Another One Bites The Dust

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Some unhappy news came in the mail yesterday. A notice that my favorite car magazine – High Performance Pontiac – will be ceasing publication after the October issue.hpp lead

Pontiac itself, of course, ceased building – scratch that, selling – cars almost ten years ago (in 2006) and really – if you’re a purist like me – hasn’t purveyed anything truly “Pontiac” since the very early ’80s, when the last-of-the-line Pontiac V-8s were made. I’d go back even farther, to 1979. That was the last year you could buy a brand-new Pontiac powered by a high performance Pontiac V-8. And even those – the final run of “T/A” 6.6 liter 400s – were leftovers from the ’78 production run. They were installed in a relative handful of Trans-Ams and even fewer Formula Firebirds, and only paired with a manual transmission. The smart set knew these would be last of ’em – and snapped ’em up quick, at top dollar. Today – almost 40 years later – these second gen birds of rare plumage are highly collectible.

But that’s just the problem – well, HPP’s problem.

I guess it’s my problem, too.

It’s been almost 40 years since the last 400-powered Pontiac left the factory. Smokey & The Bandit came out in ’77. A long time ago. How many people who are 25 today have even seen it?smokey pic

It was old before they were born. Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed. Dead. Burt Reynolds looks dead.

Sally Field hawks Boniva on TV.

My ’76 Trans-Am is a relic – from its final-year 455 to its 8 track player to its 15×7 stamped steel Honeycomb wheels.

And I suppose, so am I. Or on my way, anyway.

The Pontiac hobby is an older guy’s hobby – which is to say, a dying hobby. When the Boomers – and then Generation X (that’s me) do the inevitable fade-away, so will the mass-market interest in the cars of our generation.

This has already happened to numerous – and now largely forgotten brands. Studebaker, anyone? Or reach back farther to Packard, deSoto, Kaiser Frasier. Sure, there are isolated pockets of grumpy old men who still remember. Who maybe still have an artifact from the Before Time parked in the garage. Their kids – certainly their grandkids – know nothing about it and what’s more, don’t care. It’s just that “old car” as far as they’re concerned.

It’s happening to Pontiac, too. Check the aftermarket performance parts catalogs; they’re almost all Chevy and Ford with a little Mopar thrown in. The division that birthed the GTO – which transformed an industry – is hardly represented at all. Try and find a straight-inlet Quadrajet, if you want something to do for an afternoon.

Or three or four.  400 Pontiac

Who’d a thunk it?

John Z. deLorean could never have imagined it . .  but then, he’s long gone, too.

HPP tried to survive by including articles about the new Pontiacs. Well, about the badge-engineered stuff Pontiac was selling and marketing (but not building; remember, “Pontiac” was a label after the mid-1980s and sold GM engineered and “corporate” – Chevy – powered cars with some Pontiac styling affections, that’s all) through ’06. Like the “new” GTO – which was just the old Aussie Holden, repackaged (they had hoped) for U.S. consumption. And the Solstice – the uglier twin of the Saturn Sky. These were Pontiacs in appearance only – and even then, only kinda sorta. Which might have been possible to overlook, if they had at least been Pontiacs where it counted – under the hood. But they weren’t.

Same-same Chevy-sourced monotony.

There is nothing wrong – and much that is admirable – about the LS series of V-8s that powered “Pontiacs” like the latter-day GTO/Holden Monaro. These V-8s are perhaps – indeed, are arguably – the finest pushrod V-8 engines ever designed, delivering stupendous power and not-bad fuel economy while complying with all the latest government emissions ukase and doing it without elaborate technology or expense. It’s not surprising they won out.'67 GP

But, in the end, they are not Pontiac V-8s and – if I may presume to speak for at least a majority of my fellow Pontiac people – we’re not interested in non-Pontiac stuff. We don’t own ’em, don’t work on, don’t care how they work – nor that they may work better than a Pontiac V-8.

Ergo, we’re not interested in tech articles or even feature articles about ’em. Same goes for the cars themselves.

That meant – HPP-wise – half the magazine was of no use to us – and of little interest. Speaking just for me, I’d flip past every article that wasn’t about a real GTO (1964-’74) or Firebird (1967-’81) or even a Fiero.

I can find articles about LT-1 and LS3 build-ups in pretty much any issue of Car Craft or Hot Rod. But that’s exactly whey I bought HPP instead.

It’s not that the corporate/Chevy-powered stuff is bad. It’s not – and it would be idiotic to argue otherwise. What I’m getting at here is preference – which is subjective. Some guys prefer blondes. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with brunettes – or redheads.'66 tri power

What I rail against is the ascendance of sameness – everywhere.

