Next time you want to win a bet with that guy who always claims to be an expert on muscle cars, ask him to name a handful of intermediate-sized GM muscle cars from the mid-'70s. Even the most boastful poseur will be able to spit out at least a few names from the '60s and early '70s, models like the Pontiac GTO and Chevy Chevelle will likely be at the top of the list. But ask about anything from the mid-'70s Malaise Era, and you'll probably get a blank stare.
Maybe it's just us, but the Malaise Era gets a bad rap due to things like ugly bumpers and lo-po smog motors—both "born-with" issues that hardly matter in today's aftermarket. GM was certainly not immune to that criticism, and the GM A-body platform that was used between 1973 and 1977 is no exception. Even though nearly everything built in that era was glacially slow, the GM intermediates of the mid 1970s offered some beautiful shapes and a very capable chassis, making them perfect candidates for modifying today. Keep scrolling for more details and examples about GM's colonnade A-body platform.
What Is A Colonnade A-Body?
In GM parlance, the "A-body" referred to the midsize intermediate chassis, which was a body-on-frame design whereby the vehicle's driveline and suspension were assembled on a perimeter-frame chassis, and then the body was decked onto the frame afterwards, making the assembly process relatively easy. In this regard, the 1973 to 1977 GM A-body was no different than the 1964 to 1972 A-body that came before it, but with one big difference: better roll-over protection for the occupants.
The name "colonnade" refers to the car's three pillars, and unlike earlier hardtops with just two pillars (the windshield "A-pillar" and the "C-pillar" at the tumblehome) the colonnade cars—both coupes and sedans—all had B-pillars, as well. This extra support gave them added protection against rollovers, which was a federal mandate just like the 5-mph crash bumpers and smog equipment. The pillared design on the A-body coupes looked sexy and, when combined with then-new computer aided suspensions, could (with a little more power) become adept performers.
Despite their swoopy aerodynamic shapes and vast numbers (over 7 million colonnade A-body cars were built between 1973 and 1977), relatively few survive today, and even fewer get built as hot rods. With those numbers, it's not unusual to pick one up for a fraction of what a '64 to '72 A-body costs, and when they are turned into muscle machines they stand out from the crowd. Here are 10 colonnade A-bodies we've run across through the years.
1974 Chevy Laguna
It's quite possible you remember this car because it starred in the cult classic Cannonball Run with Burt Reynolds, Sammy Davis Jr., Farrah Fawcett, and other big stars from the 1970s. The Laguna was a common car to use in stock car racing, and for the movie it was dressed in full NASCAR livery. This one is a clone of that movie car that crossed the Barrett-Jackson auction blocks in 2017. It has a 454ci big-block Chevy, an engine that you could still get from the factory at the time it was built.
1977 Buick Century Special
GM's Buick division made great use of the colonnade A-body platform with the Century and Regal. As the stodgiest division within the GM lineup with perhaps the exception of Cadillac, most mid-'70s Buicks weren't headed for life at the dragstrip, but the bodacious proportions of the A-body lent itself to customization in all forms, as seen in this 1977 Buick Century Special. We especially like the laid-back grille (unique to the Special), lowered stance, and big rolling stock, which tucks nicely into the Buick's bodywork.
1974 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 Cutlass
Almost simultaneous with Pontiac's release of the 1964 GTO was Oldsmobile's introduction of the upscale 4-4-2 muscle car, which was based on the F-85 Cutlass. In most people's memory the 4-4-2 falls off the radar after 1972, but it still soldiered on with the new colonnade A-body platform. While exceedingly rare today, auto archeologist Ryan Brutt discovered this M-code 350ci-powered 1974 Olds 4-4-2 in a barn.
1974 Pontiac LeMans
We discovered Tim Smith's 1974 Pontiac LeMans by accident while watching the Moonshiners reality show on the Discovery channel in 2012. As anybody who's sampled Tim's moonshine knows, it's some powerful stuff! Back then, however, Tim's likker wasn't legal like it is now, and he occasionally moved his stash in the trunk of his hot rodded 1974 Pontiac LeMans.
1973 Pontiac Grand Am
If there's one colonnade A-body that deserves muscle car status, it's the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am. Blessed with a wind-splitting aero nose and boat-tail rear deck, the Grand Am was arguably the sexiest colonnade ever penned and, when endowed with a 455ci Super Duty powerplant, was downright fast for its day. A decade ago, this reader submitted his Grand Am to High Performance Pontiac magazine and shows how graceful these cars were in stock trim.
1976 Chevy Laguna S-3
Steve Yoder's 1976 Chevy Laguna illustrates how perfect a spare-no-effort colonnade A-body can look and run. The high-10-second quarter-mile machine is still a luxurious street cruiser, even with its Dominator-fed 454ci big-block Chevy. The 1975 to 1976 Laguna model featured an iconic sloped nose that was designed for NASCAR's high-banked super speedways; it was so successful that NASCAR essentially banned it from competition by instigating its first-ever restrictor plate rule.
1974 Chevy Malibu
Nothing epitomizes the "heavy Chevy" look like Bryan Grove's 1974 Malibu. It wasn't born with its current 572ci F1R Procharged big-block Chevy, but it looks like it should've been. (Note the flat hood!) Bryan has taken it on Hot Rod Power Tour and run over 150 mph in half-mile racing competitions. The Malibu is the base trim level under the Laguna S-3, but it's also mechanically related to the Chevy Monte Carlo, which is also built on the colonnade A-body platform.
1973 Buick Century Stage 1 "Sun Coupe"
Like Chevy's Monte Carlo and Malibu, Buick also had multiple models that took advantage of the colonnade A-body platform. The Century was Buick's initial colonnade model, with the Regal coming later in the platform's evolution. From time to time, solid examples of the Buick Century come up for sale, but when the only known four-speed 455ci Stage 1 Sun Coupe option car came up for sale for eight grand, Michael Williams had to buy it.
1977 Pontiac Can Am
The 1977 Pontiac Can Am wasn't supposed to be a rare vehicle, but because the only mold that made the car's unique rear spoiler broke early in the production run, it ceased production literally overnight with just 1,130 units built in the Can Am's only year of production. With a 400ci V-8 lifted right off the Trans Am order form, these were purpose-built machines. Notwithstanding, Bob Cook's example eschews the stock 200-hp mill for a much more potent 462ci bullet that propels the GM intermediate to low-13-second quarter-mile e.t.s.
1973 Pontiac Grand Am Pace Car
We leave you with one more 1973 Pontiac Grand Am—this one being a rare one-of-nine NASCAR pace car that is the only known survivor. According to a HOT ROD story from 2013, these nine units were made by Pontiac for NASCAR's 25th anniversary and taken from track to track to be used as pace cars. They featured a 400-cube V-8, silver paint, and a red interior. Once again, we point out the Grand Am's gorgeous beaklike grille, an excellent example—along with the Chevy Laguna's slant nose—of how GM designers were able to make the 5-mph bumper work stylistically.