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Pontiac - marque/manufacturer information

List of all Pontiac cars

Pontiac is a marque of automobile produced by General Motors and sold in the United States, Canada and Mexico from 1926 to the present. In the GM brand lineup, Pontiac is a mid-level brand featuring a sportier, high-performance driving experience for a reasonable price, and its advertisements appeal to younger customers.


Pre-war years: 1926-1942

The Pontiac brand was introduced by General Motors in 1926 as the 'companion' marque to GM's Oakland Motor Car line. The Pontiac name was first used in 1906 by the Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works and linked to Chief Pontiac who led an unsuccessful uprising against the British shortly after the French and Indian War. The Oakland Motor Company and Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works Company merged in November 1908 under the name of the Oakland Motor Car Company. The operations of both companies were joined together in Pontiac, Michigan (in Oakland County) to build the Cartercar. Oakland was purchased by General Motors in 1909. The first General Motors Pontiac was conceived as an affordable six cylinder that was intended to compete with more inexpensive four cylinder models. Within months of its introduction, Pontiac outsold Oakland. As Pontiac's sales rose and Oakland's sales began to decline, Pontiac became the only 'companion' marque to survive its 'parent', in 1932.

Pontiac began selling cars with straight 6-cylinder engines. In 1933, it moved up to producing the cheapest cars with straight 8-cylinder engines. This was done by using many components from the 6-cylinder Chevrolet, such as the body. In the late 1930s, Pontiac used the so-called 'torpedo' body of the Buick for one of its models just prior to its being used by Chevrolet as well. This body brought some attention to the marque.

For an extended period of time, prewar through the early 1950s, the Pontiac was a quiet and solid car, but not especially powerful. A flathead (side-valve) straight eight offered both the quietest and smoothest possible operation, with an appropriately soft suspension and quiet muffler offering the feeling of luxury without the expense. These combinations proved attractive to the vehicle's target market - a reserved lower middle class that was not especially interested in performance or handling and was seeking good value and a roomy vehicle in a step up from the entry-level Chevrolet. This fit well within parent GM's strategy of passing an increasingly prosperous customer up through the various divisions. Straight 8's are slightly less expensive to produce than the V8's that were growing in popularity, but they were also heavier and longer than a V8. Also, the long crankshaft suffered from excessive flex, which restricted straight 8's to relatively low compression and modest RPM's. In this application the inexpensive (but poorly-breathing) flat-head valves were not a liability.

Dowdy to Fun: 1946-1954

the world is a cool place so you should by this car

Throughout this period, Pontiac models were seen as middle-of-the-road reliable cars more suited to middle income buyers of middle age. The emerging and lucrative younger, performance oriented customer eluded the brand. Although reliable cars, Pontiacs just couldn't shake their dowdy image.

From 1946-1948, all Pontiac models were essentially 1942 models with minor changes. The Hydra-matic automatic transmission was introduced in 1948 and helped Pontiac sales grow even though their cars, Torpedoes and Streamliners, were quickly becoming out of date and out of step with the growing youth market.

The first all-new Pontiac models appeared in 1949. Newly redesigned, they sported such styling cues as lower body lines and rear fenders that were integrated in the rear-end styling of the car.

Along with new styling came a new model. Continuing the Native American theme of Pontiac, the Chieftain line was introduced to replace the Torpedo. These were built on the GM B-Body platform and featured sportier styling than the more conservative Streamliner. In 1950, the Catalina trim-level was introduced as a sub-series.

In 1952, Pontiac discontinued the Streamliner and replaced it with additional models in the Chieftain line built on the GM A-body platform. This single model line continued until 1954 when the Star Chief was added. The Star Chief was created by adding an 11-inch extension to the A-body platform creating a 124-inch wheelbase.

The 1953 models were the first to have one-piece windshields instead of the normal two-piece units.

Foundations of performance: 1955-1960

Although completely new bodies and chassis were introduced for 1955, the big news was the introduction of a new 173-horsepower (129 kW) overhead valve V-8 engine (see Engines section below). Pontiac took a big leap ahead in the public's eye and sales jumped accordingly. With the introduction of this V-8, the six cylinder engines were discontinued making all Pontiacs available only with V-8 engines.

