Hurst SSJ is a Rare Find

Pontiac’s ultimate Grand Prix was the Hurst SSJ

Story Jim Black - June 20, 2011 09:00 AM


Image 1 of 4

From the beginning, Pontiac’s Grand Prix was marketed as a personal luxury car, combining the best of luxury and performance into one while competing in the marketplace with the likes of the Chevy Monte Carlo, Buick Riviera and Chrysler 300.

The best ones were the limited production Hurst-equipped SSJ models, built for just three years (1970 through 1972).

All Hurst SSJ Grand Prix models were factory-built, then shipped to Hurst Performance Research in Southfield, Michigan, for conversion into the special “Hurst equipped” SSJ. These limited production cars had special gold paint and badges with several performance, luxury and wheel options that set each apart. In 1970, they were factory painted in Polar White or Starlight Black. In 1971, they came in either Cameo White or Starlight Black. In 1972, a few other color choices were available. After arrival at the Hurst facility, the unique Firefrost Gold paint and accents were added that set these cars apart from other Grand Prixs.

Production of the Hurst SSJ Grand Prixs was limited to only 489 units for the entire three-year run, with 272 in 1970, 157 in 1971, and just 60 units in 1972. Production was low primarily due to the high cost per unit conversion. The Pontiac Division did little to promote the car, leaving dealers to handle their own advertising. This low production has made the Hurst-equipped Grand Prix SSJ a valued collectible today.

“The first time I saw one of these cars was back in the early ’90s when I came across one for sale in Topeka, Kansas,” Larry Kosek said. “The owner had no idea what the car was worth and he wouldn’t even entertain an offer, instead, just testing the waters, I guess.” Kosek, a resident of Silver Lake, Kansas, decided to just keep tabs on the car and eventually the opportunity to buy it might come again. “A few years later, the owner passed away and left the car to a brother, but he wouldn’t sell either,” Kosek said. “Eventually that brother died also, leaving the car to yet another brother, Cal Cohen.”

In 2003, Kosek’s persistence finally paid off and he was able to negotiate and purchase the car for just $1,200. “Bernice and I were making a shopping trip into Topeka and decided to check again and see if the SSJ was still at the same Ramada Inn owned by the Cohen family. The car had been moved to the backside of the motel in an outside parking lot and for sale this time,” Kosek said. “The right front fender had been backed into, but other than that, the car appeared to be in restorable condition. After replacing a dead battery, airing the tires, and adding some fresh gas, we drove it home that same evening.”

Within a few months of purchase. Kosek started the restoration process by turning the car over to Gary Weakland and Larry Flinn of Lakeside Marine in Topeka, Kansas. They made the necessary sheetmetal repairs, including the damaged front fender and then re-sprayed the car in the correct Cameo White with Firefrost Gold accents. With the body and paint work completed, Kosek sent the car over to Gary Scarlett, who installed the new interior, headliner, and vinyl top.

After leaving the Hurst Performance facility, Larry and Bernice’s Hurst SSJ was originally delivered to Dale Sharp Pontiac in Topeka, Kansas, and it came equipped with air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, AM-FM stereo radio, cruise control, electric windows, power door locks, tilt wheel, rally steering wheel, Cordova vinyl top, sun roof, American 200S wheels, and the L78 400 cubic inch V-8 (a 455 was optional).

The “numbers-matching” L78 V-8 was topped with a four-barrel Rochester Q-jet carburetor. The 400 had a bore and stroke of 4.12 x 3.75 inches with an 8.2:1 compression ratio, and was rated at 300 hp at 4,800 rpm and 400 lbs-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. It was of the cast iron alloy and 90-degree overhead valve type. To allow the engine to breathe better and run cooler, Kosek added a 2½-inch mandrel bent exhaust with Dynomax mufflers and an aluminum radiator. The engine is also bolted to a Turbo 400 transmission and the power makes its way to the rear wheels via an open 2.78:1 rear differential.

“Since its completion in 2009, we’ve only had the SSJ to a few shows including the Pontiac-GMC-Oakland show in Omaha, Nebraska, where it took ‘Best in Class’ and ‘Best of Show’ honors, and we returned to the ‘Winner’s Circle’ in 2010,” says Kosek. “In checking the production numbers some time ago, Hurst only made 157 SSJs in 1971, so this one will be a keeper for a long time.”

Hurst SSJ Fast Facts

Three year production: 1970-1972

Total production: only 482 units

All cars were factory built Grand Prix model Js

All cars were built in the Pontiac, Michigan, factory

Sent to Hurst Performance Research for conversion to SSJs

Cost of the standard conversion in 1970 was $1,147.25

Several colors were available but all had Firefrost Gold

accents and Hurst badges

SSJs could be equipped with either the 400 or 455 cubic inch V-8