It really looks like Pontiac will disappear from the American automotive landscape like so many other brands of cars. Oldsmobile and Plymouth have gone and many brands that were around in my youth have also disappeared.
My first exposure to a Pontiac was as a very small boy. My parents had a post-war Pontiac sedan that was dark in color (weren’t they all back then) and had multiple chrome stripes that ran down the center of the hood and trunk. The hood ornament was the profile of an American Indian that represented the tribe for which the car was named. It had a huge back seat that was smooth and broad. Seat belts were not yet a fixture of automobile interiors. As young children we could get lost in that seat and the edges of the door windows towered over our heads. It was the car that I had my finger slammed in the door as my sisters and I were piling in. The old doors had to be slammed well or they did not latch and I still had my hand in the door jamb as I was settling in to my seat when one of my sisters closed the door. I wailed and cried and later lost a finger nail temporarily. I’m sure it was as a traumatic moment for my mother as it was for me.
One summer it was the car that transported the family to Minnesota and back. My sister Lauri was given to car sickness so she kept a metal coffee can in her lap to heave in.
I learned later that my grandfather had a Pontiac dealership in the village prior to World War II, hence my father’s bias toward the brand.
In 1964 he bought a Pontiac Tempest for my mother. The next summer my mother, my sisters, and I used it to go back to Minnesota again. Upon our return we crossed the canal bridge in Sagamore only to be greeted by a forest fire of gigantic proportions. It straddled route 6, the Mid-Cape Highway, and had originated in Mashpee’s Otis Air Force Base.
The next year, 1966, my father traded in the Tempest for a GTO. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had seen the first GTO in 1964 and the young boys in the village talked about that for quite a while. To have one in our own driveway was unbelievable. Pontiac instructed the owners to put 500 miles on the car before you were to accelerate under full power so my father and I would go out nightly and drive toward Boston and back so that we could accumulate those miles all the quicker. Soon we had turned enough of the odometer ahead and my father let the tiger roar. The Rochester Quadrajet carburetor opened its huge secondary butterflies and it sounded like all the atmosphere in the vicinity was being consumed by the car’s engine. Its vacuum roar competed with the pulses of the exhaust. All while we were pinned to the seat backs. It was marvelous.
Today there is no GTO, or Firebird. The brand now accounts for 9% of General Motor’s light vehicle sales. It started out in 1926 as brand known for its six cylinder powered roadsters that evolved into V8 powered sporty sedans and coupes. John DeLorean fathered the GTO which initiated the muscle car era. Mustangs, Cameros, Baracudas, Chargers, and Pontiac’s own Firebird were icons of that era. By the 1970’s two gasoline shortages big, thirsty V8 engines were no longer beneficiaries of fuel that sold for a quarter of a dollar. The 80’s were when GM touted Pontiac Excitement. Unfortunately all that excitement was left back in the sixties and the Firebird’s big V8 engines cranked out less and less horsepower. A brief spurt of creativity and flawed excitement came with the Pontiac Fiero that was the product of corporate politics and was symptomatic of the disease that infected much of corporate America. It used innovative technology in it space-frame mid-engine design, but was doomed to failure. Pontiac produced some forgettable cars including the god-awful Aztec van. The only bright spot of late has been the two-seater Solstice. Powered by an anemic four cylinder, there was enough hue and cry prior to its release that a turbo charged version was added as a much needed option. Due out this year is coupe version that looks beautiful even if it is too late to save the brand.
Some may ask why it takes the government to ask the hard questions of the GM corporate executives. The fact is that corporations that get that large become organizations of kingdoms where the prime directive is to preserve the kingdom over the health of the corporation as a whole. The CEO has no motivation to run it as a business since rarely are they rewarded for their business acumen. Their job becomes the challenge of maximizing their career and not the business.
So another automotive brand will fade from our memories – soon to be followed by a handful of others as GM is re-organized as it should have been twenty years ago.