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Pontiac was originally founded in 1893 by Albert G. North and Harry G. Hamilton as the Pontiac Buggy Company, due to their location in Pontiac, Michigan. But as the early 1900s automotive revolution took off, they shifted their focus from horse-drawn carriages to motorized transportation. Taking a cue from Oakland County where they were based, they rebranded their organization as the Oakland Motor Company. Within a couple years, sales of Oakland cars were so good that it caught the attention of General Motors and they bought the company.
In 1926, GM premiered the first Pontiac and its name drew inspiration from the legendary Native American War Chief, who was famous for the Battle of Bloody Run and opposition of British forces. His likeness was used in early promotional materials as well as the vehicle’s emblem which was referred to simply as the “Indian Head”. In 1956, the outdated emblem was replaced with a new, sleeker logo that resembled a red arrow head. It was known as “The Dart” and featured a singular star in the center which may have been a nod to Pontiac’s successful Star Chief model.
The 1960s saw the introduction of several popular models such as the GTO and the Firebird. The GTO was initially offered as an option package on the 1964 Tempest, and the name was the brainchild of John Delorean, who would later go on to form his own eponymous automobile company. The Firebird debuted in 1967 as a pony-car foil to Ford’s award-winning Mustang. Although mechanically similar to Chevrolet’s Camaro, the Firebird boasted a distinct sheetmetal nose and tail to help visually distinguish it.
The 1980s were another adventurous time for Pontiac, and GM took advantage of the sales momentum by running a successful ad campaign. It proclaimed “We Build Excitement” and highlighted an arrangement with musicians Daryl Hall and John Oats. The fiery Fiero was a home-run for Pontiac and it was introduced in 1983 as an ’84 model. Not only was it the first U.S. produced mid-engine sports coupe, but it also utilized lightweight, dent-resistant body panels. Unfortunately, it’s protracted production run, from 1984-1988, had the shelf-life of a Hollywood romance. With the changing automotive landscape, now would be a good time to resuscitate the Pontiac division and tap existing GM designs to fill out the nascent product line.
GM’s sport-compact offerings have largely been DOA since the untimely end of the 260 hp 2010 Cobalt SS, and a new Fiero could certainly provide a much-needed shot-in-the-arm to that flagging department. Positioned as a contender to domestic rivals like the Ford Focus, as well as a Honda Civic-esque import-fighter, a modified Chevy Cruze would fit the bill nicely. Incorporating a 300 hp iteration of the Camaro’s 2.0 Turbo four, the Cruze SS would deliver both performance and fuel-economy. And for those eco-conscious customers desiring a hybrid, a Pontiac version of the Bolt/Volt would be a sensible alternative.
For Pontiac’s muscle-car contribution, it makes sense to revive the storied Firebird/Trans Am moniker. As in the past, a new Firebird could be manufactured alongside the Camaro in Lansing, Michigan’s Grand River Assembly plant. Naturally, Pontiac-specific styling would give the car its own identity, while also satisfying the brand-loyal customers who have mourned the Firebird since its demise in 2002. Trim levels would see the 335 hp V-6 Firebird as well as the familiar 455 hp V-8 Trans Am. Lastly, the top-tier WS6 model would be Pontiac’s version of the Camaro ZL1.
Finally, with the imminent departure of the Chevrolet SS, the spiritual successor of the Pontiac G8, there’s a void waiting to be filled by a new Pontiac V8 sedan. The Cadillac ATS rides on the same Alpha platform as the current Camaro, so it wouldn’t be much of a production stretch to rebadge it as a new GTO and offer CTS-V levels of performance. General Motors has a well-earned reputation for a Frankensteinian development process whereby it cobbles together parts from many different models. A good example of this was the use of lowly Chevette control arms on the Fiero. With their process of amortizing development costs over several product ranges, there’s no doubt that Pontiac can safely subsist in GM’s post-bankruptcy ecosystem.