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
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.