This article is about Pontiac automobiles; for the Native American leader, see Chief Pontiac,
Pontiac is a brand of automobiles, produced by General Motors that has been sold in the United States, Canada and Mexico since 1926. Pontiac is marketed as General Motors' "athletic" brand and specializes in mainstream performance vehicles.
Pre-war years: 1926-1942
The Pontiac brand was introduced by General Motors in 1926 as the 'companion' marque to GM's Oakland Motor Car line. The Pontiac name was first used in 1906 by the Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works and linked to Chief Pontiac who led an unsuccessful uprising against the British shortly after the French and Indian War. The Oakland Motor Company and Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works Company merged in November 1908 under the name of the Oakland Motor Car Company. The operations of both companies were joined together in Pontiac, Michigan (in Oakland County) to build the Cartercar. Oakland was purchased by General Motors in 1909. The first General Motors Pontiac was conceived as an affordable six cylinder that was intended to compete with more inexpensive four cylinder models. Within months of its introduction, Pontiac outsold Oakland. As Pontiac's sales rose and Oakland's sales began to decline, Pontiac became the only 'companion' marque to survive its 'parent', when Oakland ceased production in 1932.
Pontiac began selling cars with straight 6-cylinder engines with the 40 hp (30 kW) 186 ci (3.1 liter) (3.25x3.75 in, 82.5x95mm) L-head six in the Pontiac Chief of 1927; its stroke was the shortest in the American car industry at the time. The Chief sold 39,000 units within six months of its appearance at the 1926 New York Auto Salon, hitting 76,742 within twelve months. The next year, it becoming the top-selling six in the U.S., ranking seventh in overall sales. In 1933, it moved up to producing the cheapest cars with straight eight-cylinder (inline eight) engines. This was done by using many components from the 6-cylinder Chevrolet, such as the body. In the late 1930s, Pontiac used the so-called torpedo body of the Buick for one of its models just prior to its being used by Chevrolet as well. This body brought some attention to the marque.
For an extended period of time, prewar through the early 1950s, the Pontiac was a quiet and solid car, but not especially powerful. With a flathead (side-valve) straight eight. These combinations proved attractive to the vehicle's target market - a reserved lower middle class not especially interested in performance or handling but seeking good value and a roomy vehicle in a step up from the entry-level Chevrolet. This fit well within parent GM's strategy of passing an increasingly prosperous customer up through the various divisions. Straight 8s are slightly less expensive to produce than the increasingly popular V8s, but they were also heavier and longer. Also, the long crankshaft suffered from excessive flex, which restricted straight 8s to relatively low compression and modest revs. In this application, inexpensive (but poor-breathing) flatheads were not a liability.
Dowdy to Fun: 1946-1954
Throughout this period, Pontiac models were seen as middle-of-the-road reliable cars more suited to middle income buyers of middle age. The emerging and lucrative younger, performance oriented customer eluded the brand. Although reliable cars, Pontiacs just couldn't shake their dowdy image.
From 1946-1948, all Pontiac models were essentially 1942 models with minor changes. The Hydra-matic automatic transmission was introduced in 1948 and helped Pontiac sales grow even though their cars, Torpedoes and Streamliners, were quickly becoming out of date and out of step with the growing youth market.
The first all-new Pontiac models appeared in 1949. Newly redesigned, they sported such styling cues as lower body lines and rear fenders that were integrated in the rear-end styling of the car.
Along with new styling came a new model. Continuing the Native American theme of Pontiac, the Chieftain line was introduced to replace the Torpedo. These were built on the GM B-Body platform and featured sportier styling than the more conservative Streamliner. In 1950, the Catalina trim-level was introduced as a sub-series.
In 1952, Pontiac discontinued the Streamliner and replaced it with additional models in the Chieftain line built on the GM A-body platform. This single model line continued until 1954 when the Star Chief was added. The Star Chief was created by adding an 11-inch (280mm) extension to the A-body platform creating a 124-inch (3,100mm) wheelbase.
The 1953 models were the first to have one-piece windshields instead of the normal two-piece units. While the 1953 and 1954 models were heavily re-worked versions of the 1949-52 Chieftain models, they were engineered to accommodate the V-8 engine that would appear in the all-new 1955 models.
Foundations of performance: 1955-1960
Although completely new bodies and chassis were introduced for 1955, the big news was the introduction of a new 173-horsepower (129 kW) overhead valve V-8 engine (see Engines section below). Pontiac took a big leap ahead in the public's eye and sales jumped accordingly. With the introduction of this V-8, the six cylinder engines were discontinued; a six-cylinder engine would not return to the full-size Pontiac line until the GM corporate downsizing of 1977.
