The image of the Pontiac Firebird with the mythological bird of flames on its hood is already part of pop culture. However, Pontiac hasn’t existed for a few years now. After 82 years of history, Pontiac disappeared from the map in 2010 . General Motors was forced to sacrifice one of its most iconic brands in order to survive. With the end of the road for Pontiac, an essential page in automotive history has been turned.
It is not the first time that General Motors gets rid of any of its brands, from Oldsmobile to Geo, the Detroit giant does not shake its pulse when it comes to killing a brand. It is also true that a buyer cannot always be found, as was the case with Opel, which is now part of PSA.
Pontiac workers pose next to the last model to leave the factory, a G6 sedan.
Although some of these disappeared brands were a pure marketing product, such as Saturn or Geo, this was not the case with Oldsmobile, founded in 1897 by Ransom E. Olds and which disappeared in 2004 because GM no longer knew how to make it profitable, nor did the from Pontiac .
GM’s “sports” brand, as it came to be known, was not just a commercial product. Pontiac was the instigator of the highly acclaimed muscle-cars . With Pontiac’s death, not only is a piece of American industrial history gone but an important player in automotive history.
From Oakland Motor Car Company to Pontiac
Like many other historic brands, Pontiac began with the manufacture of carriages. Edward Murphy created the Pontiac Buggy Company in 1893 in the city of Pontiac (Michigan) with the purpose of manufacturing carriages. However, Murphy wanted to go into automobile construction and to do so, in 1906, he turned to Alanson Brush.
Brush had established himself as a consultant in Detroit having created some of the first Cadillacs. He shows him the project for a vertical twin cylinder that was rejected by Cadillac. Murphy accepts it and in the summer of 1907 he creates the Oakland Motor Co. The lack of success of this first model makes him think that, finally, Cadillac was right to reject the project.
In 1909, a new range with a 40 hp 4-cylinder engine arrived and was successful. Unfortunately, Edward Murphy was unable to enjoy this when he died in 1908. Shortly before his death, he had met with another former carriage manufacturer, William C. Durant, creator of the General Motors empire, and sold him a stake in the Oakland Motor Co. Upon Murphy’s death, Oakland and the rest of Murphy’s companies, including the Pontiac Buggy Co., quickly become part of the nascent General Motors galaxy.
In 1926, Oakland presented the Pontiac at the New York Motor Show , a new model animated by a 6-cylinder, but at the price of a 4-cylinder. The success is such (76,742 units sold that year) that GM management decides to use Pontiac instead of Oakland for the rest of the range. By the way, Pontiac is a reference to the city of origin of the brand, but also to the name of a chief of the Ottawa tribe from the 18th century.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Pontiac lineup would be made up of sedans, coupes, and estates positioned in the mid to low end of the market. And in 1957, Pontiac hits the nail on the head by introducing the Bonneville. Available in saloon, estate, convertible and coupé, this model proved to be a success by offering the luxury and performance of premium category models, as we would say today, at an affordable price. Pontiac was in full swing.
The GTO and the era of muscle cars
In 1964, Pontiac had a coupe in its range, the Tempest Le Mans . And for that model, a strange option called, very cheekily, “GTO” arrives that year . This option and these acronyms, borrowed from Ferrari, marked a before and after in the American automobile industry, since they are the beginning of the era of muscle cars .
Three engineers of the brand, among whom was a certain John De Lorean, devised the GTO project. They decided to fit the Tempest with the Bonneville’s 389 ci (6.5 liter) V8 in a body that, according to GM’s internal policy, could not receive an engine larger than 5.4 liter (330 ci). They got around that ban by proposing it as an option instead of the Tempest’s 326 ci (5.3-liter) V8. The reluctance of the leaders meant that the initial production will be limited to 5,000 units.
1972 Pontiac LeMans GTO, one of the last “real” GTOs in Pontiac history.
The success was such that the GTO, duly updated and with new models, remained on sale until 1974. The original GTO thus created the muscle car segment. Meanwhile, Ford has jumped into that segment with increasingly powerful versions of the Mustang, sometimes with the help of Caroll Shelby. Since then, Pontiac has been synonymous with sports cars, knowing success with its Firebird and TransAm.
1979 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Except for the specific front end, the relationship to the Chevrolet Camaro is obvious.
The 1979 energy crisis forced Pontiac to focus on cheaper, not-so-fun models. In this context, the leaders of GM decided to create an economical, small car, ideal for going from home to work and back. None of the GM brands really had experience with this type of car, which led to the creation of some of the most unusual cars in American production.
The one that covers a lot…
To make it economical, they opted for a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder injection engine associated with a 3-speed automatic gearbox (with very long developments). In order for its aerodynamic efficiency to be the best on the market, it was decided to mount the engine in a central rear position, thus leaving a very low front section, that is, very aerodynamic. And so the Pontiac Fiero was born .
In 1985, the oil crisis was already a distant nightmare and the public wanted more power in their cars. And also in the Fierce. The tracks were widened, the suspensions modified and a 2.8-liter V6 associated with a 5-speed manual gearbox developed by Getrag was installed. And on the rebound, the “utility” became the only mass-produced rear mid-engined American sports car.
