Sic transit Pontiac

Pontiac Firebird
Pontiac Firebird

General Motors is killing off another storied nameplate, Pontiac. What a shame.

The American auto industry is in a fine mess, and given GM’s spiraling problems it’s no big surprise that the carmaker is sending Pontiac to join Oldsmobile on the scrap heap. Still, it smarts to read that the division that made the Firebird and the GTO is going away.

In GM’s marketing strategy in recent decades, Pontiac sought out a younger and sportier crowd. The division carried the “We Build Excitement” slogan for years. Even what became its bloated top-of-the-line sedan was named Bonneville, after the fabled salt flats in Utah where so many speed records have been set.

The first company car I ever had was a 1988 Grand Am with a Quad 4 engine, and I loved it. I didn’t have to pay my own money for it, which was certainly the main appeal. But the car was undeniably cool, with glowing red lights on the dashboard. Through ice and snow and intense heat and tornadic thunderstorms, I drove that Grand Am thousands of miles across Nebraska, from Omaha to the Sand Hills to the Panhandle and back.

I also inherited Grand Ams from colleagues in San Francisco and Philadelphia. Although those Pontiacs never quite captured my heart the way the first one did, they were still fun to drive.

The son of a long-time GM employee, I grew up proud that my father worked for the largest automaker in the world. Dad taught me how to spot every brand of car on the road, and the Pontiacs of the chrome and fin era of the late 50s were among my early favorites. As I approached the legal driving age in the 1960s, I was crazy about the Firebird (see photo above left) and its Chevrolet cousin, the Camaro. Those cars are among the best testaments to Detroit’s muscle-car heyday and an era long gone.

Today, we own a Ford Windstar mini-van and a Saturn Ion. GM is apparently going to chuck Saturn, a division that when it launched branded itself apart from its corporate parent. Ironically, Saturn may survive as a brand with another manufacturer while Pontiac, one of the classic names in cars, is doomed.

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