A Quick History Of The Pontiac Brand

 All through its productive years, Pontiac built some of the most iconic cars to ever hit our streets.

A lot of people will tell you today that Pontiac was one of the most influential American automobile brands. Such a reputation is hardly unfounded. For generations, Pontiac delivered some of the fastest and most stylish vehicles known to the common driver, and most of these cars have turned out to become future classics.

Established as a General Motors division, but earning its own reputation over the years, Pontiac brought us some big names such as the GTO, Firebird, and Trans Am. These were some of the most praised cars of the muscle car era, a time that the Pontiac brand also shined the brightest. But there's much more to this automotive marque than its muscle cars.

Although the brand doesn't make cars anymore, its well-established models still sell like hotcakes on auctions. Why is that so, and how did Pontiac grab so much attention and praise over the years? Read on to learn more about this legendary American brand through this brief history lesson.

The Birth Of Pontiac (And The Death Of Oakland Motor Car Company)

The story of Pontiac began in the city of the same name in 1893 when the Pontiac Buggy Company was launched. Its owner Edward M. Murphy excelled in horse-drawn carriage production back in the day. However, he soon realized motor-powered vehicles were the future, hence, he established the Oakland Motor Car Company.

Unfortunately, Murphy didn't live long enough to see its company thrive, and in 1909, General Motors acquired the division that will become known today solely as Pontiac. General Motors retained the Pontiac city name. Notably, the city was named after the Ottawa chief who led his fellow locals against British rule in 1763. But that's a whole other story.

For context, we should highlight that Pontiac took it upon itself to introduce lower-priced Oaklands offered in 1913 with six-cylinder engines. The 1926 Pontiac Six also had a six-cylinder engine but it introduced more body styles, four-wheel brakes, and even a larger engine. The sales started to rise, and Pontiac began to build its name.

Pre- And Post-War Years And Adoption Of Native American Names

It's interesting to note that other Native American names followed the brand's name after Pontiac introduced its first vehicles, such as the Chieftain and Star Chief. However, this was only so long as Pontiac made a new, distinctive styling for itself that will last until the brand closed its doors in 2010. But let's not rush to the end of the story when there are so many great things to reveal as it progresses.

Until World War II disrupted the world, Pontiac was doing relatively fine. The 1933 lineup gained a handsome styling and a brand new straight-eight engine to spice things up. The next and final pre-war lineup had even more body and engine options and started appealing to the targeted customer base — low-end buyers who wanted style but not necessarily extreme performance.

In the post-war years, Pontiac started well, but struggled to remain competitive with the newest Chevrolet models. It wasn't until famous Semon E. Knudson became the General Manager in 1955 that Pontiac adopted a brand new, recognizable styling.

The magnificent 1958 Pontiac Bonneville came to be, along with the other wide body, low-hood models. Pontiac finally adopted a completely distinctive styling combined with potent 389 engines (with an output of about 345 horsepower). The brand was ready for the muscle car era.

The Muscle Car Era: The Pontiac's Midlife Period, But No Crisis... Yet

We could talk about the Pontiac muscle cars in a whole article and still not manage to fit everything into it. The '60s and the '70s were the best years for this American brand. That was the era of automotive legends such as the Grand Prix, the (one and only) GTO, the Firebird, and the Grand Am.

During the muscle car era, Pontiac proudly stood at the top. We wouldn't be wrong to say its cars were the most influential of the time, especially the 1964 GTO that started as a high-performing package and evolved into the entire series of six generations.

We can't do full justice to the GTO here, but you can read more about it in our other articles. It's also worth checking out the mighty Firebird, another muscle car that lived to see the 2000s.

The Beginning Of Pontiac's Decline And Eventual Collapse

Sadly, the buzz around Pontiac cars started to decrease after the golden era. In the '80s and beyond, the brand introduced a lot of new, modern vehicles, but most just didn't come through (think Aztek and the G3). Thus, General Motors began phasing out vehicles, redesigning old classics, and repeating the process all over again.

The attempt to revive Pontiac went on for years until the 2008 financial crisis that hit many big names in the automobile industry. General Motors was one of them, and naturally, it cut out the divisions that were making the least money to avoid bankruptcy. That effectively marked the of the Pontiac brand in the year 2010.

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