In this Pontiac overview, we examine the brand's history as a maker of cars like the Solstice, GTO and Firebird.
The Pontiac brand is part of the General Motors family, and is home to many of the automaker's more performance-oriented vehicles. Currently, the marque offers a broad range of sporty cars and SUVs. However, as part of GM's restructuring plan, the brand is slated to be discontinued by the end of the 2010 model year.
Pontiac originated as the Oakland Car Company of Pontiac, Michigan, in 1907; it was founded by Edward Murphy. Acquired by General Motors in 1909, Oakland introduced the first Pontiac vehicle in 1926. Dubbed the "Chief of the Sixes," the car was powered by a six-cylinder engine and made its debut at that year's New York auto show. It was so successful that the Oakland name was phased out in favor of Pontiac, the name of an 18th-century chief of the Ottawa Indians. Throughout the 1930s and '40s Pontiac made coupes, sedans and wagons in the low-to-mid price ranges. A unique styling cue of Pontiac cars from the mid-'30s to the mid-'50s was known as "Silver Streak," a set of art-deco-inspired chrome "speed lines" that ran up over the length of the hood to the base of the windshield.
The 1950s saw the introduction of the Pontiac Bonneville. The sprawling, stylish cruiser offered equal measures of performance and luxury, and was a breakout hit. But it wasn't until the 1960s that the Pontiac brand truly came into its own. American manufacturers had begun to offer downsized alternatives to the gigantic cruisers that had ruled the highways in previous decades. Pontiac came to market with the compact Tempest. In 1964, Pontiac made its biggest impact yet with the creation of the GTO option for the Tempest. By equipping the car with the powerful 389 cubic-inch V8 from the full-size car line, Pontiac created the first "muscle car." Phenomenally successful, the GTO helped define the burgeoning muscle car category. Pontiac also saw tremendous success during the latter part of this decade with its Firebird and Firebird Trans Am.
The oil crisis of the '70s made fuel efficiency a priority for many car buyers. Following the lead of its GM siblings, Pontiac made compact vehicles like the Ventura and Phoenix a major part of its lineup. The '80s saw the launch of the two-seat Pontiac Fiero. Despite its modest beginnings (it was initially marketed as a "commuter car"), the Fiero eventually blossomed into a credible sports car.
The '90s saw the launch of Pontiacs like the Sunfire and Montana minivan. Pontiac has slowly lost sales due to changing tastes and a lack of differentiation between its models and those of other GM divisions. In hopes of recapturing past glory, the division embarked on a plan to retire aged models and introduce all-new ones with distinctive styling and personality. For a while, the effort seemed to be bearing fruit. New models like the Vibe, Solstice and G8 made Pontiac a brand to consider in many segments. However, GM's financial troubles in 2008 and 2009 have resulted in the company's decision to phase out Pontiac as a brand. It's expected 2010 will be Pontiac's last year for new models.