Pontiac: We Build, Um, What Was It Again?

Jonny Lieberman
by Jonny Lieberman
pontiac we build um what was it again

GM Car Czar Maximum Bob Lutz’ recently stated that anyone who thinks that GM will shutter divisions is a “weenie” who doesn’t understand the cost of dealer lawsuits. Yes, well, one day, GM will have to jettison brands. Perceived wisdom dictates that The General should pare itself down to Chevrolet (low end cars), GMC (trucks and SUV’s) and Cadillac (high end cars). As for Saab, Buick Hummer and Saturn, bon voyage! And then there’s Pontiac. Yes, Pontiac. I believe GM’s product starved “performance” division has the greatest potential of any of its current brands. With great products, Pontiac could go from neglected stepchild to superstar son.

The Solstice roadster is a huge step in the right direction for GM’s excitement division, in every way the ill-fated “new” GTO wasn't (except luggage room). Chiefly, the Solstice is gorgeous. The model also has an entry-level and hard core (or at least harder core) performance variant (GXP). As for the rest of the lineup… meh. G6: a rental car from birth that’s nowhere near as good as the Camry/Accord juggernaut. G5: ditto. Grand Prix: 303hp through the front wheels—who wants that? Torrent: as exciting as a cute ute can get (i.e. not at all). Vibe: a Toyota Corolla. GTO: dead and dead ugly.

So, now’s the time to apply a little art and a little science a la big brother Cadillac. First off, GM should decontent the beJesus out of Caddy’s outgoing CTS, give it Solstice-quality sensuous sheet metal and rechristen it the Pontiac Grand Prix. While the new CTS is due any time now, Chrysler’s 300– made with bits and pieces of the last gen Mercedes E-Class– shows you can get new money for old rope. This home-grown Grand Prix would keep both customers and the UAW happy. The Caddy set up’s rear wheel-drive opens-up the possibilities; can you imagine a Grand Prix Coupe with a 505hp Z06 engine? Eat that, Shelby GT500. More importantly, you’d have a family-priced rear-driver that would steal sales from DXC’s ageing Magnum/Charger/300C trifecta.

Meanwhile, bring on the Firebird! With FoMoCo selling massive herds of Mustangs (August being the best ‘Stang month since 1979), Pontiac needs to flip their cross-town rivals the bird. Release a new Pontiac Firebird with half a dozen variations right off the bat with various degrees of engine oomph. Build it off the Corvette chassis—not the Camaro’s. Most importantly, festoon it with flaming chickens. We love that. Point being: make it as visually exciting as the Solstice. Make it a sports car that people talk about, swoon over and ultimately desire.

Speaking of excitement, where are America's WRX’s and Evo’s? Sure, the Dodge Caliber SRT-4 puts out 300hp, but it’s a front-driver, the chassis is junk and it looks constipated. GM committed a horrible, almost unforgivable gaffe with the Saabaru, charging 5K over retail for nothing more than a badge. (That car should have been the new Vibe.) Correct the mistake. Imagine a small, American wagon with world class performance and handling. People would eat it up. The fat-faced Chevrolet WTCC Ultra that GM recently debuted in Paris would make a vicious Pontiac; assuming they raise the asphalt-scraping chin spoiler a yard. Even if that particular small, muscular car is not the solution, something is. Build it, and boy racers will come.

The world also needs an exciting and sexy fuel-sipper. Sure, you can buy Honda’s Fit – an outstanding car – but it’s just so goofy looking. There’s the Mini, but it’s over-boiled and too much of a statement for many. Most importantly, neither car is American. Instead of taking the lame, Lido way out and importing small, dorky Korean subs, let’s design and build one here. DCX is about to start building the Hornet in China, which despite what WalMart wants you to think, is not America. Moreover, the Hornet looks like an angry filing cabinet. Pontiac, this segment is yours for the taking.

