1955 Pontiac
  • 1955 Pontiac
  • For the first few decades of its existence, Pontiac was known as a brand for offering a slight step up from GM's run-of-the-mill Chevrolet line. All of that changed with the introduction of Pontiac's new line of automobiles in 1955, which was also the first year of Pontiac's classic V8 engine. Over the next few years, Pontiac would hone its image as GM's performance brand and in 1957, Bunkie Knudsen was put in charge of the brand. His first act as chief of Pontiac was to remove the twin chrome strips from the hood that had been a styling trademark of the brand since 1935. With that seemingly innocuous move, Knudson made it clear that big changes were in store at Pontiac. Click above to see what came next.
1963 Pontiac Tempest
  • 1963 Pontiac Tempest
  • In 1961, Pontiac introduced a new compact car called the Tempest. A few years earlier, GM unleashed the radical rear-engine Corvair, and while the Tempest wasn't particularly ground-breaking, it did introduce a new flexible driveshaft design and a rear-mounted transaxle -- innovations that allowed for a flat floor in the passenger compartment, a perfect 50/50 weight distribution and four-wheel independent suspension. For the 1963 model year, Pontiac proved the durability of this arrangement by dropping in its new 326 cubic-inch V8 engine, which offered up 280 horsepower at 4,800 rpm and 355 lb-ft of torque at 3,200 rpm. It was a solid performer, but the following year would bring what would turn out to be the most important car of the decade. Click the image above to read all about it.
1964 Pontiac GTO
  • 1964 Pontiac GTO
  • In 1964, Pontiac cemented its spot as America's preeminent performance brand with the introduction of the world's first mainstream muscle car: the Pontiac GTO. Though the Gran Turismo Omologato name was originally used by Ferrari a few years prior to Pontiac's midsize automobile, the moniker became indelibly tied to the American automaker after the muscle car became an instant sales success. So popular was the Pontiac GTO that it inspired an entire genre of performance cars in America.

    The seminal 1964 model came equipped with one of two 389 cubic-inch V8 engines. It came standard with a single four-barrel carb that offered up 325 horsepower, but the car's reputation was cemented by the classic Tri-Power engine arrangement, which used three individual one-barrel carbs to put out 348 horsepower. What's next? Click on the image above to find out.
1969 Pontiac Grand Prix
  • 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix
  • For the 1969 model year, Pontiac moved the Grand Prix from the full-size GM platform to a new chassis of its own. In the process, the automaker created a new category in America: the low-priced personal luxury coupe. Although the car employed the well-known long-hood, short-deck styling theme, no other car went quite to the same lengths as the Grand Prix... literally - the automaker's own literature pointed out that no other vehicle had a hood as long as the GP's.

    Under that ridiculously long beak sat a V8 engine offering up to 390 horsepower, which was usually mated up to a three-speed automatic transmission. Inside, the 1969 Grand Prix introduced a new cockpit-style dash that wrapped around the driver. Other innovations included a hidden radio antenna and dual-speed recessed windshield wipers. It was a solid performer, but it wasn't Pontiac's top-shelf muscle car in 1969. Click the image above to read all about the Judge.
1969 Pontiac GTO Judge
  • 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge
  • Back in 1964, Pontiac had the entire muscle car market almost completely to itself. By 1969, every American automaker had a performance-oriented mid-size automobile vying for a share of the pie. The marketing brain-trust behind GM's performance division realized that more than just the biggest available V8 engine was necessary to stay at the top of the heap. In response, they devised a clever package for the '69 GTO called The Judge, which combined bright colors (often an orange hue Pontiac called Carousel Red), loud graphics packages and a rear spoiler to stand apart from lesser models.

