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

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. That I have a deep enjoy of every little thing Pontiac is well recognized. I grew up immersed in this small business – proper in the thick of GM’s heyday – and Pontiac performed a crucial position in both of those my formative several years and my early marketing vocation. That’s why when GM took the personal bankruptcy pill in 2008, I was crushingly disappointed to find out that the Pontiac Division was a single of the assets to be jettisoned. (And Hummer, as well, but thankfully that nameplate has now returned.)

It is really hard to believe that now, but Pontiac was just another GM division again in the mid-50s. It experienced a lineup of stodgy automobiles, and there was almost nothing to write house about. The division existed below the GM company umbrella, but it was decidedly lacking in just about everything when in comparison to GM’s other divisions: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile. But that would all modify when Bunkie Knudsen was appointed a GM vice president and the division’s common supervisor in July of 1958. Knudsen was provided the assignment to inject some daily life into the division and increase sales, and he was offered carte blanche to do it.

As a reminder, if you had been a GM vice president and divisional typical supervisor back again in the working day you have been akin to a potentate functioning a smaller place. GM’s divisional standard administrators had enormous electrical power with accountability for engineering, producing, revenue and internet marketing. Imagining about that in comparison with how issues run right now, it does not seem actual, for the reason that it was so dramatically various from today’s car or truck small business it is like looking through from a fairytale e book. But make no mistake, it was extremely real, and GM’s divisional common managers were like giants roaming the earth, swashbuckling their way as a result of the working day-to-working day of the organization whilst producing very important, pivotal conclusions on the fly. Remember, this was a enterprise that debuted new cars every single drop with new sheet metallic and new capabilities to go with them. Yet again, in comparison with how issues are completed nowadays, it is just jaw-dropping to contemplate how the business churned back then. Yes, as I have claimed several, many occasions right before, it was a various time and a distinctive period, but GM’s heyday was genuinely amazing in that the corporation soared since of it, even with the bean counters making an attempt to rein matters in every single action of the way.

The only arena where GM’s divisional normal professionals had to get a phase again was when dealing with GM Styling, which was run with an iron fist by design and style legend Invoice Mitchell, who inherited the mantle from Harley Earl. The clashes concerning Mitchell and GM’s divisional normal administrators ended up legendary, and I will help you save people stories for another column. But suffice to say, Mitchell received what he required for the most component, even if he experienced to enjoy the divisional standard professionals off against every other to do so.

But back to Bunkie and Pontiac. His to start with hires have been two young and gifted engineers – Pete Estes from Oldsmobile and John Z. DeLorean from Packard. The cost to DeLorean was quite precise: get Pontiac into the efficiency business correct now. And considering the fact that Bunkie was a huge racing fanatic, anything was on the table, from NASCAR to drag racing.

And all of a unexpected, very hot Pontiacs stuffed with large V8s started out to show up almost everywhere, from Daytona to Pomona. And even in our driveway. Considering that Bunkie and his wife had been social mates with my mothers and fathers, Bunkie commenced sending the most popular Pontiacs to our household especially for my mother to drive. Commencing in the summertime of 1959, we had a sequence of Bonneville and Catalina convertibles that ended up usually bright pink with a white major and a bright pink interior. And they were normally equipped with the hottest Pontiac engine at the time, which at initial were being 389 cu. in. V8s with 3×2-barrell carbs, and finally 421 V8s. Unnecessary to say, my mother loved her warm Pontiacs. (And my brother and I did, also, specifically given that he experienced just gotten his license and we would “exercise” mom’s automobiles at each and every prospect.)

The transformation of the Pontiac Division is a glorious portion of GM lore. Pontiacs went from becoming practical transportation devices to some of the best cars in the market. Presenting overall performance engineering and styling that just weren’t out there everywhere else, Pontiac rode a wave of attractiveness that took the business enterprise – and GM – by storm. 

I say GM for the reason that, don’t forget that portion about GM’s divisional vice presidents being akin to potentates of their own countries? Very well, that was genuine, right up until Pontiac – beneath Bunkie Knudsen’s tutelage – commenced to upset the pecking purchase inside of the enterprise. Just before Pontiac grew to become a “problem” for the other basic administrators, the GM divisional hierarchy was very clear: Cadillac was up and off to the side luxuriating in its very own rarified globe. Buick was next in conditions of prestige, with the super-well known Chevrolet sucking up all of the air in the home because of its outstanding revenue numbers, adopted by Oldsmobile, which just chugged together, and then the moribund Pontiac. 

