Although the first Pontiac
car didn't debut until 1926, the
division's history actually dates back to
1893, when Edward M. Murphy established
the Pontiac Buggy Company in Pontiac,
Michigan. The company produced
horse-drawn carriages. As it became clear
that motor car sales were going to
eclipse carriages, Murphy wisely started
the Oakland Motor Car Company, an
offshoot of the buggy company, in 1907.
Two years later, General
Motors acquired half of Oakland in an
exchange of stock. GM founder William
Durant, a friend of Murphy's, was
actually more interested in his talent
and expertise than his Oakland cars. But
Murphy died unexpectedly the following
summer. A few months later, GM purchased
full control of Oakland, amid rumors that
Durant paid for part of the company from
his personal earnings to help Murphy's
family. Oakland was very successful
through 1920. Then, a minor economic
depression, combined with inefficient
production and Durant's drive for
acquisition, weakened Oakland and GM.
By 1920, General Motors was in disarray.
In just 12 years, Durant had founded the
company, lost control in 1910, regained
it in 1916, and lost it again by 1920.
The company's seven divisions were
fighting for the same customers, and none
were priced to compete with Ford's $500
Model T. At the time, GM's prices ranged
from $795 for the lowest-end Chevrolet,
to $5,690 for the highest-priced
Cadillac. Since GM wasn't in the position
to rival the Model T, a committee of
company executives, under the leadership
of new GM President Alfred Sloan, decided
to create a car to fill a long-standing
price gap between Chevrolet and
Oldsmobile. In addition, the new vehicle
would serve as a platform to share
vehicle components in an effort to
improve volume efficiency.
So they created Pontiac, a new car line,
under the auspices of Oakland.
The first Pontiac, the Series 6-27,
debuted at the 1926 New York Auto Show.
Built on a 110-inch wheelbase, it
featured a Fisher-designed body and a
six-cylinder L-head engine. The two
closed models, a coupe and a sedan,
achieved maximum speeds of 50 mph. Until
the Pontiac debuted, most cars had fabric
tops, leaving passengers little
protection from the elements and road
debris. As it turns out, Pontiac's
decision to produce only closed cars was
warmly welcomed by customers. Priced at
$825, Pontiac sold 76,742 cars in its
first year on the market. The following
August, it offered a four-door landau
sedan, at $895.
Soon, demand outpaced capacity. In
mid-1926, the division began plans to
build a $15 million assembly plant in
Pontiac, Michigan. It was the largest
construction project in the U.S. that
year, and became known as the "daylight"
plant because it used so much glass. Its
unique architecture attracted visitors
from around the world.
1927 GM asked Harley Earl to create Art &
Colour, the industry's first formal
design studio, within GM. Earl designed
the highly successful La Salle, and later
became head of GM Design. Art & Colour
designed all GM models, including
Pontiac. Calendar year production of
Series 6-27 cars was 127,883 in 1927.
In late 1927, Pontiac unveiled the Series
6-28, its first major model change. The
company added a third assembly line at
the daylight plant, as well as a new $5
million foundry. The 6-28 had a new
cross-flow radiator, a Pontiac first,
which became the industry standard. The
division introduced the famous Indian
head in silhouette emblem, which remained
the standard Pontiac logo for almost 30
years. Pontiac sold nearly 184,000 6-28s
in the debut year.
Pontiac introduced the Series 6-29 Big
Six, which was originally a Vauxhall, the
British subsidiary GM had acquired. The
series featured Pontiac's first
convertible. Engine displacement
increased to 200.4 c.i., and hp increased
by 25 percent to 57 at 3000 rpm. Power
had increased by two-thirds in just two
years. Exterior color became popular, and
Pontiac began offering an array of
standard paint colors for every model.
Pontiac built its 500,000th car in 1929.
Then, the stock market crashed, leading
to the first decrease in demand for the
The Series 6-30B was a 1930 model (there
was no 6-30A series). Pontiac production
fell 68 percent, to 62,888 models, mainly
due to the Depression. A $100 price cut
failed to motivate buyers.
The new Series 401 was available in six
models: two four-door sedans, two coupes,
a two-door sedan and a convertible.
Surprisingly, despite the troubled times,
the Series 401 increased production over
the Series 6-30B of 1930, something only
Auburn and Plymouth achieved. The Federal
government mandated that automakers
introduce all of their new vehicles at
the same time in the fall, to create a
new-car buying season and boost the poor
The Oakland name died, amid rumors that
Pontiac, Buick and Cadillac might also be
killed. In 1932 Pontiac lost $125.35 per
car and sold 47,926 cars. GM President
Alfred P. Sloan and Executive Vice
President William S. Knudsen fought to
save Pontiac by integrating more
components with Chevrolet to achieve
higher volume production. Knudsen became
temporary general manager, and later
hired Harry J. Klingler, general sales
manager at Chevy, to be Pontiac general
Klingler began a new era of active
salesmanship. Until now, the division
didn't have a strong sales philosophy. He
added market research, advertising, and
sales promotion programs to the mix.
