On the news of the planned death of GM's Pontiac brand, we take a look back at the brand's best (and worst) vehicles of all time. These are the Pontiacs "we'll never forget."
One could make the argument that Pontiac's most important car could have been its first. The Pontiac 6/27 set the tone for the brand's 80-year-plus lifespan: When other vehicles of this time featured four-cylinder engines, Pontiac's new sedan had a six.
Pontiacs in the mid 1930s started to feature long, shiny chrome ribbons on their hoods. Attributed to the company's star designers, Frank Hershey and Virgil Exner, Pontiac design started to come into its own. The "Silver Streak" name perfectly matched the company's speedy design, while the company's Straight-8 delivered on it.
1959 was a pivotal year for Pontiac: the brand introduced its soon-to-be-trademarked split grille design and its new "wide track" design and ad campaigns. The low-slung, wide cars looked the business and the market responded. The Bonneville's new look for 1959 was our favorite of the bunch; it ran until it was put to rest in 2005.
Pontiac's GTO could very well be the most famous Pontiac of all and we're sure to never forget it. The 1970 GTO stands out in our mind for a few reasons: it was General Manager John Z. De Lorean's pet project and it also featured Ram Air, the sophisticated air induction system that creates more air pressure the faster the vehicle moves. "The Judge" trim line might look a bit comedic now, but GTO fans (and TV and movies of the time) found it to be all business.
The source of many a policeman's radar calibrations, the Pontiac Firebird "Trans-Am" was originally named for the SCCA racing class in which the company competed. GM nevertheless was forced to settle a naming dispute (as legend goes SCCA received $5 for every car GM sold with the name Trans-Am on its body) but continued to use the name for decades. With four lights instead of two, and the 1969 Trans-Am is often favored over its sibling (Chevrolet's Camaro).
Few movie stars shone as bright as the 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am SE that appeared in the Burt Reynolds classic, "Smokey and The Bandit." Bandit's ride was the black-and-gold Trans-Am, done up with the classic "screaming chicken" on the hood; it made for quite nice film stock, racing and sliding and jumping over all sorts of movie buffoonery. With Pontiac headed to its grave, it's this image we'll mourn the most. It all just makes us want to don a cowboy hat and do a burnout.
Pontiac had a storied history in racing, from the brand's hardly-discussed prominence in the coast-to-coast Mobilgas Economy Run to its prowess on the drag strip (Mickey Thompson's memory looms large here). But our favorite? The STP livery of Richard Petty's #43 NASCAR. "The King" went for 200 victories in his NASCAR career, the last of which came in 1984 at Daytona behind the wheel of a Pontiac race car.
TV shows in the 1980s focused much of their character development on vehicles. If Magnum P.I.'s Ferrari 308 had us dreaming of Hawaii chase scenes, Michael Knight's K.I.T.T. (Knight Industries Two Thousand if you're scoring at home) from Knight Rider made us yearn for an automotive future. K.I.T.T. was based on Pontiac's Trans-Am but could do so much more. "Michael, I've identified this piece of rock: it's niobium!"
Car companies need to take chances, even if hindsight proves them wrong. The butt of jokes today, the Fiero was a valiant effort and found a host of buyers upon its introduction in 1984. The little mid-engined car featured a space-frame chassis and unique plastic body panels that promised great things, but its two-seat design and lackluster reviews sounded the car's death knell.
If the Pontiac Fiero was killed for its eventual decline, the Aztek never had a chance. Odd when it was introduced as a concept in 1999, the production Aztek didn't change much when it launched in 2001. A new-age SUV built on a minivan platform, the Aztek certainly polarized opinion, what with its strange and disconnected exterior design. Despite a small and remarkably enthusiastic group of owners, the company eventually shut down Aztek in 2005.
Although many had written Pontiac off, GM stunned the world when it launched the Solstice concept car at the 2001 North American International Auto Show. Legend has it that new hire and "car guy" Bob Lutz rushed to get the show car designed and built in a matter of months. Reviews of the concept were white hot and GM gave the little Pontiac a green light (along with Saturn's sibling car, the Sky). The Solstice could have grown into a great little sports car if not for the brand's death.
The car we'll continue to shed a Pontiac-logo-shaped tear for is the G8, especially in GXP trim. This showed the true possibility of what Pontiac could become. Designed in conjunction with GM's Holden brand in Australia, the powerful, rear-wheel-drive sedan offered top-line performance for a budget price--perhaps best idea of what Pontiac should be. Somewhere along the line GM forgot that mission, and now we all know what harm that ultimately did.