End of the road for Pon­tiac

Pon­tiac, the leg­endary Amer­i­can car brand known for its stylish sedans and sleek road­sters, has come to the end of the road

The Weekend Post - Motoring - - Front Page -

PAR­ENT com­pany Gen­eral Motors has an­nounced the ter­mi­na­tion of the Pon­tiac brand by the end of 2010. It also means the end of the Aus­tralian Pon­tiac ex­port scheme where cars as­sem­bled in Ade­laide were shipped to the US, how­ever Holden says it will not lead to lo­cal job cuts.

Pon­tiac was a mar­quee brand for GM. How­ever, the lux­u­ri­ous but gas-guz­zling cars in­creas­ingly came to be seen as be­long­ing to a by­gone era.

The Pon­tiac name comes from a proud Amer­i­can In­dian war­rior who led an un­suc­cess­ful up­ris­ing against the Bri­tish shortly af­ter the French and In­dian War in the mid-18th cen­tury. Early on, the iconic brand was known for head-turn­ers long on leg room but short on fuel econ­omy like the Bon­neville, Trans Am, Fire­bird, LeMans, Grand Am and Grand Prix.

The first Pon­tiac car was built in 1926 and within a year it was one of the top sell­ing US car brands.

Pon­ti­acs have fre­quently been hon­oured as Mo­tor Trend mag­a­zine’s Car of the Year for their sleek styling, en­gi­neer­ing and per­for­mance. They saw many rein­ven­tions over the years with one pop­u­lar model, the Bon­neville launched in the 1950s, aim­ing to of­fer speed and lux­ury in one ve­hi­cle.

Later, the mid-sized GTO “mus­cle car” be­came a pop­u­lar choice of street drag racer and stock car con­tests for its pow­er­ful en­gines in the 1960s and 1970s.

But while Pon­tiac cars reached the pin­na­cle of pop­u­lar­ity on its clever mar­ket­ing and in­no­va­tive styling, it fal­tered on fuel ef­fi­ciency.

Later the brand lost touch with its cus­tomer base, as it groped for a share of the lu­cra­tive fam­ily car mar­ket. To­day Pon­ti­acs com­prise less than 2 per cent of US car sales.

Pon­tiac is not the only vic­tim un­der the re­struc­tur­ing. GM also is looking to sell or phase out Saab, Saturn, and Hum­mer by the end of this year.

Along the way Pon­ti­acs have been the car stars of many movies and Amer­i­can TV se­ries. One of the best known was Kitt, the auto star of the Knight Rider TV show, which was a 1982 Pon­tiac Fire­bird Trans-Am.

In the movie Smokey and the Ban­dit, the boot­leg­ger ban­dit played by Burt Reynolds, used a Pon­tiac Trans Am to evade the law.

Back in 1971 the car hero of The French Con­nec­tion’s fa­mous car chase was a Pon­tiac Le Mans.

Even the 1960s TV-cre­ated cult band the Mon­kees drove a Pon­tiac. An ex­treme make-over of a Pon­tiac GTO be­came the con­vert­ible “Mon­keemo­bile”. Giles Chap­man’s book TV Cars re­ported that Pon­tiac was not happy with the makeover.

“Pon­tiac was con­cerned its prod­uct had been made to look silly, but the cam­eras were al­ready rolling be­fore they could ob­ject.”

The car came to Aus­tralia as part of the Mon­kees 1968 tour be­fore end­ing up in Puerto Rico. It is now re­stored in New York. Lo­cal Pon­tiac en­thu­si­asts say they are sad to see the mar­que go.

Club reg­is­trar of the New South Wales Pon­tiac club, Terry Bell, says the club has about 150 mem­bers, most of whom own Pon­ti­acs. He says there are up to 460 mem­bers na­tion­ally. They have reg­u­lar events in­clud­ing the re­cently-held na­tion­als.

Bell says the styling of the Amer­i­can mus­cle cars has won the brand pop­u­lar­ity in Aus­tralia, even though few were im­ported by GM. “A lot of them have Fire­birds from the late 70s up to the 80s.”

He says the mid-60s GTO was a star: “The GTO was the pin­na­cle of the Pon­ti­acs be­cause of its en­try to mus­cle car mar­ket back in 1964”.

Bell says the writ­ing was on the wall for Pon­tiac in the US. “I thought the Pon­ti­acs might go with Oldsmo­biles go­ing. Pon­ti­acs are a bit stale at the mo­ment.”

Bell owns a 1966 Le Mans and a 1973 Trans-Am. “I’ve al­ways liked the shape of the early ones.”

He says most of the Aus­tralian Pon­tiac own­ers are home me­chan­ics who en­joy tuning and re­pair­ing their cars. “You can work on the early cars a lot bet­ter than the elec­tronic, com­put­erised newer ones.”

How­ever, he says the demise of the brand won’t harm lo­cal col­lec­tors.

Style set­ter: (Left) 1947 Pon­tiac Stream­liner Woody. Mega mus­cle: (Right) Pon­tiac 1970 GTO Judge.

Wild child: Pon­tiac 1976 Fire­bird Transam.

Con­vertable: Pon­tiac’s 1959 Bon­neville.

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