Pontiac debuted an in-line L-head
eight-cylinder engine, rated at 85 hp at
Frank Hershey became Pontiac's lead
designer in 1931, and Pontiac gained its
own design studio within GM. Previously,
Art & Colour had designed Pontiac models.
Hershey made his presence known
immediately. Displeased with the 1933
models, which were due to go into
production right away, he ordered a
massive redesign. In just two weeks,
Hershey and his team reinvented the 1933
Pontiac, creating a low-priced
eight-cylinder car with the look and feel
of more expensive autos, such as the
Chrysler Imperial, Studebaker President
or Auburn 8-105. The new look boosted
Pontiac's image in the marketplace, and
sales nearly doubled, to 85,348.
During this time, wheelbases, weight and
horsepower increased. The division was
the first to put independent front
suspension into volume production in
1934. In 1935, Pontiac began offering
all-steel "turret tops" to replace fabric
roofs. GM was the first automaker to use
these devices. Pontiac continued to use
Chevrolet's frame and many body parts,
and beefed up Chevy's transmission and
rear axle. Registrations increased to
140,000 in 1935 and almost 172,000 in
1936. Pontiac built its 1 millionth car.
Pontiac introduced an all-new, bigger
L-head six-cylinder with 208 c.i.
displacement and peak output of 80 hp at
3600 rpm, which debuted on 1935 models.
Vehicle design continued to evolve with
the debut of the silver streaks. These
chrome ribbons, which swept down the
hood, were unveiled on the 1936 model and
became a Pontiac trademark. Some say
Frank Hershey was inspired by a French
magazine photo of an old racing Napier
with a bright aluminum finned oil cooler
projecting through the top of the hood.
However, Virgil Exner, another Pontiac
studio designer, also claimed credit for
the trendy stripes. Hershey left Pontiac
in 1935 for Buick, and Exner took his
In 1935, the Fisher Body Pontiac Assembly
Plant was completed. An overpass was
built to connect the body plant to the
During the 1937 model year, Pontiac
replaced the A-body with the larger
B-body and introduced its first station
wagon. Pontiac also moved to all-steel
body construction. In 1938, Pontiac
pioneered the column-mounted gearshift.
In 1940 Frank Hershey returned to lead
the Pontiac studio. These were good times
for the auto industry and the division,
which sold 217,001 cars in 1940.
Pontiac invented the engine option,
giving buyers a selection of engines.
Production soared to 330,061 cars. On
March 1, 1941, Pontiac began building
Oerlikon 20 mm anti-aircraft cannon for
the U.S. Navy.
In 1942, the government told domestic
automakers to drastically reduce their
use of chrome. After December 15, 1941,
all parts that would normally have been
chrome-plated (except for bumpers) now
had painted surfaces. These cars, which
were much less attractive than the
original 1942 Pontiacs, became known as
blackout models. Pontiac also began
manufacturing Bofors automatic field guns
for the U.S. Army. In addition, Pontiac
made front axles for the M-5 high-speed
tank, parts for Detroit Diesel two-stroke
diesel engines, as well as
aircraft-launched torpedoes for the U.S.
Navy. The division built its last car on
Feb. 10, 1942, a blackout model, and it
is said that this was the last car built
by any domestic automaker during the war.
As the war drew to a close, the military
contracts ended, one by one. The next
challenge was to revert to civilian
production as quickly as possible.
Pontiac enlarged its foundry, revamped
its engine plant to add more machinery,
and aimed to double production to
500,000. In November 1945, though, GM
workers went on strike, and 1946 was a
year of general labor unrest. Strikes
affected the steel, mining, trucking and
shipping industries, as well as the
The first post-war cars were essentially
unchanged from the 1942 versions. Most of
the exterior changes were cosmetic in
nature. Whitewall tires were also scarce,
so a number of Pontiacs had plastic rim
inserts. Many buyers preferred blackwall
tires, though, since the inserts yellowed
over time. The 1946 model was highly
regarded by a car-hungry country.
1947 This was a time of prosperity for
Pontiac, even though the vehicles were
essentially unchanged. The division
nearly doubled sales, from 113,109 in '46
to 206,411 in '47. George Delaney
replaced Klingler as general manager.
The HydraMatic automatic transmission
became optional in 1948. The following
year, Pontiac featured all-new Fisher
bodies. The lower, wider look began to
dominate, and many buyers agreed that the
new models had terrific styling.
