Another One Bites The Dust

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Some unhappy news came in the mail yesterday. A notice that my favorite car magazine — High Performance Pontiac — will be ceasing publication after the October issue.

Pontiac itself, of course, ceased building — scratch that, selling — cars almost ten years ago (in 2006) and really — if you’re a purist like me — hasn’t purveyed anything truly “Pontiac” since the very early ’80s, when the last-of-the-line Pontiac V-8s were made. I’d go back even farther, to 1979. That was the last year you could buy a brand-new Pontiac powered by a high performance Pontiac V-8. And even those — the final run of “T/A” 6.6 liter 400s — were leftovers from the ’78 production run. They were installed in a relative handful of Trans-Ams and even fewer Formula Firebirds, and only paired with a manual transmission. The smart set knew these would be the last of ’em — and snapped ’em up quick, at top dollar. Today — almost 40 years later — these second gen birds of rare plumage are highly collectible.

But that’s just the problem — well, HPP’s problem.

I guess it’s my problem, too.

It’s been almost 40 years since the last 400-powered Pontiac left the factory. Smokey & The Bandit came out in ’77. A long time ago. How many people who are 25 today have even seen it?

It was old before they were born. Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed. Dead. Burt Reynolds looks dead.

Sally Field hawks Boniva on TV.

My ’76 Trans-Am is a relic — from its final-year 455 to its 8 track player to its 15×7 stamped steel Honeycomb wheels.

And I suppose, so am I. Or on my way, anyway.

The Pontiac hobby is an older guy’s hobby — which is to say, a dying hobby.

When the Boomers — and then Generation X (that’s me) do the inevitable fade-away, so will the mass-market interest in the cars of our generation.

This has already happened to numerous — and now largely forgotten brands. Studebaker, anyone? Or reach back farther to Packard, deSoto, Kaiser Frasier. Sure, there are isolated pockets of grumpy old men who still remember. Who maybe still have an artifact from the Before Time parked in the garage. Their kids — certainly their grandkids — know nothing about it and what’s more, don’t care. It’s just that “old car” as far as they’re concerned.

It’s happening to Pontiac, too. Check the aftermarket performance parts catalogs; they’re almost all Chevy and Ford with a little Mopar thrown in. The division that birthed the GTO — which transformed an industry — is hardly represented at all. Try and find a straight-inlet Quadrajet, if you want something to do for an afternoon.

Or three or four.

Who’d a thunk it?

John Z. deLorean could never have imagined it . . but then, he’s long gone, too.

HPP tried to survive by including articles about the new Pontiacs. Well, about the badge-engineered stuff Pontiac was selling and marketing (but not building; remember, “Pontiac” was a label after the mid-1980s and sold GM engineered and “corporate” — Chevy — powered cars with some Pontiac styling affections, that’s all) through ’06. Like the “new” GTO — which was just the old Aussie Holden, repackaged (they had hoped) for U.S. consumption. And the Solstice — the uglier twin of the Saturn Sky. These were Pontiacs in appearance only — and even then, only kinda sorta. Which might have been possible to overlook, if they had at least been Pontiacs where it counted — under the hood. But they weren’t.

Same-same Chevy-sourced monotony.

There is nothing wrong — and much that is admirable — about the LS series of V-8s that powered “Pontiacs” like the latter-day GTO/Holden Monaro. These V-8s are perhaps — indeed, are arguably — the finest pushrod V-8 engines ever designed, delivering stupendous power and not-bad fuel economy while complying with all the latest government emissions ukase and doing it without elaborate technology or expense. It’s not surprising they won out.

But, in the end, they are not Pontiac V-8s and — if I may presume to speak for at least a majority of my fellow Pontiac people — we’re not interested in non-Pontiac stuff. We don’t own ’em, don’t work on, don’t care how they work — nor that they may work better than a Pontiac V-8.

Ergo, we’re not interested in tech articles or even feature articles about ’em. Same goes for the cars themselves.

That meant — HPP-wise — half the magazine was of no use to us — and of little interest. Speaking just for me, I’d flip past every article that wasn’t about a real GTO (1964-’74) or Firebird (1967-’81) or even a Fiero.

