Sunday Pontiac: July, 2019

Pontiac was established by General Motors as a companion make to Oakland in 1926. Unlike the other such makes created at that time (Marquette for Buick, Viking for Oldsmobile and LaSalle for Cadillac) Pontiac was so successful that it “killed” its parent as Oakland production ceased with the 1931 model year.

My first car was a 1967 Pontiac GTO, shown here. The car I’ve owned the longest, at least as of now, was a 1995 Pontiac Grand Prix that I purchased new upon moving to California and that I owned for nine years. I am a big fan of many Pontiac models up to and including the Solstice. Given my personal connection I probably lament the loss of Pontiac more than that of any other defunct American make.

From Mecum Auctions a picture of a 1962 Pontiac Catalina convertible offered for sale at their Kissimmee auction in 2016:

 

See the source image

See the source image

 

The second picture is also from Mecum and is of a ’62 Catalina convertible offered at their Indianapolis auction in 2015. Note the famous Pontiac eight-lug wheels on the second car.

Pontiac produced 16,877 Catalina convertibles in 1962. They also offered a convertible in the Tempest (20,635 produced) and the Bonneville (21,582). The famous Pontiac 389 cubic-inch V8 with the Tri-Power setup, three Rochester two-barrel carburetors, was offered on the Catalina. It was rated at 318 HP/430 LB-FT of torque. Buick had a reputation for making motors with lots of torque, but Pontiac engines did as well. Some sources list the Super Duty 421 cubic-inch engine with dual four-barrel carburetors as being available on the Catalina. According to this article, most of the 180 or so Super Duty engines made in 1962 were installed in Catalinas. This engine was conservatively rated at 405 HP, but was probably closer to 450. The actual torque output was almost certainly at least 500 LB-FT.

I acknowledge that some/most of my interest in this car stems from the fact it’s a Pontiac. If you’re a Pontiac fan I would very much like to hear from you and/or post your thoughtful comments.

 

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Paean for Pontiac

I meant to write this last Friday, which was the 9th anniversary of that sad day when General Motors announced the end of Pontiac. That make has probably meant more to me than any other. First, a little history.

Pontiac was created in 1926 as a companion make to Oakland. Alfred Sloan, then President of GM, believed that more market segments existed than the company had cars. Around the same time, General Motors also introduced the Viking as a companion to Oldsmobile, the Marquette as a companion to Buick and the LaSalle as a companion to Cadillac. Obviously, Pontiac was the most successful of the GM companion makes as only LaSalle even made it to 1940 and Pontiac was so successful that it “killed” its “parent,” the Oakland.

Pontiac finished third in US sales, behind only Chevrolet and Ford, for nine consecutive years from 1962 to 1970, inclusive. Note that run began two model years before the introduction of the GTO in 1964. Of course, the GTO is considered to be the first modern muscle car and the car that, therefore, started the US muscle car boom that lasted until the early 1970s.

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From cardomain.com a picture of a 1967 Pontiac GTO. My first car was one of those and I still miss it to this day. I have written about that car before, both in this blog and my previous one. Pontiac engines were known for their torque; the base 400 cubic-inch V-8 engine (the one I had) was rated at 335 HP, but 441 LB-FT of torque. My car actually ate a pair of motor mounts. I guess I had more of a lead foot in those days.  🙂

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From cargurus.com a picture of a 1995 Pontiac Grand Prix. I bought one of these new when I moved to California and it holds the distinction of being the car I owned the longest: 9 years. It was also the first car that I owned in multiple states as I took it to Texas when my wonderful wife and I moved there in 2000.

Speaking of my wonderful wife, she also has a Pontiac connection:

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From cargurus.com a picture of a 1979 Trans Am. My wonderful wife once owned one of these although I did not know her then. She still speaks highly of that car.

General Motors is no longer manufacturing cars with the Pontiac name, but is still using the name to make money as it sells products with the Pontiac logo(s). Yes, the automobile market and world have changed, but don’t forget that Pontiac was axed in favor of retaining Buick only because Buick is popular in China, which is the world’s largest auto market. Take a look at this table of US sales by calendar year:

 Pontiac   Buick
2000 542,427 404,612
2001 456,664 373,924
2002 441,203 370,549
2003 408,673 259,348

I can’t seem to find more recent sales data. Both makes saw declining sales, but Pontiac consistently outsold Buick and was third in sales, behind only Chevrolet and Ford, in all four years. Maybe the data from 2004-2008 was different, but how different could it have been?

The badge engineering begun by GM in the late 1950s, and which accelerated in the late 1970s, didn’t do any of the makes any good in the long-run even though it may have been good for the company in the short-run. As the differences between makes disappeared customer behavior changed in a negative way for GM. Going off on a tangent, I still think GM should let Buick have a revised and improved version of the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky as a halo car.

Anyway, Pontiac was a very important make in the history of the US automobile industry. It was also important in my history. Long live Pontiac!