the one (it shall remain nameless for now) that they owned at the time was not living up to the duties. My mom though it was cramped and my dad thought it was underpowered, so that meant it was time for change. We looked at various different used sedan offerings available at the time, and concluded that for the size that we wanted, which was full/mid size the most cost-effective option during that time was to buy American. This was 2002, meaning the Japanese models like the Avalon and Acura RL were way out of budget and the Koreans were basically non-existent, or rather irrelevant. On one sunny Saturday afternoon the search came to an abrupt end, when the salesmen at our local Carmax uttered the words “I think you guys will love this Grand Prix” I knew at that moment I was going to do all I can to try to convince my dad to buy this car. It’s a Grand Prix, I thought to myself, what an unbelievably cool name for a family sedan. It fit perfectly into our search criteria. It was relatively well equipped, it was large, and it was fast. We took delivery later that afternoon.
The wide bodied, all white sedan with 16 inch alloy wheels was magnificent. This particular SE model had an optional 3.8 L V6 (3800 Series II) rated at 195 HP. I won’t bore you with the details of the engine but, it was defiantly the best part of the car. It was simple, powerful, and yet ingenious. General Motors offered this engine in what seemed like their entire lineup, and for good reason. It was voted by Wards to be one of the 10 best engines available, alongside other much more prestigious offerings like BMW’s 4.4 V8 and the intelligent 2.3 inline 4 Turbo from Saab. However, to a kid who was turning 16 and was about to get access to his dad’s Grand Prix, that meant very little. All I knew and cared about at the time was how fast the car hurled itself down the road when the skinny pedal on the right was flat on the floor. You have to remember that a year prior the original Fast and Furious came out, and everyone was suddenly a street racer. However, all those hopes and dreams of becoming the next Vin Diesel were quickly shattered when time came to lineup against the mighty Grand Prix, the Pontiac wasn’t tremendously quick but it was certainly quick enough to outgun the imports, and that’s what it did, on a repeated basis. The only drawback of the speed was that it was limited to 108mph and looking back now, I’m glad it was.
As with any first car story there are plenty of close calls and other adventures, if you want to call it that and this instance is no different. I’ll list a few that are most memorable. I’m driving, my best friend in the passenger seat, a mid summer shower a moment ago watered the highways and washed all the gunk to the surface, no matter, I take a sweeping left hander on the highway way to fast, we do two 360’s and end up only grazing the dividing wall. Another time I wasn’t as lucky. Coming home from a gathering, rather late, I began to get extremely lethargic, so my intelligent teenage brain suggested I rest my eyes just a bit, for short bursts of time. Well, needles to say it could’ve been much worse, I woke up when the left front wheel made abrupt contact with the highway divider, in the process breaking all the links and other various little parts in the front suspension and bending the sub-frame considerably. Fortunately, the car was resorted to perfect working order, and this vicious cycle happened time and time again, a curb here and snow bank there. I’m lucky to have such patient parents, because I would’ve have grounded myself until I was 35. The thing was, throughout all of the little incidences the car just kept going, until one day, at almost 200k miles, and many accidents later the transmission called it quits. The cost of repair outweighed the cost of the car, and on a cold, grey, sad day the Grand Prix was hauled away to its fate.
The very first car I called my own was no longer in my life, it’s as if I lost apart of me. I experienced a void, which I thought nothing would ever fill. Needless to say, I had to experience this more than once. Five years later in 2010 General Motors decided to abolish the Pontiac brand. When I heard the news, it’s as if someone had told me that one of my relatives passed away. This was the company that was responsible for the birth of the muscle car era, the company that was responsible for cars like the Trans Am/Firebird, GTO, G8, Grand Prix/Bonneville, GXP, and more recently the Solstice GXP and but most importantly, one that made my very first car. With that being said the message I want to convey here, other that the greatness of Pontiac and the Grandest of Prix is this. Love and cherish your first car, because the day will come when they only thing that you will love and cherish are the fond memories that is has left behind.