- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2011

It has been 19 years since Frederick Vare got his first car. He recalls that his father made arrangements for him to get the car in May 1988 at the end of his junior year of high school in Liverpool, N.Y.

Fortunately, he and his father shared the same taste in automobiles, so he was happy to see an 11-year-old 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix appear in the driveway of their home. “It was a base model,” he says, “but it was red with a white vinyl top.”

The Pontiac saw him through his final year of high school and than he drove off in it to college in Ithaca, N.Y. After college in 1993 he moved to Bowie as a Marine Corps musician. The almost 20-year-old Pontiac made the trip soon afterward, once a transmission line that had rusted through had been repaired.

Gunnery Sgt. Vare acknowledges that his Pontiac didn’t fare well during the winters in upstate New York. Years of salt and chemicals on the highways had attacked the most vulnerable areas of his Pontiac. Still, he liked the car, so in 1994 hee began looking for a replacement 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix, an upscale SJ model this time. Of the 288,430 Pontiac Grand Prix models built in 1977, 54,442 were delivered as SJ models.

After three years of searching, he saw one advertised for sale in relatively nearby Fairfax Station. The original owner was selling the car after driving it 122,000 miles. It was originally the car was black, the carpet, upholstery, headliner, paint and vinyl top.

In February 1997, with his brother-in-law, Robert Smallman, Sgt. Vare drove his red Pontiac to see the black Pontiac, which he surmises must have given the seller the idea that the car would be in good hands with him. The car was so impressive he bought it on the spot and drove it home that day.

In 1977 the base price for a Pontiac Grand Prix was $5,109. An SJ package was available for an additional $633. The SJ package included:

• Center console.

• Rally II wheels.

• SJ identification.

• Acoustical insulation.

• GR70x15 radial tires.

• Turbo 400 Hydramatic.

• Rocker panel moldings.

• Rally handling package.

• Rally gauges/trip meter.

• Close-ratio steering gear.

• Body-color sport mirrors.

• Deep contour bucket seats.

“It’s a real survivor car,” Sgt. Vare says of his all original car. “It definitely was garage kept.” Sitting inside the all-black car, Sgt. Vare compares it to a black hole in space. “It sucks in a lot of light,” he observes. The car spends most of the time in his garage, Sgt. Vare says. He has driven it twice to see his relatives in Syracuse, N.Y. On the 360-mile trip he reports that the 185-horsepower engine delivered fuel economy of about 21 or 22 miles per gallon. He says he tread lightly on the accelerator. “If you can’t hear the carburetor sucking air and fuel,” he says, “then you’re OK.”

Additional options ordered on the car from the factory include:

• Air conditioning…………..$513

• AM/FM Stereo radio……….146

• Landau top………………….121

• Cruise control………………..84

• Rear defroster………………..82

• Soft-Ray glass……………….64

• Tilt steering wheel…………..55

• Body side moldings…………46

• Sport steering wheel……….43

• Painted accent stripes……..36

• Remote trunk release……..35

• Rear speaker………………..23

• Lighted vanity mirror………16

• Lamp group…………………10

A dealer-installed General Motors anti-theft system cost $250, which brought the total delivered price to $7,073. In addition to Grand Prix identification in all the usual places, the stationary quarter windows are etched with a Grand Prix logo. A dual painted accent stripe encircles the car in Italian red, highlighting the sculptured lines of the Starlight black car. From a Pontiac parts department Sgt. Vare purchased some genuine accent stripe touch up paint. Then he very carefully repaired a chip in the accent stripe on the long engine hood. The paint matched perfectly and he now has difficulty finding the spot where he did his touch up work.

While seated in the comfortable vinyl bucket seat behind the seven position tilt steering wheel the layout of the cockpit becomes obvious that this is car designed for the driver. The speedometer needle may stop at 100 mph but the entire instrument panel, and all the gauges, are in a wraparound design to make life easy for the driver.

Even the gear shift lever is mounted in a floor console that is canted toward the driver.In the decade that he has owned the Grand Prix Sgt. Vare has added a mere 7,000 miles to the total on the odometer. He also has discovered that in the exceedingly wide Pontiac, he cannot reach the window crank on the right door from the driver’s seat. That’s when it’s nice to have the support of his wife, Christin, who handles the right window operation when they go cruising in their black 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ.

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