The next step in Pontiac's transformation came in 1956 when Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen became general manager of Pontiac. With the aid of his new heads of engineering, E. M. Estes and John Z. De Lorean, he immediately began reworking the brand's image. One of the first steps involved the removal of the famous "silver streaks" from the hood and deck lid of the 1957 models just weeks before the '57s were introduced. Another step was introducing the first Bonneville--a limited-edition Star Chief convertible that showcased Pontiac's first fuel-injected engine. Some 630 Bonnevilles were built for 1957, each with a retail price of nearly $5800. While new car buyers could buy a Cadillac for that price, the Bonneville raised new interest in what Pontiac now called America's No. 1 Road Car.
The Bonneville, a sub-series of the Star Chief introduced in the 1957 models, became its own line. These were built on the 122-inch (3,100mm) wheelbase of the A-body platform. An early sign of the successful changes being undertaken was seen in the selection of a 1958 Tri-Power Pontiac Bonneville the pace car for that year's Indianapolis 500. 1958 was also the last year Pontiac Motor Division would bear the "Indian and motif all throughout the vehicle.
In the 1959 model year, Pontiac came out with its now famous "V" emblem, with the star design in the middle. The "V" design ran all the way up the hood from between the split grille, and on Starchief Models, had 8 chrome stars from the emblem design bolted to both sides of the vehicle as chrome trim. Knudsen saw to it that the car received a completely reworked chassis, body and interior styling. Quad headlamps, longer and lower body were some of the styling changes. The Chieftain line was renamed Catalina; Star Chief was downgraded to replace the discontinued Super Chief series, and the Bonneville was now the top of the line, with a fuel-injection system. The Star Chief's four-door "Vista" hardtop was also shared by the Bonneville. This coincided with major body styling changes across all models that introduced increased glass area, twin V-shaped fins and lower hood profiles. Because of these changes, Motor Trend magazine picked the entire Pontiac line as 1959 Car of the Year. The '59s were also blessed with a five-inch (127 mm) wider track, because Knudsen noticed the new, wider bodies looked awkward on the carried-over 1958 frames. The new Wide-Track Pontiacs not only looked better, but also handled better--a bonus that tied in to Pontiac's resurgence in the marketplace.
The 1960 models saw a complete reskinning, which removed the tailfins and the distinctive split grille (which Ford copied on the final Edsel models for 1960!). More big news was the introduction of the Ventura, a more-luxurious hardtop coupe and Vista 4-door hardtop built on the shorter 122-inch (3,100mm) wheelbase platform and falling between the Catalina and Star Chief models. The Ventura featured the luxury of the Bonneville in the shorter, lighter Catalina body, and started the Pontiac trend of increasing luxury in even its least expensive models.
The horsepower era: 1961-1970
The 1961 models were again drastically reworked. The split grille returned, as well as all-new bodies and a new-design perimeter frame chassis for all full-size models (which would be adopted for all of GM's intermediate-sized cars in 1964, and all its full-sized cars in 1965). These new chassis allowed for reduced weight and smaller body sizes.
But the complete departure in 1961 was the new Tempest, one of the three B-O-P (Buick-Olds-Pontiac) "compacts" introduced that year, the others being the Buick Special and Skylark and Oldsmobile F-85 and Cutlass. (And toward the end of the 1961 model year, a fancier version of the Tempest called "LeMans," a misspelling of the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race in France, according to lore, at first accidental and then deliberate, as it was drawing attention.)
Unlike their frame-based siblings in each brand's lines, all three were unibody cars, dubbed the "Y-body" platform, that combined the frame and the body into a single construction, meaning they could be comparatively lighter and smaller. All three put into production new technology that GM had been working on for several years prior, but the Tempest was by far the most radical. A seven-foot flexible steel shaft, rotating at the speed of the engine, delivered power from the front-mounted engine to a rear-mounted transaxle through a "torque tube." Because it was curved when installed, the so-called "propeller shaft" was dubbed "ropeshaft." The design's father was none other than DeLorean, and its advantage was two-fold: first, the car achieved close to a 50/50 weight balance that drastically improved handling; and second, it enabled four-wheel independent suspension -- a feature that no other American car could match save the Corvair.
