Arguably the 2nd most successful GM division, behind Chevrolet. The marque was “invented” by GM in 1926, the name being taken from the town of Pontiac, Michigan, where the cars were built. And as with the rival (Chrysler) Plymouth, the Pontiac’s had almost overnight success, some 200,000 being sold in 1929 alone. But the depression would take its toll on many, and Pontiac was hit hard, sales in 1932 slumping to a mere 50,000. While many of Pontiac’s sister marques fell by the way, GM President Alfred Sloan was determined that Pontiac should survive – but to do so would require some serious rationalisation.
Pontiac were forced to draw heavily upon the parts bin of Chevrolet, and then be sold under the Buick and Oldsmobile
dealer network. With the threat of Pontiac’s losing their identity altogether, stylist Frank Hershey and chief body engineer Roy Milner set about ensuring the Pontiac’s looked as different as possible to other GM division cars – quite a feat considering the rationalisation plan meant many body panels had to be shared.
The Pontiac Eight of 1933 was a brilliant success, it featuring a silky smooth straight eight engine designed by Benjamin Anibal. The reputation of the Eight would spread, given the cars durability and reliability, and the engine would remain the mainstay until a new V8 arrived in 1955. By the late 1930’s sales, and the division, were in full recovery mode. After World War 2 Pontiac went from strength to strength, the Star Chief and Chieftan convertibles leading the way when American cars became long, wide and low riding.
Through the 1970’s it was Japanese competition and rising fuel prices that Pontiac were forced to contend with, the challenge being met with a plethora of fairly plain but easy to live with iterations such as the Phoenix, Grand Le Mans and Grand Am. The mid engined Fiero offered some driving excitement, and the Firebird Trans Am remained a leading muscle car. But it was the popular Grand Prix
model that ensured the marque would continue to enjoy it’s position as the 3rd best selling brand in the U.S.
Also see: The History of Pontiac (USA Edition)