December 9, 2022

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

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. That I have a deep really like of anything Pontiac is well known. I grew up immersed in this company – right in the thick of GM’s heyday – and Pontiac performed a critical function in both of those my formative years and my early advertising occupation. That is why when GM took the bankruptcy pill in 2008, I was crushingly upset to learn that the Pontiac Division was one of the assets to be jettisoned. (And Hummer, also, but the good thing is that nameplate has now returned.)

It is hard to believe now, but Pontiac was just a different GM division back in the mid-50s. It had a lineup of stodgy automobiles, and there was almost nothing to produce dwelling about. The division existed below the GM corporate umbrella, but it was decidedly lacking in just about all the things when compared to GM’s other divisions: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile. But that would all transform when Bunkie Knudsen was appointed a GM vice president and the division’s standard manager in July of 1958. Knudsen was offered the assignment to inject some lifestyle into the division and improve revenue, and he was supplied carte blanche to do it.

As a reminder, if you ended up a GM vice president and divisional general supervisor back in the day you ended up akin to a potentate working a little region. GM’s divisional typical professionals had huge electrical power with duty for engineering, production, product sales and promoting. Considering about that in comparison with how matters run now, it does not feel actual, due to the fact it was so substantially various from modern auto business it’s like looking through from a fairytale e-book. But make no miscalculation, it was really real, and GM’s divisional basic supervisors ended up like giants roaming the earth, swashbuckling their way via the day-to-working day of the enterprise though making essential, pivotal decisions on the fly. Keep in mind, this was a business enterprise that debuted new vehicles each and every slide with new sheet steel and new functions to go with them. Once again, in comparison with how matters are carried out currently, it’s just jaw-dropping to ponder how the organization churned back again then. Certainly, as I have said several, lots of situations just before, it was a unique time and a different era, but GM’s heyday was certainly impressive in that the company soared mainly because of it, even with the bean counters seeking to rein things in just about every move of the way.

The only arena the place GM’s divisional standard professionals experienced to get a action again was when dealing with GM Styling, which was run with an iron fist by style legend Monthly bill Mitchell, who inherited the mantle from Harley Earl. The clashes in between Mitchell and GM’s divisional standard administrators have been legendary, and I will help you save those people stories for a further column. But suffice to say, Mitchell acquired what he required for the most part, even if he had to perform the divisional normal professionals off against every other to do so.

But back to Bunkie and Pontiac. His to start with hires were two young and gifted engineers – Pete Estes from Oldsmobile and John Z. DeLorean from Packard. The demand to DeLorean was pretty specific: get Pontiac into the efficiency business ideal now. And considering that Bunkie was a enormous racing enthusiast, anything was on the desk, from NASCAR to drag racing.

And all of a sudden, sizzling Pontiacs stuffed with significant V8s started to display up almost everywhere, from Daytona to Pomona. And even in our driveway. Given that Bunkie and his spouse ended up social mates with my mothers and fathers, Bunkie started out sending the hottest Pontiacs to our house specifically for my mother to travel. Commencing in the summer season of 1959, we experienced a sequence of Bonneville and Catalina convertibles that had been always dazzling red with a white major and a dazzling pink inside. And they were usually equipped with the best Pontiac motor at the time, which at to start with had been 389 cu. in. V8s with 3×2-barrell carbs, and finally 421 cu.in. V8s. Useless to say, my mom loved her very hot Pontiacs. (And my brother and I did, too, especially since he had just gotten his license and we would “exercise” mom’s automobiles at just about every opportunity.)

The transformation of the Pontiac Division is a wonderful component of GM lore. Pontiacs went from becoming useful transportation equipment to some of the most popular autos in the industry. Giving performance engineering and styling that just weren’t out there anywhere else, Pontiac rode a wave of acceptance that took the organization – and GM – by storm. 

I say GM simply because, keep in mind that part about GM’s divisional vice presidents getting akin to potentates of their own international locations? Very well, that was true, right until Pontiac – below Bunkie Knudsen’s tutelage – began to upset the pecking buy inside of the firm. In advance of Pontiac turned a “problem” for the other common administrators, the GM divisional hierarchy was crystal clear: Cadillac was up and off to the aspect luxuriating in its possess rarified entire world. Buick was next in conditions of status, with the super-common Chevrolet sucking up all of the air in the area mainly because of its unbelievable gross sales quantities, adopted by Oldsmobile, which just chugged alongside, and then the moribund Pontiac. 

