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February 2, 2009

CarDomain Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot: the 1977 Pontiac LeMans Can Am

By Jim Brennan


Welcome to the CarDomain Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot, a regular feature which aims to expand the notion of what a muscle car is, and to have some fun in the process. Today’s feature dates back to 1977. General Motors was in the midst of rolling out their new “downsized” full size cars, which shed a lot of weight, but maintained the interior dimensions. However, 1977 was also a record year for the “intermediates” that were not only larger (in exterior dimensions), but in most cases, a great deal heavier than their “full size” counterparts. During this time, Pontiac introduced a limited edition package available on the LeMans Sport Coupe, the 1977 Pontiac Can Am. Continue reading…

The 1977 Pontiac LeMans Can Am

In 1977, decals and tape stripes had replaced the raw, visceral power of the 1960′s musclecars. For example, there was the Mustang Cobra II, but its 302 could only manage 127 horsepower. Dodge had the hot black and gold Warlock truck, but this was before most people thought of a truck as a performance vehicle. Chevy reintroduced the Z/28 after a two-year absence, but its 350 was a shadow of it’s former self. Overall, when you consider the choices that existed for an affordable, American performance car in 1977, Pontiac was a big player. Its Trans Am was a huge sales success that year, spurred on by the popular movie, “Smokey and the Bandit”. But the Trans Am wasn’t the only performance car they offered that year. So, Pontiac introduced the 1977 Can Am, and was designed from the beginning to be a limited-production performance car, with an anticipated production run of 5000 units. The name for the car came from the Can Am (Canadian-American) racing series.

For the total sum of $1214.43, the Can Am Option Package could be added to a LeMans Sport Coupe with the louvered quarter windows. The package consisted of the following:
T/A 6.6 400-cid 4-barrel Pontiac V8 (or Olds 403 if sold in California)
Power front disc brakes
TH400 heavy-duty automatic transmission
Power variable-ratio steering
Rally RTS handling package
GR70x15 radial tires
Body-color Rally II wheels
Twin sport mirrors
Cameo White paint with special tri-color striping
Blacked-out moldings, and black lower body-side accent stripe
Grand Prix instrument panel featuring the Rally gauge cluster with in-dash clock

Pontiac built each car slated for conversion with all of the mechanical bits that made the Can Am unique. Due to the limited planned production run of 5000 units, they outsourced the remainder of the work. Jim Wanger’s Motortown Corp. was contracted to fit the cars with the striping and rear spoiler, and modify the hood to make room for the shaker hood assembly. For some reason, every Can Am came with a 1976-style shaker, which had a different shape than the shaker offered on the 1977 Trans Am. A partial listing of options available on the Can Am included:
Air conditioning
Front seat console with buckets
15×7 Cast aluminum wheels
“Saf-T-Track” rear axle
GR70x15 White letter tires
Custom Sport steering wheel
Soft Ray glass
Color-keyed seat belts
Interior decklid release
Interior hood release
Am/FM/8-track radio
AM/FM/CB radio
Instrument panel tachometer (replaces clock)
Power door locks and windows
Glass or steel power sunroof

A review of the new mid-year Le Mans Sport Coupe option in the May 1977 issue of Motor Trend said, “The Can Am is the ideal car for the person who likes the Firebird Trans Am or Formula but needs extra space. It provides good handling and steering response with a pleasant, firm, but never jarring, ride.” The same article listed a 0-60 performance time of 10 seconds, with a quarter-mile time of 17 seconds at 84 mph. Okay, it’s not a Judge, but considering the time frame, the Cam Am was a screamer, all things being relative. In comparison, a mid-size 1975 Pontiac equipped with the 455 V-8 turned the same 0-60 10-second time.

Unfortunately, Can Am production ended prematurely, when the mold used in manufacturing the unique “duck tail” spoiler was accidentally damaged. It’s interesting to note that the exact same circumstances surrounded the discontinuation of the duck tail spoiler that was produced (in very limited numbers) for the 1972 GTO. There is some controversy over exactly how many Can Ams were produced; depending on the source, the final tally stood at either 1100 or 1377.

