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20 Pontiacs Car Fans Have Forgotten

Vukasin HerbezSeptember 21, 2017

Established in 1926, the Pontiac Motor Division was a proud member of the General Motors family since day one. For most of its life, Pontiac was among the top sellers and a valuable addition to the lineup. But in the first few decades, from the late 1920s to the early 1960s, Pontiac was an economy brand close to Chevrolet in pricing and model selection.

However, from the early 1960s onwards, Pontiac got the performance brand image that suited it the best. In those days, Pontiac singlehandedly introduced the muscle car movement to the mainstream car market. They presented numerous powerful, fast models. They were active in racing until 1963 when there was a corporative ban on all racing activities.

During the 1970s and 80s, Pontiac’s performance reputation stayed. But their models were less exciting despite producing some interesting cars. However, in the 1990s and early 2000s, Pontiac became a shadow of its former self. GM invested in it, but without much success. In 2010 they discontinued the Pontiac brand in a controversial move that sparks debates to this day. Read on to get an interesting introduction to the world of obscure, lost and forgotten Pontiacs. Take a trip through Pontiac history learning about the cars that even the biggest Pontiac fans have trouble remembering.

Photo Credit: Mecum

20. 1958 Pontiac Bonneville

Although the Bonneville nameplate is famous, most Pontiac aficionados connect it with those late 1960s and early 70s full-size sedans. However, they introduced the Bonneville in 1958 as a separate model. In fact, this was the car that started the whole performance image for Pontiac. In those days, Simon “Bunkie” Knudsen was the head of the Pontiac Motor Division. He wanted more excitement for the brand, so he took a Star Chief model and gave it a full makeover. He improved the design and added a gorgeous rear end that mimicked a rocket engine. Also, he included the most powerful engine Pontiac had to offer.

Photo Credit: Hollywood Wheels

The 1958 Bonneville was available only as a two-door hardtop or convertible, emphasizing its performance appeal. Under the hood was a 370 CID V8 engine that produced 255 HP in its base form. For more power, there was a Tri-Power option with 300 HP, as well as a top of the line fuel-injected version with 310 HP. With this engine, the 1958 Bonneville was one of the most powerful GM cars of the day. Thanks to its performance and beautiful design, the 1958 Bonneville paced the Indianapolis 500 race. The Bonneville had moderate success on the market. In fact, Pontiac managed to sell over 12,000 copies. Today, knowledgeable car enthusiasts appreciate this car, but the general automotive public doesn’t know about it. But the performance reputation of the early Bonneville was a prerequisite to the GTO and other future muscle models.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

19. 1962 Pontiac Tempest

In the early 1960s, all major U.S. carmakers introduced compact models. Chevrolet had the Corvair, Ford had the Falcon, Plymouth had the Valiant and Pontiac had the Tempest. In most cases, those compact models were only smaller versions of bigger cars, sharing design cues and mechanicals. However, Pontiac went a different route and presented one of the most advanced and most interesting American cars of the era. The new Tempest had an independent suspension at a time when all cars used a live rear axle. Also, it featured an economical four-cylinder engine, which was a cut down V8 when all competitors had six cylinders. In addition, the Tempest used a rear-mounted gearbox, the transaxle design, which was unheard of at the time. Today, only the most expensive Gran Turismo Coupes like the Aston Martin or Ferrari use this system. But in the 1960s, Pontiac was the only production model with this solution.

Photo Credit: Gaa Classic Cars

Additionally, the Tempest didn’t have a conventional driveshaft to connect the engine in the front with the transmission in the back. Instead, it used torque tubes with cables inside. This gave the Tempest an almost ideal weight distribution and perfect handling. It even had enough room for six passengers thanks to the omission of the transmission tunnel. So, compared to the rest of the compact car field, the 1962-63 Pontiac Tempest was from another planet. During its lifespan, Pontiac sold over 200,000 Tempests, making this model a success. But in 1964, the company introduced a bigger, much more conventional Tempest. Despite its revolutionary mechanics, perfect driving dynamics and motorsport success, most people forgot about the first-generation Tempest. Today, only diehard Pontiac fans remember it. In fact, you will rarely see it in car shows and the parts are scarce.

