We take a look at the story of Pontiac and what happened to it.
Pontiac was a General Motors car brand once synonymous with the ‘wide track’ look and with ‘building excitement’, manufactured it last car in early 2010 was lost to the memories of the past after selling 40 million vehicles over its 84-year existence.
Pontiac was the brand that brought the muscle car (GTO, Firebird) to the mass market under its flamboyant general manager John Z. DeLorean, and helped Burt Reynolds elude Sheriff Buford T. Justice in “Smokey and the Bandit”. It also helped to condition the baby boomer generation to love horsepower but then went on to build bland and forgettable cars in its later years and then officially died on October 31, 2010.
An exact single reason why Pontiac failed is impossible to identify as its more a case of a ‘death by a thousand cuts’.
Lets take a look at how Pontiac came to be, its wild ride to become an iconic American Automotive nameplate, it’s sad later life and its eventual demise.
The Pontiac brand was introduced as a companion make for General Motors’ more expensive line of Oakland automobiles in 1926.
A quality Pontiac model with a six-cylinder engine was designed to sell for the price of a four-cylinder car and became an instant success and thus Pontiac had been born. The body styles of the model included a sedan with both two and four doors, a Landau Coupe called the Sport Phaeton, a Sport Landau Sedan, a Sport Cabriolet and a Sport Roadster.
Eventually, Pontiac overtook Oakland in popularity and sales during the depression and displaced it entirely by 1933.
The Pontiac brand was named after the famous Ottawa native tribe chief for whom the city of Pontiac, Michigan was also named and where Pontiac cars were manufactured at the time.
Pontiac became an integral division brand within General Motors and saw steady sales increases and rising popularity for the fist half of the 20th century. During this time, Pontiac became known as the affordable and sporty division of GM that sold well as a wise economic choice without sacrificing power. In the 1950’s, Pontiac did outperform Oldsmobile and Buick in terms of sales.
Some notable highlights from Pontiac in the early years:
In 1935, Pontiac debuted new technical innovation including all-steel roofs, hydraulic brakes, safety-plate glass, and synchromesh transmissions.
In 1950, Pontiac introduced the Catalina trim designation. Initially, the name was used to denote 2-door pillarless hardtop body styles, first appearing in the 1950 Chieftain Eight and DeLuxe Eight models. In 1959, the Catalina became a separate model, as the "entry-level" full-size Pontiac. It was part of Pontiac’s full-sized line until 1981.
During the mid-1950’s, Pontiac began to take steps to differentiate itself from its other GM stablemate brands as the division that designed and built performance automobiles. In 1956, 42-year-old Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen became general manager of Pontiac, alongside new heads of engineering, Pete Estes and John DeLorean. Knudsen immediately began reworking the brand's image by getting rid of the brand’s Indian head logo and silver stripes from all of Pontiac’s models..
In 1957, one of the 1st examples of the image change was the introduction of the Bonneville trim line; named after the salt pan land feature located in Northwestern Utah and the site of many land speed record achievements. The Bonneville was a limited-edition Star Chief convertible that showcased Pontiac's first fuel-injected engine offering. Approximately 630 Bonnevilles were built for 1957, each with a retail price of nearly $5,800 which was the price of a new Cadillac. Pontiac call the Bonneville “America's No. 1 Road Car." And raised new interest in the brand.
Between the late 1950’s and mid-1960’s, Pontiac steadily transformed it image into its performance brand aspirations. In 1959, Pontiac debuted its ‘Wide Track’ design aesthetic. ‘Wide Track’ was a marketing term for a design feature that increased the width between the front and rear wheels 5” over that of other related GM division platform models. This improved handling and appearance of the cars and gave them less of the wide-body, narrow track look of vehicles such as vintage motorhomes. The cars were well received by
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