The next step in Pontiac's transformation came in 1956 when Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen became general manager of Pontiac. With the aid of his new heads of engineering, E. M. Estes and John Z. De Lorean, he immediately began reworking the brand's image.

In the 1958 model year Knudsen saw to it that the car received a completely reworked chassis, body and interior styling. Quad headlamps, longer and lower bodys, honeycombed grilles and concave rear fender panels were some of the styling changes. Additionally the Bonneville, a sub-series of the Star Chief introduced in the 1957 models, became its own line. These were built on the 122-inch wheelbase of the A-body platform. An early sign of the successful changes being undertaken was seen in the selection of a 1958 Tri-Power Pontiac Bonneville the pace car for that year's Indianapolis 500.

For 1959, the Chieftain line was renamed Catalina and the Star Chief was renamed Custom Star Chief. This coincided with major body styling changes across all models that introduced increased glass area, twin V-shaped fins and lower hood profiles. Because of these changes, Motor Trend magazine picked the entire Pontiac line as 1959 Car of the Year.

The 1960 models saw only modest changes in styling, although the tailfins all but disappeared that year. The big news was the introduction of the Ventura, a V-8 equipped model built on the shorter 122-inch wheelbase platform and falling between the Catalina and Star Chief (the Custom was dropped) models. This started the Pontiac trend of equipping even its smallest models with V-8 engines.

The horsepower era: 1961-1970

The 1961 models were again drastically reworked. Along with new bodies came the introduction of a new-design perimeter frame chassis for all full-size models. These new chassis's allowed for reduced weight and smaller body sizes. The all new Tempest, the entry level model in the Pontiac line, was a unibody design in 1961-1963. The Tempest helped move Pontiac into third place among American car brands for 1962, a position Pontiac would hold though 1970. In a few short years, the Tempest would spawn one of the biggest names of the muscle car era, the Gran Turismo Omologato; better known as the Pontiac GTO.

In 1961, Knudsen moved to Chevrolet and Estes took over as general manager. He continued Knudsens work of making Pontiac a performance car brand.

Although GM officially ended factory support for all racing activities across all of its brands in 1963, Pontiac continued to cater to performance car enthusiasts by making larger engines with more power available across all model lines. For instance, the small Tempest was equipped with a 326 cubic inch V-8 engine making 260 horsepower. However, ordered with the LeMans GTO option, it came with a 389 cubic inch engine rated at 325 or 348 horsepower, depending on carburetion.

In 1964, John De Lorean replaced Estes as general manager and he too continued Knudsen's work. It would be under his leadership that Pontiac charged headlong into the muscle car and pony car "wars" of the mid-to-late 1960s, offering a wide range of cars with solid performance credentials.

Due to the popularity of the GTO option, it was split from being an option on the Tempest LeMans series to become the separate GTO series. On the technology front, 1966 also saw the introduction of a completely new overhead camshaft 6-cylinder engine in the Tempest, and in an industry first, plastic grilles were used on the Grand Prix.

The 1967 model year saw the introduction the Pontiac Firebird pony car, a variant of the Chevrolet Camaro that was the brand's answer to the hot-selling Ford Mustang. 1968 introduced the Endura 'rubber' front bumper, the precursor to modern cars' integrated bumpers, and the first of a series of round port cylinder headed engines, the Ram Air II, available in the GTO and Firebird lines.

For 1969 the biggest changes were in the muscle car and pony car arenas. The GTO received the Ram Air option in its Judge package while the Firebird got a second Ram Air option called Ram Air IV and a special Trans Am package. This year also saw De Lorean leaving the post of general manager. His replacement was F. James McDonald.

Changed focus: 1970-1982

Although MacDonald tried to keep performance in the forefront of Pontiac's products, increasing insurance and fuel costs for owners coupled with looming Federal emissions and safety regulations would eventually put an end to the unrestricted, powerful engines of the 1960s. Safety, luxury and economy would become the new watch-words of this decade.

In trying to adjust to the changing market, in 1971 Pontiac introduced the compact, budget-priced Ventura II (based on the third generation Chevrolet Nova). This same year, Pontiac moved the Bonneville from its top of the line spot and replaced it with a higher luxury model named the Grand Ville.

