How GM can bring back Pontiac...
Or at least how one dumb American thinks they can.
When the Pontiac brand was shutdown as a part of General Motors' Chapter 11 Bankruptcy on Halloween of 2009, it was a great loss to the motoring world. The marquee had been around for over eighty years, and had brought us some of the most iconic vehicles of the last century. While General Motors might not have known how to make money using such a historic nameplate, I think I might. If you'll indulge me, I'd like to share my plan to bring back Pontiac.
Step One: Something new, yet familiar.
It's no secret that when Chevrolet relaunched the Camaro in 2010, it was a huge hit with muscle car fans. After eight years without the Mustang-eater roaming America's highways, a new Camaro was a welcome sight. It stands to reason that now, after eighteen years, the world would welcome the arrival of a new Firebird.
Introduced in 1967 alongside the Chevrolet Camaro, the Pontiac Firebird was intended to compete with the new Mercury Cougar, Ford's up-scaled version of it's Mustang. In it's first model year alone, Pontiac sold 82,560 Firebirds. Two years later in 1969 they introduced the Trans Am variant and sold 87,708 in total. The famous black and gold "Special Edition" Trans Am was introduced in 1976 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Pontiac brand. Though they only sold 2,590 Special Edition Trans Am cars, Pontiac would continue the option until the end of that model generation in 1981. The Firebird and it's Trans Am version would remain in constant production until 2002, when GM threw both it and the Camaro into the scrap bin.
I see no better way of reviving the Pontiac brand than by starting off with a new Pontiac Firebird based off of the current Camaro's GM Alpha platform. The car that made Smokey and the Bandit amazing, and Knight Rider worth watching, the Camaro-based Firebird was the dream car of any young boy growing up in the Eighties who had access to TV. Launching Pontiac with a new Firebird, complete with a ZL1 rivaling Trans Am version, is the best way to start off with a bang. However, no car company should ever have just one car, especially at the start...
Step Two: Restoring the Original to it's rightful place as King.
We have the heartthrob, now we need to pair it with something just a little bit more seasoned. Something that was so influential, and so successful, it created a whole new type of car. There's only one option for the new Pontiac to select... the GTO.
The grandfather of muscle cars. The GTO, or, as Pontiac engineers referred to it, the Grand Tempest Option, was John Delorean's attempt at skirting around General Motor's in-house restriction on auto racing. In 1957, GM voluntarily agreed to the Automobile Manufacturers Association ban on factory-sponsored auto racing. This hurt Pontiac, as most of their marketing and advertising was based around performance. However, instead of just sitting by and being made into fools, Pontiac switched focus onto street performance and drag racing. By 1963, Delorean was unofficially testing a new, high performance version of the Tempest/LeMans coupe at local street races. Having found success with using a 389cu. in./6.4L V8 (far larger than the 330cu. in./5.4L maximum GM placed on it's A-Body platform at the time), the engineers put the GTO on the market as a performance option for the Tempest.
While originally limited to 5,000 units, the 1964 Pontiac GTO would eventually sell over 6 times that at 32,450 cars. The GTO would last for ten years and be discontinued in 1974, then return for just two years from 2004-06 as a rebadged Vauxhall Monaro. While the Monaro was a great car, that's not the revival this titan deserves. A new GTO can easily be made using the current Cadillac CT6's GM Omega platform as a base. Give the new vehicle a more streamlined, two-door body, a manual transmission, and the iconic split grill, and you have yourself a car worthy of both the name, and the badge.
Step Three: Slow down, enjoy the show.
No sense in letting it all loose at once, let the public get used to having Pontiac around again. Wait a couple of years after the relaunch, then, start experimenting...
Step Four: Something bold, yet forgotten.
Perhaps forgotten isn't the right word, if the view count on Ronald Finger's restoration project is anything to go by. Either way, after Pontiac has had a couple of years to bask in the glory of it's return, two cars just won't be enough anymore. So the question is, what name should be brought back next? I propose one of the more radical designs the old Pontiac released as a good choice for the new company's third release, the Fiero.