Just before the 1949 cars went into
production, Ford obtained spy shots of
the new Pontiacs, and surprisingly, both
companies had created nearly identical
grilles. After a phone call from Ford
Motor Co., Pontiac quickly and
reluctantly redesigned its grille because
the Ford was debuting first.
Pontiac introduced the Catalina hardtop
coupe. The Super De Luxe Catalina was the
most luxurious model to date, featuring
hand-buffed leather upholstery,
decorative chrome on the headliner and
optional two-tone paint. Pontiac charted
record production of 446,429 vehicles.
During this time, the division offered
the lowest priced straight-eight in
America. In 1951, it boosted displacement
to 268.4 c.i. The engine produced 116 hp.
At the time, V8 engines and automatic
transmissions were hot. Since Pontiac had
one of the best automatic transmissions
in the industry, it concentrated on
developing a V8. In '51 Klingler was
promoted to group vice president of car
and truck operations, and Arnold Lenz
took over. Lenz died in a train/car crash
in 1952, and Robert Critchfield assumed
the general manager spot. He oversaw the
most extensive expansion and
modernization program since '27. With new
management, staffers found it easier to
get approval for innovative projects. The
four millionth Pontiac was built in July,
and the division celebrated its 25th
anniversary. The Korean War curtailed
production in 1951, and the '52 models
had limited chrome due to war shortages.
Pontiac sold 337,821 vehicles in '51 and
266,351 in 1952.
In '53, sales totaled 385,692, ahead of
Dodge and Mercury, but behind Chevy and
Buick. Pontiac debuted Star Chief, a new
line. Electric power windows and air
conditioning became optional equipment,
and the division offered power steering.
Car No. 5 million rolled down the line in
These models had more changes than any
since 1926. There were 109 new features,
including three new bodies. For the first
time, Pontiac sold more than a half
million cars in a model year. The
eight-in-line engine went out of
production in 1954, and was replaced with
an overhead valve V8. The new engine was
smaller, more rigid, and more suitable
for high compression ratios. The 287 c.i.
engine achieved 180 hp. Top speeds were
about 90 mph. Also in 1955, Lucy, Ricky,
Fred and Ethel drove a Pontiac Star Chief
convertible cross-country to California
in a series of episodes on television's
"I Love Lucy."
Pontiac followed this strong year with a
line of rather conservative cars. Upper
management wasn't happy, and the division
was again under pressure to perform.
Sales dropped to the lowest level since
1939, despite the fact that the division
built its 6 millionth car in '56. In a
significant personnel shift, Semon
"Bunkie" Knudsen became Pontiac general
manager. The younger Knudsen, son of GM
President William Knudsen, was about to
become one of the most influential forces
in Pontiac's history.
Knudsen is credited for getting Pontiac
involved in motorsports. Pontiac's first
official race was at the Bonneville Salt
Flats in Utah in 1956. Ab Jenkins, at 73,
drove a stock 1956 two-door sedan Pontiac
with a modified 285 hp high compression
ratio engine and four-barrel carburetor
on June 26, 1956. He posted a new 24-hour
speed record, averaging 118.337 mph over
2,841 miles. Jenkins, whose formal name
was David Abbott Jenkins, was a retired
contractor and former mayor of Salt Lake
Knudsen came to Pontiac with unspoken,
but strongly implied orders: make the
division something really special in five
years, or lose the nameplate. Pontiac had
a fine reputation for durability and
reliability, but wasn't known for
building cars that commanded attention.
His strategy, not surprisingly, was to
infuse new life into the product. His
first major change was to kill the silver
streaks, Pontiac's design hallmark.
Around since 1935, the "suspenders," as
Knudsen called them, were gone by the '57
model. He issued the order days before
the vehicles went into volume production.
The tooling was in place, the parts and
components in production, the press
photos had been shot, and newspaper,
magazine and showroom ads prepared. He
also phased out the signature Indian-head
hood ornament in '57.
Also in 1957, John DeLorean joined
Pontiac to head up advanced engineering.
DeLorean, Knudsen and Pontiac chief
engineer Pete Estes were a powerful team
and inspired the cars that soon would
reshape the division.
Pontiac unveiled the Bonneville in
February 1957 at the Daytona Beach race.
Considered an upscale model, it was the
first Pontiac to have fuel injection, and
was a direct competitor to the Chrysler
300 and DeSoto Golden Adventurer. Pontiac
limited production to just 630 vehicles
and offered it only in a convertible. The
V8 engine was bored out to 370-cubic inch
displacement, and achieved 310 SAE gross
hp at 4800 rpm and 400 lb.-ft. of torque
at 3400 rpm with a top speed of more than
130 mph. It ran 0-60 mph in 8.1 seconds,
and a tuned stock model was timed at 144
mph on the Salt Flats. It weighed 4,285
lbs. and cost $4,400.
