Tag Archives: Pontiac

Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide

Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide by Paul Zazarine
Published 1994, by Motorbooks International Publications
128pp., softcover

ISBN: 0-87938-839-0

Purchased used from a collector ad on kijiji.ca

I try to vary my blog offerings, as much as I can based on the books in my collection. I mean, I acquire what I like from what I see offered, so there’s often some overlap and repetition. That is the case with a recent acquisition, the Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide.

The second book I reviewed for this blog was the Illustrated Camaro Buyer’s Guide, also published by Motorbooks International. And it wasn’t very long ago that I had reviewed both GTO: A Source Book and GTO Volume II: A Source Book. You see how this review might seem like rehashing stuff I’ve read already. But, there actually is some value here, because this book isn’t just a copy of either of those previous books.

Let’s take the Illustrated Camaro Buyer’s Guide first. These books are pretty identical in physical dimensions, save that the Camaro book is 32 pages longer. Both are written by known experts on the car in question – in this case, the late Paul Zazarine who specialized in Pontiacs and was a leading authority on the GTO. The general layout is the same in these books – chapters cover a few years of the model, with cars rated in terms of desirability at the chapter start. Both books have many pictures, all in black and white. But, there are certainly differences between the 2 books.

The Camaro book features a single production number for the complete year (all Camaro production), describes significant points for each model year such as engines and options, and includes a box detailing options and colours, and another that gives overall specs for the year, including base engine specs and dimensions. However, the GTO book breaks each year’s production numbers out by body style, engine and transmission. Compared to the Camaro book, there’s significantly more detailed info on the various GTO offerings.

While there are no option code charts, Zazarine provided charts denoting engine and transmission codes, as well as paint, convertible and vinyl roof colours, and interior codes. The GTO book is quite a bit more detailed in terms of how to spot real (versus cloned) GTOs as well as drilling down into the more rare engine and transmission combinations. Also, where the Camaro book had appendices with some valuations, the GTO book avoids this, which makes sense as those valuations can quickly become irrelevant as time passes.

Similar to the Camaro guide, there is a significant amount of detail on each year of GTO. Each model year section goes over things such as engine revisions, tape stripe differences, body design updates, changes to interior panels, upholstery, and other year-to-year revisions. Details such as the fact that 1971 GTOs have plain round front turn signals, while 1972 has the same signals but with added crosshairs design, help the potential buyer figure out what they’re looking at. Also important, Zazarine provided examples of cars that can’t be figured out by looking at the car alone. For example, some The Judge models have no identifier in their VIN, and while the presence of some items may suggest a true Judge, the only way to determine authenticity is through order forms and other paperwork.

Unfortunately this little book is not without a few minor flaws. These are mostly minor, generally confined to production charts in terms of inconsistent line spacing and in the instance of 1973, a duplicate production number chart. I did not find any numbers that seemed out of whack, it really came down to formatting issues.

In some respects, the Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide is very much of its era. Compared to the Camaro guide, it seems much more geared towards the person looking at an old car as part investment. The Camaro guide does this too, but my copy was published in 1985. The GTO book is from 1994, when the muscle car investment craze was a little more heated up, and cloning of rare models from more common cars presented itself as an issue. As such the GTO book shows itself as a decent resource when it comes to explaining how to go about identifying true GTOs, and the difficulties involved for years when GTO was merely an option on the Lemans.

Really, this GTO Buyer’s Guide is a great companion book. Certainly it’s a good stand-alone that can introduce one to the GTO. This Buyer’s Guide fills a niche within a collection of books. I reviewed The Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002, which gives an overview of each year’s offerings from Pontiac. It features specifics, but is not detailed enough in terms of the GTO itself. The GTO Source Books that were reviewed provide some great period-correct literature in terms of ads and brochures, though they do not provide any analysis or explanation in context of the later collector car market. But, when adding the Buyer’s Guide to the Standard Catalog and the GTO Source Books, one starts to build a library that can lead to being a learned individual where it comes to GTOs (of course this method works with whatever cars you fancy).

It should be noted that this edition of this GTO book is complete for the 1964-74 run of production. It does not include any reference to the reborn GTO which debuted some 8 years after this book was published.

So, was adding the Illustrated GTO Buyer’s Guide worthwhile? I think so. It’s a great fact-filled reference about one of the most revered muscle cars. It’s the book you grab when that guy at cruise night says your ‘71 Goat never came with those Honeycomb wheels or that no GTO ever came with a 2 barrel carb. If Pontiacs are your thing, it’s a great one to pick up.

Pros: a significant resource on a key muscle car; extensive and detailed information one each model year
Cons: as always, coloured pictures would have been nice
Where to find it: Amazon, used bookstores, private sales

You might also enjoy…
Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002
GTO: A Source Book/GTO Volume II: A Source Book
The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars

1960 Pontiac Star Chief

In Dragging and DRIVING, a book I reviewed about young people in the 1960s introducing them to driving and owning automobiles, it was written that the first car a young person owned was often something they could buy for a couple dollars off a used car lot. Sometimes it was the old family car passed down to them. Once in their possession, it wasn’t unusual for that old car to soon have mag wheels, a wild paint job, and whatever hot rod goodies could be installed.

