The 1992 Pontiac Salsa Beat the Aztek to Overly Functional Weirdness
Part sports car, part targa, part pickup truck, all bizarre.
General Motors' Excitement Division didn't deal solely in rad muscle cars and wide-track mid-size sedans. No, Pontiac's history is rife with odd projects, from the Trans Sport minivan to the Toyota-based Vibe hatchback. In the early 1990s, Pontiac even conceptualized what a compact targa-topped sports car that transformed from an El Camino-esque truck to a small wagon might look like. It was named the Salsa, and it debuted at the 1992 Detroit auto show.
Just like the salsa you eat is designed to go with other things, say, chips or tacos or whatnot, the Pontiac concept car was intended as a side dish to hypothetical customers with multiple lifestyle disorder. Can't decide if you want the flash of a small sports car? The utility of a pickup truck? A reconfigurable roof? The Salsa answered plenty of unasked questions.
While its basic format, a front-wheel-drive compact car powered by a conventional inline-four, was fairly pedestrian, things got decidedly weirder the further you looked from the car's nose. Behind the angled roll hoop over the cabin was a shallow pickup bed that could extend into the cabin by folding down the rear bench seat—a bit like the later Chevrolet Avalanche's fold-down "midgate." Fold down the Salsa's tailgate and little panels deployed to "extend" the bedsides to match the extra length formed by the lowered tailgate—another concept that modern trucks with truncated beds use to gain some occasional bed volume. As if that whole arrangement weren't batty enough, Pontiac also gave the Salsa concept a hardtop cap that covered the bed area and rear seats and turned it into a sort of wagonlet.
Were you to sit in the Salsa's front seats and never look behind you, the view would be interesting but hardly jaw-dropping. A thin center console flows up to meet a simple horizontal bar serving as the primary dashboard in a T-shape, and Pontiac designers located the audio and HVAC controls on a thin, tombstone-like panel that was hinged at the bottom and could be tilted at different angles. The gauges lived in a shallow binnacle that moved with the steering column, a bit like the later Nissan 350Z. In case occupants forgot they were inside a car named "Salsa," most of the interior was a blazing shade of orange, including the goofy-large steering wheel hub and stubby manual transmission shift lever.
You're probably thinking that there was no way General Motors ever seriously considered putting the novel Salsa on sale, but you'd be wrong. Apparently, Pontiac built a less fantastical version to study its production feasibility, cobbling together Firebird interior bits and less outrageous wheels and tires—but it never got the green light. A few years later, a very different take on an ultra-flexible Pontiac—the Aztek—did. And we all know how that story turned out.