Pontiac began life in 1926 in Pontiac, Michigan. They died in Detroit on Halloween, 2010. During their 84 years, they did manage to produce some pretty good cars. Unfortunately, many of their models weren’t very differentiated from parent company General Motors. John DeLorean was a principal engineer at Pontiac in the 50s and 60s and was behind some of their critical models in the early days. Pontiac produced some of their best cars towards the end of their life, but it wasn’t enough to save the company. The financial disaster of 2008 led General Motors to cut Pontiac joining Oldsmobile in the grave. These are some of the best cars they produced before they died.
The Pontiac GTO is widely considered the car that started the muscle car movement. Named by John DeLorean after the Ferrari 250 GTO, Pontiac introduced the GTO in 1964, and it was only available with either a 6.4 or 6.6-liter V8 engine. The second generation introduced probably the most famous version, “the Judge.” “The Judge” featured wider wheels, a spoiler, a different shifter, and at first was only available in one color. Engine options for the 2nd gen included 400 and 455 cubic inch V8s, and that was it. The 3rd and 4th generation GTOs were absolute trash, so burn them in hell. For thirty years, the GTO was absent from the Pontiac lineup. They brought the car back in 2004 featuring the excellent LS1 and later the LS2, but the design was rather dull. Still, the GTO was a superb car despite the terrible 3rd and 4th gen.
Pontiac Firebird/Trans Am
Who could forget the Pontiac Firebird? Pontiac produced the Firebird from 1967 until 2002, and I don’t think there was a bad one in the bunch. Of course, none were as famous as the Smokey and the Bandit cars, but we’ll get to that. Released just three years after the GTO on the same platform, the Firebird was available with more engine options, including two inline six-cylinder engines. The Trans Am option included better handling and appearance options.
The Firebird didn’t take off until the second generation produced from 1970-1981. During that time, Pontiac offered 14 engine options during ranging from a tiny Buick V6 to a turbo V8. It was also the “Smokey and the Bandit” generation featuring the excellent black and gold paint job featuring the fire chicken graphic. The third generation suffered from a severe lack of power, but the 4th generation responded with the special edition Firehawk that finally broke back into the 300 horsepower range. It also included the LS1 and WS6 package in 2002 featuring more power (325) and better handling. It also had one of the best hoods ever produced. RIP Firebird, you will be missed.
What a swan song for Pontiac! Introduced just two years before their death, the G8 was a Corvette powered, four-door sedan with rear-wheel drive and a six-speed manual. It was incredible. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. The G8 was available with a V6 and an automatic, but those don’t matter. Pontiac had two available V8’s, a 6 liter making 365 hp and the LS3 making 415 hp. The sedan weighed less than 4,000 pounds and handled exceptionally well. It even beat some German vehicles in head to head comparisons. The car eventually became the fantastic Chevy SS after the death of Pontiac, but unfortunately, no one bought any of them (except me!). What a shame because the cars were incredible.
Ok, hear me out! I hated this thing as well, but it was a novel attempt by Pontiac to make something different. They get points for trying! Sure, the engine would catch fire while driving but who cares! Pontiac produced the Fiero from 1984-88, and it was a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-seat sports cars featuring a 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder engine. Incredibly, the four-cylinder engine got 32 MPGs in the city and an incredible 50 MPGs on the highway. The V6 made about 140 hp, and the minuscule 4-cylinder made less than 100 horsepower. Motor Trend praised the handling, but consumers expected more power. They did have a version that produced 232 hp, but it was never available. Interestingly, Pontiac tested V8s in the car, so the engine bay is large enough to fit engine swaps, which is what a lot of heroes have done.
Another excellent example of Pontiac trying something different. The Pontiac Solstice was only produced from 2006-2010 and was a small two-seat roadster featuring a naturally aspirated and turbo four-cylinder, a 5-speed manual, and rear-wheel drive. The base model solstice had a 2.4-liter non-turbo Ecotec engine making 177 horsepower in a car that weighed just 2,800 pounds. Pontiac increased performance with the GXP model featuring a turbo 2 liter Ecotec engine making 260 horsepower. They put the power down through a limited-slip differential pushing the roadster to a 5.5 second 0-60 mph. The Solstice actually has a strong racing pedigree winning SCCA championships in 2006-2009. Like the G8 above, the Solstice died with the company, but Fisker bought the plant, so we’ll wait and see.
Pontiac was an unfortunate casualty to the economic downturn of 2008. They followed Oldsmobile into the grave just as they were producing some world-beating cars. From the GTO to the iconic Firebird and the lamented Fiero and Solstice, Pontiac did produce some good cars over the decades. It’s unlikely we’ll ever see them again, but you can also buy a used Fiero and stuff a V8 in it like this maniac!
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