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Original Owners Find New Home for Pampered 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ

HOT ROD logo HOT ROD 2/16/2019 Richard Prince

an old car parked in a parking lot: 001-mancini-1969-pontiac-grand-prix-sj-front-three-quarter

Pontiac enthusiast Dave Duffney was interested in starting a registry for 1969 Grand Prix models equipped like his, with an H.O. 428 engine and automatic transmission but without air conditioning. To locate similar cars, he placed an ad in Smoke Signals, the Pontiac-Oakland Club International's magazine. After seeing the ad in several consecutive issues, Tony Raffaele called Dave. Raffaele didn't have a car exactly like his, but did have a 1969 Grand Prix that he loved very much, and he just wanted to chat with a like-minded owner.

Duffney was more than a little amazed when Raffaele described his car, and shocked when he said he was thinking about selling it. He wasn't in the market for another Grand Prix, though, so he passed the information along to his good friend and fellow GP lover, Andy Gould. Gould was at an event in Ohio at the time, and after speaking with Raffaele via phone, he immediately drove to Pittsburgh to see the car. On the way he called his best friend Scott Mancini, who not coincidentally is also a Grand Prix fanatic, to discuss the car. Mancini was instantly smitten, and knew he had to have this car if it was what it was purported to be.

The car was in fact exactly what Raffaele said it was, and Gould bought it immediately. Mancini was not quite as lucky. At first Gould was unwilling to part with it, but Mancini's persistence eventually yielded results.

"After three months, a lot of phone calls, and three or four trips to Flint, Michigan, to see it, I finally got the call from Andy," explains Mancini. "He said it was mine, but I had to come and get it immediately before he changed his mind. So I did!"

What is it about this car that so amazed Duffney, Gould, and Mancini, three well-seasoned Pontiac lovers who, collectively, have owned and seen may incredible examples of the marque? In short, it's probably the best low-mileage, unrestored 1969 SJ Grand Prix in the world, and it's a four-speed loaded with options to boot.

The story begins on March 11, 1969, when the aforementioned Tony Raffaele and his wife, Pat, sat down with a salesman at Al Schwartz Pontiac in Pittsburgh to order their new Grand Prix. They very carefully studied the options list and worked out which boxes they would check. He really wanted to get Pontiac's most potent Grand Prix underhood offering, the 390hp H.O. 428, but was disappointed to learn that this was not available with the combination of air conditioning and a four-speed transmission. Mrs. Raffaele was set on getting air conditioning, and for Mr. Raffaele the manual gearbox was nonnegotiable. As a result, they had to forego the H.O. engine and settle for the next most powerful mill, the 370-horse 428 that was included with the SJ option package.

a car parked in a grassy field: 002-mancini-1969-pontiac-grand-prix-sj-rear-three-quarter.jpg© Hot Rod Network Staff 002-mancini-1969-pontiac-grand-prix-sj-rear-three-quarter.jpg

The SJ package also added power front disk brakes, underhood and cornering lamps, a Rally gauge cluster, automatic level control, G78-14 fiberglass belted tires, and SJ emblems on the fenders and console. To this, the Raffaeles added a four-speed transmission, a Safe-T-Track limited-slip differential, Rally II wheels, a Cordova top, an AM/FM stereo radio, a remote-control driver-door mirror, power steering, a tilt steering wheel, tinted glass all around, power windows, an electric rear window defroster, air conditioning and automatic temperature control for the A/C, a heavy-duty battery, and front and rear floor mats. Combined, these options added a substantial $1,861.08 to the car's base price, bringing the grand total to $5,797.17. In 1969 that was about a thousand dollars more than a base Corvette coupe and roughly the same price as a base Cadillac.

Raffaele made it very clear to the dealer that he wanted to be there when the car was delivered. He was there on May 1, 1969, to witness the stunning Expresso [sic] Brown Grand Prix coming off the hauler that brought it to Pittsburgh from Pontiac, Michigan.

Though the Raffaeles absolutely adored their new car, they used it only sparingly and never in foul weather. They always had another car that they considered their daily driver, so while that sacrificial lamb endured rain and the nastiness that Western Pennsylvania winters can deliver, the Grand Prix rested comfortably in a heated and air-conditioned garage.

Then in 1989, when it was 20 years old and had traveled just a little more than 13,000 total miles, they put the Grand Prix up on jackstands and stopped driving it altogether. They never stopped loving it, however. Tony says that over the years he periodically sat in the garage and simply looked at his car, sometimes for hours, admiring its bold, beautiful styling.

