Brought to you from the creators of the Buick GNX (ASC/McLaren), the 1989 Pontiac Turbo Grand Prix was a low-production hot rod built to showcase the performance potential of General Motor’s new W-Body platform. With its unique turbocharged and intercooled 3.1-liter V6 engine, the Turbo Grand Prix proved that Pontiac performance was far from dead despite its transition to a front-wheel drive chassis. In fact, it was just getting started.
At the time of its release, many automotive enthusiasts were still mourning the loss of the rear-wheel drive G-Body platform after it was discontinued in 1988. The Pontiac Grand Prix, Buick Regal, and Oldsmobile Cutlass weren’t about to disappear anytime soon, but they would soon undergo drastic changes that would make them virtually unrecognizable.
Aside from the special 1986 Grand Prix 2+2 model featuring an aero nose and bubble rear glass, Pontiac purists didn’t quite have the same level of attachment to the aging chassis. In fact, they should have arguably welcomed the transition with open arms. Compared to its G-Body siblings, the Grand Prix was the worst performer of the bunch with its uninspiring 165-horsepower, 305 cubic-inch V8 engine.
The only loss in Pontiac’s lineup worth shedding tears over was the Turbo Trans Am — the fastest American production car built in 1988. But that’s another story altogether, and the introduction of the W-Body platform had nothing to do with its demise.
During the same model year, the new W-Body chassis debuted in the Grand Prix. It was met with rave reviews across the board — even winning Motor Trend’s Car of the Year Award in 1988. But as far as performance was concerned, it still left a lot to be desired. Though the previous generation’s range-topping 305-cubic-inch V8 was far from an exciting powertrain, it was a screamer compared to the new Grand Prix’s gutless 130-horsepower 2.8-liter V6.
Sure, the Grand Prix’s horsepower rating had taken a big hit. But it was the loss of the V8’s impressive low RPM torque that mattered most. The 305 cubic-inch V8’s 245 pound-feet of torque was colossal in comparison to the new V6’s 170 pound-feet rating. In spite of lackluster performance, it was the new Grand Prix’s higher build quality and level of refinement that was making headlines.
With the Motor Trend Car of the Year award in its back pocket and the W-Body platform poised for success, Pontiac was granted permission to develop an image-building halo car for the Grand Prix lineup. To create what GM’s “Excitement Division” had in mind, Pontiac’s design team enlisted the help of ASC/McLaren to transform a fully loaded Grand Prix SE into a sports car.
In a collaborative effort with ASC, Pontiac design studios unveiled an aggressive aero package with ribbed lower side skirts and revised front and rear bumpers with a true dual exhaust. This gave the Turbo Grand Prix a wider stance and aerodynamic advantage over the rest of the Grand Prix lineup. Larger, 16-inch, gold, cross-lace aluminum wheels and Pontiac’s Y99 Rally Tuned Suspension greatly improved the car’s handling.
McLaren performed the turbo conversion on its 3.1-liter V6 engine and the necessary testing and tuning prior to production. The final numbers were in — 205 horsepower and 225 pound feet of torque! Performance was remarkably improved with the Turbo Grand Prix’s 7.0 second zero-to-60 time.
Since each Turbo Grand Prix was built from an optioned-out SE, they came fully equipped with many class-leading technologies like anti-lock brakes and heads-up display from the factory. For reasons unknown, Pontiac thought it would be best to plaster the interior with more buttons than the Saturn V rocket; there are 12 on the steering wheel alone!
Pontiac’s button obsession aside, the rest of the interior was rather spectacular. A padlocking glove box kept your valuables relatively safe and the Turbo Grand Prix’s rear bucket seats and cubby console were exclusive features. Irrefutably, you’d be hard-pressed to find a La-Z-Boy recliner nearly as comfortable as its well-bolstered, plush leather seats.
With an estimated 750 models built in 1989 and 2,725 in 1990, the Turbo Grand Prix is a low-production sleeper that’s quickly disappearing into the history books. But its lasting impact will not be forgotten, as it helped showcase the boundless potential of an emerging platform when GM’s performance division needed it most.