The 1972 models saw the first wave of emissions reduction and safety equipment along with the standard round of updates. The impending demise of the muscle cars could be seen in the fact that once again the GTO was a sub-series of the LeMans series. Finally, the car that formed the foundation of the Pontiac muscle car line, the Tempest, was dropped, after being renamed 'T-37' and 'GT-37' for 1971.

MacDonald left the post of general manager to be replaced by Martin J. Caserio. Caserio was the first manager in over a decade to be more focused on marketing and sales than on performance.

For 1973, Pontiac restyled its mid-sized LeMans and Ventura models and introduced the all-new Grand Am. All other models received only minor updates. Again, power dropped across all engines as more emissions requirements came into effect. The 1973 Firebird Trans Am saw the first introduction of the famous (or infamous depending on which automotive historian you talk to) large Firebird graphic. This factory applied decal, a John Schinella restylized interpretation of the Native American fire bird, took up most of the available space on the hood.

All Federal emissions and safety regulations were required to be in full effect for 1974 causing the demise of two of the three iterations of the big 455 cubic inch engines after this year. The last version of the 455 would hang on for two more years before being discontinued.

For 1975, Pontiac introduced the new sub-compact Astre, a version of the Chevrolet Vega. This was the brand's entry into the fuel economy segment of the market. 1975 would also see the end of Pontiac convertibles for the next decade.

The 1976 models were the last of the traditional American large cars with large engines. After this year, all GM models would go through "downsizing" and shrink in length, width, weight and available engine size. The Sunbird joined the line as a more sporty option to the conservative Astre.

For 1977, Pontiac replaced the Ventura with the Phoenix, a version of Chevrolet's fourth generation Nova. Pontiac also introduced its 151 cubic inch "Iron Duke" 4-cylinder overhead valve engine. This engine would later go into many GM and non-GM automobiles into the early 1990s. The Iron Duke and the 301 cubic inch V-8 were the last two engines designed solely by Pontiac. Subsequent engine design would be accomplished by one central office with all designs being shared by each brand.

The remainder of the 1970s and the early 1980s saw the continued rise of luxury, safety and economy as the key selling points in Pontiac products. Wire-spoked wheel covers returned for the first time since the 1930s. More station wagons than ever were being offered. Padded vinyl roofs were options on almost every model. Rear-wheel drive began its slow demise with the introduction of the first front-wheel drive Pontiac, the 1980 Phoenix (a version of the Chevrolet Citation). The Firebird continued to fly high on the success of the 'Smokey and the Bandit' film, still offering Formula and Trans Am packages, plus a Pontiac first- a turbocharged V-8. Overall, Pontiac's performance was a shadow of it's former self, but to give credit where due, PMD did more with less than most other brands were able to in this era.

Return of performance: 1982-1988

The beginning of Pontiacs second renaissance started with the vastly redesigned Firebird for the 1982 model year. The wedge shaped Firebird was the first major redesign of the venerable pony car since the early 1970s. It was an instant success and provided Pontiac with a foundation on which to build successively more performance oriented models over the next decade. The Trans Am also set a leading production aerodynamic mark of .32 cd.

The next step in Pontiac's resurgence came in the form of its first convertible in nine years. Seeing Chrysler's success with its K-Car-derived convertibles, GM decided it needed a competitor and quickly adapted the J-body cars. The all-new for 1983 2000 (later renamed Sunbird) had a convertible as part of its line.

Next came the 1984 Fiero. This was a major departure from anything Pontiac had produced in the past. A two-seat, mid-engined coupe, the Fiero was targeted straight at the same market that Semon Knudsen had been aiming for in the late 1950s: the young, affluent buyer who wanted sporting performance at a reasonable price. The Fiero was also an instant success and was partially responsible for Pontiac seeing its first increase in sales in four years.

Pontiac also began to focus on technology. In 1985, a Special Touring Edition (STE) was added to the 6000 line as a competitor to European road cars such as the Mercedes 190. The STE sported digital instruments and other electronics as well as a more powerful V-6 and retuned suspension. Later iterations would see some of the first introductions on Pontiacs of anti-lock brakes, steering wheel mounted radio controls and other advanced features.

With the exception of the Firebird and Fiero, beginning in 1988 all Pontiacs switched to front-wheel drive platforms. For the first time since 1972, Pontiac was the number three domestic car maker in America. Pontiac's drive to bring in more youthful buyers was working as the median age of Pontiac owners dropped from 46 in 1981 to 38 in 1988.

