Tag: Pontiac

Wide Track: Bunkie Knudsen, Pete Estes, and the Pontiac Renaissance

In 1956, GM’s Pontiac Motor Division was close to death, its sales down, its market share declining, and its image at a low ebb. That summer, however, help arrived in the form of Bunkie Knudsen, Pete Estes, and John DeLorean. Together, they lifted Pontiac out of its mid-fifties doldrums and put it on track for its unprecedented success in the 1960s. This week, we look back at the reign of Bunkie Knudsen and the birth of the legendary Wide Track Pontiacs.

1957 Pontiac Star Chief wheelcover © 2010 Aaron Severson
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Cammer: The Pontiac OHC Six

With all the furor surrounding Ford and Chevrolet’s new 300+ horsepower V6 Mustang and Camaro, you would think hot six-cylinder engines were a new idea, at least in America. Not so — in 1965, about a decade after the demise of the Hudson Hornet and its “Twin H-Power” straight six, Pontiac introduced a sophisticated new overhead cam six-cylinder engine that promised V8 power and six-cylinder economy. This week, we look at the short life of the 1966-1969 Pontiac OHC six, Pontiac Firebird Sprint, and Tempest Le Mans Sprint.

1967 Pontiac Firebird Sprint hood badge
(Photo © 2006 Robert Nichols; used with permission)
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Kill Your Darlings: The Birth and Death of the Pontiac Fiero

Launched in 1983, the Pontiac Fiero promised to be a good-looking, affordable mid-engine sports car introducing exciting new techniques in production and design. Alas, it became one of GM’s great disasters: overweight and underpowered, tarnished by alarming reports of reliability problems and engine fires. By 1988, more power, better looks, and a $30 million new suspension brought the Fiero closer to its original promise — just in time for the corporation to bring down the ax. This week, we look at the origins and history of the Fiero and the reasons for its sad fate.

1987 Pontiac Fiero badge
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Disco-Era Darling: The Chevrolet Monte Carlo

Certain cars become emblematic of a time and a place, perfectly encapsulating the values, priorities, and obsessions of their eras. For America of the fifties, it’s the 1955–57 Chevrolets and the 1959 Cadillac; for the sixties, the Mini, the Beetle, and the Mustang. For the seventies, we’d make a strong case for the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Generally reviled by critics, staggeringly popular with the public, and much imitated, the Monte Carlo remains as powerful a symbol of the period as disco balls, platform shoes, and The Brady Bunch. This week, we explore the history of the Monte Carlo and consider the reasons for its immense — and ultimately ephemeral — popularity.

1970 Chevrolet Monte Carlo badge
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Three Deuces, Four Speeds: The Rise and Fall of the Pontiac GTO

As many of our readers are probably aware, General Motors announced at the end of April 2009 that the venerable Pontiac division will become extinct in late 2010. This week, we take a look at the rise and fall of the car that many consider the definitive Pontiac: the 1964–1974 Pontiac GTO.

1964 Pontiac GTO headlights
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Porsche Before Its Time: The Porsche 928

Since its debut in 1964, the Porsche 911 has come to define the Porsche brand. The company’s periodic efforts to expand their market with new models, however worthy, have inevitably prompted grumbling from purists, who stubbornly refused to accept the arrivistes as real Porsches. That was the fate that befell the 1978-1995 Porsche 928, the company’s first V8-engine production car. Conceived as a successor for the 911, it never quite found its niche, dismissed by the faithful as a pricey German Corvette. Nonetheless, the 928 is a milestone car in its own right — a formidable GT that foreshadowed the shape of the modern sports car. This is its story.

1986 Porsche 928 lettering
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Beep Beep: The Irreverent Plymouth Road Runner

Performance car enthusiasts tend to be a somewhat humorless bunch, whether you’re talking about Ferraristes, old-school muscle car fans, or import tuners. If they have one thing in common, it’s that they’re none too keen at being laughed at. That’s why it’s remarkable that one of the premier icons of the muscle car era is one of the most irreverent of them all: a budget Supercar named after a cartoon bird — the Plymouth Road Runner. This is its story.

1971 Plymouth Road Runner decal
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More from Less: The Pontiac Grand Prix and the Politics of Downsizing

Thirty years ago, the watchword of the auto industry was downsizing. Driven by high oil prices and ever-increasing emission standards, American automakers were forced to dramatically reduce the size and weight of their cars. Today, with spiraling oil prices and concerns about global warming, a new wave of downsizing can’t be far off. However, downsizing can be risky. Customers have been indoctrinated for decades in the idea that bigger is better, and you have to be careful that smaller size isn’t perceived as poorer value. Do it wrong, and you can end up with a sales disaster that could put you out of business. This week, we take a look at an early example of downsizing that succeeded. This is the history of the 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix

1969 Pontiac Grand Prix badge
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The Infamous 1980–1981 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo

This car’s engine has been much maligned and its muscular styling still conjures up bad memories of gold chains and exposed chest hair, a last gasp of disco-era glory. It was Pontiac’s first turbocharged production car, but it also brought down the curtain on a storied era of unique Pontiac engines. This is the story of the little-loved, often-forgotten Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Turbo.

1980 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am Turbo hood
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Room at the Top: The 1954 Pontiac Star Chief and Class Consciousness in America

For more than half of its 80-year history, the Pontiac Division of General Motors has tried, with varying degrees of success, to present itself as the hotshot of the GM line-up, with an advertising tagline proclaiming, “We Build Excitement.” Once upon a time, however, Pontiac was a stolid, sensible, rather dull family car whose claim to fame was that it was “priced just above the lowest.” To see what Pontiac used to be before Bunkie Knudsen went racing and John DeLorean twisted the tail of the Tiger, let’s take a look at the 1954 Pontiac Star Chief and Chieftain — the last boring Pontiacs.

1954 Pontiac emblem
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The Summer of John Z: John DeLorean and the Pontiac Firebird

Designing, building, and marketing new cars is expensive, even for the largest automakers. If they’re strapped for cash (e.g., BMC in the fifties and sixties) or overcome by hubris (e.g., General Motors in the eighties), it’s tempting to share platforms between models or even slap a new grille a new badge on an existing model and pass it off as a new product for a different division — a technique sometimes called badge engineering. As confusing and potentially alienating as badge engineering can be for consumers, imagine how the people at their divisions feel when they’re handed an existing product and told to make something new and different out of it. Such was the case with Pontiac’s “pony car,” the 1967–1969 Pontiac Firebird and Firebird Trans Am.

1967 Pontiac Firebird badge
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Except as otherwise noted, all text and images are copyright © Aaron Severson dba Ate Up With Motor. (Terms of Use – Reprint/Reuse Policy) Trademarks referenced herein are the property of their respective owners and are used here for informational/nominative purposes.