General Motors conceived the Colonnade theme based on the popular styling of their premium luxury coupes of the late 1960′s. That theme carried over to all GM products by the mid-1970′s. This Knol is a brief and loose summary of the Colonnade styling period.
The quintessential GM Colonnade styled vehicles are the 1973-1977 A-Bodies including the Olds Cutlass, Chevy Monte Carlo/Laguna/Chevelle/Malibu/El Camino, Pontiac LeMans/Grand Prix, GMC Sprint, and Buick Century.
Arguably, other Colonnade-styled GM vehicles include:
1973-1987 Chevy/GMC pickups
1970-1981 Second Generation F-Bodies (Pontiac Firebird, Chevy Camaro)
1970-1972 Chevy Mone Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix
1973-1977 GM Full-Size Cars
Some other GM vehicles were given Colonnade styling cues through the 70’s, but were either carry-over models from the muscle-car era such as C-Bodies? (Nova, Ventura, Omega, Skylark) and the OPEC oil embargo driven compacts (Vega, Monza, Skyhawk).
The foundation of the Colonnade style infusion in GM products came from the Cadillac Eldorado, Olds Toronado, and Buick Riviera of 69-72.
The crème of the crop and most identifiable cars are the A-body intermediates from 1973 to 1977. These cars had all of the most characteristics of the genre features including:
-Wide, flared wheel arches with squared-off openings
-Wheels set well inboard of wheel openings
-Heavily sculpted body sides with a smooth transition between the greenhouse and body when viewed from head on. The body lines create the shouldered look that accentuates length
-Long and flat hood line which very gradually tapers to the nose
-Very short trunk, but with a long overhang
-Availability of a fastback or coupe style, but with fixed (non-roll-down) quarter windows positioned behind massive C-pillars.
Colonnade cars are a love or hate style produced in an era of generally terrible styling and horrendous quality from American auto manufacturers. Questionable styling and even more questionable OE earthtone color choices (Mustard Yellow or Metallic Brown anyone?) didn’t exactly endear these cars as instant classics. On top of the leftover free-love/acid trip design was the first oil crisis and the after-effects of the muscle car era insurance crack down. The NHTSA began instituting laws to increase the safety of all vehicles, which really seamed to stymie the stylists of the time. The integration of 5 MPH bumpers really seamed to throw them for a loop. Additionally, the EPA introduced laws that truely casterated any attempt at performance versions. Yeah, you could get a big block A-body, but it was a watered down, low compression, smogged-out, boat anchor. The automotive equivalent of walking around with a cucumber in your pants.
Through the 80’s and 90’s these cars went pretty well unnoticed and were mostly relegated to winter rat duty in the rust belt; fitted with studded snows and a trunk full of cinderblocks. We’ve definitely seen our fair share at demolition derbies and monster truck shows over the years. Only recently have these cars made some inroads in hot rod popularity. There has always been a hardcore following, but they seem to be much more appreciated over the last few years. A lot of thanks has to go to Popular Hotrodding Editor John Hunkins, and probably some credit is due to an increased interest in NASCAR history.
If you have anything GM Colonnade related to share, please do so. We’d love to litter this site with more stories and information related to GM’s Colonnade era. If you have photos of your car, or maybe one you saw rotting off the side of the road, we’d love to see you share them as well! This site is meant to promote our strange love for these cars that came from a strange time. Good, bad, or ugly; please let us know if our information needs correcting, or if there is something we left out.