While walking around the 2015 Tottenham (Ontario) Classic Car and Truck Show, I found a car that certainly looked like one of those former family cars that had been hotted-up by a new owner. This 1960 Pontiac Star Chief looked pretty sitting in the field in silver paint and sporting American Racing 5-spoke mag rims. The Star Chief had become a mid-range, 4-door only offering by 1960, slotted under the Bonneville. The name would last until 1966, when it was renamed Executive. It should be noted that the Star Chief is not common in Canada. In the 1950s and 1960s, prior to the Auto Pact, GM built many Pontiac cars in Oshawa, ON using Chevrolet chassis. Though the cars were styled similarly, the truth is American Pontiacs had Pontiac-built engines and tended to be larger cars, while the Canadian cars were Chevy-powered and on a shorter chassis. Where the model line in the US included the Catalina, Star Chief and Bonneville, the Canadian line-up were called Strato Chief, Laurentian and Parisienne.

Shot with my usual rig of a Nikon D3200, 18-55 lens, the settings were ƒ/8, 1/250 sec exposure and ISO 100. This is available as garage art by contacting shootyourcarmister@gmail.com. For comparison, the original shot is below.

You might also enjoy…
GTO: A Source Book/GTO Volume II: A Source Book
Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002
American Cars of the 1960s

The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars

The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars (no writer credit)
Published 2013 by Chartwell Books Inc.
432 pp., hardcover.

ISBN-13: 978-0-7858-3030-6

Purchased new from a retail bookstore.

File this one under ‘Disappointing’.

I had high hopes for The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars. I mean, 400 pages of the best American factory-built hot rods, over 120 cars profiled. That’s a book I could really get into.

I’ll admit, it is a difficult task to compile such a directory. Even just a few pages on every muscle car would fill volumes. Just defining ‘muscle car’ is not an easy task. Many would agree it’s an intermediate-size car with a powerful engine in, for the purpose of increased performance. Yet, people call the Impala SS a muscle car despite it being a full-size car. Mustangs and Camaros are too small to be intermediates, and Novas and Darts are compact cars (such as they were in the 1960s). Still they get called muscle cars. No 4-door could have been called muscle car back in the heyday, yet today, the Charger sedan is a modern muscle car.

People don’t even agree what the first muscle car was. Was it born in 1964 when Pontiac dropped a 389 engine in its Tempest Lemans coupe and named it GTO? Maybe it was Chrysler, who took their 1955 New Yorker, added some Imperial touches and placed its Firepower Hemi between the fenders to create the C300. How about the famed Rocket 88, Oldsmobile’s 1949 80-series coupe with the screaming new overhead valve V8 underhood. Or was it the first V8 Ford coupe with its flathead engine?

The Illustrated Directory of Muscle Cars does indeed include all the cars mentioned above, and many more. I can’t argue with any of the cars included in this volume. As such it gets points for going beyond the typical roster. Of course there are GTOs and Chevelles, Mustangs and Fairlanes, Challengers and Road Runners. There’s a number of full-size coupes, like the aforementioned Impala SS and the 7-Liter Ford Galaxie. But it’s nice to see cars like the Dodge Polara D500, M-code Thunderbird, Mercury Comet, and AMC’s SC/Rambler, Rebel Machine and AMX. These cars get a lot less ink than the Camaros, Firebirds and Cudas, and their inclusion does help to fill out the book.

But… the errors. So many errors. Typos. Improper formatting of tabs. Misplaced paragraph breaks. Widows and orphans. Incorrectly captioned photos. It’s a very sloppy book. When a 1969 Camaro photo shows up in the profile of the 1970 AMX, that’s an issue that’s hard to overlook.

That red Camaro shouldn’t be here.

There’s also the inconsistencies. Each car profile gets a chart, kind of an overview that mentions things like engine displacement, horsepower etc. Some of them list a dozen stats, some list 5 or 6. Some list the car’s base price, or quarter-mile performance, many don’t have the kind of information. Only 1 engine is listed per car, though some are the base V8 while others list an optional engine. If the object is to create a directory, then it shouldn’t be hard to determine criteria you intend to include and then make sure you include it for each car.

And some profiles are just confusing – such as the 1969 Cuda 383, which is titled such and features pictures of a 383 Cuda, but doesn’t really mention the 383 anywhere in the text. Instead the 273 base V8 of previous years is referenced. Actually a great number of profiles are filled with information about the manufacturer or the history of the model featured but little about the actual year and model of the feature.