Photo Credit: Mecum

18. Pontiac Firebird Sprint

The Firebird is one of the most popular, well-known Pontiac nameplates ever. From 1967 to 2002 it was the muscle car edge of the company. However, there is one Firebird the automotive public forgot about, lost in the corridors of time all these years. That is the 1967 to 1969 Pontiac Firebird Sprint. Pontiac presented the Firebird in 1967 as the answer to the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro. Since it was the height of the muscle car era, the public paid attention to the high powered V8 models. However, Pontiac managed to sneak an interesting model into its lineup. The secret of the Firebird Sprint was the engine. It was a 250 CID straight-six with a single overhead camshaft. It produced 215 HP in the 1967-68 model years and 230 HP in 1969.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Compared to the 350 and 400 CID V8, this was not impressive. But the Sprint six had serious torque, low weight, and revved happily to 6,000 rpm. Compared to nose-heavy V8 powered models, the Sprint was light, which provided balanced handling and great driving dynamics. In the days of V8 monsters, a six-cylinder Firebird had an almost European feel. Unfortunately, not many people understood this model. Despite the modest price and unique characteristics, they only sold a few thousand in the three-year production run. Today, the Firebird Sprint is a rare sight in the six-cylinder muscle car category.

Photo Credit: Classic Cars

17. Pontiac GT-37

One of the rarest and most forgotten muscle cars is the Pontiac GT-37. It was not a model of its own, but an option package on the 1970 and 1971 Tempest. The inspiration for this model came from Plymouth. In 1968, Plymouth introduced the Roadrunner, an affordable, bare-bones muscle car with wild graphics and few options. They produced the Roadrunner for younger buyers with a limited budget and a need for performance. The Roadrunner proved to be a strong seller and an influential model, making most car companies think about offering less expensive models to attract younger customers. For some reason, Pontiac waited until 1970 to introduce such a model in the form of the GT-37.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Behind this strange name was a regular Tempest with a few performance options and engine choices from the much more popular GTO model. This meant buyers who had $3,000 to spend could get a car that could produce 255 HP, all the way up to 345 HP. Pontiac advertised the GT-37 as “GTO Light.” But the car lacked exterior features like the famous Endura bumper and rear spoiler. So for 1971, they offered the famous 455 V8, but it went in only a handful of cars. Simply, the GT-37 had the performance and the hardware of the GTO, but it lacked GTO’s appeal and image. This resulted in bad sales. In two years, Pontiac made only around 2,000 of these misunderstood muscle cars. Pontiac enthusiasts soon forgot the GT-37, so today it is an extremely rare sight.

Photo Credit: Classic

16. Pontiac Grand Ville

The early 1970s were good times for the Pontiac Motor Division. During the 1960s, the company re-imagined itself, becoming a leader in several car model segments with a high annual production. In 1971, Pontiac decided to enter the luxury car segment by introducing a new, top of the line model called the Grand Ville. At that time, the Bonneville was Pontiac’s premium model, and it did the job well. With several body styles available, a nice lineup of engines, and lots of optional extras, the Bonneville sold reasonably well. In fact, it was considered a wise choice in the luxury car field. However, Pontiac wanted something closer to the Cadillac or Oldsmobile than to the Chevrolet Caprice. So they presented the Pontiac Grand Ville using a Bonneville platform and most of the sheet metal, but with a few trim details to differentiate the two models.

Photo Credit: Orlando Classic Cars

The Bonneville stayed in production, but they downgraded it below the Grand Ville. Pontiac decided to offer a 400 HP V8 engine as standard and a 455 HP as an optional engine, as well as a high level of equipment. But for those who wanted something extra, Pontiac offered a leather interior, climate control, and a heavy-duty suspension. They also included an AM/FM radio, and even adjustable brakes and accelerator pedals. They made the Grand Ville in a two or four-door hardtop, as well as a luxury convertible. However, the market didn’t respond all that well, so sales figures were low. At the same time, the energy crisis hit the U.S., so those big gas-guzzlers fell out of favor with most customers. They discontinued production of the Grand Ville in 1975. This returned the Bonneville to the top spot in their main model lineup.

California Streets: Danville Street Sighting - 1975 Pontiac Astre SJ
Photo Credit: California Streets

15. 1976 Pontiac Astre Lil’ Wide Track

The mid-1970s were tough times for General Motors. Customers avoided those big, heavy cars, and European and Japanese imports affected the sales of domestic car brands. The answer was the downsizing and introduction of compact cars. And Chevrolet`s main weapon was the Vega. It was a cool-looking compact, but with questionable quality. Pontiac got its own version they called the Astre that didn’t sell as well as they expected.