In 2016, some 27 years after they stopped driving it, the Raffaeles decided it was time to part with their cherished Grand Prix, and sold it to Andy Gould, specifically because they trusted that he would care for it as well as they had. With invaluable help from friend Richard Gonsler, Gould changed all of car's fluids, installed a new battery, and did a few other things to get it roadworthy again.

Several months later, after a lot of very impassioned pleading, Gould sold it to Mancini, who is beyond thrilled to be the car's current caretaker. "I've been into these cars since I was a young boy," Mancini explains, "because my uncle, Tim Rack, had so many of them as I was growing up. I love original cars, and Expresso Brown is my favorite color, so this low-mileage Grand Prix truly is my dream car. I own five of them, including another 1969 four-speed, two 1970s, and a 1971 four-speed, but this one is by far my favorite."

Mancini says he drives it "very little, just to keep it in perfect working condition, and I enjoy sharing it with others at shows. I brought it to the 2017 Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals for Steve Shauger of the Vintage Certification Program to evaluate its originality. Judges Scott Tiemann and Alex Sahely inspected the car in every area, and it was given the Legend level award with an overall score of 92.6 percent, which is amazing for a car that's 50 years old and still has mostly original paint, all original interior, its original spare tire, everything original under the hood except the battery, and everything original underneath except the exhaust. I can't thank Tony and Pat Raffaele enough for ordering and preserving this car. I will always cherish it, and will care for it as well as they did for as long as I live!"

a car driving on a road: 008-mancini-1969-pontiac-grand-prix-sj-driving.jpg© Hot Rod Network Staff 008-mancini-1969-pontiac-grand-prix-sj-driving.jpg

At a Glance

1969 Grand Prix SJ

Owned by: Scott Mancini

Restored by: Unrestored

Engine: 428 ci/370hp V-8

Transmission: Muncie M20 4-speed

Rearend: 10-bolt Safe-T-Track with 3.23 gears

Interior: Code 82 Dark Fawn vinyl bucket seat

Wheels: 14x7 Pontiac Rally II

Tires: G70-14 Firestone Wide Oval

Special parts: With the exception of tires, exhaust, and battery, all components are original

Original Owners' Perspective

Pat Raffaele:

Early in March 1969, we were on our way home, and while sitting at a red light we saw the most beautiful car imaginable go by. I said to Tony, "My God, did you see that car?" It was a 1969 Grand Prix, and we were in love with it!

Tony Raffaele: We knew immediately that we were going to buy one. The only things we needed to decide were the color and options. In my youth I liked to street race, so I wanted the most powerful engine available and a four-speed. Pat wanted air conditioning, and we couldn't get the high-output engine, a four-speed, and air conditioning, so we got the second most powerful engine. It took a lot longer for the car to come in than the dealer said, and I insisted on being there when it got delivered. The kid at the dealership who washes the new cars is the lowest employee on the totem pole, and I didn't trust him to touch my car, so I took it home without the usual dealer prep.

Pat Raffaele: We had a Miniature Schnauzer that we brought to dog shows all over, and that's what we did with the car the first year. We covered the back seat for the dog and drove to the shows. Amazingly, we never once got caught in the rain that first year. After that, we didn't take it out of the garage unless we knew the weather was good.

Tony Raffaele: I'd look at the forecast starting three days before, and if there was any chance of rain the car didn't go out. The underside has never gotten wet. And we always kept it clean and waxed so it never even needed to be washed. I had a special pass for the Allegheny County Airport, and I used to go there to buy high-octane aviation fuel for the car. It really was a perfect car. I never had any trouble with it, and the only thing I had to replace were the original Uniroyal tires, which wore out after only 6,000 miles. I replaced them with Firestone Wide Ovals, and they were much better. We always had other cars, so we only used the Grand Prix for pleasure drives, and we both got so busy with our careers by the late 1980s that we stopped using it altogether. We put it on jackstands, covered it, and enjoyed just looking at it. I wanted to park it in our living room, but my wife wouldn't let me!

Pat Raffaele: A few years ago we were moving to Florida and decided we would sell the car if we found someone we thought would preserve it and take care of it the way we did. That was very important to us.

Tony Raffaele: We knew Andy Gould was the right person. When he looked at the car I could see all the hairs on his arms stand straight up. I thought he was going to cry! Scott Mancini is the same way with the car. When I saw the photo from Scott's wedding, of Scott and Andy in matching brown suits, standing next to the car, it looked like the two of them married the car! Of course we miss it, but we know it's in good hands now, and will be preserved and loved for many more years to come!

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