Finally, there are still many omissions from this collection. The Golden Age of Muscle Cars did fade out by the mid-1970s, but there were a few highlights. There’s no mention of cars like the Monte Carlo 454, or 1973 Stage 1 Buick GS. And, the muscle car rebirth began in the mid-1980s. Yet, there are no 1980s cars found at all – no Grand Nationals, 442s, Monte Carlo SSs, or Fox-body Mustangs. Further, there are profiles on the 1994 Impala SS, 2005 Chrysler 300C and 2012 Dodge Charger SRT-8, but no mention of the early 2000s Mercury Marauder (except a sentence in a 1969 Cougar profile). And you really can’t call a directory complete when you include the Dodge Viper but cars like the SVT Cobra Mustang or ZR-1 Corvette are missing.

It’s a shame. There was real potential for a great book, a directory that would be a great introduction to the wide range of muscle car offerings. In spots, there is some good information here. And honestly, there’s a lot of good photography. The coffee-table size and quality paper have the feel of a book you want to read. There’s pieces of a great book here. It just isn’t executed well.

If you can find this book cheap, and really need to get some muscle car info on your shelf, then sure, pick it up. But if you’re looking for a serious overview of muscle cars, give this one a miss.

Pros: a good number of models profiled; some little-known cars get some ink; great pictures in a coffee-table book format.
Cons: far too many errors; some significant models and eras are lacking coverage.
Where to find it: retail bookstores, Amazon

You might also enjoy…
The Complete Book of Dodge and Plymouth Muscle: Every Model from 1960 to 1974
Ford Muscle: Street, Stock and Strip
Illustrated Camaro Buyer’s Guide

GTO: A Source Book/GTO Volume II: A Source Book

GTO: A Source Book/GTO Volume II: A Source Book by Thomas E. Bonsall (editor)
Published 1980/1984 by Bookman Dan, Inc.
142 pp/144 pp, paperback

ISBN: 0-934780-03-X (Volume I)
ISBN: 0-934780-50-1 (Volume II)

Acquired from a Pontiac enthusiast on Facebook

I acquired GTO: A Source Book and GTO Volume II: A Source Book from a posting on a Facebook group. Though I’ve never owned a GTO, I am a big fan of both muscle cars and Pontiacs. As I also enjoy just reading about cars, grabbing a couple of source books seemed a no-brainer. I was unfamiliar with the ‘Source Book’, but it seems there are a whole series on different cars, published in the 1980s.

I was curious what ‘source book’ meant. I discovered these books are collections of sales literature and advertising concerning the Pontiac GTO.

The first book deals exclusively with the GTO, from 1964 through 1974, and contains sales literature. Each year is its own chapter, with a description of both the car and the literature the author found to be available. Material is scarce for the 1964 and 1965, which makes sense as the GTO was an option on the Tempest Lemans model. For example the 1965 GTO information was found in the full-line Pontiac brochure (2 pages), the Pontiac performance car catalog (3 pages) and a GTO folder that apparently would hold a 45 record (GeeTO Tiger by the Tigers).

By 1966, the GTO was made its own series, and as such full brochures featuring the car became available. Typical car brochures, they contain all the information on engine, transmission and rear axle options, as well as other options and colour availability. The number of pages and materials increase with each year, especially as The Judge option is added in 1969. And the volume of material tapers off again as for 1972-74 GTO was again reduced to being a LeMans (and then Ventura) option.

Top: Volume I shows 1966 brochure pages. Bottom: Volume II shows 1966 Hurst and Pontiac ads.

The final 60 pages of volume one are reprints of the Pontiac accessory catalogues for each year.

Volume II differs in a couple of ways. For one, it’s the advertising for the GTO that is featured. Interestingly, it’s not just official Pontiac advertising shown – there are a number of ads for Hurst Performance, Iskenderian Cams, even a Ford Fairlane GTA ad that directly references GTO.

Secondly, the Grand Am has been added. The Grand Am debuted in 1973, “another big-engined intermediate in the GTO tradition… a whole lot more luxurious… sort of an upscale Goat” as Bonsall put it. It was available from 1973 through 1975, again from 1978 through 1980, and finally returned as a front-drive car in 1985. Information included for the first 2 runs of cars include ads (often combined with the LeMans line) and sales brochures.

Top: Volume I shows 1968 GTO brochure. Bottom: Volume II shows 1968 GTO ad.

In many ways these books remind me of the Illustrated Camaro Buyer’s Guide (reviewed here). There are no colour pages to be found, and they came about in the early days before the 60s musclecar collector boom happened. In the case of these books, everything appears to have been photocopied, and as such many of the images are hard to read, or extremely high contrast. While we may not regard it as high-quality now, this is consistent with book publishing of the time. The expense of high-definition drum scanning and colour lithographic print would be prohibitive for relatively low-volume books.

Top: Volume I 1971 GTO brochure pages. Bottom: Volume II 1971 GTO ad and 1972 chapter description.

