So I read earlier this week that Bob Lutz is saying that the US Government killed Pontiac. He says that GM had big plans to rescue the struggling brand with innovative, rear-wheel designs that included small performance cars that would have set the Germans back on their heels. Had these plans come to fruition, he hints, enthusiasts would have been busting down the doors and the brand would have quickly returned to good health. Sounds like new golden age for Pontiac was just around the corner. And it would have worked too, if it weren’t for those meddling Feds. That’s what Bob says anyhow, but I’m not so sure. The way I remember it, I had a hand in killing Pontiac, too.
Oh sure, there were probably some government guys there at the end but they just turned off the machine that was keeping Pontiac alive. I’m one of the guys who put it in the hospital. I’ll tell you honestly that I didn’t want to kill the brand, I actually really liked it, – well I liked what they said they were building anyhow – but the truth is that they never delivered. Now that I think about it, they sort of had it coming…
By the time I started buying new cars in the 1980s, Pontiac’s heyday was already long gone. Even so, if you had walked into your local Buick/Pontiac/GMC shop smack-dab in the middle of the spandex decade you would have found lots of interesting models to choose from including a mid-engine two seat sports car, a muscle car, a RWD personal luxury coupe, a smaller, more modern FWD personal luxury coupe, a full-size RWD luxury barge, a generic FWD mid-sizer, a generic RWD mid-sizer and a couple of different economy cars wearing the Pontiac arrowhead. Hindsight tells us that some of these cars were less than stellar, of course, but for the most part they were a step up from the darkest days of the malaise era and owning a new Pontiac was something a young man could be proud of. If I’d had my way, I’d have taken one home, but a person making a whopping $3.35 an hour really shouldn’t be buying new cars and so I didn’t.
Just five years later, much of that formerly huge Pontiac line-up had gone away. With the exception of the very dated Firebird all the rear wheel drivers had been dropped and customers were left with, in addition to the aforementioned F body, a choice between the Bonneville, 6000, Grand-Am, Grand-Prix, Sunbird, the Transsport min-van and the foreign built Lemans and Firefly subcompacts. With the exception of the Turbo Grand-Prix, there is nothing of interest there for me and so I stayed comfortably at home, my money in my pocket.
From this point in the article I could talk about how Pontiac’s line-up changed every so often and how, basically, they never really made anything else I ever wanted. I won’t do that because you’re probably already familiar with the cars Pontiac sold over the past couple of decades and you don’t need me to lead you on a walk through year after year of silly looking designs. So, cutting to the chase, I’m simply going to say that over the past two decades there were only a few Pontiacs that really got my attention. They are: The WS6 Trans-Am, which was pretty on the outside but cramped on the inside, later model Bonnevilles, which, depending upon your angle of approach are either really cool looking or a hopeless mish-mash of bodylines coming together at odd points, the Vibe wagon, which is actually a Toyota and the Torrent CUV, (which I did eventually buy) which is really a badge engineered Chevrolet Equinox. That’s all, folks.
Those rear wheel drivers Bob Lutz was depending upon to save Pontiac? Yeah, they weren’t even on my radar. Sure, I saw their pictures in the magazines but the G8 and the GTO were not what I was looking for. To put it plainly, the GTO looked bland and the G8 was a modern take on the 1972 Dodge Polara – big and high powered, but not really the tough-looking upscale luxury sedan I would have liked. OK, I know that’s insulting, I actually kind of like the old-school Polara so I don’t want you Dodge boys getting on my case, but you get my point. These cars weren’t going to save Pontiac and, while they were good enough that didn’t deserve to have their runs cut short, they weren’t ever going to chalk up huge sales numbers either.
So, there you have it. I stood dead center in the middle of Pontiac’s target demographic for almost three decades and the only car they managed to sell me was a badge engineered Chevy. (Maybe they should put that on the back of TTAC’s next T-shirt.) Bob Lutz can point his finger at the evil Feds and talk pie-in-the-sky Pontiacs all day long, but the truth is that Pontiac let us down year after year and eventually we cared so little about the brand that on the day it died most of us didn’t even know it was sick. Instead of blaming the evil Feds, GM needs to think about what really happened, otherwise history could repeat itself.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.