The Pontiac brand was introduced by General Motors in 1926 as the 'companion' marque to GM's Oakland Motor Car line. The Pontiac name was first used in 1906 by the Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works. The Oakland Motor Company and Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works Company decided to merge together in November 1908 under the name of the Oakland Motor Car Company. The operations of both companies were joined together in Pontiac, Michigan to build the Cartercar. Oakland was purchased by General Motors in 1909. The first General Motors Pontiac was conceived as an affordable six cylinder that was intended to compete with more inexpensive four cylinder models. Within months of its introduction, Pontiac outsold Oakland. As Pontiac's sales rose and Oakland's sales began to decline, Pontiac became the only 'companion' marque to survive its 'parent'.
A Native American Headdress was used as a logo until 1956. The current Pontiac logo represents a Native American arrowhead. An alternate slang term for the marque among performance enthusiasts includes Poncho. Another slang term used in the early stages of brand was "Indian" due the subject matter of its logo.
On April 27, 2009, amid ongoing financial problems and restructuring efforts, GM announced that it would phase out the Pontiac brand by the end of 2010 and focus on four core brands in the U.S.: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC.
For an extended period of time, prewar through the early 1950's, the Pontiac was a quiet and solid car, but not especially powerful. A flathead (side-valve) straight eight offered both the quietest and smoothest possible operation, with an appropriately soft suspension and quiet muffler offering the feeling of luxury without the expense. These combinations proved attractive to the vehicle's target market - a reserved lower middle class that was not especially interested in performance or handling and was seeking good value and a roomy vehicle in a step up from the entry-level Chevrolet. This fit well within parent GM's strategy of passing an increasingly prosperous customer up through the various divisions.
Since the 1957 introduction of the Bonneville, Pontiac marketing has emphasized performance; the division's slogan for many years was "We Build Excitement". Traditionally, each GM division had its own market niche - Chevrolet was equated with value, Oldsmobile with technology, Buick was marketed affordable luxury, Cadillac as ultimate luxury and Pontiac embraced performance.
After the introduction of the Bonneville in 1957, Pontiac's next success was the introduction of its Wide-Track suspension layout in 1959. Wide-Track gave the car a broader stance by increasing the width between the wheels, providing greater stability and increased traction.
The Pontiac GTO was introduced in 1964 by Pontiac's John DeLorean as an option package on the Pontiac LeMans/Tempest (GM A-body) car. It was the first intermediate GM vehicle to be powered by the Pontiac division's 389 in³ V8. By being the first brand to feature a large engine in an intermediate car, Pontiac is often credited with launching the muscle car era. Throughout the 1960s, GTOs were well known for their combination of stunning looks and incredible performance.
The Firebird, introduced in 1967, was an F-body car that closely mirrored the styling and motor offerings of the LeMans/Tempest cars but was placed on a smaller, sportier platform. This body style and its underlying Chevrolet Nova chassis were shared with the Camaro, but the Firebird's engines and trim were totally different. As upscale competition for sporty cars like the Ford Mustang or the Dodge Challenger, the Firebird was perfectly positioned. After reaching record sales levels in the 1970s, in part due to such publicity as the Smokey & the Bandit movies and in part due to being one of the very few performance cars on the market, Firebird sales slowly began to fall in the 1990s and GM pulled the plug on the Camaro/ Firebird lines in 2002, after 35 years of continuous production.
Even more famous was the limited-edition Firebird Trans Am, which was first offered in 1969 and continued through the end of the Firebird in 2002. Early on, the Trans Am was most notable for having the same high-performance 400 in³ and 455 in³ V8 engines as the GTO but in a smaller, lighter body. This pattern continued through the late 1970s, after which the Trans Am became more of a luxury model than a real performance machine.
Just about the time that these muscle cars were getting big attention, emissions regulations and oil shortages quickly ground them to a halt. While production first started in the late 1950s, it did not hit its stride until the late 1960s. By 1972, few were left on the market. Most telling was the fate of the GTO - originally conceived as a powerful mid-size coupe, by 1974 the GTO option was offered only on the compact Ventura. And then, it too was gone.