The year was 1984: Reagan was President; Toyota was about to launch their MR2; and Pontiac had not made a two-seat coupe for 46 years. That last point changed when Pontiac rummaged through the General Motors parts bin and made the first mid-engined vehicle ever produced by an American manufacturer. While it may have been slapped together using a bin of spares and a sketch book, the Fiero is the car that breathed life back into the aging and rundown reputation of Pontiac as a brand. By the 1980's Pontiac was known as "the car for customers of the past", those exact words coming from the top executive of Pontiac at the time William Hoglund. It was Hoglund's goal to once again make Pontiac known for being an exciting and fun car brand, and the Fiero did just that. When the Fiero was launched in 1984 it captivated the desired audience, car lovers who wanted a fun American sports car. In the five years of it's production run, the Fiero sold over 370,000 units, whereas the first generation MR2 only sold 163,000 in the same five year span.
Unfortunately, bad press killed this would-be giant. Automotive media caught on to a story about how some Fieros would suffer from engine fires due to malfunctioning connecting rods. GM then did testing on various Fieros in 1988. All of the cars tested were manufactured in 1984, and GM found that the connecting rods would fail if they were driven with oil levels that were too low, and with aggressive driving maneuvers. They concluded it was down to operator error, failing to check oil levels, that resulted in connecting rod failure. Sadly, this couldn't save the Fiero from the damage that had already been done.
Despite all of this, there is still beauty to behold in the Fiero, which makes it a great name to bring back with the new Pontiac. The new company would have to build the car from scratch this time, as using GM's spares is the likely cause of the first failure. They can use GM's endless supply of engines and transmissions, but this project will require a new, purpose-built chassis and frame. GM has had success with their new mid-engined Corvette, so they've got the brainpower to build a new Fiero without much struggle, and since there hasn't been an MR2 in the last 13 years, there's most certainly a market for an affordable two-seat coupe.
Step Five: Now to make some people angry.
For almost 70 years, there has been one true king of American sports cars that always grabs attention, the Corvette. There have been challengers surely, most notably the Dodge Viper and the Ford GT. While both are fantastic in their own right, they are always beaten in sales by the GM poster-child. General Motors has been so aggressive towards competition against the Corvette that they wouldn't even allow in-company rivals to be created. This trend of shutting down potential GM competitiors stretches as far back as when it was first released in 1953. Pontiac was the first to try and make a rival to the Vette. Named the "Bonneville Special", this two door, two-seat, bubble-top sports car concept was intended to give Pontiac a share of the same market the Corvette was made for: people who wanted an American car that performed like the small Euro sports cars of the day.
Two concept cars were built in 1953 and simultaneously unveiled to the American public in 1954 at the Waldorf in New York City, and the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles. While at first glance, the cars appear to be radically different from GM cars of the era, it can be seen that the front half of the car is largely similar to the 1953 Corvette the Bonneville Special was intended to compete with.
The main reason why the Bonneville Special was never put into production, was the Corvette. The Corvette Team at Chevrolet was extremely scared of any competition in the early years, especially from Pontiac. All 1953 and 1954 Vettes had 235cu. in./3.9L 136hp inline six-cylinder engines, larger displacement engines with more horsepower would not be available until 1955. The Bonneville Special on the other hand, was debuted with a custom-built version of Pontiac's Straight-8 motor called the "Special-8". This was a 268cu. in./4.4L 230hp inline eight-cylinder engine. The Corvette V8 would not achieve a comparable horsepower rating until 1956. So, fearing becoming an irrelevant vehicle even within the General Motors product line, the Corvette Team pulled what weight they had in 1954 to have GM scrap the Bonneville Special project. While the Bonneville name would live on as Pontiac's line of sport sedans and coupes.
So, why not make the current Corvette Team cry with building a new front-engined, rear-wheel drive sports car to challenge Chevrolet's move to the mid-engine layout. Use the name of the Bonneville for what it was intended for, and not what it became. This car would have to be built completely from scratch, as the Corvette Team would never share anything with this project, especially their engine. No matter what, this would be one of the most ambitious cars Pontiac, new or old, would ever make.
I should note that this is all my opinion. These are ideas I've had and thought about for a few years now. I make no claim that my opinions and ideas have their origins in the mind of greatness, and welcome and thoughts or criticisms you may have on this. Just remember, this is all for fun. I'm just a man who would like to see Pontiac back on the road and living up to their old moniker: "We Build Excitement!'