By on March 13, 2010

Grand Prix, GTO, Firebird, LeMans, Catalina 2+2, Bonneville. The names instantly evoke automotive excitement — provided you were an enthusiast between the ages of six and sixty during the sixties. For today’s pistonheads, these storied names; indeed, the entire Pontiac brand long lost its adrenal association long before it was euthanized. Bob Lutz’ attempts to inject some life into the once-storied excitement division all came to naught: 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. Pontiac’s fall from grace may not be the worst (best?) example of GM’s branding cataclysm, but it’s certainly one of the most emotive. Pass the Kleenex.

GM created Pontiac in 1926, naming it after a local Indian chief who led a failed rebellion against the British. The company’s first car was an inexpensive six-cylinder “companion” to GM’s more expensive Oakland brand. 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. Sloan, the “father of the modern corporation” spent his career shaping the delicate balance between once-independently run divisions into a coherent structure that still allowed creativity, initiative, and the divisions’ unique qualities to blossom. Pontiac was too close to Chevrolet and too small to survive the Depression, so for 1932, Pontiac’s manufacturing was combined with Chevrolet, saving enormous cost for tooling, engineering and production. 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 1933 Pontiac enjoyed a handsome restyle, and a new straight-eight engine that would end up lasting until 1954. The “big car” look and the new engine helped Pontiac’s “Economy Straight Eight” revive the brand’s fortunes, and sales took a steady upwards trajectory. The 1935 Pontiacs were the beneficiary of a bold ribbed band, called Silver Streak, echoing the fluted streamlined trains of the time.

In Sloan’s “a car for every pocketbook” dictum, Pontiac’s prices slotted in exactly between the most expensive Chevy and the cheapest Oldsmobile. 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 1937 with the stylish new cars of that year.

In 1941, the final pre-war GM cars were introduced. Pontiac had two distinct levels: the smaller cars shared Chevrolet bodies, and the larger ones used the corporate B-body along with the junior Oldsmobiles and Buicks. The three-body hierarchy was now solidly established, and would stay largely intact until 1959, 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.

Pontiac’s immediate post-War years were profitable, but the pricing and styling demarcations that protected Pontiac from cannibalism were increasingly under attack from below (Chevrolet) and above (Oldsmobile). By ’56, the division was once again in trouble, struggling to distinguish itself from its more successful brother brands. And this despite an excellent new V8 that came along in 1955, the same year that Chevrolet introduced its new lightweight V8.

1955 Pontiac styling was predicted by the Strato Star concept, one of the many delectable delights of GM’s touring Futurama road show that hit its peak years in the early fifties. The actual fifty-fives were handsome enough, but the front end was a bit blunt for the times and not as effective as the impeccably clean and handsome ’55 Chevys. Pontiac also had/got to share the stylish Nomad wagon, dubbed the Custom safari wagon.

In 1955 Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudson took over as General Manager, a job his father had held in the thirties. He brought a youthful energy and performance orientation that began Pontiac’s transformation into the (genuine) Excitement Division. 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. As usual, the Mad Men went overboard, with a ridiculous claim of “Gives You two Engines For The Price of One”.

By ’59, a Pontiac’s tri-power 389 was churning out 345 horsepower. And Pontiacs were putting on quite a show on the Nascar tracks. But performance was just the first step of Knudsen’s make-over for Pontiac. For the new 1959 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. The simple fix gave the Pontiacs a distinct stance, and an enduring marketing slogan that propelled the Wide-Track Division to fourth place, a stunning validation of Knudson’s approach.

Although the marque had gone racing several years earlier, the new models’ purposeful stance and stylish sheet metal instantly redefined Pontiac as a performance brand. Their timing couldn’t have been better. Increasingly affluent and unflaggingly optimistic Americans were ready to fully embrace a car brand offering youthfulness, style, and most of all, excitement.

The 1960 models (above) were arguably the most successful of the controversial ’59-’60 GM finned space ships, and were captured so perfectly in the numerous rendered ads by the team of Fitzpatrick and Kaufman. A whole piece dedicated to their artistry is here.

