Pontiac: what happened to the car brand that invented muscle cars
The image of the Pontiac Firebird with the mythological bird of flames on its hood is already part of pop culture. However, Pontiac hasn’t existed for a few years now. After 82 years of history, Pontiac disappeared from the map in 2010. General Motors was forced to sacrifice one of its most iconic brands in order to survive. With the end of the road for Pontiac, an essential page in automotive history has been turned.
It is not the first time that General Motors gets rid of any of its brands, from Oldsmobile to Geo, the Detroit giant does not shake its pulse when it comes to killing a brand. It is also true that a buyer cannot always be found, as was the case with Opel, which is now part of PSA.
Pontiac workers pose next to the last model to leave the factory, a G6 sedan.
Although some of these disappeared brands were pure marketing products, such as Saturn or Geo, this was not the case with Oldsmobile, founded in 1897 by Ransom E. Olds and which disappeared in 2004 because GM no longer knew how to make it profitable, nor did the from Pontiac.
GM’s “sports” brand, as it came to be known, was not just a commercial product. Pontiac was the instigator of the highly acclaimed muscle cars. With Pontiac’s death, not only is a piece of American industrial history gone but an important player in automotive history.
From Oakland Motor Car Company to Pontiac
Like many other historic brands, Pontiac began with the manufacture of carriages. Edward Murphy created the Pontiac Buggy Company in 1893 in the city of Pontiac (Michigan) with the purpose of manufacturing carriages. However, Murphy wanted to go into automobile construction, and to do so, in 1906, he turned to Alanson Brush.
Brush had established himself as a consultant in Detroit having created some of the first Cadillacs. He shows him the project for a vertical twin cylinder that was rejected by Cadillac. Murphy accepts it and in the summer of 1907, he creates the Oakland Motor Co. The lack of success of this first model makes him think that, finally, Cadillac was right to reject the project.
In 1909, a new range with a 40 hp 4-cylinder engine arrived and was successful. Unfortunately, Edward Murphy was unable to enjoy this when he died in 1908. Shortly before his death, he had met with another former carriage manufacturer, William C. Durant, creator of the General Motors empire, and sold him a stake in the Oakland Motor Co. Upon Murphy’s death, Oakland and the rest of Murphy’s companies, including the Pontiac Buggy Co., quickly become part of the nascent General Motors galaxy.
In 1926, Oakland presented the Pontiac at the New York Motor Show, a new model animated by a 6-cylinder, but at the price of a 4-cylinder. The success is such (76,742 units sold that year) that GM management decides to use Pontiac instead of Oakland for the rest of the range. By the way, Pontiac is a reference to the city of origin of the brand, but also to the name of a chief of the Ottawa tribe from the 18th century.