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Used to be that the Pontiac Bonneville was a full-size dream car...

Used to be that the Pontiac Bonneville was a full-size dream car, with power, prestige and style. Then Pontiac made it a front-drive disaster, and the model never recovered. Despite superchargers, handling packages, tons of plastic body cladding and countless electronic gadgets, the Bonneville devolved into a caricature of big American sedans. The final version, shown here, was bulbous and ugly, overweight, under-powered and with a cheap interior. No wonder it got the axe.

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Great: 1964 Pontiac GTO

There we're other powerful cars made in the U.S. before the 1964 Pontiac GTO. There we're other inexpensive cars made here, too. But it was the 1964 Pontiac GTO that brought low price and high performance together for the first time, and thus the modern muscle car was born. By stuffing a powerful V-8 under the hood of it's otherwise pedestrian Tempest, Pontiac changed the automotive landscape forever. Say "GTO" to a car nut, and chances are they'll think of this Pontiac, and not the Ferraris that preceded it.

Garbage: 2004 Pontiac GTO

In all fairness the 2004 Pontiac GTO was a pretty good car by most standards. In fact, it may very well be that the biggest problem with the GTO was that it was called a GTO. Maybe if Pontiac had put a different moniker on it, let's say Le Mans, it would have sold better. But slapping the fabled GTO badge on this heavy, expensive Australian import was a mistake. Sure, Pontiac added more power and better handling later on, but the generic styling was a clean miss, and I'm pretty sure there's a picture of this car next to the definition of "brand dilution."

Great: 1978 Pontiac Trans Am

The 70s we're a tough time for performance cars. Gas was expensive, emissions regulations we're strangling engines, and really nothing was making the kind of tire-smoking power that it seemed everyone was making just a few years earlier. Talk about depressing. Then, along comes the 1978 Pontiac Trans Am, with at least 220 hp (some people say much more) and a starring role in Smokey and the Bandit. Not only did it look great in a very 70s way, complete with gold trim and of course the Screaming Chicken on the hood, it was also legitimately quick and proved that although times we're tough, they we're going to get better. Honest.

Garbage: 1976 Pontiac Astre

Sold alongside the Trans Am was the Pontiac Astre. This was a rebadged Chevy Vega that had been sold since day one in Canada, but brought to the U.S. as domestic dealers clamored for a fuel-efficient model to draw in customers that weren't' looking to buy a Trans Am. The Astre, like it's Vega counterpart, wasn't entirely without merit, but by 1976 the lousy engine and quick-rust body had already turned the Vega into a joke. Why Pontiac's product planners thought it would be different for the Astre nobody can say, but the car was a dismal flop. By the way, history repeated itself with the 2009 Pontiac G3, a Canadian version of the Chevy Aveo used to buck up Pontiac's fuel efficiency credentials. Those who fail to learn from history.

Great: 2009 Pontiac Solstice Coupe GXP

All Pontiac did for the 2009 Solstice Coupe GXP was add a hard roof. Yet this solved the car's most exacerbating problem, it's lousy hardtop, and made the car worth considering. Yes, it's still hard to see out of, and no, it doesn't offer the finesse of a Mazda Miata. But it looks stunning, with the 260-hp turbocharged engine it's lightning quick, and it handles pretty well, especially with the $1,000 handling package. I'll admit that there are plenty of candy-asses out there who complain about visibility, but in my opinion the Solstice is finally as good as it should have been all along. Too bad it follows the Pontiac tradition of finally getting it right after it's too late.

Garbage: 2006 Pontiac Solstice

Credit GM for bringing the Pontiac Solstice to market at all, and doubly so without screwing up the stunning styling of the concept car. But, dammit, why'd it have to be such a poorly executed piece of crap? The top was a terrible joke and destroyed any goodwill the car may have built up on the initial impression when the driver had to put the lousy thing up or down. The interior used the cheapest of cheap plastics, and was uncomfortable to boot. Sure, it didn't cost much, but neither did the Mazda Miata, which was simply way, way better.

Dishonorable Mention: 2001-2005 Pontiac Aztek

The Pontiac Aztek will, very likely, be fingered as The Car That Killed Pontiac. On the surface the idea was good: The Aztek was one of the first crossovers, admitting that most SUVs never saw off-road duty, and was packed with really clever and innovative features that are still rare today. But man, was it ever ugly. The first time I ever drove an Aztek, I purposely parked it conspicuously so that I could sit back and observe reactions. They weren't good. Exactly how such an ugly vehicle ever got the go ahead at GM is beyond me, and everyone else. But into production it went, along with it's ungaingly proportions, and into the history books as one of, if not the ugliest cars ever built. The Aztek cancer spread to the rest of the line, and ever since Pontiac has been little more than the butt of jokes.

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Posted in Other Recreation Post Date 03/20/2017


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