But that excessive era gave way to the more compact 1961 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.  There is a spring to this Pontiac’s body, an enthusiasm to get up and go that simply isn’t there in any of the other corporate ’61s, despite their generally good looks that year. But this was just the warm up act for the Pontiac’s true summit year, 1963.

It’s difficult to fully convey the impact the full-sized 1963 Pontiacs had on both the public and the industry. It may not be an exaggeration to say that they were the most influential cars of the whole post war era. Pontiacs simply were THE cool car of the era, the ultimate date-mobile of the time. And they solidified the dramatic jump to the third place in the sales standing Pontiac enjoyed from ’62 through ‘70.

But it was the other car makers that were perhaps the most blown away; stylists around Detroit were severely humbled by the ’63s, and they spent the next decade slavishly copying and rehashing its influential design features, including stacked headlights, a peaked nose, clean unadorned sides, judicious use of chrome, a tail worthy of the sculptural nose, and a cohesiveness that would rarely be achieved again.

Pontiac’s ability to successfully downsize the ’63′s styling to its mid-size cars was almost equally brilliant. It was something that had mostly eluded Detroit, but the new ’64 -’65 mid sized Tempest/Le Mans pulled it off, unlike their less than spectacular predecessors from 1961-1963.

The GTO story can’t be given full justice here, but it crystallized the ability of Pontiac to have their finger on the pulse of the youthful buyer emerging as a significant consumer force. John Z. DeLorean’s subversive ploy to get the GTO in production despite a corporate ban on mid sized cars with big engines was typical of the his youthful ambitions to fight the stultified GM culture.The result made the 1964 GTO the seminal performance car of the era. By dropping the big 389 engine into the light, mid-size Tempest (along with suspension, tire, appearance and interior upgrades), the American enthusiast car reached its zenith. As did Pontiac.

It’s important to note that in this pre-German/Japanese invasion era of fossilized British roadsters, the GTO (and its many imitators) offered the best overall bang-for-the-buck equation. Pontiac was BMW before BMW was cool (or available). And Car and Driver largely made its reputation extolling the virtues of the emerging American muscle car. It was a renaissance in the making, but one that also sowed the seeds of its eventual collapse. Let’s put that off as long as possible.

In 1965, GM unveiled a dramatic new styling theme with large hips and curvaceous sides, commonly referred to as Coke-bottle styling. A subtle version of the upswing in the hips had been seen in the ’63 Grand Prix. Although the ’65s were handsome enough in this new idiom, they were not the style leaders as they had been two years earlier. And the excessive weight and size made them increasingly irrelevant in winning the hearts and minds of the younger buyers, who’s idea of a cool car was as changeable as the Top 40. 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 1967 Firebird opened a new avenue for Pontiac in the rapidly expanding pony car segment. Arguably with a more handsome face than the rather modest Camaro’s, the Firebird would become the only carrier of the Pontiac flame well into the seventies. But that’s another chapter, still to be written. 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 215 hp, and offered the type of handling with its lower weight over the front wheels that was rarely seen from Detroit.

Pontiac managed another styling coup with their 1968 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. It’s not a stretch to say that this is the father of all modern car’s front ends, and successfully predicted the disappearance of the chrome bumper forever. It wasn’t a straight line, due to the 5 mph bumpers of the seventies, but this Goat, with its lack of a continuous belt line is a remarkable prophet of styling to come.

The golden decade for Pontiac ended with one more breakthrough car, the 1969 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: the mid-priced mid-sized semi-luxury coupe.

Sitting on a stretched version of the new intermediate cars, it drew it inspiration from the thirties and forties, by adding a much longer hood to the front of what was essentially the same car under the skin as the GTO/Le Mans above. 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.

Even though the large Pontiacs were starting to slip increasingly into over-sized mediocrity by 1970, let’s leave this first Chapter of Pontiac on a high note, and acknowledge the brand as being the most dynamic and influential in that most exciting of decades.

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44 Comments on “An Illustrated History Of Pontiac: Part I – 1926 To 1970...”