I can find articles about LT-1 and LS3 build-ups in pretty much any issue of Car Craft or Hot Rod. But that’s exactly why I bought HPP instead.

It’s not that the corporate/Chevy-powered stuff is bad. It’s not — and it would be idiotic to argue otherwise. What I’m getting at here is preference — which is subjective. Some guys prefer blondes. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with brunettes — or redheads.

What I rail against is the ascendance of sameness — everywhere.

Come to think of it, what made me a Pontiac guy is probably — at root — the heterogeneity of Pontiac itself . . .well, when it was still itself. My ’76 Trans-Am has a very different personality than a ’76 Camaro (no Z28s that year) even though they’re cousins and rolled of the same assembly lines in Van Nuys, CA and Norwood, Ohio. I liked that my Pontiac did not have a Chevy engine under its hood.

Again — not that there’s anything wrong with Chevy engines.

I just happen to prefer Pontiacs.

In a weird way, HPP was killed by the same thing that killed Pontiac itself: Too much non-Pontiac stuff on the menu. It’s probably no longer financially feasible to produce a dedicated Pontiacs-only magazine as a mass-market publication, because the mass market is no longer there. It’s growing a pot belly — and gray hairs — and yelling at the kids to get the hell off the grass.

What was it OJ said?

It happens.

It’s just too damned bad that it has to.


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4 Responses to “Another One Bites The Dust”

  1. Jim B. says:

    I know I was shocked to see GM dump Pontiac, and worse yet, keep Buick! Buick's are just dumbed down, cheaper Cadillac's, made with Chevy parts. If you want a GM luxury car, buy a Caddy! But with Pontiac gone, GM has no performance division. Chevy is the 'cheap' cars, Pontiac was always the performance cars, and Caddy's are the luxury cars. What else do they need?

    I will take minor issue with your comment about the Solstice/Sky. I always felt the Sky was the uglier, underperforming twin of the Solstice. Of just those two cars, I would still take the Solstice. Even with a 'Chevy' engine.

    Thanks for the article!

  2. al says:

    Buick sells in HUGE numbers in China. Over there is is a prestige brand. That is probably the only reason it is still around.

  3. seenmuch says:

    I never got why they killed the brand going with Buick here?? I understood Olds but not the killing of Pontiac to go all in on Buick…

    As a former Skyhawk owner, 350,000+ of 30+ mpg miles on the clock when it died in a crash. So I have a fond place in my heart for the brand that not much else out of Detroit ever had…. I also liked the Trans AM and the Firebird, fun to drive and cool cars… In later years I had a girlfriend with a Grand AM that was a nice ride….

    The only answer I ever got that made sense was in China Buick was GMs best seller so that was the tipping point to which brand would live and which would die…

    I know they have spent a lot of add dollars to try to change the Buick brand's perception here. But come on a Buick???? Since it was the one that survived to me at least it doesn't seem to be really hitting the marks to get in the new younger buyers they need. A buick is still a buick even with all of the quarterback endorsements,….. LOL…..

    They need to change the product not just spend a few dollars on adds to get buyers…Something like building the brand around high mpg auto diesels offering with the Cruise TD drive train might get some needed attention….But what they are doing really doesn't seem to be working in my neck of the woods…

    I don't know a single former Pontiac owner who has gone to a Buick since they killed the brand….Who does buy a Buick here??? It seems Pontiac's death was written in stone in a board room ~30 years ago when someone in GM decided Buick should be the brand leader in China…

  4. Stuart Somers says:

    I am both angry and sad that GM let Pontiac slip away. I have two in my garage—A 70 Bonneville and a 71 Firebird that has been in our family since new. My first car was a '62 Catalina. I worked as a salesman at a Pontiac dealer in the late '70s and I was dismayed at how mediocre they became. The waiting area of the service department had lots angry people every day, who I suspected never would consider another Pontiac GM car, or even one made in the USA.
    There was a glimmer of hope at the very end, it seemed that were at least trying—but they were all re-badged from some else.
    When I heard Olds and Pontiac were dropped and GM was bankrupt, I thought '' It serves the right" —for making crappy cars for the last 25 years. Just think how many Toyotas they helped sell.