pontiac has always been a famous name in American muscle car history, and plenty of enthusiasts are always on the prowl, even today, for some of the best cars the brand launched. While the giants of the industry always threatened to overshadow this brand, Pontiac held its own defiantly, with some cars that took the fight straight to cars like the Challenger, Charger, and Mustang. Sadly, parent company GM closed down the Pontiac division in 2010.
On the other hand, no carmaker is ever without its missteps, and Pontiac was no exception. In fact, the company did seem to make its share of mistakes, to the extent that GM didn’t quite love Pontiac the way it did Cadillac, Buick, and Chevrolet. In that vein, let’s take a look at five Pontiacs that are absolutely adored by muscle car collectors and another five they wouldn’t ever want in their garages.
10 Avoid: 1984-87 Firebird
Apart from the fact that these Firebirds from Pontiac showed up on the Knight Rider television series, there isn’t a lot of good that can be said about these cars. From the inside, the Firebird, from years 1984 through 1987, was simply inadequate, with fit and finishing that were downright terrible.
Furthermore, as if Pontiac wanted to ensure nobody wanted this car, the engine choices on offer were pathetic, and they even had rampant oil leakage problems, and the T-top models were prone to water leakage.
9 Love: 1968 Pontiac Firebird 400
The 1968 Pontiac Firebird had no stripes or outlandish graphics to set it apart—just the double scoop hood and ‘400’ badged on it. This year, Pontiac had marketed five different Firebirds, each according to engine choice, and it was the top Firebird 400 that had everybody’s attention.
The dual exhaust, heavy duty transmission, and updated suspensions got everybody’s blood flowing, and the reactions this car elicited in enthusiasts then are what it brings out in collectors today, as the Firebird 400 from 1968 is an extremely popular and revered model .
8th Avoid: 1988-93 Bonneville SSE
Without mincing words, the Bonneville SSE from Pontiac for half a decade during these years was simply ripe for the junkyard. Keeping up with their old ways, Pontiac outfitted the Bonneville SSE with pitifully powerless 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder engines, which both leaked oil rampantly and remained impossible as ever to maintain.
The interiors, too, were as cheap as ever, with hard plastics everywhere you looked. Even the stereo for the car seemed to quit for many people a couple of years later, and even the headliners fell off the ceiling four or five years later. This car ensured that anyone who bought it would never return to another Pontiac dealership.
7 Love: 1969 Pontiac GTO
Their cars’ performance aspect became an increasing marketing tool over the years as Pontiac garnered name and success on drag strips across America. Thus, in order to make a fast, performance-based vehicle, Pontiac introduced the GTO variant on the LeMans. Then, the GTO became its own car line and remains one of the most historic car series in American auto history.
With competitors like the Mustang, Camaro, and the Charger catching up to the GTO, 1968-69 was the height of the muscle car era, and 1969’s Pontiac GTO is the perfect example of Pontiac’s auto-engineering prowess coming to fruition, its biggest engine producing 370 hp with 445 lb-ft of torque. This is one car even we would do anything to bring home.
6 Avoid: Any Pontiac Astre
At any given point in its life cycle, the Pontiac Astre was simply an uncomfortable and terrible car to be in. Marketed as a re-badged Chevy Vega, the Astre was outsold by its Chevy cousin 2:1, and even the latter was a horrible car, to begin with!
The entire community knows the horrors of the anodized aluminum cylinder walls of the Pontiac Astre, which only lasted around 60,000 miles before needing repairs, and the Iron Duke engine that never made over 85 horsepower. This is a car that should never have been made in the first place, and we wouldn’t just avoid it, but run in the other direction.
5 Love: 1963 Pontiac Catalina 421 “Swiss Cheese”
The Pontiac Catalina 421 was born out of the old ‘Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday’ away. Pontiac had plenty of success in NASCAR, but they also needed NHRA points, and for that, they needed to make the existing two-door Catalina even faster.
Thus, with the 421 V8 engine, the Pontiac engineers decided to shed weight, and they achieved that by replacing the bumpers, fender, and hood with aluminum parts. As a result, this new Catalina was 159 lbs lighter, thanks also in part to the holes they drilled in the frame to shed weight, which then gave this car the nickname “Swiss Cheese”.
4 Avoid: 1973 LeMans GTO
Sure, the new bumper laws had affected several cars during this time, but the 1973 LeMans GTO by Pontiac felt as if it was made with ugliness being a feature on the brochure. The Colonnade look for the car was something the brand seemed dead set on, and it didn’t do any favors for the 1973 Pontiac LeMans GTO.
The car did away with everything people liked about the LeMans as well as the GTO, and even the base variant’s wheel caps put several buyers off from ever considering this car. Safe to say, this is one car collectors are certainly not lining up to get.
3 Love: 1958 Pontiac Bonneville
New for the 1958 model year, the Pontiac Bonneville was a two-door hardtop or convertible, which was a decision taken to increase the car’s performance appeal. There were three engine options, two out of which churned out 300 and 310 horsepower, which made the Bonneville one of the fastest cars of its time.
While the general public might not know about this car today, knowledgeable enthusiasts certainly hold it in reverence as the car that set the ball rolling for the performance series, the GTO, that would follow the Bonneville.
2 Avoid: 1986 Pontiac Grand Prix Aero Coupe
1968’s Pontiac Grand Prix Aero Coupe was meant to be a stock car homologation by Pontiac. Sadly, not only was it distastefully designed, but it was also quite low on the power figures, and a 155 horsepower engine simply was not something that excited buyers and enthusiasts in 1986.
Some of them even retailed with the same 2-piece oil seal engine that leaked oil, something that had almost become common and expected from many Pontiac cars. Thus, collectors and anyone who knows even the first thing about muscle cars would stay quite a bit away from this car.
1 Love: 1971 Pontiac Trans Am 455
Both the 1971 Pontiac Firebird and Trans Am were quite similar to their previous year’s counterparts, and thus represented two of the best muscle cars in the market. Sadly, newer emission laws began getting stricter, and after 1972, horsepower ratings began declining, which nearly killed the muscle car.
This then made the Trans Am one of the last few muscle cars with legendary engines, and the mighty 455 V8 engine only proved it further. It was the biggest power unit to ever feature in this series, and all muscle car enthusiasts agree that the real horse power was closer to 400 hp instead of the stated 335 horses. Truly, this is one car anyone would fight over in order to make it the crown jewel of their garage.