I’d say GTO: A Source Book and GTO Volume II: A Source Book are nice additions to an enthusiast’s collection, though very dated. Much is lost by the fact the brochures and ads are not high-quality, full-colour reprints. It does make the information somewhat difficult to read, and of course that 1960s adverts are always great to look at in colour. Still, to have this information gathered in one place is very nice for someone into learning more about the GTO and Grand Am.

Top: Volume I shows the 1967 Pontiac accessories catalog. Volume II: 1973 Grand Am ad.

Often, owners of cars such as the GTO prize having this kind of material. Today, original sales material can sometimes be found on eBay (in fact I have a few brochures for my Grand Prix). But when these source books were published I am sure they provided a wealth of information that wouldn’t have been easy to find elsewhere.They are a great little resource to have.

Pros: it’s great having copies of ten years of sales brochures and advertising gathered in one place; does provide a year-by-year history of the GTO and Grand Am
Cons: not the best quality; no colour images; can be difficult to read some of the copy
Where to find them: used book stores, the internet, enthusiast collections

Professional Automotive Engine Application & Identification Guide 1930-2000 – Block, Crankshaft & Head Casting Numbers

Professional Automotive Engine Application & Identification Guide 1930-2000 – Block, Crankshaft & Head Casting Numbers by Dirty Gringo Journals
published 2020 independently
122 pages, soft cover

ISBN: 1661973310

purchased from Amazon.ca

Amazon has a decent little racket going on. I don’t begrudge their marketing, I mean they’re in business to sell and frankly I’m free to ignore the siren call of “spend a little more to get free shipping”. Sometimes I figure I may as well spend and get a couple items rather than spend it anyway as ‘dead money’ for shipping.

My throw-in is often a book, as it’s easy enough to find inexpensive books about cars. The most recent example was the Professional Automotive Engine Application & Identification Guide 1930-2000 – Block, Crankshaft & Head Casting Numbers, a Dirty Gringo Journal at a reasonable $12.

I am not a mechanic or real hot rodder. Yes, I’ve done some mechanical work on my vehicles, even to the point of cutting a hole in the perfectly good headliner of my Dodge Dakota to install an optional overhead console, or pulling the engine and transmission from a car I wanted to restore. I’m not an engine builder or anything like that.

I have mentioned my Pontiac Grand Prix, which I plan to upgrade. The thing I’ve come to know about Pontiac V8s is that, with some nuances, Pontiac V8s are basically the same across displacements. This means my mid-1970s Pontiac 350 2 barrel engine could potentially accept a 4 barrel set up or better heads from a much more potent Pontiac engine. Now, these parts don’t have plain-language ID – it’s not like it’s stamped “free-flow heads, 1968 GTO”. Or, is it? If you know about casting numbers, you can hunt down what you want, as these numbers tell you a lot about what parts where used where and for what. A book filled with casting numbers would be pretty handy I thought.

Well, what a disappointment this book was. I mean, it’s got a neat retro look and feel. It purports to cover the big-name American and Japanese makes. There’s room to make notes. It seems fairly organized in layout. Each manufacturer has engines sectioned by Passenger car 4 cylinder, 6 cylinder, V6, V8, and then Truck engines listed similarly. Lists are arranged in ascending order from smallest displacement and earliest year.

However, none of that makes up for the sheer amount of information that appears to be missing or incorrect. And I mean, glaring stuff. A summary of what I found, focused mostly on V8s (which I know the most about), but by no means exhaustive…

  • The Chrysler truck 3.9L V6 is listed as 238 cubic inches. Having owned one, I know that all sales and service literature refers to this as a 239 cubic inch engine. A minor detail, but truthfully, a single cubic inch can be a major difference when talking about engines.
  • The Chrysler Passenger car V8 section is missing any references to the FirePower/FireDome/RedRam and Polyspheric engines of the 1950s, as well as missing significant later engines including the 273, 413 and 426 Wedge and 426 Hemi (413s and a 426 are listed under the Truck section, however Wedge and Hemi engines appeared in numerous passenger cars). These were not ‘one-off’ or specialty engines. Chrysler sold thousands of these.
  • An 8.0L Chrysler V10 is listed under the Truck section. However the Dodge Viper also used this engine, but with significant differences. The truck’s iron-block V10 wouldn’t likely share casting numbers with the Viper’s aluminum block, and the engines differed in other respects also. There should be a separate listing for the Viper V10.
  • Many Ford Motor Company engines missing, including the extremely well-known Ford flathead (found in pretty much every Ford from 1939 to 1954), the MEL family, the 221 and 260 members of the Windsor family, and the 406 and 410 variants of the FE family. Additionally, there are discrepancies with other engines, such as the 352 and 390 FE engines, whose years of manufacture are grossly misstated here.
  • Missing from the Buick section are many notable engines such as the 340 and 430, and there appear to be no Nailhead engines.
  • Pontiac section is missing any references to the 326, 421 or 428 engines.
  • No references at all to any of the straight-8 engines from Chrysler, Buick, Pontiac etc., nor any listings for the Lincoln V12, or the Cadillac V12 and V16. These engines were all significant and produced after 1930.
Some entries have blank spaces. Does this mean no casting number exists? Or did they just not know what it was?