More of the same: 1989-1996

With the focus back on performance, Pontiac was once again doing what it did best. Although updating and revamping continued throughout the 1990s, the vast change seen during the 1980s did not. The period between 1989 and 1997 can best be described as one of continuous refinement. Anti-lock brakes, GM's Quad-4 engine, airbags and composite materials all became standard on Pontiacs during this time.

All new models were produced but at more lengthy intervals. The 1990 model year saw the launch of Pontiac's first minivan, the Trans Sport. An all-new Firebird debuted in 1993 while the Sunbird was replaced with the Sunfire in 1995.

Return to yesteryear: 1997-2004

Beginning in 1996, Pontiac began mining its historic past. The all new Grand Prix debuted with the Wide Track chassis making a return spearheaded by the "Wider is Better" advertising campaign. In 1998 Ram Air returned to the Trans Am. It would eventually make its way to the Grand Am.

The 1999 model year saw the replacement of the Trans Sport with the larger Montana minivan.

Faced with declining sales and a saturated sports car market, GM killed the Pontiac Firebird and its sister Chevrolet Camaro after the 2002 model year.

All other Pontiac models carried on until the end of the 2004 model year with only minor revisions and updates.

All change: 2005-present

For the 2005 model year, Pontiac embarked on a series of major changes not seen since the 1980s. Within four years, all of their cars would be replaced completely, both in design and name.

First to fall was the Bonneville which had no direct replacement. The same year, the Pontiac Grand Am was replaced with an all new model called the G6. The Sunfire was replaced with the G5 in the 2007 model year. Next in the line will be the G8; scheduled for the 2008 model year it will be a replacement for the Grand Prix and fill the void left by the Bonneville.

In an attempt to return Pontiac's focus to strictly performance oriented vehicles, the Montana was discontinued after the 2006 model year for the USA but Still in production for Canada. Also for 2006, Pontiac fielded the unique Solstice roadster. Equipped with a pair of 4-cylinder engines, the Solstice is intended to compete with cars like the Mazda Miata, and the Honda S2000. GM's Saturn division came out with the Solstice's higher end twin, the Saturn Sky, the following model year. However, these attempts took a step backward with simultaneous release of the Torrent Crossover SUV.

Style trademarks and logo

A Native American Headdress was used as a logo until 1956. This was updated to the currently used Native American red arrowhead design for 1957.

Besides the 'Indian head' logo, another identifying feature of Pontiacs were their 'Silver Streaks' - one or more narrow strips of stainless steel which extended from the grille down the center of the hood. Eventually they extended from the rear window to the rear bumper as well, and finally; along the tops of the fins. Although initially a single band, this stylistic trademark doubled to two for 1955 - 1956. The Silver Streaks were discontinued the same year the Indian Head emblems were; 1957.

Other long-familiar styling elements were the split grille design (from 1959 onward)and 'grilled-over' (in the 1960s), or multiple-striped taillights. This later feature originated with the 1963 Grand Prix, and though the '62 GP also had rear grillework, the taillight lenses were not behind it.


Pontiac, Chevrolet and GMC were the final GM North American marques to offer a V-8 (GMC's V-8 was, in fact, the Pontiac unit). Pontiac engineer Clayton Leach designed the stamped steel valvetrain rocker arm, a simplified and incredibly reliable alternative to a bearing-equipped rocker. This design was subsequently picked up by nearly every OHV engine manufacturer at one point or another.

Pontiac began work on a V-8 configuration in 1946. This was initially intended to be an L-head engine, and 8 experimental units were built and extensively tested by the end of the 1940s. But testing comparisons to the OHV Oldsmobile V-8 revealed the L-head could not compete performance-wise. So, in addition to building a new Pontiac Engineering building in 1949-1951, the decision to re-direct the V-8 to an OHV design delayed it's introduction until the 1955 model year.

In mid-1956, Pontiac introduced a higher-powered version of its V-8. Among other things, this version of the engine was equipped with a high performance racing camshaft and dual 4-barrel carburetors. This was the first in a series of NASCAR-ready Super-Tempest and Super-Duty V-8 engines and introduced the long line of multi-carburetor equipped engines that saw Pontiac become a major player during the muscle car and pony car era of the 1960s.

