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Car of the Week: 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix

Dad might not have approved back when he was 17, but this owner made sure he got his hands on a Grand Prix... it just took a little bit of time. The wait was more than worth it!
Car of the Week 2020
Many point to the GTO as the first muscle car. Some might argue that the '62 Grand Prix might have a legitimate claim to that title in the Pontiac stable

Many point to the GTO as the first muscle car. Some might argue that the '62 Grand Prix might have a legitimate claim to that title in the Pontiac stable

Fred Westermeyer was all excited for his hot new Pontiac to come. The teenager from rural Wisconsin had made up his mind back in 1962 that a smoking new Poncho, fresh from the factory, was in his future.

Until his dad shot him down.

“I had a Grand Prix ordered in ’62, Tri-Power, four-speed and everything,” recalls Westermeyer. “And then my dad went to town and they had one in the dealership and he stopped and looked at it. And he came home and said, ‘No way in hell are you spending $4,300 on a car!’ And I had to borrow money from him, so I went in and cancelled the order and ordered the Catalina Ventura for $700 less…. Nowadays, $700, big deal. Back then I made $100 a month working on the farm, and it would take me over a year to pay that off, so I did what he said [laughs].”

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Westermeyer enjoyed the Catalina, calling it “a nice go-getter,” but it turned out to be the only Pontiac he ever owned until 2008, when he decided it was time for another one. He wound up finding it in Pennsylvania, where a Pontiac restorer had transformed a ’62 Grand Prix like the one Westermeyer originally wanted from a basket case into a real show-stopper.

“It’s a straight as can be. No waves or anything. He did an excellent job with it… It had been all rusted out — a lot more than I would have cared to take on! It had been sitting under a deck. He did some roofing for a guy and took the car in on a trade for the roofing work. He brought it home and fixed it all up, but then times got a little slack with the economy and he had a couple of cars and he sold this one.”

Westermeyer also has a fabulous 1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria in his garage, but the ’62 Pontiac has a special place in his heart because it was the car that he dreamed about and “the one that got away” for so many years.

Westermeyer’s Grand Prix has the Hydra-Matic with Tri-Power now, but originally came with a single four-barrel.

Westermeyer’s Grand Prix has the Hydra-Matic with Tri-Power now, but originally came with a single four-barrel.

“A friend of mine had one in ’62 exactly like this, only it was a four-speed, Same color and everything,” Westermeyer remembered. “And I really liked that car… They’re just such nice-looking cars. They’ve got the nice, rounded corners and everything. It’s just a smooth-looking car. And plenty fast enough for me!”

ALL NEW IN ‘62

The 1964 Pontiac GTO often gets billed as the “first muscle car”, but there are probably a handful of other cars that could lay claim to the title, depending on how far back into history you want to go. One of those — and perhaps the most overlooked of the pioneering pavement pounders — was the Grand Prix, which launched in 1962 and helped set the stage for decade’s worth of hairy machines to follow.

The Grand Prix arrived as Bunkie Knudsen was on his way out the door at Pontiac, on his way to a promotion up the GM ladder to general manager of Chevrolet. But before he left the Pontiac wing, Knudsen successfully pushed for the brand to build the new sporty, refined and powerful Grand Prix. The sweet new hardtop coupe was an answer to Ford’s popular Thunderbird and actually replaced the Ventura — which became an offering in the Catalina lineup.

The Grand Prix was basically a fancier version of the Catalina, with better looks and an inspired menu of 389-cid engine choices. The “Grand Prix” name that was chosen for the model was pretty cool, too; referring to Formula 1 racing and translating to “Great Prize” in French.

And what a "prize" it was

And what a "prize" it was

The killer Trophy 389 V-8 was offered in five different combos: 230-hp choice at the bottom; 318-hp two-barrel; 303-hp four-barrel with Hydra-Matic; 333-hp four-barrel with manual; and 348-hp Tri-Power. If none of those choices were big and bad enough, buyers could go full Super-Duty and order up the 421-cube/405-hp V-8 with dual quads. About 1,514 of those monster Pontiacs are believed to have been assembled.

A three-speed manual transmission was standard, but the "Roto" Hydra-Matic was the most popular choice for an extra $231. A four-speed manual was also offered for real gear jammers, as were seven different axle ratios.

Standard interior amenities included solid color Morrokide upholstery, bucket seats and center console with tachometer. On the outside, the “GP” was identified by clean side styling with a checkered flag badge in the concave section of side spears, rocker panel molding, an anodized grille insert and nose piece and special rear end styling. Eight-lug aluminum wheels could also be added from the options list.

Westermeyer's Poncho sports the Eight-lug aluminum wheels.

Westermeyer's Poncho sports the Eight-lug aluminum wheels.

The base price of the ’62 Grand Prix was $3,490 — that was for a coupe equipped with the 303-hp 389 with four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts. With the multiple drive train combos offered, there were a lot of different variations built during the model’s rookie year, with a total production run of 30,195 cars for the model year. A year later, sales would more than double.

It was clear Knudson’s intuition about the public’s desire for something new and sporty had been right on the money. The path for the GTO — and a lot of other muscle machines from GM and its competitors — had been cleared.

AN INVESTMENT IN THE FUTURE

Westermeyer was pretty pleased with his purchase when he brought his Grand Prix home 14 years ago, but he has found some was to make it even nicer in the time that he has had it. He decided to get a few things re-chromed, and “one thing led to another” and before he knew it he had spent a sizeable chunk of change to make all the shiny parts new again. “It was $30 here, $30 there and pretty soon it was at $5,000 already, and I thought, ‘Boy, I’m going to be in trouble when I get home,” he joked.

He also had some work done on a carburetor choke, had a new headliner installed, and had some transmission work done. 

“The seats are still original, but I had them in last winter and had them re-padded with foam. It just sits nicer,” he says. “Now everything on it is just like a new car. It handles and drives really nice.”

Original seats with a tasteful "sprucing up" with new foam adorn the clean Pontiac interior.

Original seats with a tasteful "sprucing up" with new foam adorn the clean Pontiac interior.

Westermeyer’s Belmar Red example has the Hydra-Matic with Tri-Power now, but originally came with a single four-barrel. “It had the 303, but [the previous owner] put Tri-Power and the power windows on it,” he notes. “Two pretty nice options!”

Westermeyer has certainly not been shy about putting miles on the Pontiac. 

"The car had about 70,000 miles on it and it’s in the 90,000s now. We drive ’em 1,000, 1,500 miles a year. That’s what you have them for, to drive them. Some guys won’t take them out if they see a cloud in the sky. I’ve been caught in the rain before. It’s not the worst thing. We just bring it home and wash it all underneath and clean it up.”

You have to love the cavernous trunks of this era.

You have to love the cavernous trunks of this era.

Guys who wait years to finally land the “dream cars” that they wished for in their teen years are rarely in the mood to ever part with them years later after they finally land one. Westermeyer certainly falls into that category. He waited 46 years to get his Grand Prix, and he says it’s not leaving the family.

“I’ve had it quite a while already. It’s not going anywhere,” he chuckles. “My grandson is gonna get it. He’s [17] now. ‘That car I would like!’ he says.” 

Westermeyer doesn't plan on letting this Poncho go; his grandson will eventually be the lucky recipient of this Pontiac beauty some day.

Westermeyer doesn't plan on letting this Poncho go; his grandson will eventually be the lucky recipient of this Pontiac beauty some day.

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