The quiz last week proved tougher than we thought it was. We believed a great many readers would remember the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am, a new series of midsize cars that took the place of LeMans that year.
We showed you the headlight and grille of a Grand Am Colonnade sedan, which was Pontiac’s way of telling us that its midsize cars were no longer hardtops but sedans and pillared coupes. As though to make up for that unpopular style, Pontiac took away the frame from around the doors.
That was the trend in Detroit because of ever-tightening federal crash regulations. You might remember that the new Plymouth Road Runner in 1968 began as a two-door pillared coupe. The Chevrolet Nova was the same way, replacing the hardtop of the mid-1960s. The same went for the Ford Falcon ion its way out the door. The new Plymouth Duster and Chevy Vega had pillars, as did a growing number of formerly sporty cars.
You will notice that the Grand Am we featured had a plastic front end, which was pioneered by the 1968 GTO in the same family. Bumpers were growing, engines were becoming more strangled by smog-fighting devices, and muscle cars and convertibles were on the way out.
The Grand Am was in the same family as the Chevy Chevelle, Olds Cutlass Supreme, Buick Centuruy and the Pontiac GTO. It was smaller than the similarly named Grand Prix coupe.
It has been said that the Grand Am got its name from a combination of Grand Prix and Trans Am, two Pontiac models just above and below the LeMans. It is just one of a great many car name bearing “grand” or its “gran” form: Grand Ville, Grand Cherokee, Grand Wagoneer, Grand Caravan and Voyager, Grand Marquis, Gran Fury, Gran Torino and of course, the many Grand Touring or Gran Turismo models and their shortcust: GT or GTO, GT/A, GTX, etc.
By the way, our clue last week might have been evident to cinema fans: “Just hark back to Groucho Marx’s great foil, Margaret Dumont.” She played large, perpetually clueless straight women to his jabs in several of the Marx Brothers’ movies. The comic foil, she was always a grand dame in high society, and of course, “grand dame” and Grand Am sound practically the same.
Chosen randomly from the correct entries was the name of Robby Crawford, of North Augusta, who wrote: “That is a 1973 Pontiac Grand Am. I remember going with my dad to the Pontiac dealership when I was a kid, and he could not get me away from this car because I liked squeezing its nose! It was plastic and soft.
“A lot of Pontiac enthusiasts thought that it should have been the next GTO to save it from declining sales – the GTO, that is.I liked the Grand Am; you do not see them that often at car shows.”
Thanks to Crawford for his memories. Other readers identifying the vehicle were:
AUGUSTA: Gerald Byrd correctly named the 1973 Grand Am and gave the “grand dame” solution hinted at in the clue.
Tony Brunson said: “This week’s What Is It? is a 1973 Pontiac Grand Am. It was a performance luxury edition of the Pontiac LeMans. I had a friend who had the 455 HO four-barrel, dual exhaust. It was pretty quick for those days for a midsize-to-large car. I saw them only in the two-door versions but understand they made some four-door version. The two doors looked really sporty with the louvers over the rear side windows.”
CANTON, Ga.: David Anderson knew it was a Grand Am but had trouble figuring out the Marx-Dumont nature of the clue. Oh well, that was a long stretch, we will admit.
EVANS: Larry Heath identified the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am: “Part of the new styling in 1973 for the GM intermediate cars. This model was aimed at the sport/luxury market and featured a 400- or 455-cubic-inch V-8 engine. It was also one of the first production cars to have radial tires as standard equipment.
“This same basic car was also available with the GTO option. In 1974, the GTO was smaller and based on the Chevy Nova with a Pontiac engine. Pontiac was one of the few bright spots during the 1970s for performance car enthusiasts.”
Jeff Keevil said: “I remember seeing these when they came out and thinking they were a neat-looking car. I thought Pontiac did a good job integrating the 5-mph bumper versus a lot of cars that just pushed the bumpers out several inches.
Like a lot of cars back then, the manufacturers were dealing with new crash standards, emission standards and a gas crisis that were rapidly redefining what a car was to be. This Grand Am series lasted only three years.
Wayne Wilke wrote: “This week’s car was all about the clue. I read Margaret Dumont’s Wikipedia bio three times searching for help and found nothing. Was a Dumont the father of General Motors? No, that was William C. Durant, not Dumont.
“Groucho’s long-running TV show in the 1950s, You Bet Your Life, was sponsored exclusively by DeSoto; no, the car is not a DeSoto. Perhaps old Margaret hooked up with one of the Dodge brothers. If you watch their commercials on TV you see that the Dodge Boys seemed to enjoy life and “get around.” No help there.
“Margaret’s claim to fame seemed to be about her inability to understand Groucho’s jokes. She didn’t get it. Just as my relationship with the What Is It? clue, I didn’t get it. Finally, I thought about cars of the early 1970s and found pictures of the Grand Am.
“My wife then said, ‘Of course! Margaret was a grand dame.’ Go figure.”
(Editor’s note: Perhaps we’d better reserve a spot each week for Mrs. Wilke’s answer to our contest.)
Bill Harding sent in the exact same illustration of the Grand Am that we used last week and this week. He wrote: “There goes Margaret Dumont in her 1973 Ascot Silver Pontiac Grand Am! It’s got a burgundy corduroy upholstery trimmed in Morrokide. It’s a four-door sedan with a three-speed automatic transmission, but she darn near popped for a two-door with a four-on-the-floor manual and a Super Duty 455 V-8 under the hood.
“That’s what Groucho Marx tried to talk her into, but Margaret decided to get a 400 cubic-inch V-8 with a two-barrel carb instead. Nonetheless, that grand dame really likes to drive rapidly.”
(Editor’s note: We might want to get Mrs. Harding to start monitoring her husband’s mail, too!)
Jerry Paul wrote: “This week the What Is It? is a 1973 Pontiac Grand Am.”
MARTINEZ: Eddy Marsh wrote: “Today’s car is a 1973 Pontiac Grand Am (also called Can Am). The car was produced from 1973-75. It was based on the GM A-body. In 1973, major changes were made to the A-body. There were no more pillarless hardtops but they had frameless windows similar to that of a hardtop. Sales of the Grand Am were 43,136 for 1973 and dropped to 17,083 in ‘74, and then 10,679 in ‘75 The model was dropped because of declining sales and the oil crisis. It returned in 1978 on the Grand Prix G platform.
“I never owned a Grand Am, but I did own a ‘73 Olds Cutlass, which looked a lot like the Grand Am.”
MILLEN, Ga.: Stanley Thompson said of the 1973 Grand Am: “It was a funny-looking car. I can’t remember seeing many of them on the road.”
PERRY, Fla.: Larry Anderson guessed it was a 1974 Pontiac Astre, which was a small Pontiac based on the unfortunate Chevy Vega and sold from 1973-77.
SANDERSVILLE, Ga.: David Wiggins correctly answered the 1973 Grand Am.