For years, it was rumored that seven production Can Ams were painted “Mandarin Orange”. Jim Wangers, who was a primary player in getting Pontiac to go ahead with the Can Am project, recently debunked this myth. In a February 2001 email to fellow Can Am owner Mark Fearer, Jim stated that, “To my knowledge there were never any ‘orange’ Can-Ams officially built by Motortown for Pontiac in 1977…when the car was first presented to Pontiac in 1976 by myself and Motortown, it was painted in Carousel Red and was proposed to be called ‘The Judge’.” This was rejected, and a white paint scheme with similar graphics was proposed instead. Pontiac was still open to a comparison with the GTO in its advertising, though. Magazines featured Can Am ads which used the phrase, “Remember the Goat”.

Pontiac probably could have sold the entire 5000 and more if management had approved fixing the mold. But the Can Am used the same dash as the Grand Prix, which was a highly profitable sales leader in 1977; every Can Am sold pirated sales of the GP! The broken spoiler mold was the last straw, and the project was axed. In theory, Pontiac could have generated more demand for the Can Am, had they authorized the sale of the car in another key market – Canada. For some reason, the Can Am was sold only in the United States; perhaps it was because every Canadian-market LeMans was powered by a Chevrolet engine.

The next image is the spiritual predecessor to the Can Am Package, the proposed Grand Am All American:

Here are some articles that I uncovered in reference to researching this article:
Article in High Performance Pontiac by Thomas A. Demauro
Article in Popular Hot Rodding by Paul Zazarine

And look, there’s a Can Am offered at the VOLO Auto Museum

There are two CarDomain members with this unique, late 70′s Musclecar. Take a look at bobbycjr ‘s Beautiful Can Am. And then there’s NomaKing ‘s restoration project. Let’s all wish him luck in getting this rare car back into shape.

So does the 1977 Pontiac Can Am deserve a spot in the CarDomain’s Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot? It is one of the very few Muscle Cars produced in the late 70′s, but you know the drill, and comment away! Images courtesy of Thomas A. Demauro, and Paul Zazarine.


CarDomain Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot Year End Wrap-Up; The 70’s OPEC Inspired Cruisers – CarDomain Blog
Jan 1, 2010 at 1:07 am

[...] what is your favorite Muscle Car dominated by 2 OPEC Oil Embargos, as well as the Disco Era? – The 1977 Pontiac LeMans Can Am. This was suppose to be the new GTO! – The Mercury Marauder X-100, and this turned out to be one of [...]

Oct 7, 2009 at 8:10 pm

Muscle cars are becoming popular for young people in Japan as they can modify the cars for more stylish and having chrome wheels for better looking.
See allJapanese cars

May 8, 2009 at 6:26 am

I have a 77 pontiac lemans sport coupe iin great condiction was wanting to know the value

Apr 2, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Thanks, Jim, for referencing my car in this article. Very nice article on a very special collector car. bobbycjr

Mar 14, 2009 at 9:55 am

I love these cars and the Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot! The collector community needs more of this: a realistic approach to what muscle cars really are. I’m tired of hearing narrow minded people parrot out the same line about how Chevelle SS’s, Mach 1 Mustangs and R/T Chargers are the alleged benchmark. These weren’t the only cars in people’s driveways in the 50′s 60′s and 70′s. There’s a whole world of interesting muscle cars out there so don’t bore me with the same warmed-over crud about some trailer-queen “investment” cars that most of us will never even get to touch. Keep up the good work and please, please keep educating us about forgotten Muscle Cars!

Mar 2, 2009 at 7:13 pm

A Chef I worked with at Hyatt Sarasota had one back in 1985. The thing was beat to hell, but he would not part with it for anything. He knew how rare it was. “gunna fix it some day” he would say. As far as ten second 0 to 60 goes, nothing a $600 stop at Automotive Engineering and a weekend in the drivway with some tools cold beers and some good friends can’t fix. The car was ready for any engine mod you could throw at it. I say MUSCLE and collector car. Oh and save all that smog stuff in a box in case you need it some day yeah….right.

Tired Of LS6 Chevelles And Hemi ‘Cudas? Check Out UDMan’s Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot! [Retro] | The genuine priest survey.
Feb 22, 2009 at 3:26 pm

[...] of such greats as the 1958 Packard Hawk, 1970 Mercury Marauder X-100, 1957 Rambler Rebel, and 1977 Pontiac LeMans Can Am. We say check it out! [CarDomain [...]

