And speaking of colors, while the standard Grand Prix was available in a choice of twenty-two colors, this rare edition was offered only in Starlight Black and Polar (or Cameo) White, the latter, shown in the illustration above, being far and away the most common of the two.
Both were trimmed in Hurst’s distinctive Firefrost Gold paint. One Hurst insider admits there may have been one green example produced in 1972... the third and final year of SSJ production. Grand Prix’s aircraft-inspired interiors were trimmed in black, ivory, or sandalwood. Leather trim was optional for an additional $199.00.
Just who is ‘Hurst’? Well, you might say they’re a rather ‘shifty’ bunch. (Sorry, just couldn’t pass that one up!) Most of us ‘car guys and gals’ in my age group (post middle-age, pre-elderly) are very familiar with the name Hurst.
Known primarily as a manufacturer of superior quality and often innovative transmission shifters and of course the popular Hurst labeled T-handles that often topped them– the company was a huge and well-respected name back in the sixties and seventies and remains a significant player to this day. Many of you may also be familiar with the legendary Hurst Olds Cutlasses and 4-4-2s produced during this same period.
I was especially fond of those cars for it was during those years that my father Charley had given up his partnership in the service station and gone into full time sales for McKelvey-Kessler Oldsmobile in Ferguson, Missouri. The Hurst Olds of 1969 vintage, in white with gold trim, was a truly awesome muscle car in its day and remains a highly desirable collector car in today’s market.
The seventies was a rather dismal decade in American automotive history... if not American history in general. It was, after all, the disco era... and many of us were wearing polyester leisure suits as we reached over to switch on our lava lamps. (I remember wearing a mauve, three-piece suit on my wedding day back in the fall of ‘76, and I also a pair of ‘very berry’, platform shoes! I also had a lot more hair then as well!)
But let’s not go there. Back to the Grand Prix for 1970. Although the decade would see some rather garish styling disasters... foremost being the 5-MPH government imposed crash bumpers, of which GM and Ford examples were the most offensive. But at the turn of the decade, the ‘big three’, not to mention AMC, were pumping out some of the best-looking and best performing cars in the history of the American automobile industry.
The Pontiac Grand Prix Hurst SSJ was distinctly different from its cousins in the Olds family. The folks at Oldsmobile made a very big deal over the Hurst edition Cutlass and 4-4-2 models, using them as showroom teasers to draw traffic into their dealerships. The Olds division was actively involved in the entire marketing process including production of printed support materials, brochures, magazine ads, etc.
The folks at Pontiac Motor Division, however, took a totally different approach. Once the Grand Prix left the factory on its way to Hurst Performance Research Corporation, the Pontiac team basically washed their hands of them, except for honoring the standard factory warranty. PMD didn’t even give Hurst a hand when it came to printed promotional materials, leaving print media advertising and sales brochure production to the folks at Hurst.
The buying process went something like this:
Shoppers would go to their local Pontiac dealership, sit down with a salesperson and fill out a factory order for a standard Pontiac Grand Prix coupe... selecting from one of two available engines, a 400 cubic inch (that’s 6.5 liters for you Gen-Xers in the crowd) V-8 rated at 350 horsepower or a 455 cubic inch (7.5 liters) mill which produced 370 ponies.
The next decision was just which transmission one wanted to button up behind these beefy engines. Believe it or not, the ‘standard-standard’ tranny was a three-speed synchromesh with column mounted shifter, but only 171 units, out of a total production of 65,750 Grand Prixs for 1970, had that transmission. Another 329 were fitted with a four-speed manual with floor mounted shift and the remaining 65,250 were equipped with GM’s Turbo Hydra-Matic for an extra $227.00.
A wide selection of convenience and appearance options were offered for 1970– some, including body-color sport mirrors and G78x14 whitewall tires, were required. Rally II wheels were also considered a requirement, however, they could be passed over in favor of Hurst’s gold-honeycomb wheels or American Racing wheels. Pontiac’s optional handling package and mini spare tire were highly recommended.
From this point on, the list of options was the same as standard Grand Prixs and included air conditioning ($422.00); power brakes ($64.00); power front bucket seat ($73.00); Rally gauge cluster with tachometer ($84.00) and remote control deck lid release for $15.00, to name just a few.
Once the list was completed and dad wrote a check for the down payment, the order was sent to Pontiac headquarters. After final assembly, the vehicle was shipped to Hurst Performance Company for transformation into the stylish SSJ. Sources tell us that final delivery was the responsibility of Hurst and customers nationwide had to pick up their SSJs from the Hurst facility in Southfield, Michigan or arrange costly transportation.
Needless to say, this rather huge and costly inconvenience, resulted in very limited sales. Pontiac didn’t even tally the number of Grand Prixs shipped to Hurst for conversion, therefore, production numbers remain vague to this day with most estimates hovering around 200 units for each of model years 1970 and 1971. Nineteen seventy-two models were said to be a fraction of these numbers. As a collectible car enthusiast, this just makes the Grand Prix SSJs that much more appealing.
Nearly forty years after the introduction of these cars, the collector market value for the SSJs does not reflect the rarity of this classy chassis. According to Krause Publications Old Cars Price Guide, the 1970 Grand Prix SSJ, in number one, show quality condition is worth around $18,500... just two thousand more than a standard Grand Prix. In my humble opinion, this car is currently under valued, perhaps because the smaller, highly-coveted muscle cars of the same vintage, Chevelles, 4-4-2s and Pontiac’s own GTO, overshadow the larger, Grand Prix which fits more appropriately into the ‘personal luxury car’ group along with the likes of Buick’s Riviera and Oldsmobile’s Starfire and Toronado models. I believe that in years to come, the spread between the standard GP and the SSJ GP will widen, perhaps significantly. Just how much and how fast, however, remains to be seen.
Although the Grand Prix, particularly in SSJ trim, appealed to a slightly more mature audience than the GTOs and others in the ‘pony car’ category, make no mistake, its machismo qualified it for ‘man toy’ status... and although Pontiac (or Hurst) didn’t gather gender-specific sales demographics, you can bet your last indian head nickel that the vast majority of buyers used the men’s room at Chuck-A-Burger.
If you attend a large Pontiac show, like the Pontiac Oakland Club International’s annual convention, you’re likely to see a smattering of what appear to be Grand Prix SSJs on display. Don’t pull out your checkbook to make the owner an offer, however, until you research the vehicle extensively. Many an unscrupulous Pontiac dealer, back in the day, succumbed to the temptation to send their white GPs to the body shop adding a gold trim package and passing them off as a Hurst SSJ. Some even had ‘SSJ’ emblems made up to make the rouse even more believable.
One key, however, is that a real SSJ will have the Hurst name on the badge along with the letters SSJ. Although it is possible that counterfeit Hurst badges have been produced over the years, if original paperwork is available, it will show the delivery destination as the Hurst Performance Research Corporation in Southfield, Michigan.
If my story has inspired you to go out searching for a Grand Prix SSJ, you’re likely to find one at the 2009 Pontiac Oakland Club International annual national convention being held in Dayton, Ohio from July 7-11. Hundreds of Pontiacs of all shapes, sizes and vintage will be on display for show and judging. These annual events are premiere show cases for specific marques and this year’s POCI event promises to be a great place to see your favorite Pontiac automobiles displayed en masse. For more information, visit the club web site at: www.POCI.org