If this Pontiac’s styling looks a little bit weird to you, blame GM’s marketing wizards. They were hired from various consumer products companies in the early 1990s, when GM was in serious trouble, and its divisions were having an identity crisis. The marketing wizards invented "brand management," a set of strict rules that would define and distinguish each GM division.
By that plan, Pontiac was to be the "excitement" division. Every new Pontiac since then has had wilder styling than the car it replaced. The new-for-1999 Grand Am, with its swoopy nose, cat's-eye headlamps, tacked-on body cladding, and strange optional finned trunklid spoiler, is no exception.
To see just how wild this styling is, you need only to park the Grand Am next to its technical twin at Oldsmobile, the new Alero. Oldsmobile is the division that’s supposed to attract import-car customers, and the Alero’s conservative styling makes the Grand Am look almost outrageous in comparison. But Pontiac knows what its doing. The Grand Am’s combination of sporty styling and a modest price has made it Pontiac’s best-selling car for at least a decade. And Pontiac is not about to change that successful formula.
Almost all new
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t time for a change. The previous Grand Am had been around since 1992, and it showed, with its twisty body structure, mediocre handling, and overall lack of refinement. The 1999 model is almost all-new from the ground up. The only carry-over part is the base four-cylinder engine.
Grand Ams come with two or four doors, and in two models — a base SE, and a higher performance GT. The GT version, at $19,995, is well-equipped, with air conditioning, traction control, anti-lock brakes, cruise control, a stiffer suspension, and an appearance package with fender skirts and a standard rear wing. Under the hood, the GT gets a special version of the Grand Am’s optional iron-block, pushrod 3.4-liter 170-horsepower V-6. The GT’s V-6 gets "Ram Air" underhood cold-air induction, a trick from Pontiac’s muscle-car days of the 1960s. It also gets a low-restriction exhaust system. The Ram-Air and exhaust stuff adds five more horsepower and 10 more lb-ft of torque to the V-6, making for 175 horsepower and 205 lb-ft of torque.