Now that Pontiac’s days are numbered, ponder the 100-year history of GM’s once illustrious excitement division.
1893 The Pontiac Buggy Company was established in Pontiac, Michigan.
1907 As an adjunct to his buggy-making enterprise, Edward Murphy began building and selling 2-cylinder runabouts called Oaklands, (named after the local county).
1908 When his 2-cylinder car failed, Murphy moved to a 4-cylinder Oakland Model K. More than a thousand were sold.
1909 In the midst of his firm’s buyout by General Motors, Oakland founder Murphy died of a stroke at age 44.
1916 Oakland was one of the first brands to offer a V-8 engine.
1919 Under GM’s patronage, Oakland production topped 50,000 units.
1926 The Pontiac brand was created as a lower-priced Oakland companion to fill the gap between Chevrolet and Oldsmobile in GM’s hierarchy. A coupe and a sedan, both powered by six-cylinder engines, were introduced at the New York auto show. More body styles, a larger engine, and four-wheel brakes were soon added.
1932 Oakland perished during the depression, Pontiac merged manufacturing operations with Chevrolet, and a Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac (BOP) sales channel was established.
1933 BOP was disbanded and Pontiac’s V-8 was replaced with a straight-eight engine. When customers balked, Pontiac unveiled a new straight-six engine.
1934 Pontiac, along with other GM lines, introduced independent front suspension. Top models were embellished with Silver Streak styling.
1935 Technical innovations for Pontiac (shared with other GM models) were an all-steel roof, hydraulic brakes, safety-plate glass, and a synchromesh transmission.
1938 Pontiac introduced the first column-mounted gear shift.
1941 A straight-8 returned to the engine lineup. Pontiac began manufacturing Swiss-designed Oerlikon 20mm anti-aircraft guns for the U.S. Navy. After car production ceased, Pontiac manufactured cannons, torpedoes, tank axles, and various military engine parts.
1946 The first post-war Pontiac was a 2-door Streamliner fastback sedan.
1949 New downsized Pontiacs were available with a Hydra-Matic automatic transmission.
1950 Pontiac’s attractive Catalina 2-door hardtop arrived.
1953 Single-piece windshields and backlights were introduced.
1954 Air conditioning was offered for the first time and the Bonneville nameplate debuted at GM’s Motorama road show.
1955 Pontiac’s modern OHV V-8 gave the division new impetus.
1956 Shortly after John DeLorean came to GM, he became Pontiac’s director of advanced engineering.
1957 To rouse a fading brand, Pontiac’s general manager Semon E. Knudsen broomed the Indian head logo and silver stripes from all models. A limited-edition Bonneville convertible was launched with a fuel-injected V-8.
1959 Wide-track design and a new arrow-head insignia were added to new Pontiacs.
1961 The compact Pontiac Tempest featured a revolutionary 4-cylinder engine (actually half of Pontiac’s V-8), a rear-mounted transaxle, and a flexible drive shaft linking the two. Under Knudsen’s aggressive leadership and DeLorean’s bold engineering, Pontiac became America’s third best-selling brand.
1962 Sporty LeMans and Grand Prix models were introduced.
1964 The 4-cylinder engine and radical powertrain layout were retired with the introduction of a mid-size Tempest. Defying GM’s power-to-weight strictures, a $296 GTO performance package was introduced for the LeMans with 325 horsepower. This waved a green flag on the muscle car era.
1965 DeLorean became Pontiac’s general manager.
1966 The GTO became a distinct Pontiac series and an overhead-cam six was introduced for Tempest and LeMans models.
1967 In response to the Ford Mustang’s success, Pontiac launched the Firebird 2+2 coupes and convertibles. The Grand Prix convertible, offered for but one year, boasted Pontiac’s first hidden headlamps.
1968 Trans Am and GTO Judge models were launched.
1973A stylized firebird — aka screaming chicken — decal large enough to cover the entire hood was offered on Firebird Trans Am models.
1974 Suffering through the demise of muscle cars and the first fuel crisis, a desperate Pontiac introduced a Chevy Vega clone called Astre.
1976 Following many Astre aluminum-engine failures, Pontiac promoted its clunky Iron Duke four-cylinder.
1980 Pontiac’s first front-drive car, called Phoenix, replaced the rear-drive Sunbird. In the teeth of the second energy crisis, Firebirds received a turbocharged V-8. Smokey and the Bandit motion picture gave the division’s performance image a major and lasting boost.
1981 A Chevette clone called T1000 arrived in Pontiac showrooms followed by front-drive J2000 subcompacts and 6000 mid-size sedans with an available diesel V-6, confirming this brand’s new emphasis on efficiency.
1982 A redesigned Firebird arrived with a fuel-injected 4-cylinder Iron Duke as the base engine and a 5.0-liter (Chevy) V-8 as top Trans Am power.
1984 The 2-seat, mid-engined Fiero “commuter car” was a surprise hit.
1985 The Grand Am was born as a smaller interpretation of the Grand Prix.
1987 The venerable Bonneville nameplate earned one last stay of execution on a European-inspired front-drive 4-door platform.
1988 The equally venerable Grand Prix finally made the leap to front-drive. Dabbling in Asian imports, Pontiac began selling the LeMans, engineered by Opel and manufactured by Korea’s Daewoo.
1990 The excitement division’s first minivan — called Trans Sport — arrived.
1993 The fourth and last generation Firebird was launched with a mix of plastic and steel body panels.
1995 The subcompact Sunbird evolved to the Sunfire, offered in coupe, sedan, and convertible bodystyles.
2001 Legendary car guru Bob Lutz joined GM concurrently with the introduction of Pontiac’s homely Aztek minivan-based crossover.
2002 Pontiac’s Firebird was extinguished.
2003 Having missed the SUV boat, Pontiac added a slightly restyled version of the Toyota Matrix wagon to its lineup.
2004 An Opel-engineered and Australian-built Holden Monaro was rebadged as the Pontiac GTO to fill the void in the lineup created by the Firebird’s demise. Powerful V-8s and a sophisticated chassis were undercut by high prices and lackluster styling. Few were sold.
2006 Lutz’s second attempt at resuscitating Pontiac, the Solstice, fared only a little better than the GTO. A clone of the Chevrolet Equinox badged as the Pontiac Torrent helped quiet dealers clamoring for crossovers.
2008 The G8 sport sedan, essentially a half-priced BMW 5-Series, rolled off the boat from Australia. Critics swooned, but few buyers were swayed by what turned out to be the last ever new Pontiac.
2009 On April 27, GM management announced that its Pontiac brand would be phased out by the end of 2010.