Then there are the blank spaces in the listings. As an example, the listings for the 1989-92 and 1993-95 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 5.7L engines show only a single casting number – a block number for the early engine. This may be correct, as perhaps the early block is the only cast part, while the rest may be forged parts (which then wouldn’t technically have a casting number). However, some other engines note forged crankshafts and still have casting numbers listed. Bottom line, it’s very difficult to trust the information in this book.

Undoubtedly, some, perhaps even much of the information here is correct. The 1987-93 5.0L V8 lists the head casting as “E7TE”. Having had a 1988 Mustang, I know the E7TE are known as pretty decent stock heads. But the reference is lacking information. Ford’s parts numbering system is fairly easy to follow, and E7TE breaks down to E for decade (1980s), 7 for the year (1987), T for car line (truck), and E for department (engine). E7TE is used commonly among people who know late-model Ford pushrod engines, but it is not the complete casting number. In fact, ‘E7TE’ will apply to many parts that were cast in 1987 for any Ford truck engine, be they inline or V design, or any number of cylinders. Without the rest of the number, you won’t know what you’re getting.

While I’m tearing this book apart, I will also note there is no copyright page included. This is the page in most books where the publishing information is found. It’s only because ‘thedirtygringo.com’ is found on the back cover, and Amazon lists the author as Dirty Gringo Journals that we know that’s who produced this book.

I have to give this little book a failing grade. There’s just far too many issues. As stated, I am not an expert, but I am enough of an enthusiast to catch the above listed errors. And frankly, this book is only going to appeal to people who have at least as much knowledge as I do. The concept is great – a book that would serve as a reference for numbers geeks, hot rodders, even the backyard mechanic who wants to do some custom work on his cruiser. But with so much information missing or incorrect, there just isn’t any way this book is useful to anyone.

I might have been better off just paying for shipping.

Pros: a good concept, a fairly organized idea for presentation
Cons: simply too much missing and incorrect information to be trusted
Where to find it: Amazon

Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002

Front cover of Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002

Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002 by John Gunnell
published 2012, Krause Publications
368 pages, softcover

ISBN-10: 1-4402-3234-2
ISBN-13: 978-1-4402-3234-3

There are some books that are not a ‘good read’ by any means, but if you’re really into a subject then these books prove to be valuable parts of your collection. Among those are what we’ll call reference books, and the Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002 is most certainly such a book.

Krause Publications was quite well known for its Standard Catalog series, which began as a coin collectors publication but touched on other collectibles such as baseball cards and in the case of today’s review, automobiles. The company was absorbed by F+W which has in turn succumbed to bankruptcy. I mention this because in my recent searches, I’ve not found an updated version of this book (ie. one that includes the final years until Pontiac’s demise in 2009). In light of the company’s business issues, I suspect that it’s unlikely any update will arrive.

So, what to say about the Standard Catalog of Pontiac… Well, it’s a thick book, completely in black and white, and the paper is newsprint-like. The layout is in some ways like Sixty Years of Chevrolet, though it reads even less like a narrative. That’s not to say there isn’t anything in the way of story – there is. After the foreword and the ‘how to use this guide’ stuff, there’s a decent overview of the history of Oakland and Pontiac, and brief profiles on Pontiac-Oakland Club International and Pontiac Historic Services, both great resources for Pontiac fanatics.

It should be noted for those who are not aware… Oakland Motor Car Company, based in Pontiac, Michigan, was a division of General Motors. In the 1920s, GM instituted a ‘companion make’ system, sort of a ‘junior brand’ to other GM brands. Oakland’s junior was Pontiac (the others were Viking for Oldsmobile, Marquette for Buick, and LaSalle for Cadillac). The goal was to cover as much of the potential market as possible. Ultimately, the program did not last long. Interestingly Pontiac displaced its senior make, and Oakland was no more.

1918-19 Oakland page spread. This is typical for early year synopses.

The book proceeds with what is essentially each model year as a chapter. Beginning with the 1908 Oakland, pages are filled with sections organized by year. Each section contains (where applicable): a description of each model line offered that year; breakdown of the I.D. data; a production total grid; a listing of engines offered (standard and optional) for each model; chassis specifications; technical information (ie. transmissions, final drive ratios, suspension type, fuel capacity); drivetrain options; major convenience/appearance options; option packages; and finally historical notes, including total Pontiac production, ranking amongst US automakers, road test results and other trivia. Later years actually break out the engine, chassis, technical and options sections by model.