    Despite popular belief to the contrary, the Judge didn't offer any appreciable performance enhancements to the standard GTO, but its standard 366-horsepower Ram Air III engine and optional 370-horsepower Ram Air IV engine hardly needed any upgrades. Click the image above to see what's next.
1973 Pontiac Trans Am Super Duty
  • 1973 Pontiac Trans Am Super Duty
  • By 1973, rising insurance premiums, gasoline shortages and increasingly strict emissions regulations had choked the performance from nearly every remaining muscle or pony car. As the inventors of the breed, it's not surprising that Pontiac refused to let the genre fade away without a fight, and so it introduced the Super Duty 455 engine option for the Trans Am -- a nameplate that was just now beginning to pick up in popularity.

    Pontiac's Super Duty 455 was factory rated at 310 horsepower in 1973, though its actual output was likely significantly higher. Each SD engine was hand assembled with aluminum pistons, oversized valves, a radical camshaft and round-port exhaust manifolds. Though this was the pinnacle of classic Trans Am performance, Pontiac continued producing the only real muscle cars left in America for the rest of the decade. Click on the image above for more.
1978 Pontiac Trans Am
  • 1978 Pontiac Trans Am
  • Despite the fact that the final Super Duty Trans Am rolled down the assembly line in 1974, Pontiac wasn't quite ready to give up on America's last remaining muscle car. Fortunately for the automaker, sales got a big boost in 1977 with the introduction of the Burt Reynolds classic flick Smokey and the Bandit. Almost instantly, it seemed that America rekindled its love of fast cars and outlandish in-your-face graphics. If you wanted a performance car in the late '70s, you wanted a black and gold Trans Am with a huge Screaming Chicken on the hood.

    Of course, performance was down compared to what was available at the start of the decade, but Pontiac still offered a 220-horsepower 400-cubic-inch V8 engine mated up to a four-speed manual transmission. The Pontiac Trans Am defined an entire decade of American performance, but the brand still had sporty aspirations through most of the 1980s. Click the image above to continue the journey.
1988 Pontiac 6000 STE
  • 1988 Pontiac 6000 STE
  • With the introduction of the Pontiac 6000 STE, the automaker signaled its intent to try and compete directly with German automakers like BMW and Audi. While few would argue that the 6000, even in top-level STE guise, could be compared to the sport sedans from its German rivals, it was a credible vehicle that drove rather well, featured self-leveling air suspension and in its later years offered all-wheel drive -- all for several thousand dollars less than its European competition. Sound familiar? It should... but if not, keep reading through to the end.
1988 Pontiac Fiero
  • 1988 Pontiac Fiero
  • When it was first introduced in 1984, the Pontiac Fiero's styling wrote checks that its underwhelming underpinnings couldn't cash. After failing to live up to expectations for its first several years on the market, most of the population either never noticed or just didn't care that its chassis was thoroughly revised for 1988, which would prove to be its final year on the market. The car you see above is a Formula model, which joins the uplevel GT as the variants to look for.

    The biggest changes that finally made the Fiero a true driver's car were made to its suspension bits. Up front, new control arms and knuckles improved steering feel, and out back the car was blessed with a brand new tri-link suspension arrangement which made a world of difference in the car's handling dynamics. Finally, vented disc brakes were placed behind six-inch front and seven-inch rear wide alloy rims. A classic case of too little too late, unfortunately.

    There's still one vehicle left, and it's a great one. Click on the image above to find out more.
2008 Pontiac G8 GT
  • 2008 Pontiac G8 GT
  • Finally. In 2008, Pontiac once again lived up to its long-forgotten image as GM's performance brand. The new G8, which is currently available at your nearest Pontiac dealer, is an extrememly competent vehicle that can be mentioned in the same breath as the standard-bearing sport sedans from Europe, but with a price tag that's considerably lower. Thanks to its Australian roots, the 2008 Pontiac G8 GT was designed from the beginning to pair a high-output V8 engine with rear-wheel drive and a fully independent suspension -- something no comparable vehicle from The General was able to offer in America for decades (the '63 Tempest comes to mind). Unfortunately, there will never be another GTO or Trans Am to carry the torch for another generation. And that's a shame. These ten vehicles prove General Motors has almost always had the capability to offer truly interesting and competitive performance cars.

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