Reporting Bob Roberts
CHICAGO (WBBM) - First it was Oldsmobile. Then it was Saturn and Hummer. Now, General Motors has shed Pontiac, the brand that was synonymous for nearly 50 years with “muscle cars” and “performance” vehicles.
The end came quietly earlier this week for Pontiac. Actually, the last Pontiac rolled off production lines overseas in May, and the last U.S.-built Pontiac was manufactured a year ago. But Sunday was the day GM canceled its agreements with Pontiac dealers.
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Although sales had dropped to 267,000 by 2008, the last year before the decision was made to eliminate the Pontiac nameplate, it retained fans to the end, and perhaps few more dedicated than those at Anthony Pontiac-GMC-Buick in Gurnee.
The agency scoured the country for new Pontiacs on other dealers’ lots to keep a supply in stock in recent months.
When an orange 2010 Solstice GXB roadster–a car loaded with extras and just as comfortable on the racetrack as the highway–merited mention in an Associated Press wire story last week, inquiries began to pour in for the car.
Longtime salesman Gary Barlow said that Wednesday, the Solstice was sold to a collector in Las Vegas, a man who owns more than 50 Pontiacs.
Only when the Solstice was prepped for transport did workers begin to remove the “Pontiac” sign atop the dealership, at 7225 Grand Av., in Gurnee.
Barlow, like many other Pontiac aficionados, drove his first Pontiac long before he could legally drink.
“When I was 17 years old, I had my first ’67 GTO, so believe me, I love Pontiacs,” Barlow said. “It’s a shame to see them go away.”
A restored GTO today is still a show-stopper.
“It started with the GTO,” he said.
GTO stood for “Gran Turismo Omologato,” Italian for “ready to race.”
Pontiac had a 40-year association with NASCAR’s Cup series. Pontiacs shredded the competition for 155 victories, the last of which came at Darlington, N.C., in March 2003. Ricky Craven went to Victory Lane in what remains the closest finish in what is now known as the Sprint Cup, a margin of .002 seconds–approximately two inches.
Barlow said that Pontiac’s Catalina 2+2, Bonneville, Grand Prix, Firebird and Firebird Trans Am and, most recently, the Solstice were all sure-fire sellers and remain sought after.
Burt Reynolds and Sally Field fled the law in a Trans Am which raced through the 1970s hit movie “Smokey and the Bandit.”
Its ad campaigns in the ’80s told potential buyers, “We Build Excitement.” Ronnie & the Daytonas’ 1960s recording “GTO” told fans, “Turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO.” Sammy Hagar’s 1980s hit “Trans Am” told listeners, “Catch me if you can.”
In the late 1980s, GM combined Pontiac’s manufacturing, engineering and design operations with those of other GM brands. It hurt sales, which had already begun a steady decline from more than one million vehicles in 1968.
Anthony Vice President and General Manager Trent Tobias said that he believed GM made a mistake and that the market for performance autos remains.
“We’ve had a lot of business, a lot of interest from all across the country,” he said. “It’s a shame the product is being phased out by General Motors. It was a great brand to have.”
Tobias still has one new Pontiac on his lot–a silver 2009 G6 convertible. There are others on display that are used, including a 2002 Firebird and a 2006 Solstice. But a General Motors spokesman said late last week that fewer than 30 unsold Pontiacs remained at any agency. So Tobias knows that the pipeline has run dry.
“It was exciting to be a part of it. Unfortunately, we’re not excited to be part of the loss,” he said.
Barlow reaches for explanations.
“Changing times, changing tastes–it’s a changing economy,” he said. “What are you going to do? That kind of killed it, unfortunately.”