5 Cars That Made Pontiac Great (5 That Ruined It)

Pontiac was one of the most reputable car brands, as it churned out muscle, sports, and a host of other kinds of cars for several decades. General Motors succeeded in turning Pontiac’s image from grandma’s car as it was known in the 50s to the dream ride of every petrolhead.



However, from the late 60s, Pontiac started to struggle, as it gradually lost market dominance even after rolling out several models of the Firebird, the Solstice, and the GTO. Pontiac even attempted to churn out minivans and trucks into the market, but they didn’t work. In 2010, General Motors tried to convert Pontiac to a Scion clone, and that failed as well, so they decided to pull the plug.

Related: 15 Cars That Killed Pontiac, From Then To Now

The defunct carmaker almost got it right with the Pontiac G8 GXP, which hit the showroom in 2009, but it was already too late. To fully understand how things went downhill for the iconic car brand, here are 5 cars that made Pontiac great, and 5 that ruined its reputation completely.


10 Nailed It: 1967 Pontiac GTO

The polished “chain link” grille and the sculpted edges of the 1967 Pontiac GTO makes it arguably one of the best-looking muscle cars ever made. In fact, it’s not surprising that in 1968 the Pontiac GTO won the award for the Motor Trend Car of the Year, which is perhaps the most prestigious award in the automotive industry.

To grasp how successful the 1967 Pontiac GTO was, you need to know how many units. According to Amazing Classic Cars, the Hardtop model of the Pontiac GTO sold over 65,176 units, while the Convertible and Sports Coupe models sold 9,517 and 7,029 respectively. Going by these numbers, it’s needless to say Pontiac had a good run with the 1967 GTO.


9 Ruined It: 1973-1977 Pontiac Astre

In 1977, General Motors made history by introducing the Iron Duke engine, but little did they know it would be the death of the Pontiac Astre. The Iron Duke was developed to replace the three-speed stick engine option, and it was widely accepted for its longevity at first.

But things quickly went downhill when users realized it wasn’t powerful enough, as it produced about 75 – 85hp and a maximum torque of 130 lb-ft. In 1978, General Motors phased out the Pontiac Astre.

8th Nailed It: 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am 455

Muscle cars insurance rates skyrocketed around 1973, so vehicle manufacturers were reluctant to continue producing them. In addition, muscle cars were considered to be gas guzzlers, which made them pretty expensive. Against all odds, Pontiac went ahead to develop the Firebird Trans Am 455.

Equipping the muscle car with a Super Duty engine, the Firebird Trans Am 455 not only became popular, but it was also considered as the fastest car Pontiac ever made. When the Firebird Trans Am 455 was taken for a test drive at the Orange County International Raceway, it swept through a quarter-mile in 13,751 seconds at a speed of 103 mph.

Related: These Are The 5 Best And 5 Worst Pontiacs Ever Made

7 Ruined It: Pontiac G8 ST

First off, of all the names Pontiac could have called the G8-based sport truck, it decided to go with public opinion. As the Product Marketing Director for Pontiac, Craig Bierley, puts it, “G8 ST was one of the most popular suggestions, plus we noticed a far broader trend toward simple, easy-to-remember names.”

Perhaps it was the rather dull name, the global economic downturn, or the fact that a “ute” pickup wasn’t really the best product for the American market that contributed to the dismal sales of the G8 ST, as it only sold about 5,000 units annually. General Motors decided to pull the plug on the G8 ST in 2010 after they realized it was no longer financially viable.

6 Nailed It: 1963 Pontiac Catalina 421

Toward the end of the 1962 drag season, Pontiac realized it was losing ground to Super Stock heavyweights like Chevrolet and Ford because they were rolling out bigger engines and other special parts. In an attempt to pick up the pace, Pontiac engineers developed the Catalina 421.

This classic muscle car came with lots of modifications, including drilling about 120 holes on the frame rails to have a lighter, sturdy vehicle dubbed the “Swiss Cheese”. In 1963, the Catalina 421 was driven by Howard Maselles, a Packer Pontiac employee, who set a record of 12.27 ET at a speed of 114.64 mph.

5 Ruined It: 1988-1993 Pontiac Le Mans

General Motors and Daewoo got it all wrong with the 1988-1993 Pontiac Le Mans in two ways. Firstly, the name “Le Mans” was misleading, because the car is actually a hatchback, and not a GTO like the carmakers tried to insinuate. Due to this poor approach, Pontiac Le Mans is considered to have one of the most misleading car names out there.

The second way the iconic car manufacturers flopped was by putting out a misleading ad that promised affordable thrills with quality features. After several Le Mans owners started referring to it as a “deathtrap” as well as numerous recalls citing seat-belt failures and a host of other issues, sales plummeted and Pontiac decided to cease production.

Related: 10 Cars That Killed Off Pontiac (And 5 That Ruined Mercury)

4 Nailed It: 1958 Pontiac Bonneville

Up until 1981, the Bonneville performance muscle car was called the Parisienne in Canada. Considered as one of the largest Pontiac’s in history, the Bonneville weighed about 2,300 kg and reached a length of 230 inches.

The 370 CID V8 engine that generated over 225hp and the Tri-Power engine option that produced 300hp solidified Pontiac Bonneville’s position as one of the fastest and most powerful muscle cars of its era, selling over 12,000 units.

3 Ruined It: 1981-1987 Pontiac T1000

The Pontiac T1000, which was later known as just “1000” initially had a good run in the United States and Canada, selling over 433,000 units, thanks to its pocket friendliness. But in 1982, General Motors hit a stumbling block because the ’82 model year T1000 failed the emission control system compliance test mandated by the government of the day.

With the development of Ford’s front-drive Escort in 1981, the Pontiac T1000 began to gradually lose market relevance and finally discontinued five years later after sales tanked to about 46,000 units.

2 Nailed It: 1967 Pontiac Firebird 400

In an effort to distinguish Firebird from Camaro, Pontiac released five distinct models of the Firebird–Base six-cylinder, 326 V-8, HO, Overhead-cam six-cylinder, and 400–dubbing them “The Magnificent Five”. The Firebird 400 stood out by selling over 37,937 units, thanks to its dual exhaust, V-8, and heavy-duty transmission features.

When Eric Dahlquist took the Firebird 400 for a road test in 1966, he compared the Ram Air induction system-backed Pontiac to some of the fastest cars at the time, such as the 383 Barracudas and the 390 Mustangs.

Related: The 15 Fastest Cars Pontiac Ever Produced

1 Ruined It: Pontiac G6

In 2005, Oprah Winfrey gave out a brand-new Pontiac G6 to her audience of 276 people. Considered as one of the biggest publicity stunts ever, it was a brilliant strategy by Pontiac to sell the G6 to the American market.

Sales skyrocketed from 16,185 in the previous year to 157,644 the following year. But you can only sell so much with a mediocre product. The Pontiac G6 has been recalled four times by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with many G6 owners citing problems such as turn signal switch issues, electric power steering failure, and BCM connector failure.

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