Saturday, December 23, 2017

1973 Pontiac Grand Am project: Part I

Regatta Blue Grand Am on jack stands with wheels off.

Devil in a blue dress. A couple of years ago, I was contacted by Ken McColligan of Somerdale, New Jersey. Ken needed help finding a buyer for his 1973 Pontiac Grand AmAll potential buyers in New Jersey had immediate plans to yank the stout, Pontiac 400/4-barrel/Turbo-400 transmission and scrap the body. This was a deal breaker for Ken. The Grand Am had been stored in his heated garage for 23 years and he wanted no part in killing one of Pontiac’s luxury-performance underdogs. 
  Ken’s mission was to connect the solid running, Regatta Blue Grand Am with some energetic, low-buck gear heads who would put it back on the road. He searched the web and found several stories about GM’s colonnade cars, including elusive ’73-’75 Grand Ams, on our page. 
  “Was Junkyard Life the answer?,” said Ken. “Maybe those guys in Alabama could help sell his Grand Am?” 
  Yes! We were guys that love to see these oft-overlooked Ponchos back on the road. But unfortunately, timing and finances did not align with Ken’s plan. Not one of the Junkyard Life galoots was willing to make the 840-mile trip to New Jersey to see a car that suffered from sheetmetal cancer (a.k.a. rust) caused by numerous winter on salty roads. Despite our best intentions we failed to spread the word outside of our circle of friends.   
  Two years passed and Ken hit me up again this past July and he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. $1,000 cash and the blue devil from New Jersey was mine. Ken needed the space in his garage and the time was right to turn the Grand Am loose. But wait, I’ve got rules when I buy cars... 

You guessed it, I broke two of my Rules of Car Buying: 

  • Never buy a car before you drive it. (this rule applies to cars that supposedly run under their own power)
  • Never buy a car you haven’t seen in person.

Delivery driver unloads the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am. It stands out like a sore thumb compared to the other vehicles on the car hauler.

Transportation turmoil
  The car was mine but I had to get it home. Could I drive the car 840 miles? Unlikely, without risking life and limb and emptying my checkbook on repairs along the way. Trailer it myself? No. I decided navigating the New Jersey turnpike and various toll roads with my truck at 235k miles was not the best idea. My time and safety trumped the hassle of spending 3 days on the road. 
  I searched the web to find an auto shipper but it was far more complicated that I wanted it to be. I was looking for a cheap ride for my cheap ride. No rush, open carrier. But every site I encountered was a broker who worked from the same network of carriers. Nobody could tell me who would be bringing the car and when it would arrive. 

Who do I trust? 
  Like a shell game of sorts. Pay a deposit and the “shipper” would get back to me on who and when my car would ship. Prices varied from $900 to $1,500. After 10 days and dozens of calls, I went with my gut. A reasonable sounding guy in New York promised to make the deal happen at a good price – $800. I kept my fingers crossed that I hadn’t tossed the $100 deposit in the toilet.

Friendly driver from New York delivered the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am to Alabama from New Jersey.
  The blue Grand Am left New Jersey on a Thursday at 5 p.m. and arrived in Alabama at 7 a.m. the following Sunday. Who knows where she went during her 61-hour ride? I do know she arrived about a half mile from my house with a hospitable, young driver who was happy to see the Grand Am unloaded. He dealt with a few issues on the old Pontiac that the other six, modern vehicles on his car hauler did not encounter. 
  The Grand Am’s trunk lid latch would not stay closed. Ken had tied a gallon jug of water to hold the deck lid down before it left New Jersey. Needless to say, no water was in the jug when it arrived in Alabama. The flopping trunk seemed no worse for wear but I’m sure it attracted a bit of attention along the way. Also, there was no battery installed to crank car. The delivery driver used a jumper box each time he moved the blue Grand Am on and off the car hauler. But, before he could move it, he had to make sure that their was air in all the tires. The left front tire had a decent leak. All in a days work for the young man from New York. He smiled and wished me luck.

A filled water jug was used to hold down trunk. It did not work.
A water jug was used to hold down trunk lid. 

First impressions
  The throaty, dual exhaust announced that this was definitely a V8. Wearing rusty, Pontiac Rally wheels and good and bad repair patches of sheetmetal. The blue exterior and white interior is a combination not seen on modern cars. I settled into the cushy, reclining, lumbar-supported, driver’s seat to watch the functioning tach, and finger roll the barrel control A/C knob. 
  I slammed the door, powered the windows down and wheeled the Pontiac away from the car hauler with a bit more torque than the old tires could handle. Even at 30 MPH the rear end squirmed as I matted the go pedal. The short ride home put a smile on my face.

