Junkyard Gem: 1980 Pontiac Grand Prix LJ

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A couple of years before John DeLorean and his team at the Pontiac Division created the GTO by pasting a big engine and some gingerbread on the LeMans, they created a rakish, powerful coupe based on the staid full-size Catalina. This was the 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix, which sold like crazy and escalated the personal luxury coupe war already brewing in Detroit. Starting with the 1969 model year, the Grand Prix switched to a smaller chassis (shared the following year with the new Chevrolet Monte Carlo), and all subsequent rear-wheel-drive Grand Prix (that is, through 1987) remained siblings of the Monte. Today's Junkyard Gem is a rare 1980 Grand Prix LJ, found in a self-service yard near Reno, Nevada.

Sure, a fresh round of Middle East conflict had put a kink in America's fuel hose in 1979, leading to gas lines and a general sense of malaise, but at least the new Grand Prix looked extra sharp for 1980.

The LJ package came with all sorts of appearance and comfort goodies, including these "luxury seats with loose-pillow design in New Florentine Cloth." A Pontiac Phoenix LJ was available as well.

These seats must have been very comfortable when new.

Who needed a Cadillac when Pontiac would sell you this car at a base MSRP of just $7,000 (about $26,704 in 2023 dollars)?

That price was what you paid if you were willing to get the base 3.8-liter Buick V6, though. To get a V8 engine with four-barrel carburetor, you had to pay extra. If you did pay the extra for a V8, which one you got depended on which state you lived in; in California, you got this 305-cubic-inch (5.0-liter Chevrolet small-block), and in the other 49 states you got a 301-cubic-inch (4.9-liter) Pontiac. The 305 was rated at 150 horsepower with 230 pound-feet; the 301 made 140hp and 240 lb-ft.

This car was originally bought in California (the state line is about ten miles away from its final parking spot), so it has the Chevy engine. The V8 added $195 (plus $250 for the California-only emissions system) to the out-the-door price of the car, or about $1,316 in 2023 dollars. Outside of California, a 4.3-liter Chevy V6 was available for just 80 additional bucks ($305 now).

All 1980 Grand Prix got a three-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment, with no manual available from the factory. This car has the optional air conditioning, which cost $601 ($2,293 after inflation).

This is the "Custom Sport" steering wheel, which was standard on the LJ. The tilt option cost $81 ($309 today).

A couple of Rally IV wheels are in the trunk. If they were with the car when it was new (other Pontiacs of the era, including Firebirds, got these wheels as well), they cost the buyer just $91 extra for the set.

The Grand Prix went to front-wheel-drive in the 1988 model year, staying on the W Platform until its demise in 2008. Pontiac itself got the axe two years later.

There's some rust and paint bubbling, nothing too bad. It's unusual to see salvageable GM G-Body coupes of this era in places like this today, but you never know what you'll find in the junkyard.

The real players got the optional wire wheels (not the cheaper faux-wire hubcaps).

Once in a blue moon, a new car emerges. An extraordinary car, destined for a place in the sun.

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