Under The Hood

Sliding around in a Grand Prix

In the April 5, 2007, issue of Old Cars, “Motorcity Milestones” columnist Byron Olsen  writes about one of my favorite cars, the 1978-’87 Pontiac Grand Prix. Or, more accurately, one of my favorite winter beaters.

Up north, where the snow blows cold and each state’s department of transportation liberally applies salt to roads, car collectors save their nice cars from the ravages of winter by buying already-rusty cars as winter beaters. I’ve had many winter beaters through the years, but my favorite is still the 1986 Grand Prix I drove to college and work in the winter of 1999. The car was the sporty version with bucket seats, console and a V-8. The outside didn’t have one of those ‘70s suave vinyl tops, but rather a cool two-tone blue paint scheme that was horizontally divided down the length of the car.

I usually drive rear-wheel-drive GM products from the 1980s as winter beaters, and then remove their emblems and paint muscle car or upscale car names in their place. (A 1985 Regal became a GS, a 1986 Cutlass became a 442 and a 1986 Pontiac Bonneville had the “Bonn” removed and a “D” added to the front to become a Deville.) The ’86 Grand Prix became a GTO.

I bought the Grand Prix/GTO (and all of its rust) from my cousin for $600 and proceeded to beat the snot out of it. After a fresh snow, my gas station coworkers and I regularly took the old Pontiac out to whip donuts in empty parking lots for hours on end, and the car didn’t skip a beat. And, it still took me to work and class reliably and comfortably.

But all good things must come to an end. That spring, the Grand Prix/GTO was sold to make room in the driveway for the collector cars. Had it not been so rusty, I’m not sure I would have ever have parted with it.

I saw the Grand Prix/GTO later that summer when I was in a different city buying 1962 Cadillac parts. It was hard to miss with its rust spots and its silver-painted “GTO” emblem glistening on its quarter panels in the summer sun. I was tempted to knock on the door and see if it was for sale, but I realized it just wouldn’t be the same car to drive without the snow on the ground.

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