At least that’s the way it applied to be prior to Bunkie and his “pirates” got rolling. All of a unexpected, factors had changed. Chevrolet, which pretty considerably had high-effectiveness marketing and advertising chances cornered in GM, was becoming critically pushed by Pontiac on all fronts. Chevrolet operatives turned far more incensed with each individual Pontiac foray into their territory, and the intramural battles amongst the two divisions spilled over all the way to GM’s vaunted 14th floor, with whining Chevrolet executives complaining to best GM execs that Pontiac was deliberately encroaching on Chevy’s territory. As you can imagine, this didn’t sit effectively with Knudsen and DeLorean & Co. The rising gross sales quantities, nonetheless, had been in Pontiac’s favor so GM’s prime execs fairly much permit Pontiac go, which included even a lot more gasoline to Chevy’s fire. 

Then, in 1963, when GM issued its formal ban versus the participation in racing as corporate plan (a monumentally chicken-shit determination, by the way), the divisional basic supervisors experienced to comply. (This is when Zora Arkus-Duntov, somewhat than destroying the Corvette Grand Athletics, sent them to dependable racer friends of the business, for essentially free. And the company’s deeply embedded romantic relationship with Jim Hall’s Chaparral cars and trucks went totally underground.) 

The little-recognised collateral damage from that anti-racing ban was a GM internal edict that prohibited specified sized V8 from currently being set in “smaller” cars, which is a joke contemplating all those smaller automobiles were massive by today’s specifications. The Chevrolet operatives dutifully complied with the edict, whilst Pontiac operatives, led by DeLorean and Invoice Collins – the gifted engineer who deserves most of the credit score for this upcoming piece of automotive background – decided to go in one more direction. In advance of the racing ban, Collins had been chaotic stuffing Pontiac’s V8s into “intermediate” Le Mans bodies, and the end result was, useless to say, magical. But when the edict took influence, Pontiac was specifically ordered not to things a V8 into a Le Mans to make it into a new Pontiac design.

Then, a little bit of genius. Pontiac operatives determined to get close to the ban by producing the “GTO” a new choice 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 were apoplectic, but by the time GM company acquired wind of what was going on, the GTO alternative had grow to be one of the most sought-after high-efficiency alternative offers in the industry. And by 1966 it grew to become its individual separate product.

Pontiac was pink-very hot, with its unique brand name of higher-functionality engineering and some of GM Styling’s best designs coming in wave immediately after wave. From there, Pontiac would pile success on achievements, achieving, at a person place, a few million in annual profits. The rebels out in Pontiac, Michigan, had received. 

And just about the very best element? Pontiac was supported by sensational marketing, obviously some of the finest and most unforgettable advertising in the motor vehicle enterprise at the time. That pissed off Chevrolet’s ad company – Campbell-Ewald – on a common basis, which designed it even greater.

As for the intramural struggle concerning Chevrolet and Pontiac, it ongoing. Pontiac arrived out with the Grand Prix in 1962, and the extensive-nosed ’69 version pushed by DeLorean was one more huge hit. Chevrolet came out with the Camaro in 1967, but the Pontiac Firebird to some, was much better looking. The ’70 Camaro, which was extraordinary in its personal right, was undercut by the fantastic ‘70 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am and Firebird Components. As late as 1984, when Pontiac arrived out with the mid-motor Fiero, the struggle ongoing. Chevrolet insisted that it could not encroach on Corvette territory, so the Fiero was restricted to a 4-cylinder at intro and got a V6 proper just before it was dropped. The 2nd-technology Fiero, which I had the satisfaction of viewing, had “Corvette-killer” published all in excess of it, but there was just no way Chevrolet operatives were likely to permit it to see the light-weight of working day, so they lobbied in opposition to it intensely, and it under no circumstances did.

The Pontiac story is value telling. And it’s not just mainly because of the amazing cars and nameplates like Bonneville, Catalina, Fiero, Firebird, Grand Prix, GTO and Le Mans. It’s mainly because a bunch of maverick Real Believers thumbed their noses at the company inertia that threatened to overrun GM at the time and dared to go up from an intramural corporate rival to produce some of the very best and most memorable devices to arrive out of Detroit. 

I had the pleasure of operating on Pontiac marketing at D’Arcy MacManus & Masius from 1980-1985, and I will never overlook it. Even even though the small business was swiftly shifting and Pontiac was starting to eliminate its identification within the GM company monolith, the spirit of the previous ad greats that arrived just before me and my advertisement colleagues was as intense, lively and visceral as it could be. And we worked to make them proud just about every 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 left its indelible mark on automotive heritage – never to be recurring, but by no means to be forgotten.

And that’s the High-Octane Real truth for this 7 days.


Editor’s Take note: This is Peter’s famous advertisement for the 1981 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo V-8. As Peter states, “It was a diverse time and a diverse era.” More true text were being by no means spoken. -WG

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