Tired Of LS6 Chevelles And Hemi ‘Cudas? Check Out UDMan’s Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot! [Retro] | Car Advisory
Feb 22, 2009 at 2:40 am

[...] of such greats as the 1958 Packard Hawk, 1970 Mercury Marauder X-100, 1957 Rambler Rebel, and 1977 Pontiac LeMans Can Am. We say check it out! [CarDomain [...]

Feb 21, 2009 at 2:16 pm

its a real “pontiac”,not this disposable crap cars they keep throwing at us. its beautiful!

Used cars for sale
Feb 18, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Very informative for Muscle car i got lot information here thank you for all used cars for sale

1977 Chevelle Se 64 Chevelle Information 66 Chevelle Photos | Allisonhannigan
Feb 17, 2009 at 3:15 am

[...] CarDomain Obscure Muscle Car Parking Lot: the 1977 Pontiac LeMans … [...]

Feb 4, 2009 at 3:58 pm

you have to think though 1/4m time of 17s with a pass of 84mph in the mid-late 70s was good! what were hondas at the time pulling in the 1/4m? have they even finished yet? like you have to look at other cars offered at the time before you start getting picky with timeslips an speeds. cars thatd do 0-60 under 10s an do the quarter mile in under 20 at the time were amazing, unbelivable. sure now we look at it an say wow thats slow, but compared to land yachts and compacts, this was a muscle car for its era.

Feb 4, 2009 at 2:43 pm

I wouldn’t personally consider this a muscle car. Despite the fact that the car had “OK” performance, remember this was 1977.. nothing had much in the way of performance during this dark time in North American performance history. It does fit the bill of a “muscle car” in many areas though. The only beef I have with the car is it’s lackluster performance and it’s look (the latter of which, I admit, is an argument which may not earn much stock in argument) would not fit the definition of a ‘muscle car’. So what if it had a few more ponies than most offerings during that year: “0-60 performance time of 10 seconds, with a quarter-mile time of 17 seconds at 84 mph”? I don’t see much ‘muscle’ there at all. Most of us now have a pretty good definition of what a ‘muscle car’ is – a definition which brings forth images of Chevelle SS’s, Mach 1 Mustangs and R/T Chargers. This definition is a benchmark, and this Can-Am, no matter who loves it for what reason, simply doesn’t fit the bill of a real ‘muscle car’. Just my two-cents.

josh Vaught
Feb 4, 2009 at 9:11 am

Definately beautiful! Chevelle Laguna, Olds 442, Pontiac can Am late era muscle cars! I’m glad they’re rare and underappreciated. I agree their should be a rare car article section.

Feb 3, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Wow I dont care what anyone says that Masterpiece of a Machine is downright beautiful. It’s so Sexy and streamlined. I’d love to live back then in the muscle car Era. Imagine what one of those babies whould be like today? I get shivers down my spine just thinking about it =D

Captin Cronk
Feb 3, 2009 at 5:27 pm

in concept, sadly 70s gm messed it up.. I had a 74 Cutlass.. fun but this body style is no muscle car. “Theres something about a pre 70 car”

Mopar Mike
Feb 3, 2009 at 4:41 pm

By comparison, the 1978 Volare Supercoupe ran the quarter in 15.7 seconds with a small block V8 compared to this car’s big block.
The Pontiac Can-Am was a musclecar for it’s day.
Since it had low production numbers, it is highly sought after today. These looked very formidable on the roads when new. Rarely was one seen, but when it was, it was like spotting a celebrity!
There is only one for sale on eBay right now. Bid to $4300, reserve not met and 6 days to go with 6 bidders involved.

Feb 3, 2009 at 3:30 pm

yeah, it’s a muscle car

Feb 3, 2009 at 3:23 pm

damn this is beautiful!!! plain and simple

Feb 3, 2009 at 11:17 am

It does qualify as a Muscle Car if you consider it in context with what little power Detroit was allowed to legally install in the cars of the time. I mean, if your common 70s car has a 0-60 time under 14 seconds only if it’s while going downhill in a hurricane, then hitting 60 in 10 seconds is downright neck-snapping in comparison.