Bonneville became a series in '58, adding
a two-door hardtop. Prices dropped to
$3,179 for the hardtop and $3,277 for the
ragtop. Pontiac built just 400 fuel
injected Bonnevilles in '58. The division
then dropped fuel injection in '59.
The rest of the Pontiac line was fairly
conservative for 1958. The styling lacked
features that identified the models as
Pontiacs. The silver streaks were gone,
and nothing had replaced them yet. What
the cars lacked in design
distinctiveness, however, they made up
for in engineering innovation. The cars
featured a new X-type frame with five
cross-members. The propeller shaft ran
through the center of the frame, forming
a narrow tunnel. A new coil-spring rear
suspension system, called Quadra-Poise,
replaced leaf springs.
Soon-to-be-retiring GM Design chief
Harley Earl loved the big, chromed cars
of the past, and wanted to restyle the
new bodies in the same theme. While Earl
was away in Europe, however, his
designers secretly rebelled. They created
designs to Earl's specs, but crafted an
all-new body behind the scenes. Bill
Mitchell, who was then second in command
at Design Staff and GM
President Harlow Curtice supported their
efforts, sensing that the corporation was
falling behind the industry in design.
Eventually, after much turmoil, Earl
relented and the wide track became
The body was 64 inches wide, the widest
in the industry. It was so wide that
engineers needed to broaden the track by
five inches to accommodate it. Knudsen
was quoted as saying the car "looks like
a football player wearing ballet
slippers." Milt Coulson, a copywriter at
Pontiac ad agency MacManus, John and
Adams, created the term "Wide Track." The
car was unique because its broad, low,
bold design featured relatively little
chrome. It also was technologically
advanced for its time.
The new split grille came at this time,
as well. It was a huge styling hit, and
instantly became a Pontiac trademark. But
designers, not expecting such
overwhelming approval, had dropped the
split grille for 1960. They quickly made
plans to reintroduce it in 1961. Pontiac
also debuted its arrowhead emblem in
1958, replacing the Indian Chief logo.
The division sold 399,646 cars in '60,
and Pontiac built its 7 millionth car in
1959, a 1960 Bonneville. In 1960, Pontiac
had 16 models representing four series:
Catalina, Star Chief, Bonneville and
Ventura, an upscale version of the
Pontiac offered the first Super Duty
performance package for sale as an
option, so racing enthusiasts could
outfit their vehicles.
The wide-track theme continued, but the
cars were shorter, lighter, and had new
styling. They also handled better and
offered improved fuel economy. Smaller
cars were a trend found across all
divisions. Pontiac debuted the Tempest, a
car noted for independent rear
suspension, a flexible driveshaft, and
the most powerful four-cylinder engine on
the road. In November, Knudsen left
Pontiac to succeed Ed Cole as general
manager of Chevrolet. Pete Estes took
Knudsen's spot as general manager of
Pontiac and DeLorean was named chief
engineer. For the first time, Pontiac
earned third place in national sales.
GM built its 75 millionth car, a
Bonneville convertible, March 14, 1962.
Pontiac's 8 millionth car rolled off the
line April 12, 1962, a Tempest
convertible. The division introduced the
Grand Prix, a higher end car with minimal
chrome, and the LeMans, a sportier
version of the Tempest.
Pontiac sold almost 600,000 cars, a
record. The 1963 Grand Prix sets the
styling tone for the industry, with a
concave rear window, hidden taillights
and a simple, elegant exterior that
featured very little chrome. It was the
first car that convinced buyers that less
can be more; in other words, that chrome
trim doesn't necessarily symbolize a
high-end, expensive vehicle.
The division built car No. 9 million, a
1964 Catalina station wagon, on Dec. 9,
1963. Total registrations were 687,902,
keeping Pontiac in third place.
But the big news in 1964 was the
introduction of the LeMans
GTO, or Gran Turismo Omologato.
Technically, it was a Tempest with a
Bonneville engine, but emotionally, it
was much more than that. It was equipped
with a 389 CID V8 engine with a 4 barrel
carburetor and dual exhaust. 3 speed
transmission with floor shift, heavy-duty
springs and shocks, 7 blade fan with
clutch, 7.500 x 14 redline tires, chrome
air cleaner and rocker covers,
GTO emblems, special hood with
simulated air scoops, and an
"engine-turned" instrument cluster trim
plate. Many considered it a dragster with
sports-car handling. The standard
Bonneville 389-cubic-inch V8 was modified
with the heads from the 421 c.i. V8,
which had larger valves.
