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

Raymond S. Hughes

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. That I have a deep adore of everything Pontiac is properly known. I grew up immersed in this business – appropriate in the thick of GM’s heyday – and Pontiac played a essential function in both my formative decades and my early marketing vocation. Which is why when GM took the bankruptcy tablet in 2008, I was crushingly dissatisfied to master that the Pontiac Division was 1 of the property to be jettisoned. (And Hummer, too, but the good news is that nameplate has now returned.)

It’s really hard to feel now, but Pontiac was just an additional GM division again in the mid-50s. It experienced a lineup of stodgy vehicles, and there was very little to produce house about. The division existed under the GM corporate umbrella, but it was decidedly missing in just about everything when as opposed to GM’s other divisions: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile. But that would all change when Bunkie Knudsen was appointed a GM vice president and the division’s basic supervisor in July of 1958. Knudsen was specified the assignment to inject some lifetime into the division and boost revenue, and he was given carte blanche to do it.

As a reminder, if you had been a GM vice president and divisional normal supervisor back in the working day you ended up akin to a potentate working a smaller nation. GM’s divisional basic administrators had immense ability with accountability for engineering, manufacturing, product sales and advertising and marketing. Imagining about that in comparison with how matters work right now, it does not look true, simply because it was so drastically various from present-day automobile company it’s like reading from a fairytale e-book. But make no miscalculation, it was really real, and GM’s divisional standard professionals had been like giants roaming the earth, swashbuckling their way by the day-to-day of the company although building essential, pivotal conclusions on the fly. Remember, this was a small business that debuted new cars and trucks every single drop with new sheet metallic and new options to go with them. Yet again, in comparison with how things are accomplished these days, it is just jaw-dropping to ponder how the organization churned again then. Indeed, as I have explained quite a few, many situations prior to, it was a unique time and a unique era, but GM’s heyday was actually outstanding in that the company soared due to the fact of it, even with the bean counters hoping to rein points in each stage of the way.

The only arena where by GM’s divisional standard administrators had to choose a move again was when working with GM Styling, which was run with an iron fist by layout legend Bill Mitchell, who inherited the mantle from Harley Earl. The clashes in between Mitchell and GM’s divisional common administrators were being famous, and I will conserve those people tales for yet another column. But suffice to say, Mitchell acquired what he needed for the most part, even if he had to enjoy the divisional standard administrators off in opposition to just about every other to do so.

But back again to Bunkie and Pontiac. His initial hires were two young and gifted engineers – Pete Estes from Oldsmobile and John Z. DeLorean from Packard. The cost to DeLorean was really distinct: get Pontiac into the performance business ideal now. And considering that Bunkie was a large racing fanatic, every thing was on the table, from NASCAR to drag racing.

And all of a sudden, scorching Pontiacs stuffed with major V8s started off to display up almost everywhere, from Daytona to Pomona. And even in our driveway. Because Bunkie and his spouse were social good friends with my dad and mom, Bunkie started sending the best Pontiacs to our house specially for my mother to push. Beginning in the summer time of 1959, we had a collection of Bonneville and Catalina convertibles that had been usually brilliant pink with a white major and a brilliant purple inside. And they were often equipped with the most popular Pontiac engine at the time, which at 1st ended up 389 cu. in. V8s with 3×2-barrell carbs, and finally 421 V8s. Unnecessary to say, my mother cherished her scorching Pontiacs. (And my brother and I did, as well, particularly considering the fact that he had just gotten his license and we would “exercise” mom’s vehicles at every single chance.)

The transformation of the Pontiac Division is a superb section of GM lore. Pontiacs went from remaining functional transportation products to some of the best cars and trucks in the market. Presenting effectiveness engineering and styling that just weren’t available everywhere else, Pontiac rode a wave of level of popularity that took the business – and GM – by storm. 

I say GM because, recall that portion about GM’s divisional vice presidents currently being akin to potentates of their possess nations around the world? Well, that was legitimate, right until Pontiac – beneath Bunkie Knudsen’s tutelage – started to upset the pecking buy inside of the organization. Prior to Pontiac grew to become a “problem” for the other standard supervisors, the GM divisional hierarchy was clear: Cadillac was up and off to the aspect luxuriating in its very own rarified environment. Buick was up coming in terms of prestige, with the tremendous-well known Chevrolet sucking up all of the air in the home mainly because of its outstanding income quantities, followed by Oldsmobile, which just chugged along, and then the moribund Pontiac. 