The beige/off-white interior with chocolate-colored dash pops on the Regatta Blue 1973 Grand Am.

Poorly repaired quarter panel features aluminum can patch and bondo.
Beer can body work on the Regatta Blue 1973 Grand Am. Poorly repaired quarter panel features an aluminum can patch with a garnish of bondo.

Plenty of work to do
  Before the day was out, my top two colonnade cohorts, Ron Kidd, and Anthony Powell, arrived to climb all over the new Pontiac in my driveway. Kidd owns a 1973 Grand Prix, Powell owns three Grand Ams. They both own lots of other vehicles but they have a fondness for the ’73-’75 era. Before they left I had bought a new alternator, replaced rubber fuel lines, and made plans to replace the brake lines. 
  My buddies pointed out that the woodgrain on the dash was not the one-year-only African Cross-fire Mahogany, but a replacement from ’74-’75 Grand Am which used a woodgrain decal. The console wears the wood lid, albeit not in great condition. They noted the power windows/locks, barrel roll A/C control, remote mirror, rear defrost, along with complete interior with sport steering wheel and tach as high points to celebrate.
  A few spare parts Ken had included, were an extra tachometer, wrapped in the South Jersey DEVILer newspaper, and a ’73 Pontiac Service Manual. The DEVILer became inspiration for the Grand Am’s nickname, The Blue Devil.

Plenty of surface rust on the flat hood.
Endura “rubber” flexible nose is missing like many other worn, unrestored 1973 Grand Ams.

Nose job
  The most distinctive element on the ’73-’75 Grand Ams is the flexible, rubber nose. Mine is missing. Most of these “endura” noses crumbled after the first 10-15 years of daily driver use. A reproduction fiberglass piece is available for $744. That’s a large chunk of cash to spend on a $1,000 car, but the nose remains a must-have item to keep your Grand Am "grand”. 
  However, I’ve always been fond of the one-year-only design of the 1973 Pontiac GTO, which featured a Lemans-based header panel (nose). 1973 GTOs were sold in far smaller numbers (4,806 built) than Grand Ams (34,445 2-dr; 8,691 4-dr) of the same year. A Lemans nose would be cheaper to clone my GA into a GTO. That argument is ongoing but I’d kick myself at car shows for taking the easy way and depriving people from seeing Pontiac’s daring design.

A Pontiac 400-V8 with a 4-BBL carb and backed by a Turbo-400 transmission. Plenty of power to propel this 1973 Grand Am. That’s 230hp and 325 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm for those keeping score at home.

To be continued
  I plan to drive this car, warts and all, as a work-in-progress. I’ve found that the best way to source parts and sometimes cars is to drive an older vehicle. You’ll make new friends and witness the conversation-starting ability an old car provides. I guarantee you that the first time I drive the blue Grand Am to a gas station, I will be approached by someone wanting to “talk” cars. Hopefully they know, or maybe you know, where I can find another ’73 Grand Am? Stay tuned.

Jody Potter 
— Junkyard Life

Warning sharp edges. The Grand Am has some jagged, rusty metal around the rear wheel wells.  

Brake job time for the 1973 Grand Am. New hard lines all around and pads/shoes. Old lines were rusty and weeping brake fluid when bled.

Under dash hush panel removed to observe the wiring and Taz air freshener. Note the factory brown carpet. Seems like an odd combo but remember this was when 1973 tastemakers were in charge. I dig it!

Rear seat and louvered quarter windows. Faded red, now pink, carpet adorns hat rack. Note rear defrost on glass.

A glance at the stunning color combo not seen in modern times. Regatta Blue exterior paint, white (light beige) interior with brown carpet and dark brown dash, black console.

Patriot theme carried over in graffiti scribbled on back of front seat back. Red pinstripes would make this a red, white and blue Grand Am.

Close look at nose mounting area and fender on the battered body of the 1973 Pontiac.

Patch panel on lower front fender below first edition Grand Am emblem.

1973 Pontiac Grand Am in all its beater glory. A survivor who will keep on surviving!

Grand Am gets put on lift for underside inspection.

1973 Pontiac Grand Am console clock and in-dash tachometer are some of the extra parts shipped with car from New Jersey.

Plenty of tail-wagging fun to be had in this posi-traction equipped Pontiac sporting a 400-V8. Stay tuned.

Have a Grand Am or parts that you want to sell/donate to the project? Know a junkyard that we need to visit? Tips for our projects? 
Send emails to Jody Potter at or Ron Kidd at

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