Pontiac can of course choose to do none of the above, stay the course and follow Oldsmobile, Plymouth and Dead-Buick-Walking to the gates of automotive hell, with Lincoln/Mercury bringing up the rear. But that needn’t be the case. Performance divisions, no matter how stale the marketing shtick may be, are good things. Take a gander at Mazda, Ford’s defacto fun to drive brand. With the lone exception of the lame duck B4000 pickup, all of Mazda’s product offerings are at least sporty, if not outright sports cars. From the mutant CX-7 to the perfectly executed Miata, every product serves the driver first, last and second. And Mazda’s US sales are up 5% from a year ago. In a model cycle, Pontiac could be in the same boat, especially if they heed the example of what the CTS-V did for Cadillac; making enthusiasts care about a moribund brand. It’s the fast things that count.

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  • Konaforever Konaforever on Oct 10, 2006

    While my BMW M3 was in the shop for 6 weeks because of an accident, I had a Grand Am rental during that time. In Summary. it was the worst 6 weeks of my life. That car was 0 fun. For a V6, it has 0 pep. And on turns the front tires would screech and understeer so badly, that I scared the hell out of my gf at the time. The day I got my M3 back was the best day of my life.

  • Grinchsmate Grinchsmate on Feb 03, 2008

    in my very uninformed opinion pontiac will die. even if it stoped being a brand and became a "spec level" somthing more akin to HSV FPV VXR or TRD. undoubably its current stratergy is not working so i wont discuss it if pontiac took VXR's example of fitting any good car with a much improved engine some leather and bigger wheels or tougher lines then it would make money. this approch does not even require a varied line up, HSV and FPV both work primarily on their parent companies main car and each are able to do so profitably. to supplement this they import one or two good models. the problems with this is that finding the base car to work on is hard, if as i am led to belive GM have only been making FWD cars to compete with the japanese they will need to either buy an old european system, 300c, or import somthing new, G8. the problems with this is old systems are just that, old, and importing is obstructed by tarriffs and unions making the cars too expensive. also as shown by the poor performance of the holden coupe (i have never known if it were the monaro or the gto or some specific export spec) americans expect pontiac to retain an image, this is very expnsive for established cars such as any that would be imported. the only solution that see is that a whole new platform is developed, or GM capitalise on the zeta and build amercan cars on it. this however would require money quality engineering and a bit of passion, all things they are apparently short of. the only saviour for gm at all will be getting rid of unions, import tarrifs, on cars imported by the american companies, and all badges except GMC chev and a perormance badge as a side point i would like to take take this oppertunity to be cynical (and nationalistic) and say that all the ill feeling toward the australian cars is because americans finally realised australians make better muscle, and when they got their hands on it the unions had made it too expensive. i also want to query why pontiac didnt just leave the looks of the coupe alone, the hsv in all black is sex.

  • Kcflyer I should have said clowns, plural. I guess the only difference between Trump and Biden going to Michigan is that Trump will know that he is in Michigan.
  • SCE to AUX The surface rust on the sanded areas indicate the owner has had this car for several years, then despaired of the project scale.Too many unknowns - interior soft goods, wiring, bushings, etc - these are the things that slow a project down and drive costs through the roof. Drivetrain and body work are pretty straightforward.Could turn out nice if you invest several years and multiples of the purchase cost into it.
  • Fred Nothing like a nice project to help relieve the stress of life.
  • Drew8MR LOL, how much is the hatch glass for a Barracuda in 2023? I even like the early body style.
  • Wjtinfwb 22% total (5.5% yr. over 4 years) is in line with national annual compensation increase averages. 40 hour M-F work week. No pension, but contributions to a 401k plan could be discussed. Temp (flexible) labor stays as that's the buffer for the company between full production and layoffs when business wanes. Entry level wage tiers remain as well although timing of advancement can be looked at. Obviously a new employees does not produce at the same level as an experienced and tenured employee. Take it or leave it.