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5 Pontiacs We're Actually Going to Miss

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1964 Pontiac GTO

1964 Pontiac GTO

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While Pontiac fades into history--and takes with it most of the 5 vehicles that killed it--TheCarConnection.com is taking a moment to reflect on why Pontiac made sense at General Motors for a very long time, and why it no longer matters today.

The 83-year-old brand began as Oakland in 1909. GM acquired it and issued the first Pontiacs in 1926, but the brand really earned its modern reputation in the early 1960s, when wide-track cars and big V-8s transformed its mundane offerings into domestic exotica like the 1964 GTO.

Pontiac rolled through the Sixties and Seventies as one of America's most popular car brands on the strength of cars like the  Firebird. In 1978, its sold 896,980 cars--an unbelievable number that would account for all the sales of Pontiac, GMC and Buick combined today.

The heyday didn't last. Sales began to sputter in the early 1980s, and it showed. For every innovative (but half-baked) project like the Fiero came a badge-engineered Sunbird or a Bonneville. When Bob Lutz arrived at GM in the early part of this decade, he made it his mission to fix Pontiac, but it was too late. Instead of becoming America's BMW, as he envisioned, Pontiac staggered to only 267,348 sales last year and made a last-gasp effort at turning to small cars, a la Scion.

Now, Pontiac's terminal. Still, over the years, Pontiac marshaled some impressive cars--a couple of stars, in fact. Weighed against other efforts like the 2009 G3 and the forgettable Aztek and Montana, the performance cars weren't sustainable but they were menacing, and fast, and usually entertaining.

The Pontiac cars we'll truly miss are these five:

Pontiac GTO

What began life as a simple Tempest sedan turned into an exercise in horsepower to rival Ferrari--or, at least, that's how GM's John DeLorean (yep, that DeLorean) pitched the musclecar Pontiac Tempest GTO to the car magazines of the day. Pontiac chief engineer DeLorean put together a rocketship that could develop Ferrari-like power, though still trapped in the boxy Pontiac body. A massive 6.5-liter V-8 turned out 325 hp in base trim--and was a $269 option on the two-door Tempest LeMans. The GTO cast Pontiac's image as the performance spin-off of standard GM hardware and did it with the trademark twin-nostril grille. The later two-door 2004-2006 GTO--basically a Holden Monaro coupe with Corvette power--bested the original's speed, but not its allure.

2002 Pontiac Firebird 2dr Cpe exterior front left

2002 Pontiac Firebird 2dr Cpe exterior front left

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Pontiac Firebird

Screaming chickens and Smokey and the Bandit--that's how most people remember the Pontiac Firebird, the vented and gilled twin to the Chevrolet Camaro. The Camaro lives on as a 2010 coupe, but the Firebird will get buried along with Pontiac. Alive and kicking from 1967 to 2002, the Firebird gave Pontiac its own coupe and convertible entry in the pony car wars against Mustang and Cougar. The late-1970s versions are maybe the most memorable, for the giant metallic decals available and the Burt Reynolds redneck romp, but Trans-Am versions were truly fast and furious. The final plastic-bodied, Canadian-built Firebirds were nearly as fun, but rattle-prone and a little too spacey to recall the F-Bird's glory days. It's hard to imagine a generation of hair bands and other 1980s nostalgia without the Trans Am--and it's no fun to imagine a future without the Firebird.

1988 Pontiac Fiero

1988 Pontiac Fiero

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Pontiac Fiero

The long farewell for Pontiac may have begun in 1984 with the introduction of the Fiero--"strong" in Italian and "wild" in Spanish. The two-door, plastic-bodied Fiero was born from Chevette pieces and had a miserly four-cylinder engine at launch. First-year cars were famed for fires caused by inadequate oil delivery. In short, it was crap. Cool, but crap nonetheless. As time went on, GM fixed the problems, and by the 1987 1/2 model year, the Fiero had grown truly interesting, especially in V-6 GT form. Toyota's later MR2 owed a lot to the last Fiero's shape, and GM proved it could still take a shot at greatness--but with the execution lacking, Fiero sales nosedived until it got the axe in 1988.


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Comments (2)
  1. "What could have been"

    he end of Pontiac shows that GM does not car about cars, only money but because of that it didn't invest money in cars and now has no money, not hard to realise when you think about it.
    I would love someone to buy the Pontiac Brand off GM and do a deal to use some GM mechanicals (maybe buy Holden at the same time).
    Develop a new GTO, not off the G8 but the Corvette, create a true blue american sports car. With an external look different from the Corvette there would not be a lot of sales cross over as it would need to be marketed at a slightly different client.
    Keep the G8 and bring the the Sports Truck over.
    Develop a new Solstice and find a partner to share platform with, I would go for Alfa but if FIAT buys Chyrsler then this wouldn't happen, and probably GM's Euorpean former allies. I would also look at doing a small sedan off it a la BMW 1/3 series.
    No small cars, no minivans, no full size trucks/crossovers/SUV's (at least for the moment). Develop the brand as a sports brand and price it right. Price it more than Chevy and Dodge but less than BMW/Audie etc so that it can be profitable.
     
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  2. "Ms."

    Losing Pontiac is so sad-the brand is an icon. All GM had to do was keep making the Pontiacs that people liked. The Firebird was one of the coolest cars, along with the GTO. The Aztec was an absolute horror and I agree with the editor-it did tarnish the brand.
     
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