SOUL SURVIVOR. – Rants – Autoextremist.com ~ the bare-knuckled, unvarnished, high-electron truth…

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. That I have a deep love of all the things Pontiac is well known. I grew up immersed in this organization – right in the thick of GM’s heyday – and Pontiac played a important purpose in both my formative yrs and my early marketing vocation. That’s why when GM took the personal bankruptcy capsule in 2008, I was crushingly unhappy to study that the Pontiac Division was a single of the property to be jettisoned. (And Hummer, too, but luckily that nameplate has now returned.)

It’s challenging to feel now, but Pontiac was just another GM division again in the mid-50s. It experienced a lineup of stodgy vehicles, and there was almost nothing to compose property about. The division existed below the GM company umbrella, but it was decidedly lacking in just about almost everything when compared to GM’s other divisions: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile. But that would all improve when Bunkie Knudsen was appointed a GM vice president and the division’s common manager in July of 1958. Knudsen was offered the assignment to inject some daily life into the division and raise profits, and he was given carte blanche to do it.

As a reminder, if you were being a GM vice president and divisional standard manager back again in the day you had been akin to a potentate running a small country. GM’s divisional basic managers experienced immense ability with responsibility for engineering, manufacturing, gross sales and promoting. Wondering about that in comparison with how points run today, it doesn’t feel authentic, for the reason that it was so radically diverse from present-day automobile organization it’s like examining from a fairytale reserve. But make no oversight, it was incredibly real, and GM’s divisional basic administrators have been like giants roaming the earth, swashbuckling their way by means of the working day-to-working day of the company though creating crucial, pivotal conclusions on the fly. Recall, this was a business that debuted new vehicles every single drop with new sheet steel and new features to go with them. Once more, in comparison with how factors are carried out currently, it is just jaw-dropping to ponder how the business enterprise churned again then. Indeed, as I’ve mentioned many, lots of situations before, it was a distinctive time and a unique era, but GM’s heyday was really outstanding in that the company soared for the reason that of it, even with the bean counters making an attempt to rein issues in each individual action of the way.

The only arena where GM’s divisional normal managers had to just take a stage back was when working with GM Styling, which was operate with an iron fist by layout legend Invoice Mitchell, who inherited the mantle from Harley Earl. The clashes in between Mitchell and GM’s divisional basic managers had been legendary, and I will conserve people tales for another column. But suffice to say, Mitchell obtained what he wanted for the most portion, even if he experienced to play the divisional common supervisors off towards just about every other to do so.

But again to Bunkie and Pontiac. His initial hires were being two youthful and gifted engineers – Pete Estes from Oldsmobile and John Z. DeLorean from Packard. The charge to DeLorean was incredibly precise: get Pontiac into the functionality business ideal now. And because Bunkie was a big racing fanatic, all the things was on the desk, from NASCAR to drag racing.

And all of a sudden, hot Pontiacs stuffed with major V8s started to present up just about everywhere, from Daytona to Pomona. And even in our driveway. Considering the fact that Bunkie and his wife were social friends with my parents, Bunkie started out sending the hottest Pontiacs to our residence especially for my mom to push. Commencing in the summertime of 1959, we had a sequence of Bonneville and Catalina convertibles that were usually vibrant red with a white prime and a vibrant pink inside. And they were usually equipped with the most popular Pontiac motor at the time, which at 1st were 389 cu. in. V8s with 3×2-barrell carbs, and eventually 421 cu.in. V8s. Unnecessary to say, my mother cherished her warm Pontiacs. (And my brother and I did, also, especially since he had just gotten his license and we would “exercise” mom’s cars and trucks at every chance.)

The transformation of the Pontiac Division is a superb section of GM lore. Pontiacs went from becoming realistic transportation gadgets to some of the best vehicles in the sector. Supplying functionality engineering and styling that just weren’t accessible wherever else, Pontiac rode a wave of level of popularity that took the company – and GM – by storm. 

I say GM simply because, recall that section about GM’s divisional vice presidents becoming akin to potentates of their individual international locations? Well, that was genuine, until eventually Pontiac – beneath Bunkie Knudsen’s tutelage – started to upset the pecking get in just the firm. In advance of Pontiac grew to become a “problem” for the other general professionals, the GM divisional hierarchy was apparent: Cadillac was up and off to the aspect luxuriating in its possess rarified earth. Buick was upcoming in conditions of status, with the tremendous-well-known Chevrolet sucking up all of the air in the home mainly because of its incredible sales numbers, adopted by Oldsmobile, which just chugged alongside, and then the moribund Pontiac. 