File:Pontiac Astre.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

 

 

In 1976, the management decided to offer a limited-edition Astre model they named the Lil’ Wide Track. Back in the glory days of Pontiac in the 1960s, they advertised Pontiac models as “Wide Track.” So, the Lil’ Wide Track Astre was an attempt to capture some of that fame. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as Pontiac hoped. But they managed to sell only 3,000 Lil’ Wide Tracks despite the wild paint job, window louvers and fancy wheels. So, people soon forgot the Lil` Wide Track and Pontiac discontinued production of the Astre.

Pontiac sunburst Photo and Video Review. Comments.
Photo Credit: Auto Cart

14. Pontiac Sunburst

Even in the 1980s, Pontiac continued to have trouble with the compact car class. Simply, none of its offerings were good enough to become bestsellers or secure a position in that segment. In fact, none of the compact Pontiacs were Pontiacs in the first place. They all were rebadged versions of other GM products and even from manufacturers in other continents. This was the case with the Sunburst. Pontiac introduced it in 1985 and only sold it in Canada. The Sunburst was Pontiac’s version of the Chevrolet Spectrum and the Isuzu Gemini sedan.

Photo Credit: Auto Manuales

When you saw this car, you can see the lack of American influence in designing this compact and plain-looking sedan. The power plant was a diminutive 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivering a paltry 75 HP. On the upside, the car was lightweight, so it could compensate for the lack of power. However, this was not enough, so they soon discontinued the Sunburst. Most car fans have forgotten about it for a good reason.

Photo Credit: Driving Line

13. Late ’80s Pontiac Le Mans

When most people think of the Pontiac Le Mans, the first thing that pops into their minds are the glorious, mid-size models from the 1960s and early 1970s with V8 power. The Le Mans was a sportier version of the Tempest and they also based the GTO on that model. This means that the Le Mans had a solid reputation as an entry-level muscle car with great potential. However, in the late 1980s, the introduction of compact front-wheel drive sedans and hatchbacks with less than 100 HP diminished the sales of the Le Mans. The bosses at General Motors decided to import the Korean-built Daewoo Le Mans.

Photo Credit: Hemmings

It was, in fact, an Opel Kadett from Europe. Since Opel was a GM-owned brand and GM had stakes in Daewoo at the time, this looked like the perfect solution. Interestingly, GM even offered the Pontiac Le Mans in Europe. So, buyers could choose between the Opel Kadett from Germany or the same Opel Kadett from America with a different badge. Needless to say, the Le Mans from the late 1980s wasn’t a big success and is a forgotten model today.

Photo Credit: Hagerty

12. Pontiac Can Am

Back in the late 1970s, the American performance car segment was just a pale shadow of its former glory. The ecological and safety standards killed high compression engines and performance to where it was just a word in magazine ads. In 1977, Pontiac introduced the Can Am, a one-year-only model that was the last true muscle car. It had as much big block power it could produce, with a unique body style and fresh white color. Under the hood scoop from the Firebird Trans Am, there was a big 455 engine with 200 HP. 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.

Photo Credit: Davids Classic Cars

They introduced this car in early 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. The main reason for its demise was because a small outside contractor assembled the Can Am. The company suffered equipment failure, so they needed to wait three months for a replacement. Pontiac decided that was too long. So, Pontiac canceled all open orders. This killed the Can Am because they didn’t produce the model for 1978.

Photo Credit: Youtube

11. Pontiac 6000

During the 1980s, General Motors invested heavily in its line of mid-size models. They produced modern engines, smaller displacements, front-wheel drives, and aerodynamic bodies. And one such car was the Pontiac 6000. Pontiac fans were familiar with Pontiac model names that meant something. However, the 6000 was a number that didn’t mean anything except that it marked a new approach for Pontiac. They offered the 6000 in a two or four-door sedan and wagon. Pontiac built it on the front-wheel-drive platform with new four and six-cylinder engines. Interestingly, Pontiac even offered a diesel unit in the 6000.

