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20 Legendary Muscle Cars From Pontiac

Vukasin HerbezJuly 3, 2019

As you already know, for almost 10 years, Pontiac has been nothing but a memory to the fans of this once famous brand. During the last recession, forced by the economic turmoil and government bailout, GM decided to kill this brand in a cost-reducing effort. Today, people still discuss if this was a good decision or not. Although the muscle car as a class existed before Pontiac released the GTO in 1964, this company is famous for creating the first proper muscle car.

To say that Pontiac made automotive history would be an understatement. The company did much more than create the most exciting segment in the American car market. However, the GTO wasn’t the only legendary muscle car from this brand. This list features 19 more. So, here are the greatest Pontiacs of all time.

  1. Pontiac Bonneville

New for 1958, the Bonneville was available only as a two-door hardtop or convertible to emphasize its performance appeal. Under the hood was a 370 CID V8 engine delivering 255 HP in its base form. But for those who wanted more power, there was the Tri-Power option producing 300 HP as well as a top of the line fuel-injected version pumping out a whopping 310 HP.

With this engine, the 1958 Bonneville was one of the most powerful and fastest GM cars of the day. Thanks to its performance and beautiful design, they chose the 1958 Bonneville to pace the Indianapolis 500 race. The Bonneville had moderate success on the market and Pontiac managed to sell over 12,000 copies.

Today, this car is highly appreciated by knowledgeable enthusiasts but not known by the general automotive public. The performance reputation of the early Bonneville was only the announcement of what was going to happen with the GTO and muscle models.

  1. Pontiac Catalina 421 “Swiss Cheese”

In the early 1960s, Pontiac realized that racing helps sell cars and the famous Detroit mantra “Win on Sunday-Sell on Monday” works. In that period, Pontiac was big in NASCAR but its drag racing reputation in NHRA championship was slim. Pontiac had a good base for a fast super stock car in the form of the two-door Catalina.

Also, it had a potent 421 V8 engine, but it needed more. It needed to add power and subtract some weight. So to do the latter, the Pontiac engineers manufactured numerous aluminum parts like the bumpers, fenders and a hood. And do that shaved 159 pounds off the heavy car.

Interestingly, they soon nicknamed the car, “Swiss Cheese” since they also drilled holes in the frame to save a few pounds more. With its high compression 421 V8 engine delivering 410 HP, these Catalinas were lightning quick.

  1. Pontiac GTO

Pontiac had much success on the drag strips all across America. So, little by little, the performance aspect became a powerful marketing tool since the new generation of buyers wanted powerful and fast cars. Pontiac wanted to capitalize on its success, but the company was reluctant to invest in a sports car they would build from scratch.

And unfortunately, all their production models were big, heavy vehicles. The result was the Tempest GTO, as they called it. It was an option on the Tempest intermediate model. So for just $295, the buyers would get a high performance 396 V8 with 325 HP in standard or the 348 HP infamous Tri-Power form.

A manual transmission, unique trim, GTO decals, and dual exhausts were all parts of the package. Since the car was light, the Tempest GTO provided a convincing performance. So, in 1964, it was one of the quickest American cars on the market. Even the Corvette owners weren’t safe from the Tempest GTOs lurking at stoplights across the country.

  1. Pontiac Banshee I

Back in the day, most people considered Pontiac to be a performance brand. And with the newly introduced GTO model, the muscle car and performance markets were booming. However, the management of the company had bigger ambitions. So, soon they introduced a fully operational concept vehicle they named the Banshee.

The Banshee I was the first in a long line of Pontiac concept cars that had an influence on production models. The first one to emerge in 1964 was extremely advanced with compact dimensions, a lightweight body, and a powerful engine. Pontiac conceived it as a “Mustang killer.” However, GM was afraid that a sports coupe from Pontiac could affect their Corvette sales so they canceled the project.

  1. Pontiac Catalina 2+2

In the mid-60s, the Pontiac GTO was the car to have since it was at the forefront of the exciting new muscle car movement. With its performance, powerful engine and great Pontiac styling, the GTO was the perfect car for the moment. But, it wasn’t the only stellar performance machine coming from Pontiac.

