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Posts filed under ‘Pontiac’

What Might Have Been:
The ’92-’95 Pontiac Bonneville

April 17, 2013 by Matt

Pontiac Bonneville

It had so much going for it; if only Pontiac had had the resolve, resources and most importantly, the vision to really make this car what it needed to be.

Who knows; perhaps they had the desire to but were simply hamstrung by the corporate culture at GM. All I remember is that when I first became aware of the 1992-1995 Bonneville, while I was pleased with the looks (until a 1996 refresh spoiled them), I was thoroughly disappointed that Pontiac had chosen to build it on a staid FWD platform shared with the contemporary Olds 88 and Buick LeSabre, and that they had declined to offer a manual transmission option.

Would either choice have made any economic sense? Highly unlikely. Pontiac made a killing in the ’90s selling cars that promised excitement based on their looks but routinely wound up near the bottom of comparison tests when pitted against their rivals, helping to consolidate the claim that the average American consumer was more drawn to the appearance of dynamic competence rather than the actual presence of it. So there’s no reason to believe RWD would have been a selling point to the typical Pontiac buyer of the era. Same with the option of a stickshift—the sales of three-pedaled versions of more recent cars such as the Lincoln LS and Cadillac CTS have had enormous difficulty rising out of the single-digit percentages.

Pontiac Bonneville

So from a business standpoint, with the 1992-1995 Bonneville, the blinders-on, here-and-now mindset prevailed, and Pontiac squandered one of their best opportunities to fundamentally alter the brand’s perception. GM had wanted for years to position Pontiac as an “American BMW,” the luxury + performance sweet spot of the GM constellation of marques, and as much as the division’s development team may have wanted the same, they were always constrained by the platform-sharing dictates of upper management. GM’s corporate philosophy seemed focused on giving the customer what they wanted at present, never educating, never driving, never leading, never generating excitement by exceeding the customer’s expectations in opening his eyes to a more complete, satisfying driving experience the way Pontiac’s erstwhile German competitors did.

Pontiac Bonneville

It’s really a shame. If only its handling and general refinement had lived up to its looks, the 1992-1995 Bonneville could have been the perfect BMW 5-series fighter. From the outside, it’s a very handsome car; the fascia and resolution of the C-pillar and decklid are particularly well done. Sure, some of the details are crude, like the awkward position of the side mirrors and the overwrought body cladding, but it’s a great start. If only Pontiac had been set free to turn the supercharged, 225-hp V6 90°, hook it up to the rear wheels via a 5- or 6-speed manual transmission and invest in suspension tuning, they would have drawn a crowd of enthusiasts overnight. It turned out to be another missed opportunity for Pontiac to be who they really wanted to be.

Image credits:,

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting key decisions I wish automakers had made differently, for divers reasons. Read the other installments here:

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The ’92-’95 Pontiac Bonneville

Styling Misfires: The ’04-’06 Pontiac GTO

March 18, 2013 by Matt

2004 Pontiac GTO Red

It could have been great. Really.

Arriving in showrooms a year before Ford’s acclaimed Mustang reboot in 2005, the 2004-2006 Pontiac GTO had a real chance to vault past its eventual competitors, including the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger, as the first of a new generation of muscle cars. Pontiac’s “GTO” nameplate has volumes of automotive history and lore to draw from, aesthetically and philosophically, and the platform chosen for the new car was GM Australian subsidiary Holden’s excellent Monaro sports GT.

2004 Pontiac GTO Red

Such potential…such failure. The GTO never even approached GM’s sales expectations and lingered in showrooms for a few lonely years before being quietly euthanized. What happened?

To put it mildly, the enthusiast community was underwhelmed. I pin the vast majority of the blame on the looks. It really is hard to fault the combination of a GM pushrod V8, RWD chassis, 6-speed manual transmission and competent suspension tuning. All reviews of the day noted that although the dynamics of the car lacked the ultimate polish of the GTO’s European rivals, they were exemplary for an American car, and for Pontiac especially, who, as noted in the recent post on the equally ill-fated G8 sports sedan, had been forced for years to convince the buying public that warmed-over, badge-engineered FWD family sedans were the last word in “performance.” Finally, finally, they received a platform with all the mechanical organs in the right places, and…the styling deep-sixed the car’s chances before the enthusiast community even entered the showroom.

It’s not that the GTO is an ugly car—it’s not—it’s just… Utterly anonymous-looking. Plastic. Jellybean-like. It could have been the 2-door version of a contemporary FWD Pontiac family sedan and no one would have been the wiser. It did not mine any classic GTO design themes or cues, and its innocuous aesthetics were completely at odds with any kind of rip-snorting “bad boy” muscle car feel its chassis tried to convey.

2006 Pontiac GTO Silver

For its last two model years in 2005 and 2006, Pontiac attempted to “beef up” the car’s visual flair with a pair of hood scoops and true dual exhaust tips, among a handful of other detail changes, but it was too little, too late, and anyway the changes didn’t alter the GTO’s fundamental styling shortcomings. Pity; there was so much goodness under the skin.

Image credits:

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series wherein we discuss unsuccessful cars whose styling was their overlooked (or denied) Achilles heel. Read the other installments here:

3 Comments on Styling Misfires: The ’04-’06 Pontiac GTO

Just When They Got It Right…
The Pontiac G8

February 22, 2013 by Matt

Pontiac G8 GXP Silver

Pontiac should’ve built the G8 20 years before it arrived at dealerships in 2009. Instead, it lasted two whole model years and was axed along with the entire brand.

