Monday, February 23, 2009

Pontiac Without Tears

By Jim Heffernan

First they came for the Plymouth, and I did not speak out because I did not drive a Plymouth. Then they came for the Oldsmobile, but I did not speak out because I sold my one Oldsmobile years ago. Then they came for the Pontiac, and I am finally speaking out.

Not that I care that much that General Motors announced last week it is scaling back its nameplates to Cadillac, Buick, GMC and Chevrolet, and dropping Pontiac except as a “niche” car.

What’s a niche car? A car driven by a German philosopher?

The only reason I bring all this up is that it seems so incredible that certain things that seemingly have been around forever and were likely to remain a part of our lives forever can suddenly disappear. No Pontiacs? It’s like saying there is no Santa Claus, or that peanut butter might be unsafe for human consumption, or that those big, tall banks in New York City, with fancy plazas and imposing signs above them, are insolvent.

Here’s a letter I never received:

“Dear Mr. Blogger, my name is Virginia and my little friends say there will be no more Pontiacs. My father says to go on the Internet and ask. He says that the Internet knows everything now. So I ask you, will there be no more Pontiacs?”

Yes, Virginia, there will be no more Pontiacs (or bananas). We will only have memories of this middle-range GM automobile that in its day had a reputation for being the hottest thing on four wide-track wheels.

It had several incarnations, but starting in the late ‘50s (after they dumped the straight-eight engine and installed a high-horsepower and huge cubic inch V8), the Pontiac was the car to own if you knew what was important in life: Burning the rubber off your rear tires on takeoff, beating the car next to you in an impromptu drag race at a traffic signal, or cruising the highways at upwards of 100 mph, drinking gas through dual four-barrel carbs like a desert rat at an oasis.

I owned two Pontiacs, one a 1964 Grand Prix two-door hardtop with an engine so powerful it could pull a steam locomotive into history. On the highway, if you weren’t watching the speedometer carefully, it would creep out of the 80s and into the 90s mph without straining. Highway cops would not accept the excuse that the car was speeding, not the driver, when they pinched you. This was back in the days when cops pinched woman drivers, too.

My other Pontiac was a 1969 Catalina convertible with an eight-track tape player in the dashboard and a wide-track stance at the wheelbase. It also would go very fast, but I was a family man by then, so I tried to keep in under the century mark on the highway for the sake of the children.

Long before Pontiacs were considered “hot” cars (in 1958 some models like Bonneville had side chrome sculpted like a space rocket) Pontiacs were distinguished by chrome stripes running up the center of the hood and down the trunk like the centerline on a highway. Also, the hood ornament was an amber sculpture of the face of a noble Native American, presumably Chief Pontiac, after whom the car was named. The chief’s face lit up when the lights were turned on. You don’t see that kind of thing on cars anymore.

Maybe if they still had stripes and the hood ornament they could have saved Pontiac. Maybe not.


Firebottle3 said...

They now join DeSoto, Kaiser, Henry J, Nash, Hudson, Studebaker, Packard and others who have been relegated to the junk yard of past dreams, red light drag races and cruising Superior on a Monday night with $1.00 to put in the gas tank.

Keep writing, Kim and I'll keep reading.

Enjoy your stay and have a safe trip back to the Zenith City.

Firebottle3 said...

Whoops, I meant Jim, not Kim. Musta fat fingered the key.

Jim Heffernan said...

Firebottle 3:
I know fat fingers well -- have eight of them (not counting thumbs). So fat, I don't use cell phones.

Ah yes, Studebaker, Packard, Hudson, remember them well -- and fondly. We had a pre-war Hudson after the war. Terriblepain. But loved those 49-50-51 step down in Hudsons that won all of the road races. I swear Studebaker died because they were ahead of rgw runw their designs -- the low-boys.

Always enjoy hearing from you, and wanted you to know we stopped at Janna's Mkt per your suggestion. (See my comment under the Blago post. ) Do you know Janna's folks? They're displaced by Ivan and from you area.

Firebottle3 said...

Yes, we know Janna and all of her family, our daughter and Janna are long time friends.

Regarding cell phones, I'm 65 and have never owned one and don't intend to. My wife has one, that is enough.