Pontiac: Always a Bridesmaid

pontiac always a bridesmaid

Whenever General Motors announces a hot, sexy sports car that’s supposed to dethrone BMW, a little piece of me dies. That’s the part of me that grew-up watching Smoky and The Bandit (over and over), yearning for my very own Trans Am adorned with a giant, screaming chicken. Nowadays, it seems everyone in The General’s army is allowed to have a bona-fide sports car except, ironically, their sports division. That ain’t right.

Let’s face it: the last few decades haven’t been kind to Pontiac fans. We’ve suffered through a roll call of automotive abortions: the listless Pontiac Firefly, the dishonestly named Pontiac Trans Sport, the justifiably maligned Aztek and Pontiac designers’ obsession with ungodly plastic body kit (its poster child being the jello-mobile known as the Grand Am). And the hits keep not happening.

With the recent announcement of a turbo-charged Chevrolet Cobalt SS, and the possibility of the SS moniker being applied to Corvette ZR1 and HHR-wagon, all hope for a Pontiac revival is now dead-– at least for me. For those of us who are counting, General Motors has missed five opportunities to re-invigorate Pontiac in the last five years.

This torturous prolongation of Pontiac’s imminent death began with the Solstice concept. Oddly enough, GM actually decided to badge the roadster as a Pontiac, rather than, say, a Hummer or a Buick. Having experienced the recent products of The General’s car-birthing process on countless visits to Avis rent-a-car, I can only attribute this brilliant decision to blind luck. Regardless, I was elated that, perhaps, the General was finally getting serious about their erstwhile excitement division.

The Solstice was so gorgeous it was hard to believe it shares its DNA with anything other than the Chevrolet Corvette. Unlike the Corvette, the Solstice was born a work in progress: crude chassis, irritating ragtop mechanism, scary handling, and a useless trunk. In fact, the Solstice was outclassed by the Mazda Miata in every important metric save power and looks. Not to belabor the point, but looks and power are perhaps the least important attributes of a small, cheap roadster. Further dilution occurred when the Solstice was given a saturnine cousin.

Next came news that GM was developing a car on the Nürburgring. Terrific, thought I, a big brother to the Solstice! Unfortunately, that car turned out to be the Cadillac CTS. I have no doubts that the Caddy is a terrific value (once incentives are factored in, obviously) blessed with genuine grunt and pistonhead poise. Still, the question remains and must be posed: “What the Hell is Cadillac doing testing a car on the Nürburgring?”

GM then decided to import the aesthetically bland Holden Monaro from Australia and perform am utterly lazy re-badging that harkened back to the days of the Chevrolet Chevette and Pontiac T1000/Acadian. American muscle cars should adhere to what I call the “Schwarzenegger Principle.” Arnie didn’t grow muscles and depilitate his delts with the intention of buttoning his shirt. In automotive terms, muscle cars should never pack ridiculous amounts of displacement while looking like a suppository. The GTO, unfortunately, looked right at home beside the Pontiac Grand Prix. In other words, it was dead on arrival.

And still I kept the faith– until GM announced it was developing a world-wide, world-class world-heavyweight-title rear-wheel drive platform. Finally! Visions of a modern GTO or Firebird danced in my head. Then, Rick Wagoner pulled the veil on the all new… Chevrolet Camaro.

If it had all ended there, with GM throwing up its hands and admitting “We suck at brand management,” the story’d be over. Instead, the General chose to tease us with a rebadged Aussie import. GM Car Czar Maximum Bob Lutz announced this possible, hyper-likely, in-development, BMW-destroying, Hyundai-undercutting, CAFE-endangered GTO for 2010.

Yeah, right. We may be oxymorons, but Pontiac cognoscenti have heard that tune before– and we know it always manages to end-up off-key. We shall see what we shall see.

