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Car of the Week: 1972 Pontiac Grand Prix SSJ

As a self-professed Pontiac Grand Prix nut, Chris Neumaier always told himself that if the opportunity ever came up to own an SSJ — a flashy Hurst-outfitted Grand Prix from the early 1970s — he wouldn’t pass up his chance. "They’re kind of the ‘Holy Grail’ of Grand Prix cars," said Neumaier. "This one has turned into kind of a love-hate relationship. I always tell people this is the car I love to hate.”
Car of the Week 2020
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As a self-professed Pontiac Grand Prix nut, Chris Neumaier always told himself that if the opportunity ever came up to own an SSJ — a flashy Hurst-outfitted Grand Prix from the early 1970s — he wouldn’t pass up his chance.

When such a car finally did cross his path, Neumaier was true to his word, and eight years later, he’s still driving and enjoying his unique, hi-po Pontiac coupe. Even for a Grand Prix fanatic, though, the journey hasn’t always been easy.

“I’m a Grand Prix guy. If I’m gonna own it, it’s going to be a Grand Prix,” joked Neumaier, a resident of Waunakee, Wis. “I actually have a 1970 Grand Prix at home as well, and I restored that one, and I told my wife I’d never do that again.

“But I’ve known about these cars [SSJ’s] for at least 25 years. They’re kind of the ‘Holy Grail’ of Grand Prix cars … so I always said that if I got the chance to buy one, I would. Well, this one has turned into kind of a love-hate relationship. I always tell people this is the car I love to hate.”

The SSJ was a breath of fresh air for hot car enthusiasts when it was introduced for 1970. With a moniker inspired by the famed Duesenberg SSJ, the tricked-out Grand Prix could be ordered through Pontiac dealers. Pontiac built and painted the cars, then shipped them to Hurst for the conversion work. They were based on the "J" model (the vinyl accent stripes used on factory-issued SJs were incompatible with Hurst SSJ features). The SSJs were painted either Cameo White (code CC) or Starlight Black (code AA). Most of the SSJs were white, and there was apparently at least one car painted dark green. Interiors were ivory, black or sandalwood in cloth or all-Morrokide. Mandatory options included body-color sport mirrors, G78 x 14 whitewalls and Rally II wheels. The space-saver spare and ride and handling package were recommended.

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After assembly, these cars were shipped to a Hurst plant in Southfield, Mich., where frost gold accents were applied to the hood, side window frames, front of the roof and Rally II wheels. A landau-style half-top (antique white, white or black) was installed, as was a steel, electrically operated sunroof.

Pontiac and Hurst certainly weren’t shy about offering all kids of bells and whistles on the SSJs. Equipment varied from car to car, but available options included a black-and-white television, a mobile telephone, a digital computer for calculating elapsed times and economy, a Hurst Auto/Stick shifter on bench seat cars, a front-brake lock called Roll/Control, engine blueprinting, high-performance tuning and a theft-deterrent system.

New Grand Prix styling elements for 1972 were minimal. At the front end there was a new “egg-crate” radiator grille with multiple fins between its main bars. At the rear end of the car there were new triple-segment tail lamps at the rear. New full wheel covers of a finned design also appeared this year.

The hot engine for the ’72 SSJ was a 455-cid/300-hp V-8. This engine had a 4.15 x 4.21-inch bore and stroke. It used an 8.4:1 compression ratio and a single four-barrel carburetor. It developed peak horsepower at 4000 rpm. During the last year of production they apparently came only with a dual-gate automatic transmission.

All Grand Prixs had Turbo-Hydra-Matic transmissions and more than 90 percent of them had front bucket seats. With a its 118-inch wheelbase, the Grand Prix stretched 213.6 inches end to end.

Hurst SSJs were priced at about $5,132 in 1970, about $5,461 in 1971 and around $5,617 in 1972.

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Neumaier’s car had been partially restored by the time he got it, which was part of the problem, he says. “I know this car originally came out of Georgia,” he said. “It belonged to some guy who was into electronics. It probably had a really nice stereo system in it because there were a bunch of speaker holes cut in the panels.

“The guy probably drove it until ’83 or ’84, parked it under a pine tree out behind his house, and that’s where it sat — which was a problem because the sap from the tree dripped down on the car and wound up rotting out the sale panels in the back.”

Neumaier said the car eventually changed hands one more time before he bought it from another Wisconsin man. “It was actually at a Pontiac show in Madison [Wis.]. A guy showed up with this and I just asked him if he was interested in selling it. He said at the time no, but I gave him my name and number and asked him to give me a jingle if he was ever interested. The next spring I get a call and the car is for sale. We sealed the deal and I bought it.

“It was in good shape, but it had a lot of little things that weren’t put together right. There were a lot of things that just took time and attention. For a while I couldn’t stand the thing because there was always something to do — usually something little.”

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Neumaier’s car is largely original, aside from a repaint and some of the interior and upholstery. The tachometer on the hood is a Pontiac item, rather than the authentic L.E.D. Hurst tach, there is a non-stock Hurst decal on the rear quarter panel just behind the doors, and Neumaier says the stickers on the wheel centers aren't exactly correct, although only a Grand Prix fanatic would probably be able to tell the difference.

Besides the flashy aesthetics, the SSJ’s had plenty of appeal. They were big, smooth-riding coupes with comfortable interiors and a big, growling 455 under the hood.

“It drives really nice. It’s got plenty of giddyup,” Neumaier said. “You don’t have to get into the four-barrel. You can stay out of the four-barrel, but half the fun of running it is hearing that four-barrel open up when you are going down the road. I’ll be at stop signs and take off nice and slow it will be nice and quiet — until you kick down that four-barrel and hear that monster roar!”

The SSJs were never really meant to be built in high production numbers, and most sources suggest that less than 500 were created, including only about 60 for 1972. They arrived just as the gas crunch and insurance squeeze were hitting performance car lovers with a 1-2 punch, and big-engined muscle cars were on their way out.

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The SSJs are plenty scarce these days, but they were occasionally cloned over the years, however, and there may actually be more 1972 SSJs on the road now than there were 38 years ago. “I think the numbers might be skewed slightly because a lot of times when I’m paging through [magazines] ads, it’s almost always a ’72 you find if you find one of these for sale,” Neumaier said. “I have seen a ’70, and I’ve seen a 71, but in photos only.

“Most people are surprised, they didn’t know Hurst did Pontiacs to begin with. Everybody associates Hurst with Oldsmobile. Most people are surprised and just didn’t realize that Pontiac and Hurst joined together for a project like this.”

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