In 1988, production of the Pontiac Fiero ceases. That same year, the Pontiac city plant, which made the Fiero, closed its doors. Today, that episode is considered the beginning of the end for Pontiac, both for the city and for the brand .
In the 1990s, Pontiac sales steadily declined, the brand increasingly focusing on small, old-fashioned models, such as the Pontiac Le Mans (a local version of the Daewoo Nexia, itself derived from the Opel Kadett E 1984) and minivans, such as the famous Trans Sport that came to know some success in Europe.
Back in the 2000s, GM tried to reinvigorate Pontiac’s past by launching a small two-seater roadster, the Solstice (which spawned the Opel GT in Europe). The car was powerless against the Mazda MX5 and the BMW Z4. In the same way, I revived the GTO label, importing the coupé version of the Holden Monaro from Australia, installing the Corvette’s LS1 V8 under its hood. Unfortunately, the 21st century GTO was not a success.
The end of the road for Pontiac were nondescript G6 compact sedans for the fleet of a large American company.
In November 2009, the last Pontiac to roll out of an American factory, a G6 sedan, spelled the end for the Indian chief’s brand. Although officially, the end of the brand would come in December 2009 when the last G3 Wave –Canadian version of the Chevrolet Aveo– left the GM factory in Mexico.
10 cars to understand Pontiac
Oakland (1907). The first Pontiac
The first model of the Oakland company that would end up originating Pontiac
Oakland Pontiac 6-27 (1926). “Chief of the Sixes”
The 6-27 was the first car to bear the Pontiac name. Animated by a 6-cylinder 186.5 ci (3 liters) and 40 CV. Available in 5 different bodies, from the convertible Landaulet to the sedan, passing through the two-seater, two-door coupe. The base was a 110-inch (2,794 mm) wheelbase Chevrolet chassis.
Pontiac Torpedo 8 (1940). More for less.
From the Pontiac 6-27, the Oakland brand ceased to be used in favor of Pontiac, the change was made official in 1932. The Torpedo was, like the first Pontiac, a mid-range car, in terms of price, with features of high-end. 6 and 8 cylinder engines.
Pontiac Bonneville (1957). The best price/performance ratio
The Bonneville was the first Pontiac model to feature a fuel injected engine. Plus, it was the fastest Pontiac ever made. Garcias to his V8 injection of 330 CV lowered the 0 to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds and exceeded 100 mph (160 km/h).
Pontiac Tempest Le Mans GTO (1964). The first muscle car is born
Under the supervision of John De Lorean, the Bonneville’s 6.5-liter V8 is fitted to the compact (by 1960s American standards) body of the Tempest and Le Mans. The power of the original GTO was 325 hp but it culminated in 370 hp in 1969.
Pontiac Firebird (1967). Mythical in many ways
In 1966, Chevrolet introduces the Camaro. For 1967, Pontiac has its variant baptized Firebird. The name of this mythological bird was prescient for Pontiac’s version.
Pontiac Trans Am Firebird (1982). The benefits of television
Traditionally, the Pontiac Trans Am Firebird was a much sportier, verging on radical, version of the Chevrolet Camaro it takes as its base. When the new model arrived in 1982, the reviews in the press were very harsh. The Firebird was simply not up to the task anymore (too slow and outdated). In Car & Driver, they couldn’t believe that a simple Nissan Stanza (a compact sedan) was faster.
However, this model achieved prestige and cult car status thanks to being the basis for the Knigt Industries Two Thousand, or KITT, in the ‘Fantastic Car’ series.
Pontiac Fierce (1984). From economical to sporty
Initially conceived as a commuter-only utility, the car soon became an affordable and widely acclaimed sports car. How far removed its initial approach was from the reality of the market is just one example of the extent to which GM was sailing blindly since the late 1970s.
Pontiac LeMans (1988). What would they think?
Traditionally, in Pontiac (and in other brands, of course) the mention Le Mans refers to a sports model. However, the 1988 Pontiac Le Mans had little to do with the model that originated the legendary GTO. For 1988, the geniuses at GM opted to sell a Daewoo Nexia (itself derived from the 1984 Opel Kadett E) as a Pontiac Le Mans. At the same time, the factory that produced the Fiero, located in the city of Pontiac, closed its doors with the cessation of the manufacture of the Fiero. This couldn’t end well.
Pontiac Aztec (2002). Why?
If there’s one car that sums up everything that went wrong with Pontiac, it’s the Aztek. We are talking about an SUV whose physiognomy makes a Fiat Multipla or a first-generation SsangYong Rodius look like works of art in comparison. Under its hood, a 3.4-liter V6 and 180 hp. Today he has his fan club, but you know, for tastes…
Pontiac GTO (2004). exotic reincarnation
Changing the grille of the Australian Holden Monaro, in turn derived from the Opel Omega C (2000-2003), and equipping it with the V8 (LS1 type) 5.7 liters and 350 CV of the Corvette. In 2005, it received the 400 hp 6-litre LS2.
Pontiac G6 (2008). The last Ottawa
In November 2009, the last Pontiacs rolled out of the Orion, Michigan factory. It is about 100 units of the G6 bought by a large company for its commercial fleet.