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.
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 nameplate.
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 economy.
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 manager.
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 3400.
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 spot.
In 1935, the Fisher Body Pontiac Assembly Plant was completed. An overpass was built to connect the body plant to the assembly plant.
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 railroads.
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.
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 June 1954.
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 City.
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 reality.
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 Catalina.
ontiac 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.
The 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.
The 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 industry.
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 power.
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 - the GTO Judge.
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 since 1968.
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 manager.
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.
y 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. 29.
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 25.
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 vehicle.
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 division.
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 Car replica.
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 vehicles.
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.