Pontiac is a division of GM, targeting the mid-level market with high performance and sporty looks. Beginning in 1926, Pontiac was marketed as a model a step above the standard Chevrolet , using many parts from Chevrolet and Buick models. Pontiac built the cheapest 8 cylinder models available in 1933. Until the mid 1950’s, Pontiac was associated with mid level prices and middle aged buyers.
Pontiac’s image would start to change with the 1955 model year. 100 revised or new features were advertised and all the year’s Pontiacs were equipped with a new V8 engine; there were no 6 cylinder options. Completely new bodies and chassis were introduced, and sales shot up. In 1956, “Bunkie” Knudsen became the general manager of the division. In American Cars of the 1950’s, Robert Genat and David Newhardt write, “Overnight, performance and Pontiac belonged in the same sentence.” Design and changes made the Pontiac line better and better each year. The split grill was introduced and in 1959 Motor Trend gave the car of the year award to the entire Pontiac division.
Pontiac was one of the starters of the muscle car craze, with the GTO. The story of “The Goat” is often told with the top management of GM as the villains. They wanted to strip factory-sponsored racing from the promotion budget. By this time, Pete Estes was general manager and he knew that Pontiac’s recent rise was driven by appeal to a younger audience who were attracted to performance cars. The idea for an engine swap has been credited to many men but the concept of putting the 389 cid in the Tempest body and tying it to Ferrari by name was genius. There is no doubt the John DeLorean was involved in the creation. Starting out as a package option on the 1964 Tempest with a test run of only 5,000, GTO became its own model in 1966. The hit song fueled demand and it 1968, Motor Trend named it car of the year.
Pontiac took on the pony car market with the Firebird, a model based off the Chevrolet Camaro . Both these models competed with the Ford Mustang, the top contender in the pony car market.