GTO offered Pontiac a way to preserve
its racing heritage without actually
participating, since GM had banned all
factory racing in 1963.
GTO was actually an engine option, a
way to get around the ban on engines of
more than 330 cid as standard equipment.
GTO sold 31,000 cars in its first
year, hampered only by capacity. The
GTO is credited with creating the
"muscle car" era in Detroit.
In just a few years, Pontiac styling had
made great gains, and many considered it
ahead of the market during this time. In
'65 the division sold about 250,000 more
cars than Buick or Oldsmobile, and built
its 10 millionth car, a gold Catalina
four-door hardtop. John DeLorean became
Pontiac general manager, replacing Estes,
who moved to the Chevy general manager
spot. Motor Trend awarded the entire
division "Car of the Year" status.
Pontiac built a record 96,946
GTOs. In two short years, the
GTO had attracted a following few
nameplates could duplicate. It inspired
makeshift drag races, car clubs,
conventions, books, songs and much more.
Even today, it remains one of the era's
most prized vehicles. The division
introduced the overhead-cam six cylinder
engine. The engine was unique because it
used the overhead-cam design, but not a
big-seller, since V8s were so
tremendously popular at the time.
The Firebird, named after a deity in
Indian mythology who symbolized action,
power, beauty and youth, debuted Feb. 23.
The first Firebird was essentially a
modified Chevy Camaro. Pontiac, under
tight deadline, created a unique front
end and taillamps, added wide-oval tires
and five distinct models. The Firebird
also used Pontiac engines, which were
mounted further back for better balance
and less understeer.
Pontiac introduced the all-new A body for
the Tempest, LeMans and
GTO. Body-colored "Endura" bumpers
appeared on the
GTO starting a trend which became an
industry standard. Motor Trend named the
GTO "Car of the Year," and the
division sold a record 910,977 cars.
Although the Grand Prix had been around
for a number of years, the 1969 Grand
Prix was special. In the 1968 model
intermediates, DeLorean and his team had
introduced a novel concept: a two-door
model on a wheelbase that was four-inches
shorter than the four-door models. The
result was a sports coupe with a long
hood coupled to a shorter two-door body.
The Grand Prix's wheelbase was lengthened
by six inches, most of which was absorbed
by the hood, which was the longest in the
The '69 Grand Prix was unlike anything
coming out of Detroit at the time.
Pontiac had created something truly
unique - a reasonably priced specialty
car suitable for everyday use. The Grand
Prix featured all original panels, a
vertical themed split grille, the first
cockpit-styled instrument panel and, in
an industry first, a hidden antenna. In
1970 it offered high performance versions
of Pontiac's 400 and 455 c.i. V8s. The
car became known for great handling,
minimal wheelspin and great stopping
The Firebird Trans Am, which was intended
to be the highest performance pony car of
its time, debuted in spring 1969. Ram Air
was standard with 335 horsepower. Pontiac
built just 55 cars with the optional 345
hp Ram Air IV. Only 697 Trans Am were
built this year, eight of which were
convertibles. Another low-volume, highly
collectible model was introduced in 1969
Pontiac again achieved third place in
sales, and built car No. 14 million.
Pontiac introduced the second-generation
Firebird in 1970, which was marked by
clean lines, simplicity, even elegance.
It had the trademark split grille and an
Endura front bumper. The new generation
featured four models: the base, Esprit,
Formula 400 and Trans Am.
This was a year of dramatic, far-reaching
change for Pontiac and the automotive
industry, and the year the
GTO's glory began to fade. GM
directed its divisions to lower the
compression ratios in its engines to
accommodate unleaded, low octane fuel. In
addition, many insurers were reluctant to
cover such sporty vehicles.
The low-compression engines, while easier
on the air, weren't strong performers at
first. This fact, coupled with the
decision to advertise SAE net horsepower
rather than gross horsepower, made it
much more difficult for Pontiac to
maintain its performance image.
The division unveiled the Ventura II,
based on the highly successful X body.
Pontiac built car No. 15 million, a black
Grand Ville four-door hardtop.
Pontiac built car No. 16 million on Nov.
26. Firebird narrowly escaped
cancellation. Workers at the Norwood,
Ohio, assembly plant went on strike and
left hundreds of 1972 Firebirds and
Camaros unfinished. When production
resumed, the 1972 bumpers were now
obsolete, since 1973 bumper regulations
had taken effect. GM was forced to scrap
the '72 F-cars, leading to a battle which
nearly killed the Firebird.
Pontiac charted record production,
building nearly 920,000 vehicles, thanks
in part to the newly redesigned Grand
Prix. The bigger, brawnier model was much
more comfortable and luxurious, and
generated sales of more than 150,000, the
best sales year to date.
