What Dave Balchunas has adjusted to is the fact that the 1973 Pontiac Grand Ville convertible he’s owned since his youth is an orphan, figuratively.
“When I was seventeen in 1985, Pontiac was a brand that had respect. Guys we looked up to drove Firebirds, GTOs, LeManses, Grand Prixs. There was no doubt,” recalls Balchunas. “Dead brands like Studebaker, DeSoto and Edsel used to seem fogey-ish, cars only old guys talked about and appreciated. I never figured that would be me. But since General Motors killed Pontiac a couple of years ago, I’m one of those old guys.”
Introduced for 1971 when all General Motors “B-body” full-size cars were redesigned, the Grand Ville nameplate was slotted above the Bonneville to become Pontiac’s new flagship. Bonnevilles were demoted to serve as mid range models (formerly named “Executive”), and Catalinas remained as base versions.
While all three shared identical bodies, trim levels differed. Although both Catalina and Grand Ville convertibles were offered initially, Catalina ragtops departed after 1972.
Grand Villes featured Pontiac’s 455-cubic-inch V8 standard and dual-exhaust versions offered through 1974 made 250 horsepower, while single-exhaust versions introduced for 1972 made 215. As late 1973 OPEC embargoes drove up oil prices; sales of ’74 Grand Villes suffered alongside all large cars. Where Pontiac had typically sold over 4,000 convertibles annually through 1973, they struggled to move 3,000 ’74s.
Sudden demand for fuel economy coupled with new emissions regulations led to smaller, detuned engines for 1975. A 400-cubic-inch V8 of 185 horsepower became the standard Grand Ville engine while 455 V8s became optional. Dual-exhausts were no longer offered on the option sheet. Styling updates provided new front and rear fascias each year, most notably square headlights on ‘75s.
Pending vehicle rollover standards prompted GM to phase out convertibles after 1975. Styling updates and last-year status helped move 4,519 units, and with the convertible gone Pontiac saw no point in keeping the Grand Ville name alive. Full-sized hardtops remained unchanged another year before being downsized for 1977, with a Bonneville Brougham model capturing top-dog status for ’76.
“My father told me how much he’d appreciated having a ten-year-old ’50 Mercury convertible in high school. When I got my license, he encouraged me to get a convertible too, because you’re only seventeen once. I knew he was right.”
After working that summer, Balchunas discovered the ’73 for sale in September 1985. With $4,000 in hand he purchased the Grand Ville, painting it within that first year after replacing a door his girlfriend damaged. He stored it while attending Boston University, and after graduating used it as an everyday car until 1991.
After marrying and moving out of state, the Grand Ville sat from 1998-2008. In order to get it driveable again for his 40th birthday, Dave saw to it all fluids, brake components, radiator, tires were replaced, and a tune-up was done. Currently the car runs well, handling and riding like the cruiser from a bygone era it truly is.
ORIGINAL LIST: $4,766
VALUE TODAY: $2,000 – $12,000
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