  • avatar
    golden2husky

    That ’64 is gorgeous…wow

  • avatar
    gottacook

    A friend of my parents’ was a Pontiac dealer, so we had nothing but Pontiacs for 10 years – a 1963 Catalina wagon, followed by two 1965 Bonnevilles, wagon and convertible (simultaneously!), then two 1967s: an Executive dealer-demonstrator wagon with every possible option (first year for the 8-track) and a GTO hardtop coupe with automatic on the column and no console at all (my mom’s car). I myself ended up getting a used 1966 Bonneville convertible cheaply in ’74 with 35,000 miles on it and drove it until 1991, then sold it together with large pieces of the parts car I’d bought in the early ’80s – I knew I’d never be able to undertake a restoration of a car more than 18 feet long.

    Those cars were in retrospect a wonderful example of style winning out over substance, for which I guess we can thank John Z. De Lorean as general manager of Pontiac. It didn’t matter to anyone at the time that their underpinnings were decades-old technology: drum brakes all around, for example. Oh, and they were great at hydroplaning… The only innovation that really was an advance and not just stylistics (i.e., “hiding” windshield wipers) was the glass rear window on the full-size convertibles starting in 1965.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Very interesting.

    So, Poncho was doing platform sharing from day one. Yet, they managed to make a car that was an actual step up from Chevy, at least until the 50s.

    It’s too bad GM didn’t combine sales channels back in the 50s/60s. Pontiac could have concentrated on excitement rather than having a car in every niche, just like every other GM division.

    As an aside, I remember one of the priests who taught Catechism had a ’63 Grand Prix. His parents bought it for him. I think it was to make up for permanently giving up girls for lent.

  • avatar

    I’m surprised that you didn’t mention the Grand Prix, which pretty much made the “personal luxury” segment signficant. In time that segment included the Monte Carlo, the Lincoln Mark, the Thunderbirds of the 70s, etc. I’d consider some of the early Supras to be a Japanese version of the Grand Prix. Maybe the Grand Prix will be in the next installment.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    That first goat was just a bombshell. Nothing, no car, no time, no how, nowhere exemplified muscle car more than that rig. Look at that thing. It wants to run. It wants to spring forward. The posture is just perfect.

    Firebird was worthy, and a natural extension of the line. A marvelous pony car.

    They finally pimped it out and Burt Reynolds took over the brand, but to that point, they did it the right way. Pass me the Kleenex box when you’re done, Paul.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      Although they looked good, the Goat wasn’t particularly noteworthy for its performance – GTOs were never big winners on the dragstrip and were generally considered easy meat for their faster (but more stodgy) Mopar rivals, as well as sister Chevys.

      Like the Wide-Tracks before, what Pontiac really excelled at with the GTO was marketing. That was the real genius of Knudson, Delorean, Estes, and Wangers all along. These were the same guys that had the audacity to slap a factory tachometer on the hoods of their performance cars. They were the quintessential example of being at the right place at the right time. ‘Little GTO’ by Ronnie and the Daytonas isn’t one of the most memorable car songs from the sixties for nothing.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Nice article.

    I am interested to see what (if anything) you have to say about the 6000, 8th gen Grand Prix, 7th gen Bonneville, the two different turbo Trans Ams, the Firehawk, and, of course, the Fiero.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      The 6000 may have just been a Chevrolet Celebrity clone, but the 6000STE…now that was something worth remembering!

    • 0 avatar
      Gary Numan

      Agree…Pontiac did have a bit of a resurgence in the mid 80′s. The Fiero and 6000STE were pretty interesting for the time. I very clearly remember the first 6000 STE delivered to our dealership and how it had some really neat details when compared to the other 6000 models. Even the carpeting was very different and high quality. That car had all the bells and whistles and had some class to it with the different styling, equipment and drivetrain detail changes.

      Even the Sunbird Turbo Convertible was another interesting and rare bird too when launched around 1984.

  • avatar
    Monty

    61 through to 64 was the pinnacle of GM styling for me, most notably Pontiac, especially after the overwrought 59-60 bodies. This is highlighted by that ’61 hardtop coupe in the picture. It was almost a clean slate that made the other two domestic full size lines look dowdy (Ford) and just plain weird (Chrysler).

