Marketing Material: 1980 Pontiac Grand Prix adApril 1980

Going into the 1980s Pontiac produced a series of ads which indicate the brand’s awareness of new competition.

At a time when the cost of fuel was a sensitive topic for many consumers, this ad focuses on economy and makes a peculiar comparison to make their point.

Addressing concerns from an eastern continent
1980 Pontiac Grand Prix ad spokesmanI’ve seen a few versions of the ads from that time period, each presenting a similar situation: an apparent executive from an Asian auto manufacturer seeking the answer to the enigma that keeps Pontiac ahead. One, from 1981, shows a supposed Datsun executive visually inspecting a Grand Prix, seeking the elusive something missing from his products.

In this version, however, a perplexed-looking would-be Toyota representative is shown merely in a portrait (right), asking the question, “What does Pontiac know that we don’t?”

The 1980 Pontiac Grand Prix was from the model’s fourth generation. In that generation’s first year, 1978, Pontiac sold almost a quarter-million of the personal-luxury cars. By the end of 1980, Pontiac would sell a scant 50 percent as many. Granted, some of the dramatic decline could have been attributed to potential Grand Prix buyers that were holding out for the 1981 model’s substantial refresh, but there is probably a good chance that sales were also affected by the surge in popularity of Asian brands.

1980 Toyota Celica GT LiftbackIn a seeming effort to combat that surge, Pontiac offered up some comparative numbers in a single-page ad from the April 1980 edition of Motor Trend magazine. The car they curiously chose to compare to the Grand Prix is Toyota’s little Celica GT Liftback.

Above left is a picture of the 1980 Celica referenced (but not illustrated) in the ad. The reason I say it was a curious choice is because the two cars hardly look like models that would be cross-shopped by many buyers. Aside from the fact that both were all-new for 1978 and about to receive upgrades for 1981, the rivalries would seem to end there. Seem to.

1980 Pontiac Grand Prix adSee, there were two other factors about the cars that Pontiac was keen to point out. Even though the Celica was considered a compact, the capacious midsize Grand Prix was cheaper and actually had the fuel mileage advantage.

At $6,448, the Grand Prix was surprisingly $471 cheaper than Toyota’s Celica GT. More surprisingly, both the Celica and Grand Prix had an EPA-estimated 20 miles-per-gallon rating but Grand Prix took the lead in highway economy, achieving 27 highway mpg compared to Celica’s 26. Combined with the 18.1-gallon tank in the Pontiac, the Grand Prix was reported to travel up to 362 miles between fill ups; compared to 322 possible from Celica’s 16.1-gallon tank.

The Celica and Grand Prix may not have shared much in the way of looks, size or probably even performance, but Pontiac knew where it had to punch back with their marketing. With price and mileage specs like those above, Pontiac may have been able to dissuade a few Toyota-bound buyers.

Click on the ad, above right, to see a larger version.