And though the Tempest's transaxle was similar to the Corvair, introduced the year before, it shared virtually no common parts. GM had planned to launch a Pontiac version of the Corvair, but "Bunkie" Knudsen -- whose niece had been seriously injured in a Corvair crash -- successfully argued against the idea. Instead, DeLorean's "ropeshaft" design was greenlighted, and Pontiac embarked on a brave new experiment.
Contemporary rumors of the ropeshaft's demise due to reliability problems are unfounded; the ropeshaft's durability and performance had been proven in tests in full-size Pontiacs and Cadillacs in 1959, and only adapted to a smaller car in 1960. The Tempest won the Motor Trend "Car of the Year" award in 1961 -- for Pontiac, the second time in three years. DeLorean's vision has been further vindicated by the adoption of similar designs in a slew of modern high-performance cars, including the Porsche 928, the Corvette C5, and the Aston Martin DB9.
Unless customers checked an option, the Tempest's powerplant was a 194.5 ci inline-four-cylinder motor, derived from the right bank of the venerable Pontiac 389 V8, enabling it to be run down the same production line as the 389, saving costs for both the car's customers and Pontiac. Pontiac engineers ran early tests of this motor by literally cutting off the left bank of pistons and adding counterweights to the crankshaft, and were surprised to find it easily maintained the heaviest Pontiacs at over 90 miles per hour. In production, the engine received a crankshaft designed for just four cylinders, but this didn't completely solve its balance issues. The engine gained the nickname "Hay Baler" because of it tendency to kick violently, like the farm machine, when its timing was off.
The motor to get was the option: the aforementioned Buick 215 V8, ordered by less than two percent of its customers in the two years it was available, 1961 and 1962. Today, the 215 cars are among the most sought-after of all Tempests. In 1963, Pontiac replaced the 215 with a "new" 326, an iron block mill that had the same external dimensions and shared parts with the 389, but an altered, reduced bore. The car's body and suspension was also changed to be lower, longer and wider. The response was that more than half of the 1963 Tempests and LeMans (separate lines for that one year only) were ordered with the V8, a trend that did not go unnoticed by management. The next year, the performance V8 option was badged as the now-famous GTO. The Tempest's popularity helped move Pontiac into third place among American car brands in 1962, a position Pontiac would hold though 1970.
In 1961, Knudsen had moved to Chevrolet and Estes had taken over as general manager. Estes continued Knudsen's work of making Pontiac a performance-car brand until 1964, when DeLorean replaced Estes as general manager, and he too continued in the same direction. Pontiac capitalized on the emerging trend toward sportier bucket-seat coupes in 1962 by introducing the Grand Prix. Although GM officially ended factory support for all racing activities across all of its brands in January 1963, Pontiac continued to cater to performance car enthusiasts by making larger engines with more power available across all model lines. For 1963, the Grand Prix received the same styling changes as other full-sized Pontiacs such as vertical headlights and crisper body lines, but also received its own distinctive squared-off roofline with a concave rear window, along with less chrome and more emphasis on bodylines.
For 1964, the Tempest and LeMans' transaxle design was dropped and the cars were redesigned under GM's new A body platform; frame cars with a conventional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. The most important of these was what is now considered by many to be the original musicle car, the GTO, short for "Gran Turismo Omologato," the Italian for "Grand Touring, Homologated" used by Ferrari as a badge to announce a car's official qualification for racing. In spite of a GM unwritten edict against engines larger than 327 ci (the size of the Corvette's) in intermediate cars, DeLorean (with support from Jim Wangers from Pontiac's ad agency), came up with the idea to offer the GTO as an dealer option package that included a 389 ci engine rated at 325 or 348horsepower (260kW), depending on carburetion. According to lore, by the time the GM brass had a chance to question the move, DeLorean had over 5,000 orders for GTOs in hand.
The entire Pontiac lineup was honored as Motor Trend's Car of the Year for 1965, the third time for Pontiac to receive such honors, mainly due to the division's efforts to create salable cars for the mass market along with niche models such as the GTO and the Grand Prix. The February, 1965 issue of Motor Trend was almost entirely devoted to Pontiac's Car of the Year award and included feature stories on the division's marketing, styling, engineering and performance efforts along with road tests of several models.
Due to the popularity of the GTO option, it was split from being an option on the Tempest LeMans series to become the separate GTO series. On the technology front, 1966 saw the introduction of a completely new overhead camshaft 6-cylinder engine in the Tempest, and in an industry first, plastic grilles were used on several models.
