Autocrossing LeMons Racing Photographer friend of StartingGrid Alan Dahl spotted this rare Malaise Era Pontiac of Canadian origin and sent in these shots. Yes, I said Canadian origin; this car was developed on the H-body platform as a small car for the Canadian market. The Astre shares its H-body underpinnings with such legendary crusher fodder as the Chevrolet Vega, Buick Skyhawk, and Oldsmobile Starfire.
Before we get to the story on the Astre (this one is even a “Formula”!) please allow me this aside: What has happened to car names? These H-body cars were not great by any means, but they had excellent names. Now we have cars with letters and numbers for names. Has anyone ever convincingly said, “I can’t wait to grip the wheel of my G37!”? Regardless of how capable the G37 may be, its name does not spark daydreams the way cars with names like “Starfire” or “Skyhawk” do. But I ramble…
Some Canadians speak French, so this Pontiac was given a French name, “Astre” means “star” in French. The Astre hit the Canadian market in 1973, just in time for the OPEC oil embargo driven increased desire for small cars. When introduced, the Astre was equipped with an aluminum block 2.3 litre (“liter” is intentionally spelled with the Canukistani ‘re’ for this post out of sympathetic respect for them being saddled with this Malaise Masterpiece before we folks in lower America were) four cylinder with a cast iron head. This particular car is a “Formula” model, only available in 1977, and was the first car to feature the legendary… er famous… umm noteworthy 2.5 liter “Iron Duke” four cylinder. You may remember the Iron Duke from such memorable products as: the 1982 Camaro, the Chevy S10, and the Grumman LLV mail truck.
I have teased this car about its Malaise era powerplant and Canadian roots, but I really do like it. It has a great look (have you seen a Buick Skyhawk? ewww… barfatrocious!) and this particular one looks well preserved under that awesome patina. The small rear drive package could have been a competitor to the hot Ford Capris that were kicking butt rallying in Europe in the 70s. I think it looks better than the Capri (apologies to SG’s UK Capri fans).
I think this particular car is dripping with potential. The owner clearly cares about it, these pictures were taken in a stereo store parking lot and it has shiny new wheels. Who knows what lurks beneath the hood of this car. A newer engine would easily fit, even one with eight cylinders. This car could be a tremendous sleeper – I hope it is.
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