At minimum that’s the way it made use of to be in advance of Bunkie and his “pirates” obtained rolling. All of a sudden, items experienced improved. Chevrolet, which quite much had high-effectiveness advertising alternatives cornered within just GM, was currently being critically pushed by Pontiac on all fronts. Chevrolet operatives turned much more incensed with each and every Pontiac foray into their territory, and the intramural battles between the two divisions spilled above all the way to GM’s vaunted 14th floor, with whining Chevrolet executives complaining to top rated GM execs that Pontiac was deliberately encroaching on Chevy’s territory. As you can envision, this didn’t sit perfectly with Knudsen and DeLorean & Co. The rising profits numbers, having said that, ended up in Pontiac’s favor so GM’s top execs really significantly enable Pontiac go, which added even more gasoline to Chevy’s hearth. 

Then, in 1963, when GM issued its formal ban versus the participation in racing as corporate coverage (a monumentally chicken-shit choice, by the way), the divisional general administrators experienced to comply. (This is when Zora Arkus-Duntov, alternatively than destroying the Corvette Grand Sports activities, delivered them to trusted racer buddies of the enterprise, for generally free. And the company’s deeply embedded connection with Jim Hall’s Chaparral cars went completely underground.) 

The very little-regarded collateral injury from that anti-racing ban was a GM inner edict that prohibited certain sized V8 from being place in “smaller” vehicles, which is a joke thinking about all those scaled-down autos were huge by today’s expectations. The Chevrolet operatives dutifully complied with the edict, while Pontiac operatives, led by DeLorean and Monthly bill Collins – the gifted engineer who warrants most of the credit score for this upcoming piece of automotive history – decided to go in another course. Before the racing ban, Collins experienced been chaotic stuffing Pontiac’s 389-cu.in. V8s into “intermediate” Le Mans bodies, and the final result was, pointless to say, magical. But when the edict took result, Pontiac was precisely 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 resolved to get all around the ban by making the “GTO” a new solution offer on the 1964 Pontiac Le Mans. And the rest, as they say, is automotive heritage, as the primary “muscle” car or truck was born. Chevrolet operatives had been apoplectic, but by the time GM company obtained wind of what was happening, the GTO selection experienced grow to be one particular of the most sought-soon after large-efficiency option offers in the field. And by 1966 it became its possess independent design.

Pontiac was purple-sizzling, with its distinct model of higher-overall performance engineering and some of GM Styling’s best layouts coming in wave immediately after wave. From there, Pontiac would pile results upon success, reaching, at 1 place, 3 million in yearly sales. The rebels out in Pontiac, Michigan, had gained. 

And pretty much the most effective element? Pontiac was supported by sensational promoting, plainly some of the best and most unforgettable promoting in the car or truck business enterprise at the time. That pissed off Chevrolet’s ad agency – Campbell-Ewald – on a standard basis, which produced it even much better.

As for the intramural battle in between Chevrolet and Pontiac, it ongoing. Pontiac came out with the Grand Prix in 1962, and the lengthy-nosed ’69 version pushed by DeLorean was yet another massive strike. Chevrolet arrived out with the Camaro in 1967, but the Pontiac Firebird to some, was far better on the lookout. The ’70 Camaro, which was dramatic in its very own appropriate, was undercut by the fabulous ‘70 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am and Firebird Method. As late as 1984, when Pontiac arrived out with the mid-motor Fiero, the battle continued. Chevrolet insisted that it could not encroach on Corvette territory, so the Fiero was restricted to a 4-cylinder at intro and received a V6 appropriate in advance of it was dropped. The 2nd-technology Fiero, which I had the pleasure of seeing, experienced “Corvette-killer” composed all above it, but there was simply just no way Chevrolet operatives were heading to enable it to see the light-weight of day, so they lobbied against it intensely, and it in no way did.

The Pontiac tale is value telling. And it’s not just mainly because of the magnificent vehicles and nameplates like Bonneville, Catalina, Fiero, Firebird, Grand Prix, GTO and Le Mans. It’s since a bunch of maverick Correct Believers thumbed their noses at the company inertia that threatened to overrun GM at the time and dared to go up versus an intramural company rival to supply some of the very best and most unforgettable machines to occur out of Detroit. 

I had the pleasure of operating on Pontiac promoting at D’Arcy MacManus & Masius from 1980-1985, and I will under no circumstances overlook it. Even while the small business was rapidly changing and Pontiac was starting to lose its identification in the GM company monolith, the spirit of the previous advertisement greats that came right before me and my ad colleagues was as rigorous, vivid and visceral as it could be. And we worked to make them very pleased every damn day.

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

And that is the Substantial-Octane Truth for this week.

(Pontiac)

Editor’s Observe: This is Peter’s renowned advertisement for the 1981 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo V-8. As Peter suggests, “It was a various time and a distinctive period.” More true terms were being hardly ever spoken. -WG