The 1967 model year saw the introduction for the Pontiac Firebird pony car, a variant of the Chevrolet Camaro that was the brand's answer to the hot-selling Ford Mustang. Intermediate sized cars (Tempest, LeMans, GTO) were mildly facelifted but the GTO lost its Tri-Power engine option though it did get a larger 400 cubic-inch V8 that replaced the previous 389. Full-sized cars got a major facelift with rounder wasp-wasted bodylines, a name change for the mid-line series from Star Chief to Executive and a one-year-only Grand Prix convertible. 1968 introduced the Endura 'rubber' front bumper on the GTO, the precursor to modern cars' integrated bumpers, and the first of a series "Ram Air" engines, which featured the induction of cold air to the carburetor(s) for more power, and took away some of the sting from deleting the famous Tri-Power multiple carburation option from the engine line up. This line culminated in the Ram Air IV and V round port cylinder headed engines. The Ram Air V garnered much auto press publicity, but only a relative few were made available for sale. Full-sized cars and intermediates reverted from vertical to horizontal headlights while the sporty/performance 2+2 was dropped from the lineup.
For 1969, Pontiac moved the Grand Prix from the full-sized lineup into a G-body model of its own based on the A-body intermediate chassis, but with distinctive styling and long hood/short deck proportions to create yet another niche product - the intermediate-sized personal-luxury car that offered the luxury and styling of the higher priced personal cars such as the Buick Riviera and Ford Thunderbird but for a much lower pricetag. The new GP was such a sales success in 1969 as dealers moved 112,000 units - more than four times the number of Grand Prixs sold in 1968. Full-sized Pontiacs were also substantially restyled but retained the same basic underbody structure and chassis that debuted with the 1965 model - in fact the rooflines for the four-door pillared sedans and Safari wagons were the same as the '65 models, while the two-door semi-fastback design gave way to a squared-off notchback style and four-door hardtop sedans were also more squared off than 1967-68 models. The GTOs and Firebirds received the Ram Air options, the GTO saw the addition of the "Judge" performance/appearance package, and the Firebird also got the "Trans Am" package. Although originally conceived as a 303 cubic inch model to compete directly in the Trans Am racing series, in a cost saving move the Pontiac Trans Am debuted with the standard 400 cubic inch performance engines. This year also saw De Lorean leaving the post of general manager to accept a similar position at GM's Chevrolet division. His replacement was F. James McDonald.
The 1969 Firebirds received a heavy facelift with swoopier sheetmetal but otherwise continued much the same as the original 1967 model. It was the final year for the overhead cam six-cylinder engine in Firebirds and intermediates, and the Firebird convertible (until 1991). Production of the 1969 Firebirds was extended into the first three months of the 1970 model year (all other 1970 Pontiacs debuted Sept. 18, 1969) due to a decision to delay the introduction of an all-new 1970 Firebird (and Chevrolet Camaro) until after the first of the year - Feb. 26, 1970 to be exact.
Changed focus: 1970-1982
Although MacDonald tried to keep performance in the forefront of Pontiac's products, increasing insurance and fuel costs for owners coupled with looming Federal emissions and safety regulations would eventually put an end to the unrestricted, powerful engines of the 1960s. Safety, luxury and economy would become the new watch-words of this decade. Engine performance began declining in 1971 when GM issued a corporate edict mandating that all engines be capable of using lower-octane unleaded gasoline, which led to dramatic drops in compression ratios, along with performance and fuel economy.
In trying to adjust to the changing market, in mid-1971 Pontiac introduced the compact, budget-priced Ventura II (based on the third generation Chevrolet Nova) to better compete against the Dodge Dart and Mercury Comet. This same year, Pontiac completely restyled its full-sized cars, moved the Bonneville from its longtime top of the line spot and replaced it with a higher luxury model named the Grand Ville, while Safari wagons got a new clamshell tailgate that lowered into the body while the rear window raised into the roof.
The 1972 models saw the first wave of emissions reduction and safety equipment along with the standard round of updates. The impending demise of the muscle cars could be seen in the fact that once again the GTO was a sub-series of the LeMans series. Finally, the car that formed the foundation of the Pontiac muscle car line, the Tempest, was dropped, after being renamed 'T-37' and 'GT-37' for 1971.
MacDonald left the post of general manager to be replaced by Martin J. Caserio in late 1972. Caserio was the first manager in over a decade to be more focused on marketing and sales than on performance.