You can see that for the early years, where there were maybe 2 car lines offered and with few options, a ‘years-worth’ of info may take up a page, including photos. The year 1976, with 8 model lines on offer, occupies 4-1/2 pages. For 1997, it’s 7-1/2 pages. I’d imagine that only those who thrive on knowing every last bit of trivial information would be enticed to slog through these sections.

1969 section. Note the top left image on page 121 is captioned as a GTO convertible, but the image is really just a repeat of the GTO ‘The Judge’ hardtop from bottom right on page 120.

There is a 25-page section of larger size Pontiac photos, and the end of the book has more charts with a year-by-year style number chart, some interesting Pontiac facts, and build data through 1972.

Now, as I’ve mentioned, I happen to have a 1976 Grand Prix as my summertime cruiser. I actually bought this book prior to getting the car, but as a reference this book has been great. I used the 1976 I.D. data section to decode my VIN number:
2- Pontiac Division
J- Grand Prix (not including SJ)
57- 2-door hardtop
M- Pontiac 350 cubic inch V8 with 2-bbl
P- Pontiac MI plant
(the last 6 digits being the sequential number)
The M code 350 is the base on the Grand Prix and Firebird Formula, rated at 160 horsepower (oh, those smog-year engines), and 280lbs-ft torque.

2001 section start. As you can see, the later year entries contain a great deal more information than the early years.

Of course, there are some things to quibble with this book.

Firstly, it’s a real shame that every picture is in black and white, especially since so many of them are from Pontiac sales material. With a collection of stats and little in the way of narrative, colour picture would have gone a long way to increasing visual appeal.

Secondly, there are a number of errors. I can’t necessarily pick out any in terms of the statistical info, as I have nothing to check this text against. However, there are a number of pictures that are either repeated for multiple models, or are obviously labeled incorrectly.

Thirdly, I’m a little puzzled that there’s essentially no information on Canadian Pontiacs. Now, some may question why I bring this up. The thing is, like many automakers in the days before the Auto Pact, the Big Three had some ‘Canada-only’ products. For GM, these included what some call ‘Cheviacs’. These were cars styled like full-sized Pontiacs, but with slightly altered sheet-metal, that was put on what were essentially full-sized Chevrolet frames, complete with Chevrolet engines. Instead of names like Star Chief, Catalina and Bonneville, they were named Strato Chief, Laurentian and Parisienne. So why do I question why these cars are not included?

Well for one, a number of Pontiac models were built in Canada, some exclusively. The final generations of the Firebird for example were built at Ste. Therese Quebec. Secondly, the Parisienne was a Canada exclusive from 1958-1983. However, GM had discontinued Pontiac’s full-size cars in the early 1980s. Catalina was gone, and the Bonneville name moved to what had been the Grand Lemans. But buyers looking for full-sized cars simply bypassed Pontiac rather than settle for the mid-size Bonnie. GM’s solution was to import the Canadian-market full-size Parisienne until 1987. This story is missing from the 1983 model descriptions – Parisienne just appears as the top-line model with no explanation of the name which hadn’t appeared until then. It just seems odd, given the history.

With all that said, I’ll echo what I’d said earlier. This is a great resource as a reference. It doesn’t necessarily stand alone as a reference, but it’s got a wealth of information for those who need to know more about Pontiac.

Pros: a wealth of data and information, an important resource
Cons: all in black and white, some very noticeable errors, the final 7 years of Pontiac production are missing
Where to find it: Amazon, ebay, private collections (most likely out of print)

You may also enjoy…
GTO: A Source Book/GTO Volume II: A Source Book
Fifties Flashback: The American Car

Fifties Flashback: The American Car

Fifties Flashback: The American Car by Dennis Adler
published 1996, 2012 by Crestline Publishing
160 pages, hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0-7858-2831-0

Purchased new from a book retailer.

Each decade of motorcar manufacture seems to have a personality to it. And when it comes to personality, the cars of 1950s have plenty, full of glitz, glamour and go-go-go! Dennis Adler’s Fifties Flashback: The American Car does a very good job exposing those big glitzy cars with great photos and a wealth of information. He describes not only the vehicles but gives a decent background to describe how these sometimes outlandish behemoths came to exist.

Adler’s first 2 chapters set the stage. The first chapter describes what was happening in the country. The post-war prosperity, the creation of the interstate system, the birth of rock’n’roll, the rise of the motor hotel and the notion of travel throughout the country for pleasure. But Adler also describes an idea that drove automotive design to new heights – planned obsolescence, the idea that the next model should look so great that this year’s model seems old and worn out. The next chapter, Adler fills in the automotive design background. He describes how the immediate post-war years saw warmed over pre-war designs until such time as manufacturers finally introduce the new sleeker, lower cars of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

From there, Adler does a nice job of covering some of the star cars from the ’50s. While the main focus is on the shiny chrome and sheer size of these cars, Adler includes a good amount of information covering performance and engineering, as well as some of the corporate intrigue, how personalities worked together (or didn’t) to steer design in one direction or another. Topics covered in some depth include the development of the GM ‘Dream Cars’ – the 1953 Corvette, Eldorado, Skylark and Fiesta; the engineering of the Ford Skyliner’s retractable metal roof; the development of the Corvette and Thunderbird as competing sports cars; and George Mason’s plan to merge 4 floundering companies to create American Motors.