Photo Credit: Manuales De Todo

They presented it in 1981 as a 1982 model. And the 6000 received a warm welcome from the motoring press, as well as the consumers. So, in 1984, Pontiac offered a 6000 STE version, which was sportier and more dynamic than the regular model. With a 2.8-liter V6 engine producing 135 HP, the 6000 STE didn’t provide much in terms of performance by today’s standards. But, in 1984 it was a relatively hot model. However, they stopped producing the 6000 in 1991. So, today, most fans have never heard of it, except for the fans of obscure models.

Photo Credit: Car and Driver

10. Pontiac G8

Pontiac presented the G8 in 2008 and discontinued it in 2010, just before the brand was gone. And the reason to feature this relatively new car is simple. Most people quickly dismissed and forgot the G8, even when it was new. This is a shame since it was a true performance sedan and a proper rear-wheel-drive model. To revive its performance image, Pontiac decided to import Australian-built Holden cars and rebadge them as Pontiacs. First was the Holden Monaro, which they granted U.S. citizenship to with a new, old name: the Pontiac GTO. Despite the 400 HP engine and convincing performance, the new GTO wasn’t the success Pontiac wanted.

Photo Credit: Top Speed

Next, they conceived the G8 as the Holden Commodore. Pontiac thought a rear-wheel-drive sedan would help them fight their European competitors. The G8 had Pontiac’s redesign and small-block V8 engine. It was 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 delivering 415 HP. But the G8 came too late. Drivers weren’t ready to accept a G8 performance sedan that could beat overpriced European models. After years of anemic models like those front-wheel-drive economy cars and minivans of the 1990s, Pontiac lost its performance image. In two years, Pontiac sold just over 30,000 G8s. However, it was the last Pontiac, which is now sadly forgotten.

Photo Credit: Exotic Motor Cars

9. 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 1965, there was another pure muscle car icon in form of the Catalina 2+2. Behind this strange name hides a full-size Catalina model. And it’s available as a coupe or a convertible with a performance twist. The regular Catalina was a great looking and decent selling model. But in 2+2 form, it transformed into a true Gran Turismo with a luxury interior and fire-breathing engine. And since the Catalina was a full-size model, it was eligible for engines over 400 CID, according to GM rules of the time.

Photo Credit: Mecum

This meant that the Catalina 2+2 came with the famous 421 V8. And if you wanted, you could get a Tri-Power intake system, the same as on the GTO. And that boosted your car’s power to 376 HP. Car buyers could also order limited-slip differentials, heavy-duty steering, brakes, and more. This made the Catalina 2+2 well-appointed, but unfortunately, expensive too. However, a top of the line 2+2 cost over $4,000, which was a hefty sum. It was much more than the similarly equipped GTO, for example. This meant Pontiac soon discontinued the Catalina 2+2 and eventually, people forgot about them.

Photo Credit: Deviant Art

8. Pontiac Beaumont

The Beaumont Pontiacs are an interesting story not many people know about. In the early 60’s, General Motors decided to introduce a special brand just for the Canadian market. And they called it the Acadian. It featured many options like most regular GM models, but with a few design tweaks and different names. So, in the mid-60s, Pontiac dropped the Acadian name and renamed it the Beaumont. And they sold these vehicles in Pontiac-Buick dealerships across Canada. They featured Chevrolet body styles with different front ends, but with a logo that looked like Pontiac.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Soon, the car became as famous as the Pontiac Beaumont. And the name stuck despite not being an official designation. So, most Beaumonts used the Chevelle body style with a different grille and headlights. Best of all, the Beaumont buyers got higher equipment levels and the 427 engines that were unavailable north of the U.S. border.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

7. Pontiac Banshee I

In the early 60s, most people considered Pontiac 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, they soon introduced a fully operational concept vehicle they called the Banshee. The Banshee I was the first in a long line of Pontiac concept cars that had an influence on production models. And the first one to emerge in 1964 was extremely advanced with compact dimensions, a lightweight body, and a powerful engine.

Photo Credit: Auto Week

Pontiac conceived it as a “Mustang-killer.” But GM was afraid that a sports coupe from Pontiac could affect their Corvette sales, so they canceled the project. However, most car fans think that’s too bad since the Banshee I had the potential to be a fantastic car. GM even incorporated several of its design clues into the next-generation Corvette. Today, both prototypes have survived, one silver coupe and one white convertible.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

6. Pontiac Farago CF 428

This fantastic and totally obscure Pontiac is a concept from the late 60s. They made it at a specific request by the then head of the company, John Z. DeLorean. And Italian Carrosserie Coggiola built it while ex-Chrysler designer, Paul Farago, designed it. So they officially introduced the car in 1968 to represent the future design of Pontiac’s luxury coupes. Under the hood was the mighty 428 V8 engine. Also, the car used a modified Grand Prix frame with the dashboard and instruments from the same models.