For 1973, Pontiac restyled its personal-luxury Grand Prix, mid-sized LeMans and compact Ventura models and introduced the all-new Grand Am as part of the LeMans line. All other models including the big cars and Firebirds received only minor updates. Again, power dropped across all engines as more emissions requirements came into effect. The 1973 Firebird Trans Am saw the first introduction of the famous (or infamous depending on which automotive historian you talk to) large Firebird graphic. This factory applied decal, a John Schinella restylized interpretation of the Native American fire bird, took up most of the available space on the hood. Also in 1973, the new Super Duty 455 engine ("Super Duty" harkening back to Pontiac's Racing Engines) was introduced. Although it was originally supposed to be available in GTOs and Firebirds, only a few SD 455 engines made it into Firebird Trans Ams that year. One so equipped was tested by 'Car and Driver' magazine, who proclaimed it the last of the fast cars. But the pendulum had swung, and the SD 455 only hung on one more year in the Trans Am.
All Federal emissions and safety regulations were required to be in full effect for 1974 causing the demise of two of the three iterations of the big 455 cubic inch engines after this year. The last version of the 455 would hang on for two more years before being discontinued.
For 1975, Pontiac introduced the new sub-compact Astre, a version of the Chevrolet Vega. This was the brand's entry into the fuel economy segment of the market. 1975 would also see the end of Pontiac convertibles for the next decade.
The 1976 models were the last of the traditional American large cars with large engines. After this year, all GM models would go through "downsizing" and shrink in length, width, weight and available engine size. The Sunbird joined the line as a more sporty option to the conservative Astre.
For 1977, Pontiac replaced the Ventura with the Phoenix, a version of Chevrolet's fourth generation Nova. Pontiac also introduced its 151 cubic inch "Iron Duke" 4-cylinder overhead valve engine. This engine would later go into many GM and non-GM automobiles into the early 1990s. The Iron Duke and the 301 cubic inch V-8 were the last two engines designed solely by Pontiac. Subsequent engine design would be accomplished by one central office with all designs being shared by each brand.
The remainder of the 1970s and the early 1980s saw the continued rise of luxury, safety and economy as the key selling points in Pontiac products. Wire-spoked wheel covers returned for the first time since the 1930s. More station wagons than ever were being offered. Padded vinyl roofs were options on almost every model. Rear-wheel drive began its slow demise with the introduction of the first front-wheel drive Pontiac, the 1980 Phoenix (a version of the Chevrolet Citation). The Firebird continued to fly high on the success of the 'Smokey and the Bandit' film, still offering Formula and Trans Am packages, plus a Pontiac first- a turbocharged V-8, for the 1980 and 1981 model years. Overall, Pontiac's performance was a shadow of its former self, but to give credit where due, PMD did more with less than most other brands were able to in this era.
Return of performance: 1982-1988
The beginning of Pontiac's second renaissance started with the vastly redesigned Firebird for the 1982 model year. The wedge shaped Firebird was the first major redesign of the venerable pony car since the early 1970s. It was an instant success and provided Pontiac with a foundation on which to build successively more performance oriented models over the next decade. The Trans Am also set a leading production aerodynamic mark of .32 cd.
The next step in Pontiac's resurgence came in the form of its first convertible in nine years. Seeing Chrysler's success with its K-Car-derived convertibles, GM decided it needed a competitor and quickly adapted the J-body cars. The all-new for 1982 J2000 (later renamed Sunbird) had a convertible as part of its line.
Next came the 1984 Fiero. This was a major departure from anything Pontiac had produced in the past. A two-seat, mid-engined coupe, the Fiero was targeted straight at the same market that Semon Knudsen had been aiming for in the late 1950s: the young, affluent buyer who wanted sporting performance at a reasonable price. The Fiero was also an instant success and was partially responsible for Pontiac seeing its first increase in sales in four years.
Pontiac also began to focus on technology. In 1984, a Special Touring Edition (STE) was added to the 6000 line as a competitor to European road cars such as the Mercedes 190. The STE sported digital instruments and other electronics as well as a more powerful V-6 and retuned suspension. Later iterations would see some of the first introductions on Pontiacs of anti-lock brakes, steering wheel mounted radio controls and other advanced features.
With the exception of the Firebird and Fiero, beginning in 1988 all Pontiacs switched to front-wheel drive platforms. For the first time since 1972, Pontiac was the number three domestic car maker in America. Pontiac's drive to bring in more youthful buyers was working as the median age of Pontiac owners dropped from 46 in 1981 to 38 in 1988.