Come to think of it, what made me a Pontiac guy is probably – at root – the heterogeneity of Pontiac itself . . .well, when it was still itself. My ’76 Trans-Am has a very different personality than a ’76 Camaro (no Z28s that year) even though they’re cousins and rolled of the same assembly lines in Van Nuys, CA and Norwood, Ohio. I liked that my Pontiac did not have a Chevy engine under its hood.

Again – not that there’s anything wrong with Chevy engines.

I just happen to prefer Pontiacs.

In a weird way, HPP was killed by the same thing that killed Pontiac itself: Too much non-Pontiac stuff on the menu. It’s probably no longer financially feasible to produce a dedicated Pontiacs-only magazine as a mass-market publication, because the mass market is no longer there. It’s growing a pot belly – and gray hairs – and yelling at the kids to get the hell off the grass.RIP 2

What was it OJ said?

It happens.

It’s just too damned bad that it has to.

Throw it in the Woods? 

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  1. Man, I always wanted a GOAT–such a classy-looking vehicle. One of the late 1960s models.

    My brother had a late 60s Bonneville that was pretty awesome. He also had a 1950s Pontiac fastback model that was pretty cool. The Chief on the hood lit up at night!

    Also, one of my uncle’s bought a new Pontiac every other year after he retired from A T & T in the 1960s.

    Great Land Yachts!

  2. I know how you feel as an Oldsmobile guy…to make matters worse, Oldsmobile guys like me never had their own magazine, and Olds items got homogenized into Cadillac, from the high-compression, overhead valve V8 in 1950 to front wheel drive in 1966-67 (the ’67-up Eldorados were Caddy-fied Toronados) to heads up display and diesel power in the 70s and 80s. Olds used to be GM’s experimental division (Olds had GMs first automatic transmissions, the aforementioned OHV V8, turbochargers, front wheel drive, and other gadgets like the Autronic Eye and Comfortron HVAC system.) but got homogenized like everything else.

    I liked Olds because it was a solid, middle-of-the road car maker that had, as one of their ads said, “a Rocket for Every Pocket.” From inexpensive F85 Cutlasses and fast 442s to plush Regency 98s, and everything in between, Olds had something for everyone. Their economy and sporty cars were a cut above what Chevy and Pontiac offered, and their luxury models were more affordable and less fussy than comparable Buick and Cadillac offerings. In particular, the 442 (and the Buick GS too) was much more “civilized” than its GTO or SS counterparts, and the 98 was as plush and cushy as the DeVille without the pretense (and expense).

    Keep that last issue, ’cause it could be worth something some day!

    PS: I wonder why GMC Truck is still hanging on, because the homogeneity between Chevy and GMC Truck is even more than Chevy and Pontiac. GMC is between Chevy and Cadillac; e.g., Tahoe/Yukon/Escalade, so is GMC the Buick of trucks? And who exactly is buying GMC? I can see GMC appeal to “professional” buyers, like people in the trades, but where do those luxury SUVs fit in?

  3. What about the Iron Duke (essentially, half the Pontiac V8). They made that into the ’90’s.

    I think it was these “side” developments that really made Pontiac unique. Pontiac always lived in the shadows of Chevy, but they created greatness in the margins (the Iron Duke, the OHC, all those great V8s from a single engine block). All the things Chevy couldn’t be bothered with to do.

    • Hi Geo,

      If memory serves, the Iron Duke was half the 301 V-8. In other words, it was only indirectly related to the main line of Pontiac V-8s (326/350/400 and 421/428/455) because the 301 was a stand-alone design and most parts did not interchange with the main line V-8s. This was – and still is – a big problem for people who have 301-powered Pontiacs like the ’80-’81 Trans-Ams. Very hard to find aftermarket performance parts – and you can’t fit the 301 with intakes, cams or heads from the earlier Pontiac V-8s.

      My understanding is that Pontiac planned to further develop the 301 as its “new” V-8 (the all-new ’82 Firebird was slated to get the 301 turbo; hence the off-center hood scoop) but GM corporate decided to kill the Pontiac V-8 engine program and – as we all know – the ’82 (and up) Firebirds got the same Chevy V-8 as the Camaro.

      The Iron Duke was – and I think still is – successful in racing, though. And IIRC there are aftermarket parts for it, too.

      But once Pontiac lost its V-8, it was pretty much game over.

      When the Fiero got dropped, it was lights out.

      • GM destroyed Oldsmobile and Pontiac in the same manner. This is what happens when a product making company is run by finance people.