From the late 1970s on to the late 1980s, while downsizing its North American operations, General Motors had little funds to spend on independent brand-specific performance platforms. That was, until the Pontiac Fiero was introduced in 1983 as a 1984 model. Drawing heavily from GM's parts bin, the Fiero was initially billed as a commuter car. While it was not performance oriented in its initial release, its final versions with improved suspension geometry and available 2.8L V6 made the Fiero a potent mid-engined sports car. With the demise of the Fiero in 1988, Pontiac only offered badge engineered products from other GM divisions.
In 2001, Bob Lutz, the former Vice Chairman of the Chrysler Corporation was hired to help turn GM around. One of his first ideas was to bring back the GTO in order to revive Pontiac's performance heritage in light of the Firebird's demise. Finding limited numbers of smaller rear wheel drive coupe platforms, Pontiac looked to Holden, a GM division of Australia, for the platform of their GTO.
Beginning late 2004, GM's Holden division produced a version of their Monaro coupe with Pontiac trim and all the attitude of the original 1960s editions. Debuting with the potent 350 hp LS1 V8 and a world-class chassis, the new GTO is at least as good as its predecessors. But its lackluster styling turned off many buyers and forced GM to add hood scoops and other styling touches in order to make the GTO look like the originals. GM increased the Performance of the GTO in 2005 by adding the Corvette derived LS2 V8 producing 400 hp.
2005 was the swan song for the Pontiac Bonneville. With the demise of the V8 Bonneville, however, the Grand Prix introduced a new trim level, the GXP, and featured a 5.3 liter LS4 V8, capable of producing 303 hp through the front wheels. The Grand Am was also discontinued in this year, and replaced with the new G6. It is said that the G6 means Sixth generation Grand Am, but that particular name may stay. The Sunfire was also discontinued this year, later on it was replaced with the G5.
In 2006, the G6 introduced both a coupe and hardtop convertible variant to its lineup, mimicking a lineup similar to the BMW 3-Series. This also marked the year for the introduction of the Solstice roadster, which competes with the Mazda MX-5. The Torrent SUV was also introduced and saw reasonable sales, considering its lack of performance.
2007 saw the introduction of the G5 coupe, which replaced the compact Sunfire. This car wasn't planned for Pontiac, as it diluted its performance image, but the dealers had no small car to compete with imports, and complained. The car was first sold in Canada in 2005 as the Pursuit (renamed G5 Pursuit for 2006.5), and in Mexico as the G4, before Canadian and Mexican models were renamed simply G5 for 2007. The car is sold in the US as only a 2-door coupe with one choice of color for the interior: ebony.
In 2008, Pontiac received an additional shot of performance with the introduction of the G8 sports sedan, based on the Holden Commodore, and built in Australia on the same assembly line. 2008 marks the end of the Grand Prix legacy. A coupe utility version of this model called the G8 ST was also to be offered in the 2010 model year, making it the first coupe utility that GM has sold in the North American market in over 20 years, but GM officially canceled it despite its restructuring plans. As part of GM not releasing the G8 ST, Pontiac has decided to make 2009 the final year for its light trucks, with the Montana ending production in September 2008 as a 2009 model, followed by the slow-selling Torrent crossover SUV, the only Pontiac light truck in the American lineup from 2007-2009, whereas the Montana continued production for Canada and Mexico until the 2009 model year. Pontiac will be the only GM brand to not have any light trucks, making this the first light truck-free time for a GM brand since before 2004, when Saab got its first light truck, the now-discontinued 9-7X SUV (2005-2009), which will be replaced by the 9-4X for 2010.
For the 2009 model year, Pontiac introduced the G3 hatchback, which is a rebadged Chevrolet Aveo. This was Pontiac's first subcompact since the 1993 LeMans in the USA and the 2000 Pontiac Firefly in Canada. From 2005-2008, Pontiac's rebadged Aveo in Canada was known as the Wave, then renamed the G3 Wave. It was sold in both hatchback and sedan form in Canada.