At minimum that is the way it made use of to be ahead of Bunkie and his “pirates” acquired rolling. All of a unexpected, factors had changed. Chevrolet, which very a great deal experienced significant-performance advertising prospects cornered inside GM, was getting seriously pushed by Pontiac on all fronts. Chevrolet operatives turned additional incensed with each Pontiac foray into their territory, and the intramural battles between the two divisions spilled above all the way to GM’s vaunted 14th floor, with whining Chevrolet executives complaining to major GM execs that Pontiac was deliberately encroaching on Chevy’s territory. As you can visualize, this didn’t sit nicely with Knudsen and DeLorean & Co. The increasing profits figures, nonetheless, were in Pontiac’s favor so GM’s top rated execs really significantly let Pontiac go, which extra even extra gasoline to Chevy’s fire. 

Then, in 1963, when GM issued its formal ban in opposition to the participation in racing as corporate coverage (a monumentally rooster-shit decision, by the way), the divisional standard administrators experienced to comply. (This is when Zora Arkus-Duntov, rather than destroying the Corvette Grand Sports, shipped them to dependable racer close friends of the corporation, for essentially no cost. And the company’s deeply embedded connection with Jim Hall’s Chaparral autos went fully underground.) 

The tiny-acknowledged collateral damage from that anti-racing ban was a GM internal edict that prohibited sure sized V8 from currently being put in “smaller” autos, which is a joke looking at all those lesser cars ended up big by today’s criteria. The Chevrolet operatives dutifully complied with the edict, even though Pontiac operatives, led by DeLorean and Bill Collins – the gifted engineer who justifies most of the credit score for this next piece of automotive history – determined to go in another path. Prior to the racing ban, Collins experienced been chaotic stuffing Pontiac’s 389-cu.in. V8s into “intermediate” Le Mans bodies, and the final result was, useless to say, magical. But when the edict took impact, Pontiac was precisely ordered not to stuff a V8 into a Le Mans to make it into a new Pontiac product.

Then, a bit of genius. Pontiac operatives decided to get all around the ban by earning the “GTO” a new solution package deal on the 1964 Pontiac Le Mans. And the relaxation, as they say, is automotive background, as the unique “muscle” vehicle was born. Chevrolet operatives ended up apoplectic, but by the time GM corporate acquired wind of what was happening, the GTO solution had grow to be one particular of the most sought-just after superior-efficiency alternative offers in the industry. And by 1966 it became its very own individual model.

Pontiac was crimson-sizzling, with its exclusive brand name of large-general performance engineering and some of GM Styling’s ideal models coming in wave soon after wave. From there, Pontiac would pile accomplishment on results, reaching, at just one issue, three million in once-a-year income. The rebels out in Pontiac, Michigan, experienced received. 

And almost the finest portion? Pontiac was supported by sensational advertising, plainly some of the most effective and most memorable marketing in the automobile small business at the time. That pissed off Chevrolet’s ad agency – Campbell-Ewald – on a normal foundation, which built it even better.

As for the intramural fight involving Chevrolet and Pontiac, it continued. Pontiac arrived out with the Grand Prix in 1962, and the extended-nosed ’69 version pushed by DeLorean was an additional massive hit. Chevrolet came out with the Camaro in 1967, but the Pontiac Firebird to some, was much better on the lookout. The ’70 Camaro, which was extraordinary in its have proper, was undercut by the amazing ‘70 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am and Firebird System. As late as 1984, when Pontiac came out with the mid-engine Fiero, the battle continued. Chevrolet insisted that it could not encroach on Corvette territory, so the Fiero was restricted to a 4-cylinder at intro and obtained a V6 ideal ahead of it was dropped. The 2nd-technology Fiero, which I experienced the satisfaction of viewing, experienced “Corvette-killer” prepared all in excess of it, but there was just no way Chevrolet operatives had been likely to permit it to see the light-weight of day, so they lobbied against it greatly, and it under no circumstances did.

The Pontiac tale is value telling. And it’s not just due to the fact of the magnificent vehicles and nameplates like Bonneville, Catalina, Fiero, Firebird, Grand Prix, GTO and Le Mans. It is for the reason that a bunch of maverick True Believers thumbed their noses at the company inertia that threatened to overrun GM at the time and dared to go up in opposition to an intramural company rival to produce some of the greatest and most memorable machines to arrive out of Detroit. 

I experienced the satisfaction of working on Pontiac advertising and marketing at D’Arcy MacManus & Masius from 1980-1985, and I will never ever ignore it. Even though the enterprise was speedily shifting and Pontiac was starting to drop its id within just the GM corporate monolith, the spirit of the previous ad greats that came right before me and my advert colleagues was as powerful, vibrant and visceral as it could be. And we worked to make them proud every damn day.

Is this a plea for GM to resurrect Pontiac? That is a really hard “no.” Pontiac existed in a fleeting moment in time and still left its indelible mark on automotive heritage – never to be recurring, but hardly ever to be forgotten.

And that’s the Large-Octane Real truth for this 7 days.

(Pontiac)

Editor’s Observe: This is Peter’s well-known advert for the 1981 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo V-8. As Peter suggests, “It was a diverse time and a various era.” Truer phrases have been by no means spoken. -WG

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