More of the same: 1989-1997
With the focus back on performance, Pontiac was once again doing what it did best. Although updating and revamping continued throughout the 1990s, the vast change seen during the 1980s did not. The period between 1989 and 1997 can best be described as one of continuous refinement. Anti-lock brakes, GM's Quad-4 engine, airbags and composite materials all became standard on Pontiacs during this time.
All new models were produced but at more lengthy intervals. The 1990 model year saw the launch of Pontiac's first minivan and light truck, the Trans Sport. The Sunbird was replaced with the (still J-body) Sunfire in 1995.
Most significantly, an all new Firebird bowed in 1993. It was powered by either a 3.8L V-6 with 200hp, or in TransAm guise a roaring 275hp L-T1, which was a 5.7L (350c.i.) V-8, and could be backed by a T-56 six speed manual (which was the same transmission found in contemporary Corvettes and Vipers. This new Firebird easily outperformed its main rival, the Ford Mustang, but didn't do as well in the market place due to the mustangs superior image and refinement, particularly in the interior.
Return to yesteryear: 1997-2004
Beginning in 1996, Pontiac began mining its historic past. This was the last year for the 6th generation Grand Prix. 1997 led the way for an all new Grand Prix, which debuted with the Wide Track chassis making a return spearheaded by the "Wider is Better" advertising campaign. In 1998 the GTP tim level was added to the Grand Prix. It featured a supercharged 3.8L V-6 putting out 240hp and 280 lbs-ft of torque. It was only available with an automatic with front wheel drive so its sporting appeal was limited, but it made a compelling case against the Accord/Camry.
The 1999 model year saw the replacement of the Trans Sport with the larger Montana minivan. The year 2000 marked the first redesign of the Bonneville, since 1992. Based on the G-Body, the same as the Oldsmobile Aurora and Buick LeSabre, the car was more substantial feeling all around.
In 1998 the Firebird was updated. It featured sleeker styling and improved amenities. The TransAm received the LS-1 motor which produced 305hp. The WS6 option saw this number increase to 320hp and the addition of Ram Air and stiffer springs. However, despite handily outperforming the redesigned 1999 Mustang, the Firebird was not nearly as large a sales success. In 2002 both the Firebird/Trans Am and Camaro were discontinued as a result of declining sales and a saturated sport market. Some speculate that it was due to the fact that GM was more focused on its more profitable body-on-frame design trucks and SUVs. The coupe version of the Grand Prix was also discontinued.
In 2003, it was announced that the Grand Prix would be in its last year of its generation, with an improved 7th generation on the way for 2004.
In 2004 the re-introduction of the Pontiac GTO (based on the Holden Monaro in Australia) took place, effectively replacing the spot left by the TransAm. The GTO was also initially powered by the LS-1 V8. It had an independent rear suspension and a much improved interior. It was also heavier and looked boring by the standards of its market segment. This, and the fact that it was competing against an all new Mustang, combined to make it a sales flop, despite the addition of the 400hp LS-2. The GXP trim level was also introduced, replacing the SSEi name on the Bonneville. The Bonneville GXP featured a 4.6 Northstar V8, borrowed from Cadillac, and replaced the Supercharged 3800 Series II. The redesigned Grand Prix made its appearance, and featured a GT and GTP trim level. The GTP's new 3.8L supercharged V-6 now made 260 horsepower, up 20 from the previous generation. TAPshift was also introduced as well as a Competition Group package (Comp G).
All change: 2005-present
2005 was the swan song for the Pontiac Bonneville. With the demise of the V8 Bonneville, however, the Grand Prix introduced a new trim level, the GXP, and featured a 5.3 liter LS4 V8, capable of producing 303 horsepower through the front wheels. The Grand Am was also discontinued in this year, and replaced with the new G6. It is said that the G6 means Sixth generation Grand Am, but that particular name may stay. The Sunfire was also discontinued this year, later on it was replaced with the G5.
In 2006, the G6 introduced both a coupe and hardtop convertible variant to its lineup, mimicking a lineup similar to the BMW 3-Series. This also marked the year for the introduction of the Solstice roadster, which competes with the Mazda MX-5. The Torrent SUV was also introduced and saw reasonable sales, considering its lack of performance.
2007 saw the introduction of the G5 coupe, which replaced the compact Sunfire. This car wasn't planned for Pontiac, as it diluted its performance image, but the dealers had no small car to compete with imports, and complained. However, the car is sold as a sedan only in Canada and Mexico. The car was first sold in Canada in 2005 as the Pursuit (renamed G5 Pursuit for 2006.5), and in Mexico as the G4, before Canadian and Mexican models were renamed simply G5 for 2007.