The Grand Am debuted in '73, selling
43,136 models. The interior was much like
the popular Grand Prix's, giving buyers
an upscale feel for the mid-range price.
GTO sales fell sharply, to 4,806
units, just five percent of its volume
four years previously.
Martin Caserio, former GMC Truck general
manager, took over at Pontiac. The Trans
Am got its famous "screaming chicken"
decal on the hood. The division unveiled
its first total revision of the A bodies
The fuel crisis hit, cutting industry
sales by 3 million. Pontiac production
dropped 36 percent. Most of the Pontiac
models were relatively unchanged in terms
of styling or engineering. The last
GTO, which was then based on the
Ventura, rolled off the assembly line.
However, Firebird sales were up 60
percent, just when other manufacturers
were dropping their pony cars.
Demand for smaller, more fuel-efficient
vehicles continued to affect Pontiac
sales. Yet Trans Am production continued
to climb by more than 2000 percent, at
27,274 models. Pontiac brought in the
fuel-efficient Astre from GM Canada, and
it accounted for 12 percent of production
in '75. Alex Mair became the new general
Pontiac celebrated its 50th anniversary.
A new, base model Grand Prix debuted, and
sales increased more than 150 percent
over 1975. Pontiac also introduced a 50th
Anniversary Grand Prix and Trans Am,
building nearly 5000 units. The division
introduced the Sunbird, and it racked up
more than 50,000 sales.
The new, smaller GM B-body hit the
market. These downsized cars, such as the
Catalina and Bonneville, offered more
interior room than their larger
predecessors, solving a long-time buyer
complaint. And the vehicles, which were
more fuel efficient, were also better
performers, because there was less weight
to carry. The Ventura line was re-badged
the Phoenix. The division introduced two
new engines, the "Iron Duke" 151 c.i.
four-cylinder and a 301 c.i. V8.
Pontiac built more than 900,000 cars,
including the 20 millionth Pontiac, one
of the strongest sales years to date. The
Grand Am was reintroduced after a
three-year hiatus. The vehicle line
gained minor improvements this year. Bob
Stempel joined Pontiac as general
manager. One of Stempel's primary goals
was to oversee the beginning stages of
Fiero development. The division builds
its 20 millionth car in 1978.
The second fuel crisis hit, but Pontiac
sales weren't affected initially. In
fact, the division sold nearly 1 million
cars, the best in its history. Pontiac
created a special 10th Anniversary Trans
Am, complete with silver paint, matching
silver leather seats and red lighting on
the instrument panel - a Pontiac cue
still in use today. It was the first
Firebird priced at more than $10,000, and
a best-seller. The division also sold the
last 400 c.i. big block V8 engine.
By this time, the industry was feeling
the pain from the second gasoline crunch.
Chrysler was nearly bankrupt. The
Phoenix, Pontiac's first front wheel
drive offering, was perfectly timed and
an immediate success, selling 178,000
units. Stempel moved to Germany to work
at Opel, and Bill Hoglund assumed the
general manager spot.
In January 1981, Pontiac held its first
"image conference," a meeting of about 25
Pontiac executives designed to recreate
the division's image. The meeting
energized and organized the team. But
most importantly, it gave direction to
the division. The team crafted this
statement: "Pontiac is a car company
known for innovative styling and
engineering that results in products with
outstanding performance and roadability."
These words would guide the division as
it moved forward.
In keeping with its new statement,
Pontiac adopted a new advertising slogan,
"We Build Excitement." Since it didn't
yet have the product to support the
slogan, it started with "The Excitement
Begins," and then followed with "The
Excitement Really Begins," when the third
generation Firebird debuted in '82.
Pontiac discontinued the Bonneville and
the Catalina. The division introduced the
A6000, a front-wheel drive intermediate
model and the J-2000 front wheel drive
compact. Pontiac dropped the B-body,
since big car sales were down.
The new Firebird, combined with the new
6000 STE, gave Pontiac the boost it
needed. The front wheel drive STE was
considered the first domestic
sophisticated performance sedan. It
combined a high-output 2.8-liter V6
engine with a highly refined, tuned
sports sedan suspension. Overall sales
shot up 16 percent over 1982, with more
than half a million sales.
Pontiac unveiled the Fiero. The car was
originally pitched as a fuel-efficient
commuter car. But many buyers expected it
to be a mid-engined, high-end sports car.
From the start, it was tough to get
internal support for the Fiero. Money was
tight, and GM, along with the auto
industry, had taken huge financial hits.
