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.