While the name “Grand Prix” had been used in car racing as far back as 1894, the first race to regularly use the term was the French Grand Prix that held its inaugural running on June 26 and 27, 1906 outside the city of Le Mans.
So we figured now’s a good time to talk about another Grand Prix we spotted at a Cars & Coffee event last spring.
While the Pontiac Grand Prix nameplate was introduced in 1962 as a sport-oriented full size B-body, similar to the Chevy Impala SS, the car really hit its stride with a third generation redesign that launched in 1969.
That’s because the 1969 Grand Prix rode on an all-new variation of the GM A-body chassis, rechristened the G-body, that would also underpin the Chevy Monte Carlo coming a year later. The move shifted more focus on performance as well, with standard disc brakes and a base V8, along with options like a 428ci engine and M21 Muncie four-speed.
But at the top of the order sheet sat the “SJ” package, a designation supposedly pulled from the legendary Duesenberg portfolio. It automatically gave you the 428 Pontiac powerplant, a robust gauge package, and a host of upscale enhancements. (There was also a high output “SJ H.O.” model too, which we’ll talk about in a moment.)
The particular Grand Prix SJ we spotted is owned by Scott Mancini, a diehard Grand Prix fan who’s had plenty of these cars in the past.
“I’ve had many of them, but this is the best one,” Mancini quips as he gestures to the mere 13,000 miles on the odometer.
Mancini bought the car in 2016 from the original owners in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who had kept it stunningly clean for decades. “This car sat in the garage on jack stands from 1986 to 2016, never started,” he smiles.
“The only things that’d ever been really changed were the tires and the battery.”
In Mancini’s possession, the car continues to be well cared for, and he’s making only minor updates to maintain the car’s originality. “I replaced the nylon gear in the timing chain, had the radiator re-cored, and that’s about it.”
While this particular Grand Prix Mancini drove to the show was a standard SJ model, he tells us that the he’s got another one resting in his garage too—a coveted four-speed 1969 Grand Prix SJ H.O.
We alluded to the High Output model earlier, but checking that “SJ H.O.” box on the options sheet got you the 390 horsepower 428 V8, up 20 ponies from the 370 hp 428 that came with the standard SJ trim seen here.
Speaking of engines, in 1970 the fire-breathing 455ci powerplant was added to the Grand Prix SJ.
But by 1975, performance had taken a back seat to luxury and a new “LJ” model slotted above the SJ. The Model J, SJ, and LJ hierarchy endured until the SJ designation was replaced by the Brougham trim in 1981—the LJ name would last until 1983.
And in 1988, the Grand Prix switched to GM’s front-wheel drive W-body, where it would remain until Pontiac was shuttered in 2010.