In an unusual, cost-saving move, Pontiac
hired Entech Engineering to manage the
engineering. The car also borrowed many
components from the GM parts bin. The
remarkable part of the car was its
innovative space frame. Body panels, made
from a rustproof, ding-resistant plastic
called Enduraflex, bolted on. Stempel and
Hoglund thought they would sell 50,000 or
60,000 Fieros the first year out. Sales
beat their estimates by more than 125
percent, and first-year production
totalled 136,940. The division sold
almost 650,000 vehicles. Mike Losh was
appointed general manager in mid-1984.
The J-2000 was rebadged the 2000 Sunbird.
Pontiac unveiled the third generation
Grand Am, and labeled it a sporty coupe
for people wanting something more
economical than the Firebird. At last,
demand for the Grand Am, mainly due to
its styling, achieved what the division
had hoped for. The Fiero gained a
high-output V6 engine option. The
Firebird received a facelift. Pontiac
built its 25 millionth car.
The Grand Am added a four-door version,
and an SE trim option, extending the
appeal of the model. The division sold
829,000 cars in 1986. Pontiac's share of
total GM volume was nearly 20 percent,
its best performance in 25 years.
The Bonneville returned to the Pontiac
lineup as a front wheel drive model. Also
new was the Firebird Trans Am GTA,
considered a top-of-the-line option
package for serious drivers. It featured
a 5.7-liter tuned-port injected V8, with
210 hp, special emblems and specific gold
cross-lace aluminum wheels. Pontiac also
introduced the Firebird Formula, a less
aggressive appearing version of the Trans
Am, which was intended to discourage
thieves and mollify insurers.
The all-new, fourth generation Grand
Prix, the SSE Bonneville and the new
sub-compact LeMans debuted. And the much
improved but unprofitable Fiero died,
despite a strong fight by many supporters
within the division.
In keeping with Pontiac's mission to
offer a high-end car for serious drivers
within each model line, the flagship SSE
Bonneville was powered by the new 3800
sequential fuel injected V6. It was
inspired by European models, and created
on a whim, because Pontiac designers
wanted a new, unusual car to drive to the
Detroit Grand Prix race.
The Pontiac 6000 STE received an optional
full-time, all-wheel drive system, the
first in the division. It was quickly
becoming the most technologically
advanced car in the Pontiac fleet. The
division reclaimed third in national
sales in 1988, and accounted for 20
percent of all GM sales.
The Grand Am underwent a successful
redesign. Pontiac announced the
limited-edition McLaren Turbo Grand Prix,
a modern-day muscle car. Only a few of
the over-200 hp cars were built. And the
division announced a limited-edition 20th
Anniversary Trans Am. John Middlebrook
replaced Mike Losh as general manager.
Pontiac introduced its first minivan, the
futuristic Trans Sport. Its structure was
similar to Fiero's, with dent-resistant
body panels covering the steel space
frame. The Trans Sport also had removable
modular seating, which was unique at the
time. The minivan's large, steeply sloped
windshield used coated glass to reduce
the cabin heat load by more than half.
Also in 1990, the Grand Prix came in a
new four-door body style.
The Firebird received a minor facelift,
and revived the convertible, last seen in
1969. Pontiac built its 30 millionth car,
a supercharged Bonneville SSEi, on Oct.
Pontiac unveiled a number of redesigned
models. The Bonneville celebrated its
35th anniversary with an all-new,
European-inspired design. The vehicle
came in three models: the base SE, the
SSE and the high-end SSEi. The Grand Am
was also all-new, with two trim levels
and four available engines, including a
V6. Some insiders claimed its bold design
was ahead of the market, which was
Pontiac's intention. The Grand Prix
marked its 30th birthday in 1992,
available in coupe and sedan body styles.
Again, its design was described as
dramatic and stylish. The Firebird turned
Pontiac introduced the all-new, fourth
generation Firebird, Formula and Trans
Am. The models featured 90 percent new
content, including two new engines, a
stronger, stiffer structure, standard
anti-lock brakes and dual airbags.
Bonneville received a new Sport Luxury
Edition (SLE), intended for young,
affluent import buyers. Grand Prix gained
a new BYP Sport Appearance Package with
lower ground effects, split dual exhaust
and a rally gauge cluster. The LeMans
made its final appearance in 1993.
Now that the LeMans had been retired,
Sunbird represented the entry-level
product for Pontiac. The Trans Sport was
restyled for '94, and added a driver-side
airbag, traction control and an integral
child seat. Bonneville streamlined its
model lineup with the SE, SSE and SSEi
Supercharger Package and made a number of
refinements to the models. The
Supercharger Package added 20 more
horsepower, to 225, GM's Computer Command
Ride system, better brake and traction
control and standard dual airbags. The
package replaced the SSEi model. Trans Am
observed its 25th anniversary with a
limited edition model.
The primary development at Pontiac was
the introduction of the all-new Sunfire.
