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Cheap Car Review: 1990 Pontiac Grand Am

First Model Year

1973 Pontiac Grand Am

1973 Pontiac Grand Am

"The" Pontiac Grand Am

For starters I want to go over a brief history of the Pontiac Grand Am, so we can get familiar with the model. The name Grand Am was derived from "Grand" for luxury and "Am" for Performance. Produced out of Pontiac, Michigan, the Pontiac Grand Am was introduced by General Motors in 1973 on the same platform as cars like the Chevrolet Chevelle known as the A Platform. The Grand Am had an on and off production history. The first gen lasted from '73-'75 and was discontinued due to loss of sales. Primarily because of the "Gas Crunch" of the 70's and the obnoxiously huge engines the Grand Am sported, i.e. a 455 cu. in. V8 was optional whereas the 400 cu. in V8 was standard. The Grand Am returned again in '78 for yet another only 2 year production run, and was discontinued again due to slow sales. Finally in 1985 the Grand Am returned, and this time it would stay in production for another 20 years.

Third Gen

1990 Pontiac Grand Am

1990 Pontiac Grand Am

1990 Model Year Specs

The 1990 model year was second to the last year of the third generation Grand Am. The third generation Grand Am ranged from 1985 to 1991. The 1990 model year came with two trim packages, the LE and the SE. Both came with a four door sedan and two door coupe options. The SE would come standard with a 2.3L inline 4 cylinder high output engine that would be married to a 5-speed manual transmission. This package produced 180 horse power and 160 ft-lbs of torque. Gas mileage would average around 25 mpg depending on how it was driven. The LE came with a 2.5L inline 4 cylinder engine standard, and a 3-speed automatic transmission. This package would come with a very sad, 110 horse power and 135 ft-lbs of torque. It also shared about the same mpg as the SE trim; in my opinion basically making the LE trim pointless unless of course you wanted to save a few bucks. A W32 sport performance package was offered to the LE trim late in the model year. Essentially bringing the LE halfway to the SE trim level.

Specs Table

LE Trim

SE Trim


2.5 Liter Inline 4

2.3 Liter H.O Inline 4

Horse Power




135 Ft-Lbs

160 Ft-Lbs


3-Speed Automatic or 5-Speed Manual

5-Speed Manual Only


Front Wheel Drive

Front Wheel Drive

My Story

I personally owned the LE trim model of the 1990 Grand Am. I was fortunate enough to have a grandfather that was kind enough to purchase the vehicle for me. At the time my grandfather only paid 250 bucks for it, so it was money well spent considering the vehicle ran with only 80,000 miles on it and needed nothing at the time of purchase. Now days if you do find one still on the road you'll be lucky if it is worth even $1,200 USD. I drove the car for nearly a year putting around 8,000 miles on the car. I gave it a tune up and I changed the oil. Driving this car felt mediocre in every way. It got okay gas mileage at 24 mpg. I knew the exact mpg because the gas gauge didn't work and as a result I had to track mileage. One day I left Michigan, picked up a buddy of mine from Kentucky, and returned home. Total round trip was about 620 - 640 miles. We even managed to somehow fit his entire drum set in the car. About a week later I drove him back home. On the way down crossing into Kentucky from Ohio on I-75 there is a very steep grade in the interstate. Both times the Grand Am barely made it up due to sheer lack of power. The car would slow from a cruising pace of 70 miles per hour to a slow crawl of 35 miles per hour. Cruising the rest of the way through Kentucky at a leisurely 70 - 75 mph the engine threw a piston rod just outside of Georgetown. I pulled it off to the side of the road at around 2 in the morning and we called my buddies uncle to retrieve us and the drum set. The next day I went back to the Grand Am still on the side of the interstate. With the help of my step father, we went to the store and bought the thickest weight oil money could buy, and poured it into the engine of the car. From there I still managed to start the car, and limp it home the next 30 miles going about 35 on the interstate where I traded the car even up for a still running '86 Lincoln Town Car.


Final Thoughts

Overall my 1990 Pontiac Grand Am was wildly mediocre. I've certainly gotten better gas mileage out of a 4 cylinder engine. The car is honestly pretty ugly, especially when compared to its first gen relative. It lacks horsepower entirely and you would probably reach better acceleration and top speeds out of a lawn mower. It is not overly comfortable and the car is also rather small. Even though I was able to fit 2 people and a full size drum set into the vehicle along with traveling luggage. My grandfather got a great deal on my car, and assuming you could even find one still on the road, running, and for sale, you could probably buy one all day for around $600. My opinion even at a price point of $600, you could probably still find a better running vehicle that also looks nicer. As an example, maybe an older Chevy Cavalier, or even a fifth gen Grand Am is also a major improvement. At the very least if you are dead set on purchasing a third gen Grand Am, do yourself a favor and purchase the SE trim with the 2.3L engine. I have owned around 30 cars in my close to 15 years of driving and driven hundreds, and this particular vehicle is one of my least favorites.

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If you have owned one of these gems, rate it in the poll below with 1 being absolute garbage, and 5 being the greatest car you've ever owned. Thanks for reading!

Third Gen Pontiac Grand Am Rating

© 2018 Nicholas Conner

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