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In Memoriam: Pontiac Motor Division (1926-2010)

A Pontiac 1 We all saw it coming. Like an airplane falling from the sky, GM had to drop some weight. First came the demise of Oldsmobile; now, reportedly, Pontiac, Saturn, Saab, and Hummer are on the way out. Who knows? Soon other GM divisions may follow this sad lead.

It was not a surprise on April 24, 2009, when the news came. According to Wikipedia, "GM Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson said the Pontiac brand would be closed by 2010, calling it an 'extremely personal decision.' In addition to speeding up decisions on Saturn, Saab, and Hummer, GM will be left with four brands--Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac."

Pontiac was GM's youth division. At one time, its slogan was "We Build Excitement," which was hardly what you would expect from, say, a Sedan DeVille. When The Monkees needed a cool car, they got a Pontiac, fully customized by Dean Jeffries. During the muscle car heyday, Pontiac was out front. John DeLorean had a huge part developing the trend with the GTO. And nobody else could claim that a "Wide Track" car would help handling.

Pontiac's most memorable cars might be the Bonneville, Firebird/Trans Am, Fiero, Grand Prix, GTO, and LeMans. Other notables include the Catalina, Trans Sport, G8, and "The Judge;" they all can't be named here. From Native American headdress hood ornaments to screaming chickens on the hood, Pontiac always made a bold statement about style and performance.

Of course, there were a few duds. But these were usually just rebadged GM cars like the Vega-clone Astre, Chevette-knock-off T1000, Cobalt-derived G5, and, of course, the Korean-built LeMans.

A Pontiac 2 Maybe the saddest part of this is that Pontiac was on the edge of a rebirth. Bob Lutz' Solstice was making new ground with an attractive coupe version that had just been recently introduced.

The G8 is a highly respected performance sedan, and a utility coupe version (the G8 ST, shown here) had almost reached the showrooms. But time was not on Pontiac's side. Again, a case of too little, too late.

If history had repeated itself, Pontiac would have sold a version of the upcoming Chevy Cruze and other small front-wheel-drive cars. When this economic slowdown is behind us, who will make the fuel-efficient cars that we will need?

I had a few Pontiacs through the years ... a 1970 Firebird while in college, the disastrous T1000, and a red Fiero 2M4 while I was working for Road Test Magazine. I miss the Firebird and Fiero.

Car names like Chief, J2000, Montana, SD-455, Tempest, and Ventura will be gone for a while, if not forever. But Pontiac's legacy will be with us in our driveways, on used car lots, and in museums for a very long time. I can't help but wonder where the last Pontiac will go.

Wikipedia, Google Images, and Chevrolet were sources for the materials in this post.

--That Car Guy (Chuck)


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Saturn is going twice?

When discussing the "duds" of Pontiac's past, let us not forget the biggest blunder of all: the Aztec. I wished the brand would've died at that point, it's pretty much been downhill since. I hope GM can find another home for Holden products in the U.S. under a different brand in the future.

I've never owned a Pontiac, but the one I probably was fondest of was another forgotten model: the Parisienne. A friend of mine had a hand-me-down '85 model as his first car. To some, it was just a rebadged Caprice that didn't sell, but it had a charm all it's own. A monstrous moonroof and a classy 2 tone grey paintjob you just couldn't get on a Caprice. And a swing-gauge fuel economy meter that was fun to peg on "LOW" when we were teenagers.

Lee: "Saturn is going twice?"

My mistake. I really hate it when I edit mistakes *into* posts.

The Parisienne? Shawn, are you sure we don't share a brain? I loved the Parisienne - I loved the Impala on which it was based, and there was something about the Pontiac grille and taillights on that car that just looked right.


Have any of you guys ever seen the videos of a gentleman who has the YouTube username "Davidsfarm?" He owns a real crappy-looking '86 Parisienne that he affectionately calls the "Cheviac." If you guys haven't seen a video, go onto YouTube and watch one, especially the ones with the Cheviac. They are hilarious! The car is pretty much worn out, and has these funny-looking exhaust pipes coming out of the hood.

Oh, don't worry, the Aztek has not been forgotten...

I actually saw a mid-'80s Bonneville driving around on the highway. It was actually in impressively good condition - no rust or anything! I was legitimately impressed.

The worst part is that, during the '80s, Pontiac was the one GM brand that at least tried to put a LITTLE effort into what they were doing, even if that effort led to the Iron Duke-powered Fiero and the Hasselhofmobile.

Then again, I liked KITT. *sigh*

A few random Pontiac musings:

My first driving experiences occurred in a '67 LeMans with a vinyl roof and an automatic. It had the base engine, and wasn't particularly fast, but the fore-and-aft weight distribution was not what it should have been, and that made it tail-happy in rain and snow. (I learned to counter-steer real fast!) It also had a disturbing tendency to develop major mechanical issues.

Our other Pontiac was an early-70s Bonneville we referred to as the "Bonehead." 'Nuff said.

