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Pontiac The Rise & Fall of an American Icon

Pontiac Exhibit Now Open at the San Diego Automotive Museum
Posted July 21 2011 12:28 PM by Chris Phillip 
Filed under: Pontiac News, 1960 Pontiac Cars, Chris Phillip

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 The San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park is proud to announce the opening of its new exhibit, Pontiac...the Rise and Fall of an American Icon, which will run from now until September 25, 2011. This exhibit features Pontiacs that defined the maker in terms of styling and performance. The exhibit also addresses the decline of the brand over time as Pontiac lost its place as an industry leader.


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The Pontiac story is not unlike that of any other manufacturer in the industrialized America of the 20th century. Some were successful, some not. And like so many company stories, the successes and failures can be associated with specific players.

Pontiac...The Rise & Fall of an American Icon
In 1956, Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen was given the task to improve sales of Pontiac would soon be history. Knudsen brought on Pete Estes and John DeLorean to form the team that did more than revive the brand. They created an image of style and performance that carried Pontiac for almost two decades. Gone were the Indian head iconic hood ornaments and the ornate “silver streaks.” Knudsen’s aim was racing. He understood that success on the track was a surefire way to get noticed. He was also aware that the Baby Boomers were ready to buy cars that would excite them.
In 1957, the first Bonneville with Pontiac’s first fuel injected engine was entered in the Daytona Beach race. The first Bonnevilles were offered only as convertibles and were powered by a 310 hp V-8 that reached 144 mph on the Salt Flats. When 1959 rolled around, Pontiac introduced a car that was 64 inches wide. This gave the car the appearance of stability and good handling in the turns. Marketing came up with the term “Wide Track” Pontiac and the die was cast. Almost by whim, the 1964 GTO evolved from the compact Tempest model. DeLorean mated a jazzed-up full-sized 398 V-8 engine to the mid-sized Tempest. Word got out, and the Baby Boomers discovered a lightweight “hot rod” with a very hot engine. The Muscle Car era was born.

Pontiac added the ’63 Grand Prix, an elegant but powerful “personal luxury car,” the ’67 Firebird, ’69 Grand Am and Firebird Trans Am, etc. Sales were good until the fuel crisis of 1973 hit Detroit hard. Big cars with poor fuel efficiency fell in value. Small imports gained. To compete with the imports, Pontiac renamed some models to sound European - the J-2000, the 6000 STE, etc. Some performance models became front-wheel drive with smaller displacement engines. The big V-8s were replaced with supercharged V-6s. Beauty and performance faded and were replaced with conservative design and merely adequate performance. Efforts were made to bring back the excitement by re- introducing popular models. Unfortunately, these efforts fell short. What was unique about Pontiac was the image of performance, but the designs became generic with other GM brands.

Cars in the exhibit include: 1932 Pontiac Six Sedan, 1941 Super Streamliner Torpedo, 1952 Catalina, 1955 Star Chief Safari Wagon, 1959 Bonneville, 1962 Tempest, 1962 Grand Prix 2-door hard top sports coupe, 1964 Tempest LeMans GTO, 1968 Firebird, 1969 GTO Judge, 1977 Ventura, and a 2009 Solstice GXP Coupe.

Regular hours are 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM (the last admission at 4:30 PM) Admission prices are as follows: $8 for adults, $6 for seniors (65 and over), $6 active duty military with ID, $5 students with ID, $4 children ages 6 – 15. Children under the age of 6 are admitted free of charge. The museum is free to all San Diego County residents and military with ID on the 4th Tuesday of each month. The museum is located at 2080 Pan American Plaza, Balboa Park. Phone 619-231-2886. Website is http://www.sdautomuseum.org.



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High Performance Pontiac
High Performance Pontiac