    A lot of the pictures that accompany this post show how deft a styling touch GM possessed. For evidence just compare a 2010 Camry with a full size Chevrolet, Pontiac or Buick from the early to mid-sixties 60′s, ’nuff said.

  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    The interesting note here is Dolorean and his constant fight with GM… Knudsen, Mitchell and many others, especially at Chrysler all had similar stories, with small victories for each of them. A major history lesson here might be to listen to the real car guys, or fail, like they all have.

  • avatar
    tpandw

    Great article. It’s a bit melancholy to think how wonderful some GM cars were in the ’60′s. I’ll admit that I hadn’t thought about the 63 Pontiac for a long time, but that terrific photo brought back all kinds of memories. I date myself, but that still is close to the highpoint of Detroit styling for me.

  • avatar
    Boxofrain

    Looking at these pictures really brings home how far the American automobile has fallen on so many levels. Look at these beautiful cars. These are Pontiacs, but you could easily take any of the GM brands or Ford, Chrysler etc and substitute thier offerings in here and you would still have a array of great cars. As the 70s progressed things certainly went down hill. Performance was gone. Quality was in the toilet and styling was a thing of the past. Where did it all go wrong? Yes there are some nice looking and fast cars available today, i.e the Challenger, Camaro, Mustang etc. However, the performance versions of these models are more than most can afford. Not to mention, the styling of all three are based on the originals from the golden era. Oh how the mighty have fallen!

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Kudos on an awesome history on the history of Pontiac. It’s a refreshing change from the politics that are continuously creeping into the auto world. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a Buick article as well. (Sure, I could look it up in wikipedia, but it wouldn’t be nearly as illustrated or as well written as TTAC could do it.)

  • avatar
    carcurmudgeon

    By the time I was becoming aware of cars in the 1980s, Pontiac stood for nothing more than badly made cars that tried to mask their lack of qualities with details designed to appeal to 12-yr old boys or people with comparable taste. The names didn’t evoke anything, since I don’t remember the “glory days,” and they just struck me as dumb. Actually, I thought their best effort in those days was the Fiero, which at least was an attempt at innovation. And if I recall correctly, the last iteration of the Fiero wasn’t bad, and it left some critics wondering what might have been if GM had taken its own project seriously and fully invested in it. What a pity. Their most recent offerings weren’t bad, although clearly there was no reason for anyone to spend money on them.

  • avatar
    billythekidinny

    I wish they had written an article about the history of the Oldsmobile. Their styling from late 1940′s through 1957, was great; and their ‘rocket engines’ deserve mention. Olds was the first American mass produced car.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “I am interested to see what (if anything) you have to say about the 6000, 8th gen Grand Prix, 7th gen Bonneville, the two different turbo Trans Ams, the Firehawk, and, of course, the Fiero.”

    If your referrring to the 25th Anniversary TA that had the intercooled Buick GN V6 motor in it, that thing rocked. It proves that even in the eighties GM was still building some great cars. They were just few and far between.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Allow me to throw in a quick addendum on the “companion car” concept mentioned in the first paragraph of the article. In the mid-20′s GM’s already well delineated line consisted of (low to high): Chevrolet, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac.

    The intent of the “companion car” concept was to average out the price gaps between the already established marques with new brands that weren’t just badge-engineered copies, but somewhat different and unique automobiles. Such was the business optimism going into the late Roaring 20′s. The completed new lineup was ready for the 1929 model year (oops!).

    Therefore, Chevrolet was left alone (it was well on it’s way towards shutting down Ford, so why mess with a good thing?). Pontiac was slotted in between Chevrolet and Oakland. Viking was paired with Oldsmobile, although above it, if memory suffices, and had a V-8 rather than a straight 8. Marquette slotted in beneath Buick (also with a completely different engine). LaSalle came in beneath Cadillac.