At the very least that is the way it employed to be before Bunkie and his “pirates” obtained rolling. All of a sudden, things had modified. Chevrolet, which very a great deal had superior-effectiveness internet marketing options cornered inside of GM, was staying very seriously pushed by Pontiac on all fronts. Chevrolet operatives grew to become much more incensed with every Pontiac foray into their territory, and the intramural battles in between the two divisions spilled in excess of all the way to GM’s vaunted 14th floor, with whining Chevrolet executives complaining to top GM execs that Pontiac was intentionally encroaching on Chevy’s territory. As you can think about, this didn’t sit effectively with Knudsen and DeLorean & Co. The escalating profits numbers, even so, were in Pontiac’s favor so GM’s leading execs really a great deal let Pontiac go, which extra even extra gas to Chevy’s fireplace. 

Then, in 1963, when GM issued its formal ban towards the participation in racing as company coverage (a monumentally chicken-shit choice, by the way), the divisional typical supervisors had to comply. (This is when Zora Arkus-Duntov, rather than destroying the Corvette Grand Sports, sent them to dependable racer friends of the company, for fundamentally absolutely free. And the company’s deeply embedded marriage with Jim Hall’s Chaparral vehicles went fully underground.) 

The tiny-recognized collateral hurt from that anti-racing ban was a GM inside edict that prohibited specific sized V8 from currently being put in “smaller” cars and trucks, which is a joke taking into consideration those scaled-down cars were massive by today’s criteria. The Chevrolet operatives dutifully complied with the edict, although Pontiac operatives, led by DeLorean and Bill Collins – the gifted engineer who warrants most of the credit score for this upcoming piece of automotive background – made a decision to go in one more path. In advance of the racing ban, Collins had been busy stuffing Pontiac’s V8s into “intermediate” Le Mans bodies, and the consequence was, useless to say, magical. But when the edict took outcome, Pontiac was particularly ordered not to stuff a V8 into a Le Mans to make it into a new Pontiac design.

Then, a little bit of genius. Pontiac operatives determined to get all over the ban by earning the “GTO” a new choice deal on the 1964 Pontiac Le Mans. And the relaxation, as they say, is automotive heritage, as the original “muscle” motor vehicle was born. Chevrolet operatives were apoplectic, but by the time GM corporate received wind of what was going on, the GTO option experienced grow to be one particular of the most sought-following higher-effectiveness choice packages in the sector. And by 1966 it turned its very own different design.

Pontiac was purple-scorching, with its distinct manufacturer of large-general performance engineering and some of GM Styling’s ideal styles coming in wave just after wave. From there, Pontiac would pile results on results, achieving, at a single issue, three million in yearly revenue. The rebels out in Pontiac, Michigan, had received. 

And pretty much the ideal portion? Pontiac was supported by sensational promotion, obviously some of the greatest and most unforgettable advertising and marketing in the motor vehicle enterprise at the time. That pissed off Chevrolet’s ad company – Campbell-Ewald – on a common foundation, which created it even improved.

As for the intramural struggle involving Chevrolet and Pontiac, it ongoing. Pontiac arrived out with the Grand Prix in 1962, and the long-nosed ’69 version pushed by DeLorean was one more huge hit. Chevrolet came out with the Camaro in 1967, but the Pontiac Firebird to some, was far better wanting. The ’70 Camaro, which was remarkable in its possess proper, was undercut by the amazing ‘70 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am and Firebird Components. 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 limited to a 4-cylinder at intro and acquired a V6 appropriate just before it was dropped. The 2nd-technology Fiero, which I experienced the pleasure of seeing, had “Corvette-killer” penned all in excess of it, but there was simply no way Chevrolet operatives ended up likely to let it to see the light of day, so they lobbied from it intensely, and it never ever did.

The Pontiac tale is well worth telling. And it’s not just mainly because of the incredible autos and nameplates like Bonneville, Catalina, Fiero, Firebird, Grand Prix, GTO and Le Mans. It is because a bunch of maverick Legitimate Believers thumbed their noses at the corporate inertia that threatened to overrun GM at the time and dared to go up versus an intramural company rival to supply some of the greatest and most memorable equipment to arrive out of Detroit. 

I had the pleasure of doing the job on Pontiac marketing at D’Arcy MacManus & Masius from 1980-1985, and I will in no way ignore it. Even although the enterprise was quickly changing and Pontiac was beginning to drop its identity within just the GM corporate monolith, the spirit of the previous advertisement greats that came right before me and my advertisement colleagues was as intensive, vibrant and visceral as it could be. And we labored to make them happy each and every damn day.

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

And that is the Superior-Octane Reality for this week.


Editor’s Be aware: This is Peter’s popular advertisement for the 1981 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo V-8. As Peter claims, “It was a distinctive time and a various era.” Truer terms had been in no way spoken. -WG

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