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The Automotive Chronicles

Monthly newsletter published by McLellan's Automotive History. Dedicated to literature collectors, restorers, museums, publishers, manufacturers and investors who collect and preserve automotive literature
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July 2012 Issue
 
ARTICLE
Remembering Pontiac
By Robert McLellan
 

The Pontiac automobile was named after an Ottawa Indian born in the Detroit area in about 1720. By 1755, Pontiac (or Obwandiyag) had become a chief. He was part of a group of Indians that met with Colonel Robert Rogers, a British commander, after the British defeat of the French in Canada. Unhappy with the British, Pontiac organized the Indian tribes in the region and commenced war on the British in 1763 with unsuccessful attacks on Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt. The Indians were counting on the promise of French support that never came and after three years of waiting, they surrendered. After Pontiac's War, Chief Pontiac favored peace over war. Although Pontiac never achieved his dream of a united Indian nation, his quest established him as a great Indian leader among the colonists. However, his tribe saw it differently and ended his life with a tomahawk in his skull.

The town of Pontiac was founded in Oakland County, Michigan in 1818 where the Saginaw Indian Trail crossed the Clinton River. Pontiac grew to become an Industrial Center for automotive manufacturing and is the birthplace for General Motor's Truck and Bus, Oakland Motor Car Company and the Pontiac Spring and Wagon Works. The Oakland automobile was produced through 1931 by the Oakland Motors Division of General Motors, but in 1932 the Oakland name was dropped and the Oakland Motor Division became Pontiac Motor Car Company.

The first Pontiac model was built in 1926. Dubbed the "Chief of the Sixes," the car was powered by a six-cylinder engine and made its debut at that year's New York Auto Show. Throughout the 1930s and '40s Pontiac made coupes, sedans and wagons in the low-to-mid price ranges. A unique styling cue of Pontiac cars from the mid-'30s to the mid-'50s was known as "Silver Streak," a set of art-deco-inspired chrome "speed lines" that ran up over the length of the hood to the base of the windshield and then down the back from the back window to the bumper.

The 1950s saw the introduction of the Pontiac Bonneville. The sprawling, stylish cruiser offered equal measures of performance and luxury, and was a breakout hit. But it wasn't until the 1960s that the Pontiac brand truly came into its own. American manufacturers had begun to offer downsized alternatives to the gigantic cruisers that had ruled the highways in previous decades. Pontiac came to market with the compact Tempest. In 1964, Pontiac made its biggest impact yet with the creation of the GTO option for the Tempest. By equipping the car with the powerful 389 cubic-inch V8 from the full-size car line, Pontiac created the first "muscle car." Phenomenally successful, the GTO helped define the burgeoning muscle car category. Pontiac also saw tremendous success during the latter part of this decade with its Firebird and Firebird Trans Am.

The oil crisis of the '70s made fuel efficiency a priority for many car buyers. Following the lead of its GM siblings, Pontiac made compact vehicles like the Ventura and Phoenix a major part of its lineup. The '80s saw the launch of the two-seat Pontiac Fiero, a sporty car with a rear mid-engine. The '90s saw the launch of Pontiacs like the Sunfire and Montana minivan. Pontiac has slowly lost sales due to changing tastes and a lack of differentiation between its models and those of other GM divisions. In hopes of recapturing past glory, the division embarked on a plan to retire aged models and introduce all-new ones with distinctive styling and personality. Not surprisingly, "ugly" did not sell well (i.e. Vibe) and with GM's financial troubles in 2008 and 2009, GM's tribal leaders took a tomahawk to Pontiac.

 
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PONTIAC HISTORY IN LITERATURE

1951

1951

1951
     

1951

1951

1951
     
 
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EXAMPLES OF SALESMAN'S OFFICE LITERATURE AND SERVICE LITERATURE

1935

1941/42

1951
     

1954

1961

1968
     

1969

1970

1971
     

1973

1975

1979
     

1981

1983

1995
     
 
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EXAMPLES OF OWNER'S MANUALS AND SERVICE MANUALS

1949

1950

1952
     

1958

1961

1962
     

1966

1977

1977
     
 
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EXAMPLES OF MEMORABILIA

1966

1985

1971
     

1973

1971

1973
     
 
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EXAMPLES OF SALES LITERATURE

1927

1933

1934
     

1935

1936

1937
     

1939

1940

1941
     

1942

1946

1949
     

1949

1951

1952
     

1952

1953

1954
     

1956

1958

1958
     

1959

1961

1961
     

1963

1964

1964
     

1966

1967

1968
     

1969

1969

1970
     

1971

1971

1972
     

1973

1973

1974
     

1974

1974

1976
     

1977

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1978
     

1979

1982

1984
     

1990

1991

1993
     

1993

1994

1995
     

1997

1997

2001
     
 
 
 
The Automotive Chronicles, July 2012
 
 
 
 
 
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