In fact, in 1965, there was another pure muscle car icon in the form of the Catalina 2+2. Since the Catalina was a full-size model, it was eligible for engines over 400 CID according to GM rules of the time. This meant that the Catalina 2+2 came with the famous 421 V8. And, if you wanted, you could get Tri-Power intake system.

It was the same as on the GTO, which boosted your car’s power to 376 HP. Also, buyers could order limited-slip differentials, heavy duty steering, brakes and a lot more. But all that made the Catalina 2+2 well-appointed, but unfortunately, expensive too.

  1. Pontiac GTO Judge

Muscle cars started as affordable performance machines with lots of power and reasonable prices. However, due to the high demand, some models started to get more expensive. Soon, there was a need for a budget-friendly muscle car for young buyers who wanted a fast car but couldn’t pay much.

And the Plymouth Roadrunner was the perfect example of such a model. It was inexpensive, fun and fast. Pontiac wanted a similar car so in 1969, the company presented the GTO Judge. The Judge became a legend in its own right. First, because it took the name from the popular TV show.

And second, because it was a bright red muscle car with a big spoiler and funky “The Judge” graphics all over it. The GTO Judge wasn’t slow either, with 366 HP and a four-speed transmission. Available from 1969 to 1971, the Judge always represented a top of the line model, which still makes it desirable today.

  1. Pontiac Firebird 400

In 1968, Pontiac introduced the new Firebird with a 400 V8 engine they rated at 320 HP. Immediately after the introduction, the car fans were publicly asking the factory why the new 400 V8 engine in the Firebird was rated at 320 HP, while the same 400 V8 engine in the GTO made 366 HP.

Although Pontiac didn’t reply, soon the answer came from the insiders at the factory. The new Firebird 400 weighed 3,300 pounds. So, in order to make it eligible under the GM 1 HP per 10-pound rule, Pontiac had to rate the 400 V8 engine at 320 HP. However, despite the underrating, the new Firebird 400 was fast, especially with the optional Ram Air induction system.

  1. Pontiac Grand Prix

The Grand Prix was a personal luxury coupe they introduced in 1962. It came in a coupe body style with powerful engines and a long list of options. This model was put against the Ford Thunderbird and Oldsmobile 98 as a so-called “gentleman’s express.” However, with the restyling of the Grand Prix for the 1969 model year, Pontiac introduced a special car.

First, there was the cool-looking new design with a long hood and short rear end. Also, it came with an interesting and driver-oriented dashboard. The 1969 Grand Prix stood apart from its competitors so sales immediately jumped. But better yet, there was a cool trim option they named the SJ.

It featured a high output 428 V8 engine that delivered 390 HP and a host of other performance options. They borrowed the moniker, “SJ” from the legendary Duesenberg brand. In fact, they used the SJ insignia on the most powerful Duesenberg cars back in the day, so Pontiac wanted to get a piece of that legend with the Grand Prix SJ.

  1. Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

As a part of GM, the Pontiac factory was still under the racing ban. However, many of the fans and private teams used Pontiac products. So, the factory wanted to introduce a version they could easily modify for racing. And that is how the Firebird Trans Am came to be. To mask its intentions, Pontiac introduced the Firebird Trans Am as a loaded version.

It featured big block power from the famous 400 V8 engine equipped with the Ram Air III or IV intake system. The difference between those engines was significant since the Ram Air IV featured many improved engine internals and components. But they rated both at 366 HP which was understated.

However, this special version with its signature white paint, blue stripes and Rally II wheels proved to be a tough seller. Sadly, they only sold 634 Firebird Trans Ams. And among those, only eight of them were convertibles.

  1. Pontiac GT-37

One of the rarest and most forgotten Pontiac muscle cars ever is the GT-37. However, it was not a model of its own, but an option package on the 1970 and 1971 Tempest. But behind this strange name was a regular Tempest with a few performance options. Also, the engine choice came from the much more popular GTO model.