    Obviously, the depression killed most of the marques before they had a chance to establish themselves. Uniquely, Pontiac outlasted the parent Oakland, being a less stodgy car. LaSalle was saved by a brilliant design for 1934 with a reworked Oldsmobile straight 8 (rather than the previous flathead V-8), and lasted through the 1940 model year when it was replaced by the Cadillac 60 Special (Packard 120 and Lincoln Zephyr sales were hurting it – for the same money you got a cheaper car with the REAL name on the hood).

    It would have been mind boggling had the “companion car” concept survived. Try to visualize a GM going into WWII consisting of (once again, in order from low to high): Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oakland, Oldsmobile, Viking, Marquette, Buick, LaSalle, Cadillac.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      If you think about it… the companion cars survived – just under different names. Back in the 1920s and 30s, there were very few model and trim options under each brand. Essentially you bought a given brand of car, picked a two-door or four-door and possibly a six- or eight-cylinder engine. The advent of different models and trim levels within each brand made the companion car unnecessary – at least in name.

  • avatar
    NickR

    As a moparite, seeing that 63 Pontiac and comparing it to the same model year Dodge is a bit depressing.

    • 0 avatar
      racebeer

      I know what you mean. I grew up in a Pontiac family … ’55 Chieftain, ’57 Star Chief, ’63 Bonneville, 69 Bonneville, 74 Bonneville, etc…… I learned how to drive on the ’63 (389, 4 barrel, dual exhaust, limited slip) and I loved that car. My wife and I have a ’63 Dodge Polara that has been in her family since new, and I often compare my memories of the ’63 Bonneville with the current experience with the ’63 Polara. The Bonneville was certainly the more luxurious ride going on my faded memory, but there is something about that positive shifting Torqueflite and torsion bar front suspension of the Dodge that makes me wonder what a driving comparison of the two back-to-back would have revealed.

      Styling, now is a separate matter. In its day, the Dodge looked a bit odd, especially compared to Mitchel’s work at GM, but over time I think it has held up pretty well. I know it certainly gets approving looks and questions everywhere we take it.

  • avatar
    NickR

    PS I’d love one of those straight-8 Pontiacs…solely for the straight-8.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Straight 8′s were neat engines. I still have memories of the 248ci OHV straight 8 in my 1937 Buick Special. There was something impressive in looking at that long, tall block – something I haven’t seen in years until Triumph came out with the Rocket III.

      Obviously, straight 8′s had mechanical shortcomings. Start with the length of the crankshaft. However, back in the 20′s and 30′s, they were cheaper to manufacture than a V-block. And easier to design – just add two cylinders to your already existent straight 6.

      Never underestimate the importance of production costs. Of the entire GM line during the 30′s and 40′s, only Chevrolet and Buick had overhead valves – all the other lines were flatheads, and remained so until each line got it’s respective modern V-8 in the 1949-1955 period. And Chevrolet afforded the OHV setup by sticking with splash oiling on the bottom end.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    This is certainly an interesting article-throughout the sixties Pontiac certainly had their finger on the public pulse, thanks to excellent marketing and aggressive styling Pontiacs of that era had a charisma about them that was never equaled by any other auto maker. I don’t think their engineering was any better than that of the other GM divisions, but their vehicles has a swagger that the other GM divisions-try as they might-could never duplicate.

    My parents owned a ’66 Catalina sedan which at the time I thought was a really sharp looking vehicle-how time changes perception. Someone who lives a couple of block away has a ’66 Pontiac almost identical to my parents–the styling now looks over wrought, the styling that was popular now certainly has not aged well at all.
    If anything, it now looks totally quaint.

  • avatar
    also Tom

    ’62 GP. ‘Nuff said.

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    Note the deflation in auto prices between the pre-bust 1926 model and the post-crash ’33 – from $825 to $585 – almost a 30% reduction. Wow. Gives you a clue as to how much will be needed to revive car sales today. Real estate was not the only price bubble in our time.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Better yet, do yourself a list of marques for the 1929 model year, then do a second list for 1934. Add a third list for 1938. It’s scary seeing how many marques went bust in that nine year period. I’ve often read that the 1931-33 model years were the golden age if you actually had the cash to buy a car.

