1987 Pontiac Grand Am

by Choo-Choo Customs

My Ride

History of the Grand Am

The Pontiac Grand Am is a compact car that was produced by Pontiac. The history of Grand Am starts in 1973 when Pontiac executives noted the success of small Mercedes and BMWs in the U.S. market. These sports cars combined both luxury and sporty features. Taking note, Pontiac hybridized the Trans Am with the Grand Prix to create the Grand Am. The first two generations of the Grand Am were both unsuccessful, being built only three years each, from 1973 to 1975, and again from 1978 to 1980. The third generation GA was introduced in 1985 to replace the Pontiac Phoenix (cousin of the Chevrolet Citation). This third attempt became one of Pontiac's best selling cars.

Grand Am Gen 1

 1st Generation (1973-75)

Grand Am Gen 2

 2nd Generation (1978-80)

Grand Am Gen 3

 Our Grand Am (3d Gen)

Features & Performance

Tech 4 Iron Duke

 Pontiac's Tech 4 "Iron Duke"

The first two generations of the Grand Am (above) were both unsuccessful. In 1985, Pontiac made its third attempt to combine the attributes of sporty and luxury in a small car. The third generation Grand Am turned out to be one of Pontiac's top sellers. This Grand Am was built on a new front-wheel drive "N" platform shared with the Buick Somerset-Skylark and the Oldsmobile Calais. The body featured a squared-off rear window, maximizing interior room, and a sporty, front split grill, reminiscent of the competition's BMW. The Grand Am was available in a coupe or sedan with a very reliable 2.5 L (151 cubic inch) four-cylinder transverse-mounted engine nicknamed the "Iron Duke". Production of the "Iron Duke" engine began in 1977. It had gears that permanently meshed the crankshaft to the camshafts. There was no timing belt to break, but the engine had a very distinctive but non-damaging "rattle". The "Tech4" version of the engine added throttle-body fuel injection that gave 5 additional horsepower. The little engine produced only 90HP, but provided an astonishing 24 mpg city and 29 mpg highway in a compact four-passenger package.

 Our Grand Am

Choo Choo Customs Grand Am

 Choo-Choo Customs provided the ground effects package

We bought the Grand Am in 1987 as a purely economical decision. Tammy had purchased a new 1985 Pontiac Firebird Coupe the year she finished college. After we were married, we moved to Knoxville, but Tammy taught school in Maynardville, which was a 60 mile daily round trip. It was not a ridiculous amount of driving, but the Firebird, with its 5.0 L (305 cubic inch) V8, gave us only 14 mpg city and 17 mpg highway. It was eating us up in fuel, and with her working and me finishing school, it was tough to afford.


 The Grand Am at Patrick AFB, Florida

We both loved the sportiness of the Firebird and the Pontiac brand, but needed something smaller and more economical. We went to a dealership in Oak Ridge, and there we saw multiple rows of Grand Ams. Prior to 1985, the Grand Am was available in only two trim levels: a base model or the 'upscale' LE model. But in 1985, Pontiac introduced a special "sports" package, the SE. The SE model had a 3.0 L Buick V6, lower body side mouldings, a front spoiler, 14" aluminum wheels, and an upscale cloth interior featuring sporty analog instrumentation. The SE package sold for $13,269. That was $3360 more than the cost of the base model Grand Am.

Choo Choo Customs, an automotive specialty parts company out of Chattanooga, designed and manufactured custom fiberglass body kits for conversion vans, popular in the 70's and 80's. Choo Choo Customs also made a package for the Grand Am. The Oak Ridge dealership had taken a base model Grand Am with optional power windows, power door locks, a cloth interior and analog gages, and installed Choo Choo Customs' front and side body panel kit. A two-tone white-over-silver paint job and some 14" aluminum slotted wheels completed the 'SE' look. Essentially, we were able to buy an SE clone (although with a smaller engine) for under $12,000.


 Dash with optional analog gauges


 The comfortable cloth interior

Where Is It Today?

We drove the Grand Am for five years and drove it from Tennessee to Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Colorado and back. We never had a single maintenance issue. However, the high mileage and the distinctive noise of the gears inside the "Iron Duke" got louder and unsettling through the years, so we decided to trade it in.

We had cracked the front spoiler on a low curb, and the first dealer we took it to said he'd have to knock a thousand dollars off our trade-in value. He offered us less than a thousand dollars for the car. I took the car home and removed the damaged front spoiler. Underneath, the chin looked brand new. We ended up selling it to a college kid in s private sell. Still happy with the Pontiac brand, We intended to buy a larger Bonneville or Grand Prix. We went to a different Pontiac dealer where we ended up buying another Firebird, but that's a different story.