And that meant buyers who had $3,000 to spend could get a car from 255 HP all the way up to 345 HP. Pontiac advertised the GT-37 as “GTO light,” but the car lacked the exterior features like the famous Endura bumper and rear spoiler. For 1971, they offered the famous 455 V8, but it only went in a handful of cars.

Simply put, the GT-37 had the performance and the hardware of the GTO, but it didn’t have the appeal and image. And that resulted in bad sales. So, in two years, Pontiac made just approximately 2,000 of these misunderstood muscle cars.

  1. Pontiac Firebird Formula 400

The year 1970 marked the second generation of the Pontiac Firebird. It debuted as a mid-year introduction boasting a new body style and a couple of new versions. But, there was only one body design, which was a coupe since they dropped the convertible for over a decade. Pontiac realized traditional muscle cars like the GTO were slowly going out of style.

They observed that people were turning towards the smaller and more nimble pony cars like the Firebird, so they invested heavily into that lineup. The first true muscle model was the Formula 400, which they introduced in 1970. The Formula 400 was kind of a middle version between the base Firebird V8 and fire-breathing Trans Am.

The Formula had the 400 V8 engine that delivered a head-spinning 330 HP. Also, it had a cool looking twin-scoop hood that could be functional if the buyer opted for the optional Ram Air induction package.

  1. Pontiac Trans Am 455

The 1971 Firebird and Trans Am were practically identical to the 1970 models. So, they still represented one of the best muscle cars on the rapidly changing market. But unfortunately, 1971 proved to be the last true muscle car model year when buyers could get high powered and legendary engines. Just a year after, in 1972, the horsepower ratings started to go down.

But the biggest news for the Firebird/Trans Am lineup was the introduction of the mighty 455 V8. In fact, it was the biggest engine ever to appear in this model. Although the 455 V8 produced 335 HP, most muscle car enthusiasts argue that the number was underrated and conservative.

And that was because, even with the higher compression in the Trans Am H.O. version, the 455 V8 had the same horsepower figures. The real output was closer to 400 HP and with corresponding performance and top speed.

  1. Pontiac Trans Am 455 SD

By 1974, almost all of the muscle cars were extinct from the market. And sadly, those that remained were robbed of their power and style. However, there was one model that managed to survive and offer as much performance and power as possible. That model was the 1974 Trans Am Super Duty 455.

The year 1974 marked the first restyling of the whole Firebird range and with the new front and rear end came the improved interior and details. They carried the SD 455 model over from 1973, but in the new package, it featured a better suspension and brakes. The standard 455 V8 produced only 215 HP, but in SD trim it developed 290 HP. And that was absolutely fantastic for 1974.

  1. Pontiac Can Am

Back in the late ’70s, the American performance car segment was just a pale shadow of its former glory. But, in 1977, Pontiac introduced the Can-Am, the one-year-only model that was the last true muscle car with big block power. In fact, it had as much power it could produce packed in a unique body style and white color.

Under the hood scoop from the Firebird Trans Am, there was a big 455 engine with 200 HP. And that was more than any other muscle car on the market at the moment. The Can-Am package consisted of special rear window louvers, a rear spoiler and a long list of special optional extras.

They introduced the car early in 1977 and the market responded well. In fact, Pontiac received between 5,000 and 10,000 reservations. But in the end, they only sold 1,377 Can Ams.

  1. Pontiac Trans Am SE

The late ’70s were sad times for muscle cars. All the available models had diminutive horsepower ratings and heavy bodies that made their performance embarrassingly slow. The Firebird/Trans Am range could not escape this as well. However, Pontiac still managed to produce some memorable cars through its Special Edition models that dressed up the Trans Am and turned it into a street icon.

The main model was the Trans Am, which came with either the 4.9-liter turbo engine or 400 NA V8. However, neither of those powerplants delivered more than 220 HP during its 1977 to 1981 production run. However, the main aspect was the design with signature graphics and appearance package.