      About the best parallel I can come up with for the relative price changes would be buying a 2010 BMW 535i for the price of a 2010 Chevrolet Malibu. That’s how desperate the manufacturers were to move something, anything. Just keep the production lines and cash flow moving.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      The early 1930s were a time of deflation. If you had money, there were plenty of deals, not just in cars, but also in real estate and luxury goods (jewelry, furs, etc.).

      The problem, of course, was that not many people had money for anything. Wages were falling, too (if people managed to hold on to a job in the first place – unemployment was 25 percent by 1933, and there was no unemployment compensation or welfare to help the unemployed ride out the storm).

  • avatar
    VelocityRed3

    My father was given his first car, a late model Pontiac, just before he went to Vietnam. Upon his return (& my birth) he bought a new Catalina, which passed on to my mother with my fathers purchase of a Grand Prix in 1970. He kept buying Grand Prix’s until 1985 (boy did I have a good time Prom night in THAT car). Alas the late eighties speed-racer “shaker” styling swore him off the brand for good. However I have some great memories in those cars. From almost falling out of one of those Grand Prix’s to the killer ice-producing A/C in that Catalina. Man those were the days!

  • avatar
    nova73

    First new car my father bought was a ’66 Tempest coupe with the OHC 6. I was three at the time, picking it up from the dealer is my earliest memory. I often wondered why GM didn’t adopt this motor as the base engine once the gas crisis hit. This motor would be worth a retrospective.

    Alas, we traded in the Tempest in 1970 on a Mercury Marquis Colony Park wagon.

    • 0 avatar
      res

      While in college, I acquired my grandparents ’66 Tempest four-door with the OHC 6 (which was non-running when I got it). The six came out and a mildly-built Chevy 350 went in… great sleeper car, and I always loved the styling – Pontiac for years had the best interior styling of any GM division (IMO).

      I saved the valve cover from the engine because it’s such a beautiful casting…

      Our family also ended up with the grandparent’s ’71 Catalina (400 V8). Despite the big engine, it was somewhat of a dog…

  • avatar
    GS650G

    My neighbor has a 1926 Pontiac just like the ad. 60 hp and it runs. A real piece of history. He takes it out twice a year and drives it around the neighborhood. No tags or anything, but it is grand to see it run.

  • avatar
    tsofting

    I have always seen Bunkie’s name spelled “Knudsen”, with the original Danish -en ending, not the Americanized -on version you use. So, until proof of the opposite is produced, I say Bunkie’s name is Knudsen.

  • avatar
    NickR

    That 61 is a handsome design, but it does bring to mind something I never understood about Detroit’s styling…that wierd kink at the bottom of the windshiled that brings the lower edge back toward the passenger compartment. How did that evolve? Seems superfluous, to say the least.

    Syke, any idea if any of the straight 8s lent themselves to hotrodding, or have you ever seen one that has been?

    The only one I know of is on youtube…a rat rod with McCullough blown Packard straight 8. Looks cool.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      The little kink was designed as an evolutionary step away from the old wraparound windshield.

      Ford went from the wraparound windshield to a straight A post with its 1960 full-size models; Thunderbird, Mercury and Lincoln followed suit for 1961 (the Falcon and Comet had never had a wraparound windshield).

      GM wanted to abandon the wraparound windshield for 1961 on its full-size cars, as it was already looking “old,” but preferred not to switch immediately to a straight A pillar (as Ford had done). That move came for the 1963 model year.

      GM preferred evolutionary styling changes in those days…that way, the latest models looked new, while last year’s models weren’t completely outdated. GM’s radical change for 1959 was the exception, not the rule.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Notice where the wipers park on the GTO: well up on the windshield in the driver’s view. A visual personification of GM’s attitude towards its customers.

    Somewhere in a GM conference room all heads bobbed in agreement to the comment nobody doesn’t buy a GM product because of where the wipers park. Today in a RenCen conference room you will hear nobody doesn’t buy a GM product because closing the door sounds like a car crash.

    Multiply that by 50 items and you have GM scratching and clawing to hold on to 17% of the market.

