1980 Pontiac Grand Prix Ad, versus Celica
1980 Pontiac Grand Prix Ad

I am not a priest, but I did grow up Catholic. Catholic enough, at least, to know that the copywriters responsible for this Pontiac Grand Prix ads will not dodge a protracted stay in purgatory just by reciting a few Hail Marys. Indeed, they are quite possibly doomed permanently to even darker quarters.

More Grand Prix fun

1980 Pontiac Grand Prix

Seen here is one of the most misleading, dishonest, and confusingly misguided print ads to see magazine placement in the modern era. I qualify with “modern era” because we cannot forget the patent-medicine ads of the early 20th century, many of which promoted products claimed to cure everything from bad breath and acne to memory loss and hoof-and-mouth disease. The creators of those ads are waiting patiently in Hades for the Pontiac ad guys to join them.

There are two primary things wrong with the Grand Prix ad seen here: a tortured comparison, and a healthy dose of old-school dishonestly. Also, and maybe I’m just being a little over sensitive, but I think we can toss in a little racism, too.

1980 Pontiac Grand Prix Ad
1980 Pontiac Grand Prix Ad

Let’s start with the comparison. This creators of this ad want us to believe that, back in 1980, people were cross shopping the sporty, sleek, fun-to-drive Toyota Celica with the larger, heavier, chrome-laden, sloppy-handling, Grand Prix. Never happened.

In simplest terms, the Celica was a small, sporty coupe or hatchback (both were offered), while the Grand Prix was a personal luxury car along the lines of the Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Chrysler Cordoba. In 1980, personal-luxury-car intenders were not likely to consider a Japanese car, much less a small one.

1993 Twin Dual Cam GT: The Last Manual-Transmission Pontiac Grand Prix

1980 Pontiac Grand Prix Ad
1980 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ

The Celica was being sold to young auto enthusiasts with an affinity for road feel and lean design, while the Grand Prix appealed to balding guys praying for pharmaceutical companies to roll out a product like Viagra (still 18 years out).

Now, let’s talk about that prices listed in the ad. Per the Pontiac ad guys, the Celia GT started at $6919, while the Grand Prix, was a seeming bargain at $6448. Simple minded readers, especially those with a low tolerance for text, may have skipped to the next page in the magazine having taken just one “fact” from this ad: the Pontiac was a bargain. Here’s the trouble:

The Celica was also offered in a base “ST” trim level, which started at $6099. Except for the optional automatic transmission—required for this comparison because the Grand Prix could not be had with a manual—the Grand Prix did not come standard with any equipment not standard on the Celica ST.

Standard on the Celica ST was an AM radio, while an AM/FM radio came with the GT. Adding an AM/FM radio to the ‘Prix raised the bottom line by $192. Also, the Celica came standard with reclining bucket seats, while the Pontiac included a nasty front bench seat. Want front buckets in the Grand Prix? That’s an extra $166.

Other items standard on the Celica, but not on the Grand Prix: tinted glass ($78), reclining passenger seat ($67), and a clock ($24).

Also, it is unlikely that any dealer ever ordered a 1980 Grand Prix without white-sidewall tires, or air conditioning. Air conditioning added $601 to the bottom line, and adding the white-sidewall tires (which including the vaunted Radial Tuned Suspension) cost $143.

In a nutshell, the Grand Prix’s $471 cost advantage over the Celica GT was really a $56 dollar disadvantage. Compared to the base Celica ST, the gap swells to $876. This figure does not include the Grand Prix’s available Rally Gauge Cluster, which for $135 was the only way to equip the car with a tachometer, a feature standard on either Celica.

More Favorite Car Ads

There are bigger problems with this comparison than price, however. While the Celica was powered by a spritely, rev-happy overhead-cam 2.2-liter four, the Grand Prix was saddled with a clunky, grunty, 3.8-liter pushrod V6 that famously ran out of steam at highway speeds. Now, the Grand Prix could be had with a more-formidable V8, but the 5.0-liter engine options added a big $295 to the bottom line, and would negate the already dubious fuel-economy claims found in this ad (more on those in a moment).

Also, the Celica was famously fun to drive, boasting rack-and-pinion steering, and a curb weight some 1000 pounds lower than the Grand Prix. To get anything like a little handling precision out of the Grand Prix, a customer would have to order the aforementioned $143 Radial Tuned Suspension.

Finally, and this is big, the ads claim that the Grand Prix returned better fuel economy than the Celica, which feels bogus on its face, as the two cars returned the same EPA combined 20 mpg estimate. However, as the ad notes, the Grand Prix earned a 21 mpg highway ratings, versus the Celica’s 20. Two points: first, American carmakers were better at tweaking EPA estimates than were the Japanese makers, and, this is key, most Celica buyers opted for the standard, slick-shifting 5-speed manual transmission, which returned a combined EPA estimate of 23 mpg.

And, as for the flustered-looking presumably Japanese Toyota executive…

At no point ever in the history of Toyota selling cars in the U.S., has a company executive every wondered or worried about what was going on at Pontiac. Never happened.

Why this ad was approved for publication is beyond understanding. The comparison is frankly stupid, and the facts backing up the comparison are thin at best, and borderline fraud at worst. Really, this is unforgivable stuff.

Pontiac could have compared the subcompact Sunbird to the Celica—which was also offered as a coupe and hatchback—but that car was frankly awful. The Firebird would have provided the more apt comparison—especially in terms of performance, and design—but would come up short in price and fuel economy.

You’d be hard pressed to come up with a more mismatched comparison than the Toyota Celica and the Pontiac Grand Prix. No customer would have ever compared the two, and no Toyota executive ever spent time worrying that shoppers would. And as for the copywriters of this ad, the Catholic in me believes they’ll get what’s coming to them.

Cheap Wheels: 1990 Pontiac Grand Prix STE Turbo

1980 Toyota Celica GT
1980 Toyota Celica GT

Listen to the Car Stuff Podcast

Follow Tom on Twitter

1980 Pontiac Grand Prix Pictures

Click below for enlarged images


Pontiac Grand Prix: Classic Car Ads

Consumer Guide Car Stuff Podcast Episode 224: Renting an EV, Virginia Backs Down, Why the Charging Infrastructure Program is Moving so Slowly

Share this: