For almost 100 years, Pontiac was a name as synonymous with American cars as Ford or GM. A subsidiary of Chrysler for most of its existence, Pontiac produced some of the world’s most popular sedans, sports coupes, and muscle cars. Although the brand was discontinued in 2010, many of their cars can still be found on lots, and they remain some of the most collectible cars available for purchase.
Then what happened? How did one of the most popular and most famous car brands to come out of the United States fall out of favor? Why was the Pontiac brand discontinued? Several mitigating factors led to Pontiac’s downfall, a few poorly designed cars hurt the brand’s name and few car companies escaped the 2008 Great Recession unscathed. This is the story of the rise and fall of Pontiac, an American classic that went bust.
9 They Started As The Oakland Motor Company In 1907
Pontiac started as the Oakland Motor Company and operated out of Pontiac, Michigan. The company was started by Edward Murphy, who until then had been manufacturing horse-drawn buggies. In 1909 Oakland became part of General Motors, along with Cadillac and Oldsmobile.
The same year they joined GM was the same year when the first Pontiac car was produced, the Oakland Four. In 1916, it was replaced by the Oakland Six, then in 1926 the Pontiac 6 came but was originally a junior brand to Oakland.
8th In The 1920s, The Oakland Became The Pontiac
Although it was meant to be a junior brand, the Pontiac series outsold the Oakland and customers preferred its six-cylinder engine to whatever was driving the Oakland. GM began to phase out the Oakland and by the end of the 1920s Pontiac had replaced Oakland. Oakland was officially discontinued as a nameplate in 1931.
7 In 1932 They Gave The World The 302 V8
Pontiacs were gaining popularity because the cars had superior horsepower to most early cars. The Pontiac Six could hit 40 horsepower, which was a lot for a 1920s auto. In 1932, Pontiac gave the world the 302 V8 engine, the first consumer car engine that could hit 85 horsepower at 3200 RPMs.
Pontiacs then became cheapest one of the most popular consumer cars because they soon became the cars that also had inline engines with eight cylinders. In short, Pontiacs became so popular because they were some of the fastest yet most affordable cars on the market.
6 They Gave Us Iconic Cars In The 40s, 50s, And 60s
From the 1930s on, Pontiac enjoyed a healthy chunk of the market and produced a seemingly endless list of cars over the following three decades. Pontiac has given the world the Grand Prix, the Firebird, The Torpedo, the GTO, and the Trans Am to list just a few of its most iconic nameplates.
The company made everything, sedans, sports coupes, station wagons, and in Canada, they even made and sold a delivery van, the Pathfinder.
5 They Were Major Players In The Muscle Car Craze In The 1970s
As one can tell from the previously listed cars, Pontiac was one of the most prominently purchased cars during the muscle car craze of the 1970s. The GTO, Trans Am, and the Firebird were some of the most popular.
The Grand Prix was also one of Pontiac’s most successful cars and the company would continue to produce them well into the early 2000s.
4 By The 1980s, Trouble Started Brewing
The 1980s marked the beginning of trouble for Pontiac. By 1980 the United States was in the middle of a major gas shortage and smog crisis that led to increased environmental regulations and the standardization of the catalytic converter in all car engines. Pontiac, which had designed their cars for horsepower well up until this point, now had to accommodate fuel efficiency into their designs.
For some reason, the company struggled in this department and during the 1980s it led them to make some of their worst cars. Cars like the Pontiac Fiero, the Pontiac Phoenix, and the Pontiac Grand Am were all panned by critics and customers. A brand that had been synonymous with reliability and speed was suddenly losing credibility.
3 Pontiac’s Attempt To Reinvigorate The Brand
All American car manufacturers suffered a dip in sales in the 1990s because Japanese manufacturers had taken over a huge chunk of the market buy this time. Many American carmakers attempted to combat this dip in sales with new sports cars or gimmicky designer vehicles.
Pontiac tried things like reintroducing their classics, like the Bonneville, but it was discontinued in 2005, or they tried to give the world more consumer cars like the hatchback G3 or the Pontiac Solstice.
2 They Reintroduced The GTO in 2004, But To Minimal Excitement
Another one of their classic nameplates reintroduced in the mid-2000s was the GTO, which was one of their most popular nameplates and muscle cars.
Even though the newer versions of the GTO could achieve upwards of 300 -350 horsepower, they never generated the same level of excitement that the earlier versions did.
1 By 2008 It Was All Downhill
2008 was one of the hardest years for the American car market. The country went into a historically painful recession and several car manufacturers paid the price. GM was one of them and to avoid bankruptcy they discontinued their poorest selling cars. Among them were Hummer, Saturn, and Pontiac.
The last Pontiac would leave the factory floor at the end of 2010.