In 2008, Pontiac received an additional shot of performance with the introduction of the G8 sports sedan, based on the Holden Commodore, and built in Australia on the same assembly line. 2008 marks the end of the Grand Prix legacy. A coupe utility version of this model called the G8 ST was also to be offered in the 2010 model year, making it the first coupe utility that GM has sold in the North American market in over 20 years, but GM officially canceled it despite its restructuring plans. As part of GM not releasing the G8 ST, Pontiac has decided to make 2009 the final year for its light trucks, with the Montana ending production in September 2008 as a 2009 model, followed by the slow-selling Torrent crossover SUV. The only Pontiac light truck in the American lineup was the Pontiac Torrent crossover SUV from 2007-2009, whereas the Montana continued production for Canada and Mexico until the 2009 model year. Pontiac will be the only GM brand to not have any light trucks, making this the first light truck-free time for a GM brand since before 2004, when Saab got its first light truck, the now-discontinued 9-7X SUV (2005-2009), which will be replaced by the 9-4X for 2010.
For the 2010 model year, Pontiac will introduce the G3 hatchback, which is a rebadged Chevrolet Aveo. This will be Pontiac's first subcompact since the 1993 LeMans. The hatchback was first sold in Canada for the 2009 model year as G3 Wave (it is also offered as a sedan there, as in Mexico it is simply called G3 after its 2007 introduction). From 2005-2008, Pontiac's rebadged Aveo in Canada was formerly known as the Wave. However, General Motors was considering eliminating the Pontiac brand to appease Congress to pass the 25 billion dollar bailout. GM is considering making some Pontiac vehicles a "niche" brand within the Buick/GMC division and dealership structure.
On 2 December 2008, GM announced that Pontiac will be reduced to a "niche" brand , selling fewer models in the Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealers. There has been no announcement as to how that would affect model lineups as of yet.
An American Indian Headdress was used as a logo until 1956. This was updated to the currently used American Indian red arrowhead design for 1957. The "arrow-head" logo is also known as the Dart.
Besides the 'Indian head' logo, another identifying feature of Pontiacs were their 'Silver Streaks' - one or more narrow strips of stainless steel which extended from the grille down the center of the hood. Eventually they extended from the rear window to the rear bumper as well, and finally; along the tops of the fins. Although initially a single band, this stylistic trademark doubled to two for 1955 - 1956. The Silver Streaks were discontinued the same year the Indian Head emblems were; 1957.
Other long-familiar styling elements were the split grille design (from 1953 onward) and 'grilled-over' (in the 1960s), or multiple-striped taillights. This later feature originated with the 1963 Grand Prix, and though the '62 GP also had rear grillework, the taillight lenses were not behind it.
Main article: Pontiac V8 engine
Pontiac, Chevrolet and GMC were the final GM North American marques to offer a V-8 (GMC's V-8 was, in fact, the Pontiac unit). Pontiac engineer Clayton Leach designed the stamped steel valvetrain rocker arm, a simplified and incredibly reliable alternative to a bearing-equipped rocker. This design was subsequently picked up by nearly every OHV engine manufacturer at one point or another.
Pontiac began work on a V-8 configuration in 1946. This was initially intended to be an L-head engine, and 8 experimental units were built and extensively tested by the end of the 1940s. But testing comparisons to the OHV Oldsmobile V-8 revealed the L-head could not compete performance-wise. So, in addition to building a new Pontiac Engineering building in 1949-1951, the decision to re-direct the V-8 to an OHV design delayed its introduction until the 1955 model year.
In mid-1956, Pontiac introduced a higher-powered version of its V-8. Among other things, this version of the engine was equipped with a high performance racing camshaft and dual 4-barrel carburetors. This was the first in a series of NASCAR-ready Super-Tempest and Super-Duty V-8 engines and introduced the long line of multi-carburetor equipped engines that saw Pontiac become a major player during the muscle car and pony car era of the 1960s.
Pontiac's second generation V-8 engines shared numerous similarities, allowing many parts to interchange from its advent in 1959 to its demise in 1979. Sizes ranged from 265 cubic inch to 455 cubic inch. This similarity (except the 301 & 265) makes rebuilding these engines relatively easier. This feature also made it possible for Pontiac to invent the modern muscle car, by the relatively simple process of placing its second largest-displacement engine, the 389 cid, into its mid-size car, the Le Mans, creating the Pontiac GTO.
