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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.
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