        Cadillac was nearly destroyed but managed to pull out of the dive. Probably because of the premium they could charge. Buick exists simply because of its reputation in China. Buick could have easily gone the way of Olds and Pontiac. Like them Buick put out the GNX as a way to keep their brand alive after being badge engineered. When it was canceled, Buick was done for too, except for China.

  4. The Pontiac I remember best was the early 1960s transaxle Tempest, with its 4-cylinder “Trophy” engine that was actually one bank of a 389 V8. It had independent rear suspension and near perfect 50-50 weight distribution with the rear transaxle. It also had a thin, curved driveshaft with no u-joints. The Tempest was also available with an advanced (for the time) lightweight aluminum V8 which was actually built by Buick. Not too shabby for 1961.

    Later on the Tempest became a more conventional vehicle but was available with a pretty advanced OHC straight six.

    • Dear Jason,

      Amazing that you should mention that!

      I remember reading C+D and R&T coverage of the Pontiacs at the time, and thinking that if one could not cough up the money for a GTO, then that model Tempest would be the one to get. The mechanical innovation was enormously appealing.

      You must be about the same age as me – baby boomer — if you recall that model car.

      • RE: “if one could not cough up the money for a GTO, then that model Tempest would be the one to get.”

        From the perspective of a younger set: the Temptest was second-class, Worth Much less later on, and it often came in this ugly gold color which didn’t highlight the rust very well. I guess I’m biased? They always seemed to be rip-offs or something?

        I’m amazed it came in a 4-banger.
        I can’t Even imagine.
        …And it wasn’t a slow poke?

        Also, “a thin, curved driveshaft with no u-joints”

        How about that. …How did they hold up?

        • Dear helot,

          I think it was more the idea of it than anything.

          Sometimes something that ought to be good conceptually, turns out to be a real fiasco pragmatically.

          I don’t know whether the Tempest version Jason and I referred to turned out that way or not.

          The Chevy Vega did though. It was a terrific overall design, but it was poorly put together. Chevy should have used a proven engine, have rustproofed it properly.

          What a shame. It could have been a classic. A mini-Camaro.

    • Hi Jason,


      Pontiac’s OHC – yes, overhead cam – “Sprint” six was a revolutionary engine for its time. It was available with a four-barrel carburetor, too!

    • Dear SR,

      Oh yeah! I remember the “wide track” pitch.

      I suppose it makes some sense. All else being equal, a wider track should generate higher lateral acceleration.

        • That GTI commercial was inspiring! I had that tune in my head when four friends and I got one up in the air while going down “roller-coaster-road”… all four wheels rolling in mid-air!

          It was a first for me. And, such a Joy! We All laughed like Hell.

          Thank goodness it was a rental.

          We were all such terrists back in The Day, ‘er I mean, ‘All_Americans’,… oh wait? …My, how times have changed.

          Anyway, I think maybe it’s, “a good thing” I didn’t keep my old restored GTO.
          Between now and then, “They” would have probably killed me for driving it. …Or, just for owning it. Or, for giving them, “The Evil Eye” while driving it. “They” would have probably filled it full of extra bullet holes if I had a dog in the back while the top was down?

      • Pontiac’s styling – in its heyday, the mid-late 1960s and into the ’70s – was pure industrial art. Some of the most beautiful cars ever made. Examples including the ’65 Catalina 2-plus-2, the ’67 GTO, the ’67 Firebird and the ’69 Grand Prix. But there were many others, too.

        So sad what’s happened…

        • Dear Eric,

          Yes indeed! The styling of the GTOs and other Pontiacs with the vertically stacked quads was pure sex.

          The 65 GTO was already good. The 66 was even better. The 67 though, as you note, was the cat’s meow. The tweaks to the beltline and the flared hips made a good thing even better.

          Now that was unusual. Usually Detroit starts out with a great design, then mucks it up incrementally year by year.

          Ah, those were the days.

          The 68? Not terrible, but I’ll pass.

  5. Whenever you mention Pontiac, I think of the best marketed car in America. Pontiac knew how to create a hunger and thirst for their cars.

    Here are a few ads to show what I mean. Some are oldies but goodies.

    1971 Pontiac Ad.

    1969 Pontiac Firebird

    1969 Pontiac Commercial (Breakaway)

    1971 Pontiac LeMans Commercial

    1977 Pontiac Grand Prix (“the mark of great cars”)

    • Yup!

      I always saw the Don Draper character on Mad Men as a kind of tribute to John DeLorean…. .

      They don;t make ’em like that anymore.

      Can anyone even come up with the name of a recent/current car designer or engineer?

      No one cares. It no longer matters…


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