1953 Oldsmobile Fiesta ‘Dream Car’.
Ford’s Skyliner convertible and Edsel.

Also of note, the book includes a number of quotes and insights from people such as Chuck Jordan, Dave Holls and Jack Telnack. These men were in the thick of automotive design during the 1950s, being directly involved with the development of a numbe rof these vehicles.

As enjoyable as this book is, I did find some things to quibble with.

There seems a bias towards cars made in the latter half of the decade. It’s somewhat understandable as there is a distinct change in styling from that was seen with the 1955 models. As many of the new post-war designs came in 1948-49, it makes sense that the aesthetic would carry on to mid-decade. Adler doesn’t completely ignore the pre-1955 cars – as said, the GM Dream Cars do get quite a bit of ink. But there’s little to see of cars like the 1950-51 Ford, the first Chev Bel Air, or the early 50s Chryslers.

Hudson, Nash, Studebaker and Packard get their due.

Secondly, the Chrysler Corporation seems under-represented. The are not completely ignored, as the 1957 300C, 1957 DeSoto Adventurer and 3 of Exner’s Idea Cars show up. By comparison to the GM and Ford representation though, coverage is lacking. Yes, Chrysler styling prior to 1955 was very stodgy, but there is a real lack of Dodge, Plymouth and Imperial cars. In fact, while the 1957 300C gets a number of paragraphs, there’s nothing about how the famed C-300 came to be in 1955 when an Imperial front end was married up to a New Yorker wearing Windsor rear flanks.

Thirdly, the final chapter focuses on hot rods and customs, and it seems something of an afterthought. It’s a difficult chapter to describe. This book is certainly all about the factory styling, but any discussion about cars in the 1950s would have to include hot rods and customs which had a huge presence. It’s just that hot rodding and custom cars are such a big subject that the chapter seems inadequate. There are some nice cars shown, and the big names like Winfield and Barris and Roth show up, but it just doesn’t seem enough.

Overall, Denis Adler’s Fifties Flashback is a very enjoyable book that provides information and visual appear to drive you to seek out more. It’s really a flashback to a time when chrome was king and the automobile took hold as a major influence on American society.

Pros: good historical context and insider information, lots of great photos
Cons: not much on cars from the early part of the decade, Chrysler seems under-represented
Where to find it: Amazon, ebay, used bookstores, personal collections

You might also enjoy…
Cadillac: The Tailfin Years
1956 Continental Mark II
The Complete Book of Classic Ford F-Series Pickups: Every Model from 1948-1976

The development and competition between the early Corvette and Thunderbird is featured, as well as notes on other sportscars of the era.
Back cover featuring the iconic 1959 Cadillac Eldorado

Road Hogs: Detroit’s Big Beautiful Luxury Performance Cars of the 1960s and 1970s

Road Hogs

Road Hogs: Detroit’s Big Beautiful Luxury Performance Cars of the 1960s and 1970s by Eric Peters
published 2011 by MBI Publishing
160 pages, hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0-7603-3764-6
ISBN-10: 0-7603-3388-2

Purchased new from a vendor at the Toronto Classic Car Auction

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, and in those years my parents mostly drove full-size cars from the Big Three. A 1960 Olds 88, a 1964 Chevy Biscayne, then a 1964 Buick Electra 225 2-door and finally a 1976 Mercury Meteor Montcalm. My mom inherited her father’s last car, a 1967 Ford LTD 4-door hardtop, and she drove it until 1985. While I certainly loved Mustangs and Camaros and GTOs as any kid would, I always had a soft spot for the big, floaty full-sizers.

That drew me to Eric Peters’ book Road Hogs. At the time, I didn’t recall seeing many books that really showcased these behemoths. Sure, there were anthologies that covered complete marques, and maybe some books that explored top-line luxury cars. But none that seemed to really celebrate the beasts found in most driveways across North America. And make no mistake, Peters’ book is definitely a celebration of these cars, evidenced by this from the introduction…

Great, glitzy ingots of excess, whitewall tired and landau roofed – their mighty prows bedecked in chrome,
their flanks adorned with inscriptions that read d’Elegance and Brougham
These were cars deserving not merely of names, but titles.

The text is light on technical information – mostly wheelbases, overall lengths, cubic inch and horsepower references. And Peters isn’t actually shy about lamenting, as the 70s became the 80s and then the 90s, how the numbers got smaller and more depressing. Let’s face it, there isn’t enough lipstick to disguise the 4500 lb pigs saddled with 400 cubic inch plants that could barely muster 180 horsepower. There is a reason we know it as ‘The Malaise Era’.

