SOUL SURVIVOR. – Rants – ~ the bare-knuckled, unvarnished, high-electron truth…

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. That I have a deep adore of almost everything Pontiac is perfectly identified. I grew up immersed in this business enterprise – ideal in the thick of GM’s heyday – and Pontiac played a very important job in equally my formative many years and my early promoting vocation. Which is why when GM took the bankruptcy capsule in 2008, I was crushingly disappointed to master that the Pontiac Division was one of the belongings to be jettisoned. (And Hummer, far too, but the good thing is that nameplate has now returned.)

It is really hard to believe that now, but Pontiac was just yet another GM division back in the mid-50s. It had a lineup of stodgy cars, and there was nothing at all to write household about. The division existed beneath the GM corporate umbrella, but it was decidedly missing in just about every thing when compared to GM’s other divisions: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile. But that would all improve when Bunkie Knudsen was appointed a GM vice president and the division’s normal supervisor in July of 1958. Knudsen was supplied the assignment to inject some lifetime into the division and increase sales, and he was offered carte blanche to do it.

As a reminder, if you were being a GM vice president and divisional normal manager back in the working day you were being akin to a potentate managing a compact region. GM’s divisional typical managers had enormous ability with accountability for engineering, producing, profits and internet marketing. Wondering about that in comparison with how matters function nowadays, it does not appear to be true, for the reason that it was so dramatically various from today’s auto company it is like reading through from a fairytale e book. But make no slip-up, it was incredibly real, and GM’s divisional common administrators have been like giants roaming the earth, swashbuckling their way by way of the day-to-working day of the company while creating important, pivotal decisions on the fly. Don’t forget, this was a business enterprise that debuted new cars and trucks just about every drop with new sheet steel and new functions to go with them. Once more, in comparison with how items are carried out nowadays, it is just jaw-dropping to contemplate how the enterprise churned back then. Sure, as I’ve reported many, several moments prior to, it was a unique time and a distinctive period, but GM’s heyday was certainly remarkable in that the company soared for the reason that of it, even with the bean counters attempting to rein points in each individual stage of the way.

The only arena exactly where GM’s divisional normal administrators had to acquire a action again was when working with GM Styling, which was operate with an iron fist by style and design legend Invoice Mitchell, who inherited the mantle from Harley Earl. The clashes in between Mitchell and GM’s divisional basic professionals ended up legendary, and I will help you save these stories for yet another column. But suffice to say, Mitchell obtained what he preferred for the most part, even if he experienced to perform the divisional typical administrators off versus just about every other to do so.

But back to Bunkie and Pontiac. His 1st hires were being two youthful and gifted engineers – Pete Estes from Oldsmobile and John Z. DeLorean from Packard. The demand to DeLorean was pretty precise: get Pontiac into the overall performance business appropriate now. And considering that Bunkie was a large racing enthusiast, all the things was on the desk, from NASCAR to drag racing.

And all of a unexpected, hot Pontiacs stuffed with big V8s started to demonstrate up all over the place, from Daytona to Pomona. And even in our driveway. Because Bunkie and his spouse had been social friends with my mom and dad, Bunkie begun sending the most popular Pontiacs to our home exclusively for my mother to drive. Starting in the summertime of 1959, we had a sequence of Bonneville and Catalina convertibles that were constantly bright pink with a white major and a brilliant red inside. And they were always equipped with the hottest Pontiac motor at the time, which at initially have been 389 cu. in. V8s with 3×2-barrell carbs, and eventually 421 V8s. Pointless to say, my mom liked her very hot Pontiacs. (And my brother and I did, too, in particular because he had just gotten his license and we would “exercise” mom’s cars at just about every chance.)

The transformation of the Pontiac Division is a glorious element of GM lore. Pontiacs went from being functional transportation products to some of the hottest cars and trucks in the business. Supplying effectiveness engineering and styling that just weren’t out there anywhere else, Pontiac rode a wave of recognition that took the business enterprise – and GM – by storm. 

I say GM for the reason that, recall that portion about GM’s divisional vice presidents becoming akin to potentates of their own nations? Properly, that was legitimate, right until Pontiac – less than Bunkie Knudsen’s tutelage – started to upset the pecking purchase within the company. Prior to Pontiac grew to become a “problem” for the other standard administrators, the GM divisional hierarchy was obvious: Cadillac was up and off to the aspect luxuriating in its own rarified globe. Buick was up coming in conditions of prestige, with the tremendous-well-liked Chevrolet sucking up all of the air in the space for the reason that of its amazing profits quantities, adopted by Oldsmobile, which just chugged along, and then the moribund Pontiac. 

