The days are numbered for the Pontiac division, as General Motors focuses its resources on Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC. The passing of such a storied automotive name got the staff reminiscing about their favorite Pontiacs, from lust to ownership. Everyone has their own take on the brand’s high points, though we agree the 6000, J-2000, Trans Port, Aztek, G3, or even Solstice don’t number among them.
Here, a few of us share our personal picks, and invite you to share yours in the comments below.
Jeff Bartlett: My first two cars were Pontiacs, a Grand Prix and Firebird. The Prix rusted to the point of being discarded with around 50,000 miles on it. Much to my disappointment, the pampered Firebird blew its engine when it reached the same milestone. My family owned several other models, from Catalina to Sunbird, during my youth. Through the years, I have driven many Firebirds and loved them all, creaks, rattles, and quirks included. I am drawn to the 1969 coupe, but ultimately it is the late second-gen, Bandit-era Trans Am with the screaming eagles that makes me want to reach for the checkbook. The better choice for routine driving would probably be a late fourth-gen with an LS1—despite the endless sea of marshmallow-like controls. The car went through hundreds of detail updates over its long run, and it was a real hoot in its final years with big power and attitude. Make mine white, with a six-speed and T-tops.
Tom Mutchler: I learned how to drive on my parents' 1983 Pontiac 6000LE. Maroon with maroon velour, fake wire wheels, no air conditioning or cassette player. (Oh, how I wished they had moved up to the 6000STE, a decent attempt at a sports sedan for the time.) Not a great Pontiac, but certainly memorable for me.
Problem was it wasn't exactly memorable for anybody else. The 6000 was one of four similar GM A-body cars, each of them only differing in detail. It took a real enthusiast to tell them apart at fifty paces, never mind the average consumer. But back then, sales were strong enough to justify having four dealer channels selling essentially the same car. Not so much today...
Mike Quincy: I confess: I thought the Pontiac Trans Am in the first "Smokey and the Bandit" movie was pretty cool – although I didn’t feel the same way toward all the turquoise jewelry that Burt Reynolds seemed to favor. No, what got me was the idea of cruising half way across the country with the T-tops off and the sound of a big-block V8 drowning out the rest of the world.
When I was in high school, my next-door neighbor got a ’79 T/A. I’ve never forgotten seeing the shaker hood do its dance the first time I sat in the passenger seat when he started it. I’ve driven several Firebirds over the years, and there’s a part of me that still wants one with a shaker hood, but today’s muscle cars are SO much better it’s not even funny. I recently drove our 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T to Skidmore College, my Alma matter, in Saratoga Springs, NY. The ride was comfortable, the seats were supportive, and I had Sirius satellite radio instead of a CB. Don’t kid yourself if you’re a muscle car fan: the latest versions of these machines truly represent the good old days. Shame there isn’t a Firebird alongside the Chevrolet Camaro.
Gabe Shenhar: As a young teen, I used to stop and admire a 1973 Grand Am on my daily route walking back from school. At the time, American cars were considered a novelty in my native Israel-- especially Pontiac. But the big Grand Am had a mystique that was lacking from the more common Darts, Valiants and Cutlasses. It was a gun-metal grey four-door sedan with a 6.6-liter badge on either side of the hood (400 cubic-inches). My buddies and I would sometimes wait until the elegant owner would whisk off effortlessly and treat us to the sound of its eight cylinders, just for us to salivate a little more
In the three and a half decades between that Pontiac and its current spiritual successor, the latest G8, I’ve covered many miles in mediocre Pontiacs, including the GTO circa 1970 belonging to one of my engineering school buddies. I find it sad that the Pontiac brand can not support a truly impressive car like the Australian-built G8. Evidently, the G8 turned out to be too little, too late for the brand. (Read: "Will the Pontiac G8 sport sedan be a future classic?") Despite news to the contrary, I wish GM would turn the car into the next Chevrolet Impala SS.
Jim Travers: My personal motor pool has included somewhere around 70 vehicles over the years, but only one has been a Pontiac. And that one, a 1973 Grand Am, is memorable only for how quickly it began to decompose once my dad brought it home brand new. Within the space of one year, rust had not only made an appearance, it had ate holes through the rocker panels. By the time I inherited it a few years later, what was left of it had developed myriad other issues in addition to the rust, and it was but a few miles from the scrap heap with myriad troubles.
In terms of favorite Pontiacs, I share my taste with the made-for-TV pop band from the 1960s, The Monkees. The Monkeemobile was a customized ’66 GTO convertible, and since I was a kid that’s been my favorite model and year. Beyond that, I don’t share a lot with Mickey and the boys, including, I must admit, their taste in music.
Go ahead and take the last train to Clarksville. I’ll take the GTO.
Cliff Weathers: 1989 Pontiac Bonneville SSE. Soon after I started working for Car and Driver magazine, this car entered our long-term fleet. A heavy car with a somewhat docile V6 engine, it was ignored by many of the magazine’s speed-crazed editors. And as the low man on the totem pole, it ended up practically being my daily driver. The SSE was not without its virtues: It looked quite chic with a deep rear valence and lower body cladding. The car was also very high-tech for the time and came with Lear leather seats that what seemed to have unlimited adjustments. It also had a digital compass and an eight-speaker stereo system that was hooked up to a CD player and tuner, features that were only found in premium vehicles of the era. The driver and passenger seat controls, and several audio controls, were found on the steering wheel, which looked like a prop from Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Putting the passenger controls in the driver’s hands is a boon for sadists. If you’re not pleased with your co-pilot’s critique of your driving, you could always contort them into an impossible seating position.) Today, some of the SSE’s features are now old-fashioned and others would be a bit gauche, but this was the ‘80s. Who am I to judge? I was wearing parachute pants and listening to Rick Astley.