photos by: the author
Pontiac Has Been Gone for Over Five Years, but we Haven’t Noticed
Yeah I know, Pontiac is dead, gone, buried and I should just let sleeping dogs lie. Why beat a dead horse, right? Maybe, but realizing that there’s a still a huge following for the marque that built its last car as a 2010 model, a Vibe of all things, back in 2009 begs the question; what would Pontiac be like in 2015 had it survived the 2008 recession?
This question was further driven home after the recent “Back to the Future Day,” where the “future” had finally been surpassed on October 21st, 2015. While some of the predictions were quite accurate in the film (flat screen TVs and an obsession with mobile communications devices) at least one or two we had noticed, dropped the ball completely. In one particular scene, for instance, was the eerie depiction of a Pontiac dealership, circa a hypothetical version of 2015, in the background, complete with Pontiac Banshees and other apparent “future” Pontiac products.
Obviously, Pontiac no is no lounger with us but the Pontiac faithful remain strong; through their love of their cars, as we have seen at events and even the feedback we get from many of our articles. I currently have two Pontiac projects myself and have owned roughly ten or so in my lifetime – so I definitely understand the appeal behind them. It was a brand that definitely had its own identity and carved its own path. Even after the world had gone politically correct, its styling remained brash and its attitude maintained an in-your-face approach.
Unfortunately, life in the modern world had caught up to Pontiac, and many of its vehicles had become split-grilled, watered-down, rebadged versions of other cars. As good as the G8, GTO and Trans Am were, peeling away the body only revealed skeletons from Holden and Chevrolet. Purists despised them (at the time, at least) and they essentially stole sales from other GM brands.
Because let’s face it, why buy a subtle Camaro Z28 when the Trans Am WS6 offered the same performance with a Batmobile attitude? The Solstice was a great car, too, but shared a platform with the Saturn Sky, eliminating the possibility of having a one-off, signature sports car like we had seen with the Fiero.
The same argument goes for the entry-level vehicles they offered in the last decade or so; G5 (Cobalt), Sunfire (Cavalier), G3 (Aveo), Vibe (Toyota Matrix) and so on. Throw in their desperate attempt to capture every demographic they can think of; the aforementioned economy car sector and the minivan/crossover customer, and the whole image of Pontiac was ruined. The brand lost its focus and its core audience as a result. Despite some murmurs from less-informed individuals, the GTO didn’t kill Pontiac.
According to our recent interview with Bob Lutz, Pontiac was actually back on the rise – but it was a classic case of “too little, too late” – and Pontiac would motor off into the “Great Parking Lot Into the Sky,” joining the ranks of Plymouth, Oldsmobile and Packard as one of the fallen greats. However, it was not in vain as enthusiasts remain passionate and General Motors maintains owners of all semblance of the marque; its name, the logos and all trademarks, despite much interest from third-parties.
So let’s take a blank page approach at recreating the excitement brand with its strict performance image. What we need are sports cars, sports sedans and perhaps a pony car. We understand that many platforms have to be shared across multiple brands as a result of a global economy and we’re OK with that:
1.) Firebird/Trans Am:
A lot of things have happened since 2002, including the significance the Camaro now holds in the pony car market against the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger. While we find it rather unlikely that General Motors would allow a Firebird to cannibalize Camaro sales (a sales leader in its class since its relaunch) the argument could still be made for it. But it will have to come from more than just casually interested parties; it would need solid sales from paying customers. In today’s world, that’s a huge risk but we’ll play along anyway.
Like in the past, the Firebird would crossover to the newly-launched 6th-gen Camaro; complete with the Alpha platform and the GEN-V LT1. it would have to take a classic, retro first-gen Firebird approach that Camaro does but with an immense modern spin. Forget the hood bird and garish striping; it needs to fit in line with today’s buyer. So let’s go for aggressive lines with tasteful, but bold, color and wheel options. Skip the tacked-on body cladding, too, please.
2.) Grand Prix/G8:
If Pontiac is even going to play in the modern world, we’re going to need a rear-wheel drive sport sedan – the coupe would just cannibalize the Firebird (as it had done in the past). This one could be shared with the Cadillac CTS’ stretched Alpha platform, because forget about the outdated, heavy Zeta chassis. GM isn’t going to release a brand new car with bygone technology – it just doesn’t make sense.
Under the hood, would would be cooler than seeing the CTS-V’s supercharged LT4? With 650 horsepower on tap, it would be a seriously player in the full-sized rear-wheel drive segment. Despite its lower output than what would be its direct competitor, the Charger Hellcat, its weight advantage would keep it more than competitive with the burly Dodge.
Releasing a new Fiero could be a PR minefield, but a new Solstice could definitely work. Especially since Buick is taking a play at the personal roadster market with its upcoming Cascada, which is essentially a rebranded Opel of the same model name. However, that car falls short in your author’s opion with its front-wheel drive layout and 190 hp engine. What we’re looking for, is a pocket rocket roadster with a rear-wheel drive layout and about another 100 horsepower.
After the Pontiac and Saturn brands were shuttered, General Motors (rather foolishly) sold the Kappa architecture the roadster twins were built on to Spanish car maker, Tauro, who not only revised the styling quite a bit but also, get this, utilizes LS3 power for their version of the car. Honestly, an LT1-powered Solstice would simply be badass, but it wouldn’t happen with the Corvette being The General’s halo car. A good compromise would be the twin-turbo V6 currently used in the ATS-V, albeit, maybe slightly “detuned.”
If General Motors marketed these cars as a super niche brand of low-volume performance machines, much like Chrysler’s SRT brand, I think we could certainly see a possibility of it happening. Maybe I’m wrong, but in a world of political correctness, I feel that the timing could never be better.
Rick Seitz is the owner and founder of GMEFI Magazine, and has a true love and passion for all vehicles. When he isn’t tuning, testing, or competing with the brand’s current crop of project vehicles, he’s busy tinkering and planning the next modifications for his own cars.