Pontiac | Oldsmobile

The Pontiac brand was first introduced in 1926 as a companion make for GM’s more expensive line of Oakland automobiles and also to fill the price/quality gap between Chevrolet and Oakland. Its first model was the 1927 Pontiac Chief.

Pontiac overtook Oakland in popularity and supplanted its parent brand entirely by 1933. 

Pontiac was named after a famous Ottawa chief who had also given his name to the city of Pontiac, Michigan where the car was produced.

Many models had Indian reference – such as the Star Chief, Aztec, Chieftain and Super Chief.

A Native American headdress was used as a logo until 1956. This was updated to the Native American red arrowhead design for 1957 – the arrowhead logo is also known as the Dart. 

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, and finally, along the tops of the fins. 

One model was named for the mythological Phoenix, the bird of fire, who lives forever. Variants of this name were the Firebird, Firefly and Fiero. Other derivations include the Sunbird, Sunfire, Sunrunner, Sunburst and Solstice.

In the hierarchy of GM’s five divisions, Pontiac slotted above Chevrolet, but below Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac. 

The first generation Pontiac GTO muscle car (1964-1974) is considered by some to have started the trend with all four domestic automakers offering a variety of competing models. GTO, is short for “Gran Turismo Omologato,” the Italian for “Grand Touring, Homologated” which means officially certified for racing in the grand tourer class.

The Pontiac Firebird/Transam muscle car (1967-2002) was designed as a pony car to compete with the Ford Mustang. Its sister variant was the Chevrolet Camaro. The Firebird became famous after being featured in numerous TV shows and movies – including “The Rockford Files”, “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Knight Rider”.

Pontiac produced many other muscle cars during the 1960s and 1970s – including the Grand Am, Ventura, Grand Prix, and Tempest. Pontiac was advertised as the performance division of General Motors from the 1960s onward.

Other memorable models include the Torpedo, Catalina, Bonneville and G8.

Amid the 2008 financial crisis, and due to restructuring efforts, GM announced in 2008 it would discontinue the Pontiac brand. The last Pontiac, a white 2010 model year G6 4 door sedan, was built at the Orion Township Assembly Line in January 2010.

Oldsmobile was founded by Ransom E. Olds in 1897. Ransom Olds left the company in 1904 because of a dispute and formed the REO Motor Car Company.

The Oldsmobile Curved Dash (1902-1904) was the first mass-produced car, made from the first automotive assembly line, an invention that is often miscredited to Henry Ford. (Ford was the first to manufacture cars on a moving assembly line.)

General Motors purchased the company in 1908, slotting it in the middle of its five divisions (above Pontiac but below Buick).

The 1910 Oldsmobile Limited Touring was a high point for the company, best remembered for winning a race against the famed “20th Century Limited” train, an event immortalized in the painting “Setting the Pace” by William Hardner Foster.

Oldsmobile was noted for its testing of groundbreaking technology and designs, most notably the 1950s Rocket V8 engine based models. Oldsmobile used twin jet pod-styled taillights as a nod to its Rocket theme. These cars were generally considered the fastest on the market. The 88 enjoyed a great success, inspiring a popular 1950s slogan, “Make a Date with a Rocket 88”, and also a song, “Rocket 88”, often considered the first rock and roll record. The 88 name would remain in the Olds lineup until the late 1990s. 

The Rocket 88 was the first “King of NASCAR” and changed Oldsmobile from a somewhat staid, conservative car to a performer that became the one to beat. In later years, Oldsmobile would have similar success with the 442 and Cutlass Models.

From 1948 until 2004, Oldsmobile used a variety of rocket themed logos. 

In 1950, Oldsmobile was among the first of GM’s divisions to receive a true hardtop, called the “Holiday coupe” (Buick’s version was the “Riviera”, and Cadillac’s was the “Coupe DeVille”). It was also among the first divisions to use a wraparound windshield, a trend that eventually all American makes would share sometime between 1953 and 1964.

Unfortunately, due to overdesign, the 1958 Oldsmobile models bore little resemblance to the design of its forerunners. Instead the car emerged as a large, over-decorated, “chromemobile” which many felt had overly ostentatious styling.

Notable models in the 1960s included the Toronado, Vista Cruiser, Jetstar 88, Starfire, F85 and the turbocharged Jetfire.

Oldsmobile sales soared in the 1970s and 1980s based on popular designs, positive reviews from critics, and perceived quality and reliability, with the Cutlass series becoming North America’s top selling car by 1976. Other models include the Firenza and Omega. 

Unfortunately by the early 1990s the brand had lost its place in the market. Despite some critical successes in the mid1990s a reported shortfall in sales and overall profitability prompted GM to announce, in December 2000, its plans to shut down the division. The last completed production car was a 2004 Oldsmobile Alero GLS 4-door sedan.

When it was shut down, Oldsmobile was the oldest surviving American automobile marque, and one of the oldest in the world, after Peugeot, MAN, and Tatra.