Pontiac's second generation V-8 engines shared numerous similarities, allowing many parts to interchange from its advent in 1959 to its demise in 1979. Sizes ranged from 265 cubic inch to 455 cubic inch. This similarity (except the 301 & 265) makes rebuilding these engines relatively easier. This feature also made it possible for Pontiac to invent the modern muscle car, by the relatively simple process of placing its second largest-dispalcement engine, the 389 cid, into its mid-size car, the Le Mans, creating the Pontiac GTO.

From their inception in the 1950s until the early 1970s, Pontiac engines were known for their performance. The largest engine was a massive 455 cubic inch V-8 that was available in most of their mid-size, full-size and sports car models. At the height of the horsepower era, Pontiac engines reached a powerful 390 rated horsepower (SAE gross), though other engines achieved considerably higher outputs in actuality. Federal emissions laws eventually brought the horsepower era to a close and resulted in a steady decline for Pontiac's engines. One holdout to this industry-wide slide was the Super Duty 455 engine of 1973-1974. Available only in the Firebird Formula and Trans Am models, this was rated at 310 HP net and was a very strong performer that included a few race-specific features, such as provisions for dry-sump oiling.

The only non-traditional Pontiac V-8 engines were the 301 cubic inch and the smaller displacement 265 cubic inch V-8s. Produced from 1977 through 1981, these engines had the distinction of being the last V-8s produced by Pontiac; GM merged its various brand's engines into one collectively-shared group in 1980, entitled General Motors Powertrain. Interestingly, the 301 had a 4-inch bore and 3-inch stroke, identical to the vaunted Chevrolet Small-Block engine and Ford Boss 302 engine.

Pontiac engines were not available in Canada, however, but were replaced with Chevrolet engines of similar size and power, resulting in such interesting and unusual (at least to American car fans) models as the Beaumont SD-396 with a Chevrolet big-block 396 cubic inch V-8.

All Pontiac engines were designed around a low-RPM/high-torque model, as opposed to the ubiquitous Chevrolet Small-Block engine known for its smaller displacement and high RPM/high power design. Pontiac engines were unique for their integrated water pump and timing chain cover, and separate valley pan and intake.


PMD originally used Carter 1-barrel carburetors for many years, but by the time of the second generation V-8 engines had switched mostly to the 2-barrel offerings. These also were the basis for the Tri-Power setups on the engines.

The Tri-Power setup included one center carburetor with idle control and two end carburetors that did not contribute until the throttle was opened more than half way. This was accomplished two ways, mechanically for the manual transmission models, and via a vacuum-switch on the automatics. This went through various permutations before being banned by GM.

PMD also had a square-bore 4-barrel at the time, but this was rated at a lower power than the Tri-Power. This carburetor was later replaced by the Quadrajet, a spread bore. 'Spread-bore' refers to the difference in sizes between the primaries and secondaries.

By the end of the muscle car era, the QuadraJet setup had become the nearly-ubiquitous choice on PMD engines, due to its excellent economy and power characteristics. While QuadraJets have been occasionally derided as being poor performers, with proper understanding and tuning it can compete at most levels with other designs.

This design proved good enough to last well into the 1980s with emissions modifications while most others carburetors were dropped for the easier to build fuel injection when economy mattered.


Pontiac in popular culture

  • An alternate slang term for the marque among performance enthusiasts is Poncho.
  • Another slang term used in the early stages of brand was "Indian" due to the subject matter of its logo.
  • Ronny and the Daytonas sang about the Pontiac GTO in their 1964 song Little GTO.
  • Tom Lehrer: "Rover was killed by a Pontiac, and it was done with such grace and artistry that the witnesses awarded the driver both ears and the tail." From "In Old Mexico"
  • In the TV series Knight Rider The Knight Industries Two Thousand KITT is based on a 1982 Pontiac Trans AM. Pontiac later asked the show writers to refer to it as a "T-top" after several owners recklessly attempted to copy stunts from the show.
  • In the Transformers film, an Autobot named Jazz transforms into a Pontiac Solstice.
  • In the chorus of his 2007 song "Johnny Cash", country singer Jason Aldean sings, "Done gassed up the Pontiac."


List of all Pontiac cars

Source: Wikipedia


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