The GM marque’s cars’ bark was always worse than their bite. Notorious for ages for being festooned with sporty-looking plastic side cladding, amped-up interior trimmings and yet being decidedly lackluster to drive, Pontiacs arguably represented all that was wrong about GM’s approach to performance cars. Sure, they may have had big engines and moved respectably well in a straight line, but the automaker’s lineup—cars like the Grand Am and later G6, Bonneville and Grand Prix—were all built on FWD platforms shared with cars from other GM divisions. In addition to wrong-wheel-drive, conspicuous in their absence were the option of a stickshift paired with the cars’ higher-end engine choices as well as any semblance of being fun to drive.

Pontiac G8 GXP Silver

A truly easy formula to master, after years of trying to convince the buying public, with varying degrees of success, that what matters vis-a-vis performance is the appearance of it, in the G8, Pontiac finally, finally had its first true sports sedan. And then killed it.

Pontiac G8 Engine Motor V8

A rebadged version of the Holden Commodore (a front-engined, RWD sports sedan produced for years by GM’s Australian arm), the top-of-the-line G8 GXP was available with a 6-speed manual gearbox bolted to a 415-hp iteration of the Corvette’s LS3 6.2l pushrod V8. The car’s 4.6-second sprint to 60 and excellent road manners belied its 3,950-lb weight. After years of trying to compete with the likes of BMW and Audi on a superficial level, Pontiac finally had a sedan with the engine, driveline and chassis chops to take them on. Was it really that hard?

Pontiac G8 GXP Interior Inside Console Cockpit Dash Dashboard

Even the interior is well laid-out and largely fluff-free. Coupled with the handsome, tailored, linebacker-ish exterior, the G8 was nothing less than the realization, in the flesh, of 30+ years of Pontiac marketing promises.

As for its demise, who’s to blame? GM has a history of misguided and shortsighted product development decisions, so it could well have been the penny-pinchers in upper management deciding that the perfect car for Pontiac really wasn’t worth it from a cost/benefit perspective. The more likely explanation is simply the fact that the G8 came out in 2009 in the throes of the recent economic downturn, when the Big 3 were holding their respective fire sales and axing anything and everything they could in order to remain solvent. Thus when Pontiac was selected for the block, the G8 was simply collateral damage. Shame.

Who knows; perhaps lightning does strike twice and GM will “get it” once more… But at the moment that’s too much to hope for.

Image credits:,,,

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The Pontiac G8

14-Year-Old Kathryn DiMaria’s
Pontiac Fiero Project

October 26, 2012 by Matt

Stories like this are why I drag my kids to car shows.

Well, I like the cars too, but I continue to hold out the hope that one or both with take the torch of my car interest, so to speak, and run with it the way 14-year-old Kathryn DiMario has in the clip above.

When she was 12, Kathryn approached her parents with an idea: She would take all her saved babysitting money and purchase a project car to fix up and learn on before she was able to legally drive. Her parents, to their credit, agreed, and worked with her to locate a clapped-out Pontiac Fiero. They expected Kathryn’s interest to wane and the endeavor to peter out after a short time, but the girl persisted, and insisted on doing almost all the work herself, learning about the car’s mechanicals as well as upholstery, welding and other restoration techniques in the process.

Needless to say, if my son or daughter decide one day that they’d like to embark on such an adventure, I’ll have their back 100%. For a more detailed account of Kathryn’s project and to keep abreast of the latest updates, visit her project thread.

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Pontiac Fiero Project

Upcoming Buick GNX: Another
Storied Nameplate to be Sullied

March 2, 2012 by Matt

Buick SLP GNX Regal GS Concept Sketch Teaser

It’s like what Pontiac did to the GTO, only worse.

Motor Authority reports that tuner SLP plans to revive Buick’s legendary GNX designation, applying it to a breathed-upon variant of the automaker’s current Regal GS. Mercifully, they’ve only planned to build around 500 of them, close to the painfully low number of the original that were produced.

To understand why this is such a travesty, consider a couple of things:

  1. The original GNX was the ultimate rip-snorting, ground-pounding, take-no-prisoners incarnation of the already-fearsome Grand National. It was, first and foremost, a muscle car. It may not have been V8-powered in the classic tradition, but its turbocharged V6 radiated torque in its own right. And it was RWD, sported a live rear axle, dripped with testosterone and was singularly intimidating to line up next to at a stoplight or drag strip.
  2. Back in ’04, Pontiac attempted to revive their legendary GTO badge by slapping it on a car called the Monaro, imported from their Australian subsidiary Holden. While the new GTO possessed good credentials on paper—a small-block V8 lifted from the outgoing Camaro and RWD—it utterly failed to catch on. Its timing was off by several years, for one; the new generation of muscle cars wouldn’t crop up until the emergence of the Dodge Challenger and especially the new Ford Mustang. But more significantly, although the mechanicals were on point, the sheetmetal was jellybean-like and inert, with absolutely none of the swagger befitting a proper muscle car.

And with the new GNX, history threatens to repeat itself as SLP prepares to water down yet another revered nameplate by affixing it to a very un-muscle-y sports sedan built on a FWD platform. A little nostalgia mining I can handle, but the new car must faithful if not to the original’s concept, at least to its general attitude. I really can’t see any possible way for SLP to re-cast the Regal GS in the mold of the ’80s GNX. It’s just not going to work.

3 Comments on Upcoming Buick GNX: Another
Storied Nameplate to be Sullied