The pistonhead next door had a '51 with a straight-eight and a big honkin' Indian hood ornament for a while. That was a magnificent artifact.

I remember that when the Fiero was in development, one of the buff books (I think it was C&D) reported that it would have a twin-turbo V-6 and various other goodies. When it came out, it had the woeful Iron Duke, and word on the street was that GM's senior execs ordered it detuned so it wouldn't threaten the Corvette. So much for "We build excitement!"

There's one thing about the Aztek hate that has me scratching my head. Namely, Buick also has their version of it. Not a day goes by where I don't see at least two of them out on the roads, and I don't hear any hate directed at them.

I took driver's ed in a '67 Tempest sedan, and despite having bought and sold 50-odd cars since then, that '67 represents my alpha-to-omega personal experience with the marque. I was never a street racer, so the go-fast models left me cold, and the cushier models weren't cushy enough.

Now, when I make a fantasy list of cars I'd like to have in my own version of Jay Leno's garage, only two Pontiacs make the cut: the 1958 Bonneville convertible and 1963 Grand Prix. I can respect the original GTO for its impact on the industry, and the Firebird for helping the gold chain industry to stay afloat in the seventies, but beyond that...

So, so long Pontiac. You'll be missed by a lot of people, but I'm not one of them.

I've owned two Pontiacs. I had a Bonneville for over ten years and I am currently driving a 2009 Vibe. I liked both cars although the Bonneville had crappy cup holders. It can't be that hard to engineer a decent cup holder can it? The Vibe is a good car with the exception the wide panels between the front and rear seats that creates an annoying blind spot.

Are there any plans to keep some of the cars in the Pontiac line as a Chevy or Buick? I think the Vibe would be a good candidate to continue as a Chevy.

"I think the Vibe would be a good candidate to continue as a Chevy."

Well, given that it's actually a Toyota (Matrix) there's precedent for such a shift. GM sold the Corolla as the Chevy Nova from 85-88, and again as the Geo Prizm from 89-02. That they were the among best GM cars you could buy at the time speaks volumes about what's going on right now.

I got to see KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) at Universal Studios in 1984. I still have the picture, and I'm kind of sorry I didn't put it in the post.

If Chevy is going to sell a rebadged Pontiac, then why not put a new snout on that G8 ST and call it an El Camino? Surely that utility coupe is almost ready for the American market. And don't call me Shirley!

Mattsky: "It can't be that hard to engineer a decent cup holder can it?"

Tell that to the Germans! They make them as awkward as possible, if they include one at all. If they had their way you would NEVER drink while operating your motor-vehicle.

Pontiac, meh
i'm sad that Saab will be leaving us
does anybody else feel it's just a little bit unnecessary? Or at least, not really GM's decision to drop the company?
I always kind of thought of Saab as almost completely separate from GM, and I always figured they sold pretty well in Europe. I've always wanted a Saab, their recent 9-3 was a pretty awesome car as far as I had heard.

I have never owned a pontiac until I met my wife.We have a 2001 WS6 and a 1981 WS6. I cannot understand why GM would quit this line of vehicles when in any parking lot you will find plenty of pontiacs sitting in them.Now I am no "bean counter" but even i can figure out this fact: When your company is hurting financially, you don't get rid of one of your top sellers!I am , and always will be , a GM guy so it pains me to see things like this happen.Open your eyes GM , or the whole thing might collapse on you if you continue to make such irresponsible business decisions!Personally , I would have let buick go first , but thats just me.
P.S. I think I would've liked to see a 2010 Trans Am on the streets!

I have owned a few Pontiacs. I have always been very happy with them. Three Bonnevilles(1986,1994,1998), a sunbird(1994), two sunfires(1996, 2003), two Grand ams(1996, 2001), and still hoping to one day get my hands on my all time favorite, a 2001 Firehawk. I can say without doubt, that each of the Pontiacs that I have owned ever disappointed me. True, a few minor problems here and there, but no major disasters. I do not understand GM's decision to retire the brand instead of selling it. By the way Shannon, have you seen Kevin Morgan's Trans am? Very awesome. I will definitely miss Pontiac. On the other hand, I won't stop buying them just because they're gone.

I recently gifted my 1996 Pontiac Sunfire Convertible to my daughter and son-in-law for the purpose of towing behind their motor home. I lost a copy of Motorhome Magazine, with towing information. I would be so grateful to obtain the magazine, and am willing to pay for it.

Shirley A. Lewis
2965 Stony Brook Court
Tallahassee, FL 32309
Phone: 850-893-1547

Kan waar IK revisie Motoren Kopen
Pontiac fireberd + -

My favorite Pontiacs were the ones made from 1960 up to 1967. All of those from the Tempest to the big Bonnevilles, were very attractive and (save for the Tempest) had power to match. My '65 Grand Prix is still a car I regret selling. The '67-68 Firebirds were awesome too. Somehow, especially from the mid '70s on, they all lost that styling appeal and just resembled what they ended up being, just upscale Chevrolets.

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