For you youngsters; the feds first dropped the national maximum speed limit to 55 and then mandated a speedometer that maxed out at 85 MPH so anything over 50 MPH “looked” like you were on the far side of the speedo. Kinda like speeding in a 70s virtual-reality plane of existence.

Feb 3, 2009 at 11:14 am

Clearly the author of the article considers it a muscle car. I consider it a stripey pimp car.

Feb 3, 2009 at 11:11 am

I like this, I’d say its a muscle car. Good article.

Feb 3, 2009 at 7:59 am

This is a muscle car, and who ever thinks diffrent dont know cars. Or should I say understand.

Feb 3, 2009 at 7:30 am

they should really do a rare cars section, id love to see an read about the really rare cars.

Feb 3, 2009 at 5:34 am

i have never sceen one of these but i feel it could be a muscle car …

Feb 3, 2009 at 12:38 am

Its a muscle car for its time, kinda like how the 80′s G-Body Buick line is considered a muscle car. This car is a performer for 1977 standards, but the 60′s and early 70′s car still conceivably outperform it. But I think it does make the cut. Juss not a top tier car in performance, more in appearance and spirit

Feb 2, 2009 at 10:01 pm

I’ve never seen one of those before.

Feb 2, 2009 at 8:57 pm

beautiful… absoulutley a beautiful machine

Zach W
Feb 2, 2009 at 7:56 pm

Id love to build one of these. Its alot lighter than most so with increased power this baby could walk the dog on the competition!

Feb 2, 2009 at 7:39 pm

I say yes! This was supposedly the car that they were going to bring the GTO back upon, but decided to stick with the Can Am name. My brother found one of these stripped down to the frame up in a barn ones. Upstate New York… don’t ask.

Feb 2, 2009 at 7:26 pm

I remember seeing this model in the wild way way way back in the day… The spoiler and “V” stripes are unforgettable.

Brayden Sauve
Feb 2, 2009 at 7:21 pm

I love it and think for shure! that it is a muscle car. Nice history.

Feb 2, 2009 at 6:13 pm

haha the boat is still smoking little rice burners today, nice video

Feb 2, 2009 at 5:44 pm

the muscle car started when the corvette was introduced in 1953. so technicly Chevrolet is to thank for the start of the muscle car era.

Feb 2, 2009 at 5:38 pm

Man i wish i could get my hands on this car it’s a muscle car to me

Feb 2, 2009 at 5:30 pm

how can something sporting the name CAN-AM not be a muscle car? do you people even know about the CAN-AM series? how they ran V8 equipped firebirds, t/as, camaros, vettes, mustangs etc. so how can this not be a muscle car?

Feb 2, 2009 at 5:20 pm

last i checked if it was made in America between 1952-1989 ran a true V8, it was a muscle car. hell even nowadays we still have muscle cars, its just how you look at them i guess.

Feb 2, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Muscle car, maybe not. Do I think it’s cool? Hell yes!

Feb 2, 2009 at 4:12 pm

i wouldnt exactly call it a musclecar although they are sweet, for me, anythign after the 74 pontiac trans am 455 super duty wasnt a muscle car anymore

Feb 2, 2009 at 3:56 pm

I think those rare muscle machines are plenty cool!

Bobb Baker
Feb 2, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Luxury Sport Coupe is how I look at this. Some may consider it as a Muscle car from the 70′s. Looks like a sexy chik in tight jeans, I love the curves. I have a 3rd generation Monte Carlo with curves just as nice. Im also installing a Pontiac Dash in the Monte.

Feb 2, 2009 at 1:51 pm

…The chick in the black/white pic at the bottom looks like someone took a random picture, blew it up and pasted it on the window!

Feb 2, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Love the video! Wreck that Civic!

Feb 2, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Its an interesting car, but I think its a hard sell as a muscle car. I have liked some of the other cars that are in the series, like the Studebaker, but the land barges of the late 70s are more comfort oriented. I guess the cool thing about muscle cars though is that there isn’t a defined definition that everyone agrees with. Some say the first car was the 57 300c, others the GTO, and I think you could make a case for the 64 Maxwedge Dodges, but I guess that’s the fun part about the hobby.

Feb 2, 2009 at 6:45 am

No…It looks like the skullet, Grandpa’s big comfy boat up front and odd wannabe muscle car in the back.

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