Meanwhile and anyway, my bridge too far arrived when GM tossed the lion’s share of its racing budget at Cadillac and Chevrolet. Though Chevrolet is historically entrenched in NASCAR and endurance racing, the introduction of a competitive Cadillac CTS made me hurl. The “standard of the world” does not belong on a race track any more than it belongs on the Green Hell. Imagine how ridiculous a Rolls Royce Phantom would look with a racing spoiler. Pontiac, with its storied past in Trans Am racing, should have campaigned its G8.

For now, the upcoming Cobalt Turbo SS is the non-Vette buying, GM-supporter’s only new “performance” car. The new ‘Balt is just another promising machine destined not to darken a Pontiac showroom. This time, I won’t be waiting. If Pontiac can be boiled down to a bad roadster, a re-badged Toyota, a re-badged Holden and re-badged Chevy SUV, it’s time to move on.

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  • CRConrad CRConrad on Nov 16, 2007

    Samir Syed:

    BMW is a sporty brand whose flagships are sold with 4-doors (M3, M5).I think you meant to say, "BMW is a sporty brand whose flagships are sold with 4 doors (M3, M5)." HTH!

  • TopGear TopGear on Sep 03, 2008

    Excellent write up there Samir Syed... Pontiac has been treated like the redheaded step child, of the General for some time now. No wonders why because the engineers and designers over at Pontiac can do things so much better. We barely ever get to see the ideas that come out of Pontiac as most are out rightly rejected by the General. I wouldn't stop to give a lending hand to Mr. Lutz. If I saw him broke down on the side of the road. However, even I wouldn't say all of Pontiac's woes are the result of his faults. It begin long ago when the scumbags of Chevorlet begin to rise through the ranks. When they crossed that thresehold into the General Motors management they only sought to Cheverlotlize everything. Frederic Donner’s infamous “no more racing” memo. He might have been a great beancounter but he didn't know diddle about Marketing or Cars in general. It's a long chain of people like him that have ruined General Motors over the years. "quasimondo" You must not know much about Pontiac? I'd rather be driving a rusted out Pontiac than whatever it is your driving. "whatdoiknow1" The Fiero was at best an OK car... I think your missing the point. The General wouldn't invest in Pontiac's idea as it should have. Have you seen what the Fiero guys can do with a modest budget? It cost a lot more for an individual to upgrade something than what a factory could do on the spot with an assmebly line approach. Some of those Fiero guys have built some awsome machines both in power and handling... Again GM failing to invest in a good product idea, that's what hurt the Fiero, not Pontiac designers or engineers... "KnightRT" I think some of you need to step out of the “car guy” box and see the industry for how everyone else sees it... Brand loyalty? Whatever. I beg to differ greatly with your view. As Harely Earl said "I can sell a young man's car to an old man but I can't never sell an old man's car to a young man". Meaning if you build something stylish, sporty, dependable and affordable both the young and old alike will want to buy it. If you build only old man styling then you've killed off all young buyers and your future... Now this may come as a shock to you but brand loyality still exsist today. There are overwhellming numbers of people who will not own anything else but a BMW, Ford, Chevy, and yes even a Pontiac... I'd rather drive a 10 year old Pontiac than be given a brand new BMW for free.

  • Syke Thanks, somehow I missed that.
  • 285exp I am quite sure that it is a complete coincidence that they have announced a $7k price increase the same week that the current administration has passed legislation extending the $7k tax credit that was set to expire. Yep, not at all related.
  • Syke Is it possible to switch the pure EV drive on and off? Given the wonderful throttle response of an EV, I could see the desirability of this for a serious off-roader. Run straight ICE to get to your off-roading site, switch over the EV drive during the off-road section, then back to ICE for the road trip back home.
  • ToolGuy Historical Perspective Moment:• First-gen Bronco debuted in MY1966• OJ Simpson Bronco chase was in 1994• 1966 to 1994 = 28 years• 1994 to now = 28 yearsFeel old yet?
  • Ronnie Schreiber From where is all that electricity needed to power an EV transportation system going to come? Ironically, the only EV evangelist that I know of who even mentions the fragile nature of our electrical grid is Elon Musk. None of the politicians pushing EVs go anywhere near it, well, unless they are advocating for unreliable renewables like wind and solar.