2010.11.03 Alas, poor Pontiac has joined the automobile graveyard

Written by David Green.

By RICH FOLEY

Pontiac died Sunday night, and I’ll bet you didn’t even notice. It’s true the 84-year-old vehicle brand hasn’t produced a car in nearly a year, but the official time of death was October 31st, the day on which remaining dealer agreements with General Motors were set to expire.

Not that it’s been that easy to find a new Pontiac recently. A New York Times article stated that GM said less than 125 new Pontiacs were available in the U. S. at the end of August. A whopping total of eight were sold nationwide in September. At that sales rate, they had nearly enough inventory to make it to 2012, but perhaps there was a rush on remaining vehicles earlier in October. At least I wasn’t able to track one down.

I searched on Pontiac’s web site for available cars within 50 miles and found none. Searches within 100 and 150 miles, the limit allowed on the site, were equally fruitless. The Times article said that most of the remaining inventory consisted of “heavily discounted G6’s” and a Miami man wishing to purchase a Solstice two-seater coupe had to make an 1,100 mile round trip to a Florida panhandle dealer to find one.

I asked my friend Gary, who is a sales representative for a Chevrolet/Cadillac dealership, if he could find any Pontiacs still available. He gave up after a search of dealers within 900 miles turned up nothing. That Florida Solstice just might have been the final sale. I suspect rental car agencies probably seized all the blowout-priced G6’s.

Before he hung up, Gary pointed out that, while working at a Pontiac dealership, he delivered the first Pontiac Aztek sold in Lenawee County. Since most experts mention the oddly-styled Aztek as an example of the lackluster vehicles hastening Pontiac’s downfall, it might seem like something he’d prefer to keep secret, but since the owner loved his purchase, it’s instead the story of a happy customer.

Pontiac wasn’t always known for automotive oddities like the Aztek, the two-seater Fiero with a penchant for spontaneously bursting into flames,  or the 1990s Daewoo-built LeMans subcompact, which besmirched the good name of the original 1960s LeMans. Back in the day, it was cool to own a Pontiac.

“Sportier than a Chevrolet, but less uppity than an Oldsmobile or Buick” was how the Times article described the Pontiac of the 1960s, when the brand was usually third in sales behind Chevy and Ford. Back then, the GTO, and later the Firebird and Trans Am kept Pontiac going and one year set a division sales record of 920,000 cars. By 2009, the brand had fallen to 12th place in sales and it was all over except planning the funeral.

My sister and brother-in-law own two reminders of the brand’s glory years. My sister bought a new Pontiac Trans Am back in 1979 and still owns it, although I should point out it spent almost 20 years in storage so it’s not like it has a half-million miles on it or anything.

After they settled in Kansas, brother-in-law Gary bought and restored a 1964 Pontiac GTO. If you’re going to go to all that trouble, that’s one of the best choices you can make. Now that Sandy and Gary plan to move to Texas next year, finding a home with enough garage space to store their car collection is a priority.

Considering my track record of owning cars from failed brands (I’ve had three Plymouths and an Oldsmobile over the years), it’s a bit odd I’ve never owned a Pontiac myself. The one time I drove one was memorable, however.

About 10 years ago, a friend asked if I would help her pick up her car at a repair shop. I drove her car while we dropped off her loaner, then she drove me home. She owned a mid-1990s Pontiac Bonneville, a car 30 years removed from the model’s 1960s glory.

It was after dark and I was amazed by a dashboard assault of dozens of yellow, orange, pink and even blue lights. I was glad I still had my sunglasses with me. In retrospect, about the only warning light it was missing was a flashing red message saying “Beat the rush, buy a Chevy now!” Rust in peace, Pontiac.

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