What Peters does is laud the size, the opulence, indeed the excess that these cars embody. Take the title of chapter one, ‘Topless Titans: The Anna Nicole Smiths of the Automotive World’, and the first car featured is the Cadillac Eldorado convertible, probably the most ostentatious production car of the era. Like Anna Nicole the Eldo was glitzy, curvy, it had huge… cubic inches. And Peters outlines how the Caddy and its brethren were the height of plush, luxurious road travel – yards of Corinthian leather… wide sweeping dashboards… pillow-soft suspensions… and gobs of stump-pulling torque to get the lumbering beasts moving.

It doesn’t end with the big convertibles. The next chapter features the top-line sedans like the AMC Ambassador and Ford LTD. He devotes a chapter to the ‘mid-size coupes’, the Monte Carlos and Cordobas which dwarf today’s sedans. Of course, the true luxo-barges are also given their due – the DeVilles, Continentals and Imperials that were truly the biggest and best. Finally, Peters even squeezes in a chapter on the family trucksters – the wagons which today are rare after having been driven into the dust carting America’s future to and fro.

Now as I pointed out in my review of Ford Muscle, I do make note of errors I find when I read a book. And I did unfortunately find a few minor things in Road Hogs – the most egregious being finding a 1958 Chevy being represented as a 1958 Buick (which is a shame – the grille on the 58 Buick is a dazzling sight!) I guess everyone makes mistakes from time to time.

The bottom line on Road Hogs though is, it’s a fun read. Peters’ writing style demonstrates his reverence for these cars, and really the era they originate from. At the same time he is able to accept and even poke some light fun at the deficiencies inherent in what are arguably among the most poorly constructed American cars built. The images are a wonderful mix of original promotional material and contemporary shots of survivor cars. Each car gets a little factoid table to fill in the picture. And while some favourite models may be missing (the Monte Carlo is in, but my Grand Prix isn’t), this book really pays homage to these bloated beasts that so many of us spent so many hours bouncing seatbelt-less in.

Pros: great writing style; large colourful photos; 25 models covered
Cons: minor factual errors; maybe a little light on tech info
Where to find it: Available on Amazon, eBay, used bookstores.

You might also enjoy…
American Cars of the 60s
Cadillac Style, Volume I

American Cars of the 1960s

IMG_1279American Cars of the 1960s by The Auto Editors at Consumer Guide
published 2010 by Publications International Limited
320 pages, hardcover

ISBN-10: 1-4508-0641-1
ISBN-13: 978-1-4508-0641-1

Purchased new (2013) at Chapters in store.

Remember when Mad Men debuted, and people got all caught up in the early 1960s again? The look, that slick Kennedy-era/Madison Avenue polish. While the television show was more about the characters than the industry they work in, there are glimpses of how the ad game worked then, and the automobile figured quite prominently in the series.

American Cars of the 1960s is a book is filled with the colour and energy of 1960s automobile advertising imagery at its best. It is comprised of images taken directly from the manufacturers’ brochures and magazine advertising. Each marque is grouped alphabetically, and then follows a year-after-year format, which is great for seeing how American automotive styling progressed through the 60s. It also shows how advertising was changing.

Brochures and ads heavy on illustrations in the early ’60s
evolved into more realistic photo-based pieces…

Some very recognizable auto ad artwork make appearances. The Pontiac section contains numerous pieces of Art Fitzpatrick’s iconic ‘Wide-Track’ work. Plymouth was out to ‘win you over’. You might catch a case of Dodge Fever. And you’ll be asked “Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?”

It is important to note that this book includes images of three marques that ceased production during the decade. The last of Desoto, Edsel and Studebaker are found in these pages. Also interesting is to see how as the decade progressed, the Rambler name, once prominent in ads, is replaced by AMC.

It’s easy to see the allure of the images on these pages. Luxury cars in country club settings. Station wagons full of camping gear and picnic baskets. Personal coupes, sports cars and convertibles parked near golf courses and marinas. Images specifically created to lure you off your couch and into the showroom (hopefully a couple times in the decade) to trade your jalopy in on Detroit’s newest, shiniest, more powerful creation. Light on text and hard information, but heavy on colourful pictures, this book transports you back to when magazine ads and brochures did their best to sell you all the excitement and glamour of new cars in the 1960s.

This book is really just a lot of fun to flip through and soak up.


1962 Chevrolet


1964 Mercury


1966 Chrysler


1967-68 Lincoln

Pros: filled with colourful, original advertising artwork and photos
Cons: little in the way of substantial information
Where to find it: Amazon, ebay, retail booksellers (traditional and online)

You might also like…
Fifties Flashback: The American Car
Cadillac: The Tailfin Years
1960 Cadillac Sixty Special