At minimum that is the way it made use of to be prior to Bunkie and his “pirates” got rolling. All of a sudden, matters had changed. Chevrolet, which fairly significantly experienced significant-general performance advertising and marketing possibilities cornered within GM, was currently being very seriously pushed by Pontiac on all fronts. Chevrolet operatives became much more incensed with every single Pontiac foray into their territory, and the intramural battles concerning the two divisions spilled more than all the way to GM’s vaunted 14th floor, with whining Chevrolet executives complaining to major GM execs that Pontiac was deliberately encroaching on Chevy’s territory. As you can consider, this did not sit very well with Knudsen and DeLorean & Co. The escalating revenue numbers, on the other hand, had been in Pontiac’s favor so GM’s top execs fairly considerably enable Pontiac go, which included even more fuel to Chevy’s fireplace. 

Then, in 1963, when GM issued its official ban versus the participation in racing as corporate coverage (a monumentally chicken-shit selection, by the way), the divisional standard supervisors experienced to comply. (This is when Zora Arkus-Duntov, fairly than destroying the Corvette Grand Sporting activities, delivered them to dependable racer close friends of the firm, for mainly free. And the company’s deeply embedded romance with Jim Hall’s Chaparral automobiles went fully underground.) 

The small-identified collateral harm from that anti-racing ban was a GM inner edict that prohibited sure sized V8 from remaining place in “smaller” autos, which is a joke contemplating individuals scaled-down cars and trucks have been big by today’s specifications. The Chevrolet operatives dutifully complied with the edict, although Pontiac operatives, led by DeLorean and Monthly bill Collins – the gifted engineer who justifies most of the credit history for this up coming piece of automotive historical past – resolved to go in a further way. Just before the racing ban, Collins experienced been occupied stuffing Pontiac’s V8s into “intermediate” Le Mans bodies, and the result was, needless to say, magical. But when the edict took impact, Pontiac was specifically ordered not to stuff a V8 into a Le Mans to make it into a new Pontiac model.

Then, a little bit of genius. Pontiac operatives made the decision to get close to the ban by earning the “GTO” a new selection offer on the 1964 Pontiac Le Mans. And the relaxation, as they say, is automotive background, as the initial “muscle” car or truck was born. Chevrolet operatives had been apoplectic, but by the time GM company acquired wind of what was taking place, the GTO solution experienced grow to be 1 of the most sought-soon after high-general performance option offers in the sector. And by 1966 it became its individual individual design.

Pontiac was red-sizzling, with its distinctive brand name of superior-efficiency engineering and some of GM Styling’s finest models coming in wave following wave. From there, Pontiac would pile achievement on accomplishment, reaching, at one particular issue, a few million in annual gross sales. The rebels out in Pontiac, Michigan, had won. 

And nearly the finest aspect? Pontiac was supported by sensational promoting, clearly some of the very best and most unforgettable promoting in the car or truck enterprise at the time. That pissed off Chevrolet’s advert agency – Campbell-Ewald – on a normal foundation, which created it even far better.

As for the intramural struggle involving Chevrolet and Pontiac, it continued. Pontiac arrived out with the Grand Prix in 1962, and the prolonged-nosed ’69 model pushed by DeLorean was a further large strike. Chevrolet came out with the Camaro in 1967, but the Pontiac Firebird to some, was much better hunting. The ’70 Camaro, which was spectacular in its have appropriate, was undercut by the incredible ‘70 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am and Firebird Components. As late as 1984, when Pontiac came out with the mid-engine Fiero, the fight ongoing. Chevrolet insisted that it could not encroach on Corvette territory, so the Fiero was limited to a 4-cylinder at intro and got a V6 proper prior to it was dropped. The 2nd-era Fiero, which I experienced the satisfaction of seeing, experienced “Corvette-killer” published all over it, but there was simply no way Chevrolet operatives were being heading to let it to see the gentle of day, so they lobbied from it seriously, and it by no means did.

The Pontiac story is really worth telling. And it is not just simply because of the fabulous automobiles and nameplates like Bonneville, Catalina, Fiero, Firebird, Grand Prix, GTO and Le Mans. It’s mainly because a bunch of maverick Legitimate Believers thumbed their noses at the company inertia that threatened to overrun GM at the time and dared to go up against an intramural company rival to deliver some of the very best and most unforgettable machines to come out of Detroit. 

I had the enjoyment of working on Pontiac advertising at D’Arcy MacManus & Masius from 1980-1985, and I will in no way forget about it. Even although the organization was fast altering and Pontiac was beginning to lose its identification within the GM corporate monolith, the spirit of the former advert greats that arrived just before me and my ad colleagues was as intense, vibrant and visceral as it could be. And we worked to make them very pleased each damn day.

Is this a plea for GM to resurrect Pontiac? That is a really hard “no.” Pontiac existed in a fleeting moment in time and still left its indelible mark on automotive history – never to be recurring, but never ever to be forgotten.

And which is the Large-Octane Real truth for this week.


Editor’s Observe: This is Peter’s well-known advert for the 1981 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo V-8. As Peter states, “It was a different time and a unique era.” More true terms were never ever spoken. -WG

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