From their inception in the 1950s until the early 1970s, Pontiac engines were known for their performance. The largest engine was a massive 455 cubic inch V-8 that was available in most of their mid-size, full-size and sports car models. At the height of the horsepower era, Pontiac engines reached a powerful 390 rated horsepower (SAE gross), though other engines achieved considerably higher outputs in actuality. Federal emissions laws eventually brought the horsepower era to a close and resulted in a steady decline for Pontiac's engines. One holdout to this industry-wide slide was the Super Duty 455 engine of 1973-1974. Available only in the Firebird Formula and Trans Am models, this was rated at 310hp (230kW) net and was a very strong performer that included a few race-specific features, such as provisions for dry-sump oiling.
The only non-traditional Pontiac V-8 engines were the 301 cubic inch and the smaller displacement 265 cubic inch V-8s. Produced from 1977 through 1981, these engines had the distinction of being the last V-8s produced by Pontiac; GM merged its various brand's engines into one collectively-shared group in 1980, entitled General Motors Powertrain. Interestingly, the 301 had a 4-inch (100mm) bore and 3-inch (76mm) stroke, identical to the vaunted Chevrolet Small-Block engine and Ford Boss 302 engine.
Pontiac engines were not available in Canada, however, but were replaced with Chevrolet engines of similar size and power, resulting in such interesting and unusual (at least to American car fans) models as the Beaumont SD-396 with a Chevrolet big-block 396 cubic inch V-8.
All Pontiac engines were designed around a low-RPM/high-torque model, as opposed to the ubiquitous Chevrolet Small-Block engine known for its smaller displacement and high RPM/high power design. Pontiac engines were unique for their integrated water pump and timing chain cover, and separate valley pan and intake.
PMD originally used Carter 1-barrel carburetors for many years, but by the time of the second generation V-8 engines had switched mostly to 2-barrel offerings. These also were the basis for the Tri-Power setups on the engines.
The Tri-Power setup included one center carburetor with idle control and two end carburetors that did not contribute until the throttle was opened more than half way. This was accomplished two ways, mechanically for the manual transmission models, and via a vacuum-switch on the automatics. This went through various permutations before being banned by GM as a factory installed option in 1967, and totally in 1968.
PMD also had a square-bore 4-barrel at the time, but this was rated at a lower power than the Tri-Power. This carburetor was later replaced by the Quadrajet, a spread bore. 'Spread-bore' refers to the difference in sizes between the primaries and secondaries.
By the end of the muscle car era, the QuadraJet setup had become the nearly-ubiquitous choice on PMD engines, due to its excellent economy and power characteristics. While QuadraJets have been occasionally derided as being poor performers, with proper understanding and tuning it can compete at most levels with other designs short of the full race inspired set-ups such as the Holley Double-Pumpers, which incorporated accelerator pumps on the primary and secondary carburetor circuits.
This Q-jet design proved good enough to last well into the 1980s with emissions modifications, while most others carburetors were dropped for the easier to build fuel injection when economy mattered.
Main article: List of Pontiac vehicles
- Autohaus Motorsports, Stevenson Motorsports, and Banner Racing run Pontiac GXP.R race cars (based on the Pontiac G6 GXP coupe) in the Rolex Sports Car Series. Meanwhile, Matt Connolly Motosports run the Pontiac GTO.R, a car that was abandoned for the GXP.R shortly after production stopped on the Pontiac GTO.
- Pontiac also provides a 5.0L V8 for the Daytona Prototype class of the Rolex Sports Car Series.
- Rhys Millen drove a factory backed Pontiac GTO for three seasons of both the D1 Grand Prix and Formula D drifting series. In 2006, the GTO was painted in the Red Bull scheme to match the new Pontiac Solstice. The Solstice was not driven in 2006 for the Formula D series until 2007. The GTO was retired after the 2006 season.
- The latest body style used in the IROC series was that of a Fourth Generation Pontiac Trans AM.
- Pontiac held a long presence in NASCAR's Winston Cup and Busch series for numerous years with its Grand Prix body style. It was also NASCAR's Official Pace Car until Pontiac withdrew from NASCAR after the 2003 season so GM could focus on Chevrolet's success in NASCAR.
- Joe Huffaker built a race car using a Pontiac Fiero GT. It was driven by Bob Earl in 1985 and 1986 and won numerous races.