The Sunfire was available in a coupe and
convertible. The car was designed to be
an affordable, fun-to-drive car with
sport handling and more safety features
than one would expect in a small car in
this price range. The Grand Prix
underwent a facelift in 1995.
The Sunfire gained a new 2.4-liter twin
cam engine, an improved traction control
system and standard daytime running
lamps. New on the Firebird was a
performance package that featured a peppy
305 hp V8, bigger wheels and tires, a
special exhaust system and specific
suspension tuning. The Grand Am received
a number of interior refinements, as well
as driver and passenger air bags and
integrated cupholders. Bonneville
underwent a facelift, which included
revised front and rear fascias, grilles,
headlamps and taillamps, front fenders
and more. It also received MAGNASTEER
variable effort steering and a remote
keyless entry system. Pontiac merged with
GMC, the first such merger of its kind
within GM. Roy Roberts takes over as
general manager of the combined division.
The all-new Grand Prix and Trans Sport
rolled into showrooms. The Grand Prix
revisited the wide track theme with an
aggressive, broader stance and longer
wheelbase. It also featured a completely
redesigned interior. An optional
high-performance GTP package included a
240 hp supercharged 3800 Series II
engine. The redesigned Trans Sport
included dual sliding doors, five seating
configurations and the Montana Package,
which was intended to bridge the gap
between the minivan and the sport utility
The 1998 Firebird featured bold new
styling and an all-aluminum LS1 5.7-liter
V8 engine for the Trans Am and Formula.
The engine generated 305 hp at 5200 rpm
and 335 lb.-ft. of torque for better
mid-range responsiveness. The Firebird
also introduced electronic brake
distribution to North America. Trans
Sport gained the power sliding door on
all models. Sunfire received an improved
2.2-liter engine, increased torque and
transmission enhancements. Pontiac
debuted its next generation airbags with
reduced inflation power, with the intent
of reducing the risk of injury associated
with the safety device. Pontiac moved its
headquarters to downtown Detroit's
Renaissance Center, new home to all of
GM's divisional operations.
The Grand Am's new, wider stance,
stronger, sturdier structure and
redesigned exterior and interior helped
it sell more than 200,000 models in 1999.
The Trans Sport minivan was renamed the
Montana. Optional all-weather traction
control and heavy-duty towing capability
distinguished the minivan, as did its
optional entertainment system with a
video cassette player and drop-down LCD
color monitor. Grand Prix continued its
Wide Track design and low roof line, and
added OnStar as an option. Bonneville
also gained the OnStar option. The
Firebird received available electronic
traction control and electronic throttle
control. Pontiac built a 30th anniversary
Trans Am. Lynn Meyers replaces Roy
Roberts as general manager of the
The all-new, redesigned Bonneville
debuted, complete with lower sticker
prices, ranging from $40 to more than
$1900 less than 1999. Bonneville featured
a more rigid architecture and the widest
stance in its class. The supercharged
SSEi came with StabiliTrak and a host of
personalization features. The Sunfire,
Pontiac's sporty, fun, budget-conscious
model, added the Monsoon premium audio
system as an option. The Grand Prix
unveiled a limited edition Daytona Pace
The big news of the 2001 model year, of
course, is the arrival of the Aztek, the
world's first Sport Recreation Vehicle.
Aztek is a breakthrough vehicle that
combines elements of a sport sedan, sport
utility vehicle and minivan. A smooth,
strong 3.4-liter overhead valve V8 engine
produces 185 hp at 5200 rpm and 210
lb.-ft. of torque at 400 rpm. The
interior has two seating configurations,
a wide, low, flat load floor in back with
two optional storage packages, a
fold-down tailgate, and a standard
console cooler that holds 12 beverage
cans. OnStar is standard equipment. On
the outside, Aztek's bold, unique design
commands attention, as well as strong
opinion. With Aztek, Pontiac has produced
a love-it-or-hate-it vehicle. Either way,
it makes an impression on the road and
sets the stage for an all-new breed of
Also for 2001, Montana receives a fresh,
new look with a redesigned front grille
and fascia. It also gains Pontiac's new
Rear Parking Aid safety system, which
chimes when drivers come too close to
objects behind the vehicles, and a
fold-flat third row seat.
What's next for Pontiac? As the division
celebrates 75 years in the automobile
business, it seems appropriate to reflect
on the successes and failures of the
past, and use the wisdom collected over
the decades to make the next 75 years a
time of true innovation, attention to
detail and success.
Pontiac announces the end of all
production on April 27, 2009, amid
ongoing financial problems and
restructuring efforts, GM announced that
it would phase out the Pontiac brand by
the end of 2010 and focus on four core GM
brands in North America.