  • avatar
    ott

    RIP Pontiac… I’ll miss you.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Pontiac in my eyes always offered more flair and sportiness compared to the lesser Chevys, Dodges and Fords in my years growing up in the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s. Not a day would go buy in my childhood when a 60′s GTO would go thundering by or a gorgeous 67-69 Firebird was parked next to us in the mall parking lot and these cars always got loads of attention. Even in the 70′s and 80′s the malls were filled with every example of Pontiac on display and they always were more cool than the plainer Chevys. The Grand Ams of the 70′s offered European ride and handling with American power and parts availability and serviceability. From the Sprint 6, to the tri power V8′s, Pontiac always offered something a bit more than it’s competitors. Even in the late 70′s when performance was on the decline, Pontiac still managed to offer something better than it’s competitors with a 400/stick in the Trans Am, a 301 4BBL with optional 4 speed stick in the Grand Am, Grand Prix and Lemans with sport suspensions. The 301 turbo was something no one else offered too and kept the T/A abreast of the feebler efferts from Ford and Chrysler even though it wasn’t up to it’s full pontential. The 1984 Fiero was something no one else in America had and was way ahead of it’s time. Who can forget seeing the beautiful black 1977 Trans Am pulling off the truck by Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit, the 25th Anniversery TA with fortified Grand National V6 turbo power, the 6000 STE, the Sunbird turbo coupe and convertible and the full sized Bonnevilles of the 90′s that offered big car room with sporty car handling and zoom with the supercharged 3800 engines. Yes Pontiacs demise was a product of this dreadful decade of the SUV craze, cost cutting bean counters, a big shift to foreign made vehicles, poor quality control and loads of badge engineered mediocre bland products with equally bland medicore meaningless names. Thank you Lutz for destroying a once formidable car company that could so easily have been restored to glory.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sorry, but Pontiac had no reason to exist beyond 1982. Once Chevrolet/generic GM powertrains were going into the cars it was over.
      Yes, they had their bright moments after that, but hardly anything that couldn’t have been rebadged with another GM marque. If anything, Lutz delayed the inevitable with the revived GTO and subsequent G8 (would’ve sold better as a Chevelle or Caprice) and remarkable Solstice. The Aztek wasn’t designed on his watch.

      I can’t think of a single J-Body or FWD A/X-Body produced by ANY GM division…ever…that was in any way equal to, much less superior than its competition. Poor fit/finish, substandard components. They were cars designed by accountants instead of designers, and they are the single biggest reason for Toyota/Honda/Nissan…and Ford’s success. Remember GM once had a 53% market share in the US and a lot of positive equity, thanks in good part to Pontiac’s ’60′s successes. But once the badge-engineered bland camel got its nose under the tent, in the form of the 1971 Nova clones…it was the beginning of the end.

      I’ve stated in previous threads that maybe GM looked at Pontiac Canada with the success of its nakedly badge-engineered Acadians and Beaumonts in the 60′s and figured, why not try it in the US?

      Whatever the reason…something despicable within GM began with the decontenting of the 1960 Corvair, shifted into high gear with the 1971 Vega and metastasized with the X, J and FWD A-Cars, reaching its climax with the unforgivable crossovers-made-from-minivans Uplander/SV6/Terraza, etc.

      Now GM is finally getting its act together, but the Sloan ideal of “a car for every purse and purpose” is decades past AND MUST BE LEFT THERE. The ideas that previously might have gone into Pontiac should now go to make better-contented Chevies, a marque with global recognition that makes up almost 70% of GM’s sales.

      Bottom line, instead of bemoaning Pontiac’s passing, be thankful you got to see it at all. Had it not been for Pete Estes/Bunkie Knudsen/John DeLorean/Jim Wangers AND a GM structure that, however flawed (AMA ban, anyone?!), enabled them to work their magic…Pontiac would’ve joined its Ford (Edsel) and Chrysler (DeSoto) contemporaries atop the scrap heap of history after the recession of ’58.

  • avatar
    NickR

    BTW, no mention of the Beaumont in this piece? Where’s the Canadian content?


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