Large Luxury Meets Muscle Car – 1968 Pontiac Grand Prix

The second generation Pontiac Grand Prix was larger in size than the first generation. Though this second generation only consisted of 4 model years from 1965-1968, Pontiac did a great job of drastically changing the exterior look of each model year. The Grand Prix during this time took on a persona of being a larger much more luxurious version of the mid-size Pontiac GTO which at the time was Pontiac’s top muscle car. The second generation Grand Prix was in essence a large luxurious muscle car.

However the most unique and bold of the second generation Grand Prix models was the 1968. It had sporty muscle car exterior styling especially its massive front grille which had four headlights that were hidden by two retractable grille panels. The 1968 was the first Grand Prix to get the very pronounced Pontiac front beak in the middle of the grille. Its rear design with long horizontal taillights which resided in the large rear bumper was a design ahead of its time. Pontiac design engineers during this era were well known for the way the could take long exterior body panels and shape them into a work of art. The 1968 Grand Prix is one of the best full-size car examples of this innovative and beautiful styling.

Overall the Grand Prix had attractive and sweeping exterior lines, its exterior body style was extremely modern for its day, very sporty, and had chrome appointments in a dignified manner to convey to all that the Grand Prix was also a true luxury car. Starting in 1968 in was only available in a 2-door hardtop configuration, the convertible which was available the previous year had been retired.

The 1968 Grand Prix was indeed the perfect blend of sport and luxury. The interior was upscale, yet sporty when equipped with the optional bucket seats with the front center console. The dash had a modern sporty flare but unfortunately had a more conventional horizontal speedometer instead of sporty round gauges. Due to the Grand Prix being built on GM’s full-size B-body platform, its interior space was as spacious as any 2-door full-size car during this era.

The Grand Prix’s ride was comfortable as was expected of a big heavy full-size luxury car yet its steering and braking was better than most big cars of its era. The 1968 Grand Prix had mandatory four wheel drum brakes, however Pontiac during the 1960s figured out a way to keep drum brakes cool thus maximizing braking ability with its innovative 14-inch 8-lug wheels. The center of the wheel was the drum brake cover and the outer rim of the wheel could easily be removed when the wheel’s 8 lug nuts were removed. The center of each wheel was finned so it captured air which it directed around the outside of each drum brake keeping the brakes substantially cooler than most drum brake systems at the time. Not to mention these 8-lug wheels which were produced by Kelsey Hayes for Pontiac were the most sporty and best looking wheels of this era. Unfortunately 1968 would be the last year these wheels were available as an option on the Grand Prix. The introduction of front disc brakes to Pontiac’s full-size cars ensured the 8-lug wheel’s permanent retirement.

What made the Grand Prix really shine was its available performance engines. The lowest output engine was a 2-barrel carburetor equipped 400 cubic-inch V8 rated at 265 gross-horsepower. Next up the chain was the 350 gross-horsepower 4-barrel carburetor equipped 400 cubic-inch V8. Next was the 375 gross-horsepower 4-barrel carburetor equipped 428 cubic-inch V8. And finally the top performance engine was the 390 gross-horsepower 428 cubic-inch H.O. V8. This engine line-up had plenty of power to keep happy even the harshest performance oriented critic. These engines were available with the following transmissions: a 3-speed manual, 4 speed manual, and 3-speed automatic.

Unfortunately as good as the 1968 Grand Prix was, its sales were not that remarkable with production dropping 26% from the previous year. Only 31,711 were produced for 1968. The downturn in sales was mainly due to new competition in the 2-door personal luxury car segment where the Grand Prix competed in, which included the Cadillac Eldorado, Oldsmobile Toronado, and the just released Lincoln Mark III which debuted during the middle of the 1968 model year as a 1969 model year vehicle. Pontiac would fix the sales problem for 1969 by moving the Grand Prix to GM’s mid-size A-body platform and giving it even bolder exterior and interior styling to further differentiate it from its competition causing sales to skyrocket. Never-the-less the 1968 Grand Prix was a very special car that merged the best of a full-size 2-door luxury car with that of a muscle car to create a legendary Pontiac that even today still stands out. So it is no surprise that the 1968 Grand Prix has aged very well and continues to gain more fans as the years progress.

 

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