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GTO, Solstice and G8. He might as well have been mainlining meth into Pontiac, but decades of budget-priced, badge-engineered mediocrity had taken their toll. GM created Pontiac in , naming it after a local Indian chief who led a failed rebellion against the British. Ironically, Pontiac waxed while Oakland waned. The Depression undoubtedly played the role of killer, as it did to so many of the mid to expensive brands.
Pontiac barely survived, and the fact that it did owes to the first use of cross-divisional sharing of manufacturing and bodies at GM. It was a prescient move that would eventually come to absorb all the GM divisions.
GM President Alfred P. It was the prototype for GM, and Pontiac spent the rest of its life trying to differentiate itself sufficiently from Chevrolet, despite their fundamental similarities.
The Pontiac enjoyed a handsome restyle, and a new straight-eight engine that would end up lasting until The Pontiacs were the beneficiary of a bold ribbed band, called Silver Streak, echoing the fluted streamlined trains of the time. The positioning defined the brand; a Pontiac was a realistic step up the ownership ladder for the Chevy driver of the thirties. Pontiacs of the time did not emphasize performance; in fact a good running Ford could probably out run one.
The goal was to entice low-end buyers to step up to a more stylish and higher prestige brand. As the Depression eased, Pontiac stayed in the sweet spot, introducing its resolutely conservative, middle class customers to industry-firsts like the column-mounted gear shift and a choice of six and eight cylinder engines.
And it worked handsomely, propelling the Silver Streaks to fifth place in the sales charts in with the stylish new cars of that year. In , the final pre-war GM cars were introduced. Pontiac had two distinct levels: The three-body hierarchy was now solidly established, and would stay largely intact until , when all GM cars except Corvette shared a single basic body design, with some variation in wheelbase length.
These larger Pontiacs, like the Streamliner 8 below, were the equivalent of the Bonneville in the sixties and seventies, competing with the mid-level full-sized cousins at Olds and Buick. And this despite an excellent new V8 that came along in , the same year that Chevrolet introduced its new lightweight V8. In Semon E. Tri-power carburation 3 x 2 barrel carbs was one of the hallmarks of Pontiac performance, and one it cultivated successfully until the performance era began to croak.
And Pontiacs were putting on quite a show on the Nascar tracks. For the new cars, he came up with a brilliant scheme to widen the tracks of his cars, since the whole corporate fleet looked like their new finned bodies were hanging out into thin air over their wheels.
Increasingly affluent and unflaggingly optimistic Americans were ready to fully embrace a car brand offering youthfulness, style, and most of all, excitement.
A whole piece dedicated to their artistry is here. But that excessive era gave way to the more compact cars, the first fully under new GM Styling Chief Bill Mitchell. And once again, the Pontiac studio came up with the most dynamic variation of the theme. It may not be an exaggeration to say that they were the most influential cars of the whole post war era.
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Pontiacs simply were THE cool car of the era, the ultimate date-mobile of the time. The result made the GTO the seminal performance car of the era. By dropping the big engine into the light, mid-size Tempest along with suspension, tire, appearance and interior upgrades , the American enthusiast car reached its zenith.
And Car and Driver largely made its reputation extolling the virtues of the emerging American muscle car.
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It was a renaissance in the making, but one that also sowed the seeds of its eventual collapse. In , GM unveiled a dramatic new styling theme with large hips and curvaceous sides, commonly referred to as Coke-bottle styling. The heyday of large Pontiacs was over, and it was perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come. But there was still hay to make in the second half of the sixties, just not with the big barges. The Firebird opened a new avenue for Pontiac in the rapidly expanding pony car segment.
One of the Firebird flavors was the unique Sprint, which tried to woo a Euro-oriented buyer with its OHC straight six, based on the Chevy block. In four-barrel HO form, it made some hp, and offered the type of handling with its lower weight over the front wheels that was rarely seen from Detroit.
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Pontiac managed another styling coup with their GTO. With its Endura resiliant front end, it was a remarkable milestone in both technology and styling. For the first time, chrome was absent, and a unified and integrated front end was achieved for the first time. The golden decade for Pontiac ended with one more breakthrough car, the Grand Prix.
Its significance was not only that it was remarkably handsome, which it was, but that it solely created a genre that would dominate the sales charts in the seventies and early eighties: It was a tacit admission or prediction that the large cars were falling out of favor with buyers, due to their excessive size and the growing influence of imports that made small cars cool.