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1997 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP :
GM's redneck special

by Andrew Frankl--European Bureau Chief

Yes, I suppose you could call it that-said Bill Heugh, brand manager of the newly formed Pontiac-GMC Division. Bill, a GM veteran was very proud of the new car. Wider is better was his slogan for the GTP, a rocket that comes either as a coupe or as a four door sedan. The car has a new 3800 V6 complete with supercharger. Wider is better refers to the dramatic wide track appearance of the car. It looks mean, it looks aggressive and was meant to be like that.

Somewhat surprising in a way, after all we are supposed to be more and more politically correct and here is a car that cries out to invite aggression. There is no danger that intellectuals in Marin will be lining up for it but I am sure there will be plenty of customers for it elsewhere. Would it go the way it looked I was wondering as I sat in the coupe. Initial impressions were very favourable. Really comfortable, adjustable leather seats, neat instruments, a head-up display. The engine sounds great and will propel the car from 0-60mph in under 7 seconds. The massive,10.9 inch all round disc brakes complete with ABS make sure that it stops just as well. The ride is smooth and the handling is fine although this car is not made for 17 year olds. It is a serious automobile which will do great things in the right hands. What worries me is what it might do in the wrong hands. One could of course say that about any car but I am sure you get my drift by now. Don't make it your son's first car!

In the hills around San Jose the GTP was a dream to drive-fast, effortless, fun. The radio was sort of all right, clearly not a BOSE but still OK. What I loved was that finally major manufacturers such as GM have caught up with Renault and started to fit steering-wheel mounted radio controls. A major safety feature if ever there was one.

I loved the gas struts at the back which held up the trunk, it is a shame that they took these away from the hood(bonnet to us chaps) which is now held up by a very old-fashioned prop rod. Still, it does give more room in the trunk which is nice..

The price-with all the extras about 25 thousand dollars and for that you get a car which will do over 125 miles per hour although the economy-if that is the right word-is likely to be on the wrong side of 20mpg. Personally I would prefer this package in a more discreet wrapping but then the only time I have red neck is when I forget to put the sunscreen on.

There is a lovely footnote to this story. Bill the brand manager disappeared rather early half-way through the presentation. I don't know if he went where I thought he must have but if he did then witnessing Bobby Hamilton winning the Dura-Lube 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in a Pontiac must have made his week-end!.