- Tom Silva
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RIP: The Iconic Pontiac
The Pontiac – renowned for its muscle cars in the 1960s and 1970s – recently ended its 84-year run when General Motors (GM) pulled the plug on the once-iconic brand. Pontiacs – which peaked at nearly one million sales a year in 1968 – came to an end due to a combination of bad corporate strategy and drivers’ changing tastes. At the peak of Pontiac’s popularity, it was a favorite of young drivers because of its high horsepower models like the GTO, Trans Am and Catalina 2+2.
In the late 1980s, GM shifted its strategy on Pontiac, bringing the brand into line with its other cars. As a result, Pontiac lost its edge. Bill Hoglund, a retired GM executive who headed Pontiac during the days of the “We Build Excitement” ad campaign, blames the brand’s passing on a corporate reorganization led by then-CEO Roger Smith in the late 1980s. “There was no passion for the product,” according to Hoglund. “The product had to fit what was going on in the corporate system.”
Introduced in 1926, Pontiacs were originally aimed at working-class families who wanted reliable transportation. A sales slump in the 1950s nearly finished the brand, but GM revitalized the cars by giving them powerful V8 engines that strongly appealed to young drivers. Sales spiked to 17 percent of all GM cars and trucks sold in the United States in 1968. The GTO, in particular, was a subject in popular culture and was the subject of a 1960s hit song by Ronny and the Daytonas. The song’s chorus honored the car “C’mon and turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO.”