• Name it the Pontiac “Grand Prix Express.” (Or, How About “El Catalina?)

A new Pontiac G8 “ute,” a sport truck yet to be named that’s an updated version of the classic Chevy El Camino, will go on sale in the fall. GM’s holding a contest to come up with the official name.

Perhaps they should use the one they already used, back in 1966.

You see, the G8 sport truck isn’t a new idea from Pontiac. It’s an old one. It’s actually an idea recycled from the sixties, from the days when the late John DeLorean was the General Manager of Pontiac.

Name it the Pontiac “Grand Prix Express.” (Or, How About “El Catalina?)
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You see, Pontiac built an El Camino version of the Grand Prix in 1966. It was called the “Grand Prix Express.”

(more after the jump)

It still exists – with over 20,000 miles on the odometer – and it looks good. The box and tailgate were stock El Camino components. Most of the rest of the vehicle was sourced from the Grand Prix, including the trim. As with the El Camino, the rear fenders and taillights were station wagon pieces.

The vehicle came into the hands of a collector, Phil Erlich, in the 1980’s, while DeLorean was still alive. So, Erlich called DeLorean, who remembered the vehicle, which was one of two built. (The other was a “roller,” built for display but without a functioning drivetrain.) DeLorean said he favored the project, but the project didn’t get the go-ahead. In fact, the car actually hadn’t been fully completed: Erlich got the vehicle with the vinyl for the top inside, but not yet installed. He finished up the undone detail work.

According to Hemmings Motor News, who featured the car in an article some years ago, the Grand Prix Express is a “black hole car.” The phrase refers to projects which GM delegated to outside craftsman, but supervised by GM stylists and engineers. These were projects financed unofficially which could be plausibly denied if they didn’t fly. Apparently, the Grand Prix Express didn’t fly.

But, it does drive. How exactly it escaped from GM, though, remains a mystery. It can be traced back – seriously – to being discovered in a barn in 1968 and being owned at the time by the proverbial little old lady. The person who bought it from her sold it to Erlich.

From Erlich, it eventually crossed the auction block at Barrett-Jackson in 2000.

Name it the Pontiac “Grand Prix Express.” (Or, How About “El Catalina?)
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It turns out, though, that the Grand Prix Express wasn’t Pontiac’s first attempt at a Pontiac version of the El Camino. They tried first in 1959, the year the El Camino was introduced, with a Catalina-based version, then again in 1960 with one built off a Bonneville convertible platform. Top brass nixed both. (Both of these vehicles also still exist. The ’59 was used by a Detroit Pontiac dealer as a parts runner, and they called it the “El Catalina.”) There were also several Pontiac versions of the Chevelle-based El Camino, built on either LeMans or GTO chassis. There was also a Grand-Am version of the El Camino built by Pontiac as a concept car in the 1980’s. None of them got past the top brass, either.

But now, apparently, the El Camino concept belongs to Pontiac.

For real.

Ralph Kalal
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