Affectionately called the “Screaming Chicken,” this was a highly stylized flaming bird logo on the hood of the car. And that was extraordinarily modern and hip by the standards of the day.

  1. Pontiac Trans Am GTA

Arguably, the Trans Am was the best version of the third generation Pontiac F-body. It debuted in 1987 and was the top of the range Firebird on offer. The package was available until the 1992 model year and they produced it in relatively limited numbers. The secret weapons of the GTA were its engine and WS6 handling package.

The engine was the 350 V8 with 210 HP in the early models and up to 245 HP in later versions. The rumor was that the engine was the same as in the Corvette since it used the same TPI fuel injection system and displacement, but it sadly, that wasn’t the case. The Corvette used aluminum heads while Pontiac used iron cast ones.

However, the power and performance were similar. The WS6 package offered unmatched road holding and braking capabilities since it consisted of four disc brakes and a stiffer suspension. Also, it had stronger sway bars, special wheels and performance tires.

  1. Pontiac Trans AM WS6

By the early 2000s, the Firebird/Camaro combo was outdated. And its live rear axle and big weight weren’t appealing since the market wanted more modern and lighter muscle cars. The 2002 model year marked the end of the road for the Firebird, so Pontiac decided to go out with a bang, introducing one of the best, fastest and most powerful Trans Ams ever: the menacing WS6 version.

The WS6 was a handling package on Trans Am available before, but in the 2002 model year, it represented the best of what Pontiac had to offer. With the venerable 5.7-liter V8 engine with 325 HP, a six-speed manual transmission and numerous suspension upgrades, the 2002 WS6 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. And that was the proof that Pontiac still knew how to make a brutal and lightning-quick muscle car.

  1. Pontiac Grand Prix GXP

Despite the name, the Pontiac Grand Prix wasn’t considered a performance car and by the early 2000s, it was just an ordinary GM sedan. However, when they presented the GXP package, all of a sudden the front wheel drive Grand Prix was a hot performance car.

The GXP package consisted of 5.3-liter V8 with 303 HP going to the front axle, as well as a revised suspension and gearbox. And that is what transformed this family sedan into a highway missile. Those GM engineers invested a lot of time to make this front wheel drive car perform and handle like a European performance sedan, and it worked.

  1. Pontiac GTO

The first year for the modern GTO was 2004 and the car got universal praise from the buyers and car press. The design wasn’t exactly new or aggressive, but the GTO had the muscle car form and street presence. Under the hood was a LS1 5.7-liter V8 with 350 HP and enough performance to be one of the hottest American cars for the 2004 model year.

The target sales figure was 18,000 and Pontiac sold almost 14,000, which could be considered a huge success. The 2005 model year saw the introduction of the 400 HP 6.2-liter engine and even better performance. In fact, it had a 0 to 60 mph time of just 4.6 seconds. But sales started to decline to 11,000 and for 2006, the final model year, GTO sold in just 14,000 examples.

  1. Pontiac G8

Pontiac thought that a rear-wheel-drive sedan would help them fight their European competitors. The G8 was a good idea and with a redesign and small-block V8 engine, it was quite an effective performance sedan, too. The base engine was a solid 3.5-liter V6 with 256 HP. However, the real deal was the G8 GXP with a 6.2-liter V8 and 415 HP. Also, the G8 came with high levels of standard equipment, as well as a long list of optional extras.

Unfortunately, the G8 came too late, so the customers just weren’t ready to accept a performance sedan that could beat the overpriced European models. So, after years of anemic models, front-wheel-drive economy cars or minivans of the ’90s, Pontiac lost its performance image. Sadly, only a handful of buyers remembered what the G8 was known for and capable of. So, when they finally presented a car capable of reclaiming the title of a performance brand, they ran out of time. In two years, Pontiac sold just over 30,000 G8s.

This list included 20 of the most legendary and memorable muscle cars from Pontiac. Which one was your favorite? Perhaps you even owned one of these iconic cars. Most people wish Pontiac would return to the car industry. So if they did, which car would you want them to bring back? And for sure, any of these cars would fit the bill.

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