End of the Pontiac brand
On December 2, 2008, General Motors announced that it was considering eliminating numerous brands, including Pontiac, in order to appease Congress in the hope of receiving a 25 billion dollar bailout. On February 17, 2009, GM announced in its original proposal that its Saturn division will be eliminated, Saab will be sold, and that Hummer will either be sold or shut down if it cannot find a buyer quickly. Also included in the original plan, GM clarified that Pontiac would have begun to focus on "niche" models aimed at the "youthful and sporty" segment, but did not provide specifics. Among the proposed details, Pontiac would trim its number of models to four, although there was talk about reducing it to only one model.
However, by April 2009, its demise would become apparent when several automotive websites and business publications began reporting on a story that GM was doing a study indicating that it might eliminate the brand altogether, along with sister truck brand GMC.
On April 24, 2009, people familiar with the decision at General Motors said that the company would be dropping the Pontiac brand while preserving the GMC truck line, as well as the Chevrolet, Cadillac and Buick brands. The choice to drop Pontiac came to light due to the increasing threat of a bankruptcy filing if the June 1 U.S. deadline could not be met. On April 27, 2009, GM officially announced that Pontiac will be dropped and that all of its remaining models will be phased out by the end of 2010.
Pontiac will become the second brand eliminated by GM in eight years, with Oldsmobile having met the same fate in 2004, and will have a quicker death than Olds, which was slowly phased out over four years.
General Motors Corp. will cut an additional 7,000 to 8,000 factory jobs in the United States, eliminate the Pontiac brand and shed 2,600 dealers by 2010 under a revised business plan developed with the Obama administration and announced today. GM Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson said the Pontiac brand would be closed by 2010, calling it an “extremely personal decision.” In addition to speeding up decisions on Saturn, Saab and Hummer, GM will be left with four brands – Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac.
Pontiac's second generation V8 engines were nearly identical, allowing many parts to interchange from its advent in 1955 to its demise in 1981. Sizes ranged from 265 in³ to 455 in³. This similarity (except the 301 & 265) makes rebuilding these engines particularly easy, as almost any Pontiac engine one can find will contain useful parts. This dimensional similarity between engines of various capacity also made it possible for Pontiac to invent the modern muscle car, by the relatively simple process of placing its largest engines into its mid-size cars, creating the Pontiac GTO. The non-traditional Pontiac V8 was the 301 and the smaller displacement 265 in³. Produced from 1977 through 1981, this motor has the distinction of being the last Pontiac V8 produced by PMD. The 301 has a 4 inch bore and 3 inch stroke, identical to the vaunted Chevrolet and Ford 302 motors.
Pontiac engines were not available in Canada, however, but were replaced with Chevrolet engines of similar size and power, resulting in such interesting and unusual (at least to American car fans) models as the Beaumont SD-396 with a Chevrolet big-block 396 in³ V-8.
All Pontiac Motor Division (PMD) engines (pre-1980 unified GM) were designed around a low-RPM/high-torque model, as opposed to the ubiquitous Chevrolet Small-Block engine known for its smaller displacement and high RPM/high power design. PMD engines were unique for their rear distributor, integrated water pump and timing chain cover, and separate valley pan and intake.
PMD originally used Rochester 1-barrel carburetors for many years, but by the time of the second generation engines had switched mostly to the 2-barrel offerings. These were the basis for the Tri-Power setups on the engines.
The Tri-Power setup included one center carburetor with idle control and two end carburetors that did not contribute until the throttle was opened more than half way. This was accomplished two ways, mechanically for the manual transmission models, and via a vacuum-switch on the automatics. This went through various permutations before being banned by GM.
PMD also had a square-bore 4-barrel at the time, but this was rated at a lower power than the Tri-Power. This carburetor was later replaced by the Quadrajet, a spread bore. 'Spread-bore' refers to the difference in sizes between the primaries and secondaries.
By the end of the muscle car era, the QuadraJet setup had become the nearly-ubiquitous choice on PMD engines, due to its excellent economy and power characteristics. While QuadraJets have been occasionally derided as being poor performers, with proper understanding and tuning it can compete at most levels with other designs.
This design proved good enough to last well into the 1980s with emissions modifications while most others carburetors were dropped for the easier to build fuel injection when economy mattered.
Cars manufactured by Pontiac:
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