Photo Credit: Fab Wheels Digest

Also, some interesting features were the experimental light alloy wheels and prototype Firestone LXX tires. And although the Farago was a fully operational car they featured in many car shows, people have forgotten it since.

Photo Credit: Hemmings

5. Pontiac El Catalina

In 1960, Pontiac wanted to expand its portfolio. They even thought of producing some sort of light delivery vehicle or truck. However, the closest thing GM had at that point was the popular and usable Chevrolet El Camino. They based it on a full-size Chevy car platform. So, Pontiac’s R&D department took the El Camino and mounted it on their own 1960 Catalina body.

Photo Credit: RK Motors

Also, they chopped and reshaped it with the El Camino rear glass and truck bed. And they called the finished concept the El Catalina. And it was arguably more beautiful and elegant than the El Camino. Although GM didn’t have anything against the project, Pontiac decided it wasn’t worth the investment. They felt that the market was too small, so they didn’t want to gamble.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

4. Pontiac Banshee IV

The 1988 Banshee was the fourth concept car to carry that name. Also, it was the first to directly influence production cars afterward. In fact, most of the design elements of the 1988 Banshee appeared several years later on the 1993 Pontiac Firebird. However, this concept car was much more than a design study for the fourth generation F-body. It was the vision of Pontiac’s sports car future.

Photo Credit: Dreaming Of Y2k

The car came with a 4.0-liter all-aluminum V8 that sent all 230 HP to the rear wheels over a five-speed manual gearbox. And its suspension was fully independent with adjustable dampers. They made the body out of lightweight materials with a superb aerodynamic coefficient. And lastly, the Banshee was closer to Ferrari than to a muscle car.

Photo Credit: Bring A Trailer

3. 1938 Pontiac Eight Sport Coupe

During the early period of Pontiac as a brand, they shared the economy market with Chevrolet. However, they still managed to introduce some interesting models. And one of those was the Eight Sport Coupe from 1938.

Photo Credit: Groove Car

It featured a straight-eight engine, a sleek body, and delivered a respectable performance for the day. Under the long hood was a 222 cubic inch eight-cylinder engine with 100 HP. And it could propel the elegant two-door Sport Coupe to 90 mph top speeds.

1960 Pontiac Parisienne 2-Door Hardtop | F74 | Kansas City Spring 2012
Photo Credit: Mecum Auctions

2. Pontiac Parisienne

The Parisienne model is relatively well known as a trim level on the U.S.-built Pontiac from the early ’80s onwards. But you probably didn’t know about the Parisienne models they built for the Canadian market in 1959 and 1960.

1960 Pontiac Parisienne Front | JT HOTSHOTTING
Photo Credit: JT Hotshotting

Those cars looked similar to the U.S.-built Pontiac Catalina. However, they featured different trims and equipment. They used the Parisienne nameplate not only for the Pontiacs they sold in Canada but also for the entry-level sedans they sold in Europe. That was because GM thought the Parisienne name would attract European customers.

Photo Credit: Car Scoops

1. Pontiac Trans Am 20th Anniversary Turbo

In 1989, Pontiac was busy celebrating the 20th anniversary of its favorite muscle car, the Trans Am. And what was a better way than to introduce a limited run of 1,500 cars to commemorate the occasion? But, the anniversary editions had to have a twist and not to be just another decal and paint job. So, Pontiac decided to install a Buick 3.8-liter turbo V6 from the GNX to create the fastest Trans Am of the decade. The white commemorative edition could accelerate 0.1 seconds faster from 0 to 60 mph than the GNX at 4.6 seconds.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

The reason was simple. It had a better weight distribution and gearing from a Pontiac gearbox. Although true Pontiac aficionados still remember this car, the general automotive public has forgotten about it. You will see many Pontiacs on the roads today. However, the models on this list are the ones people forgot for whatever reasons. Although these cars made history, unfortunately, they weren’t enough to save the Pontiac car company.

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