Thursday, April 30, 2009

I guess it's obligatory...

...to shed a tear over Pontiac, now that People's Automobile Manufacturing Collective #1 has decreed that their "Excitement (& fake hood scoop & plastic cladding) Division" is going to go the way of Studebaker. It's a shame, because the Solstice and the G8 are the only interesting things coming out of ZIL these days. Allegedly they will be kept alive, presumably as Chevies.

I've only owned three Pontiacs: a ratty '70 GTO, a V6 Fiero, and an '84 Trans Am in black and gold with every option except David Hasselhoff and a wheezy five-liter carburetted smog motor that wouldn't pull a greased string out of a cat's ass. The GTO was, well, a GTO; you felt cool just driving it. I enjoyed the Trans Am for what it was, too; a good-looking, good-handling boulevardier from the dark ages of Detroit performance, when we were still wandering the emissions wilderness out of which the microchip-controlled fuel injector hadn't yet led us.

The Fiero, though... There was a car that embodied everything wrong with GM in microcosm. The idea was to produce a sporty-looking commuter runabout with as many off-the-shelf components as possible. Of course, Pontiac being Pontiac and advertisers being advertisers the world thought they were getting a sports car, rather than a lardy, plastic-over-steel two seater with no luggage space, undermotivated by an anemic pushrod four cylinder device that could only be called an engine because it was bolted to the input end of the transmission.

Handling was mediocre, performance was dull, fuel economy was average at best, plus it had all the luggage and passenger space shortcomings of a two-seat mid-engine sports car with none of the "sports". Lethargic performance combined with typical new-model recalls and rumors of spontaneous combustion in the engine room, and the car never really took off. Pontiac engineers added a V6 version, redesigned the suspension, offered a Getrag 5-speed manual option... the 1988 GT version of the Fiero was a capable little sports car, but by then nobody was paying attention. The car sank without a ripple. Now the whole division is about to do likewise.

Hey, if that's what it takes to get rid of the people who designed the Aztek...

43 comments:

Jay G said...

I think the only redeeming quality of the Fiero was that it served quite well as a donor frame for a kit car...

Bolt in the smallblock 350, drop the Ferrari 308 fiberglass body, and you're Thomas Magnum for only about $25K.

Bram said...

I had heard that Pontiac finally got the Fiero right - right after everyone stopped buying them.

I actually like the new Camero and was hoping for a decent Firebird or Trans Am version (never did understand the difference). The only GM I’ve ever owned was a 2005 Saab that was totaled in a Route 80 pile-up. After the Democrats and the UAW rip us taxpayers off, I’ll probably never buy another Government Motors vehicle.

Tam said...

"Firebird or Trans Am version (never did understand the difference)"

"Trans Am" is to "Firebird" as "Z-28" is to "Camaro" or "GT" is to "Mustang".

or

All Trans Ams are Firebirds, but not all Firebirds are Trans Ams.

Jerry said...

Gee Tam, don't hold back. Tell us what you really think.

(UAW is leading all auto industry down to extinction.)

Mark Alger said...

I've been long quoted... OK, by myself... as saying I've never had a GM car I didn't regret in the end.

It's true.

The last one was a Pontiac. A Grand Am (there's a line that's secure in its identity).

I don't care how good they make them, not gonna do it again.

M

George Hedgepeth said...

"I don't care how good they make them, not gonna do it again"

Well, don't complain that nothing is made in America anymore.

Nick Pacific said...

Considering the fact that the G8 was a rebadged Holden (a nice holden, I own the coupe version known as the GTO), you can knock that list of interesting things to come out of GM-Pontiac.

I will still miss them. The brand had such potential just five years ago. Then GM diluted the already "damaged" brand further. ::sniff::

Tam said...

Holden is every bit as much a part of GM as Pontiac.

Ford and GM's Aussie subsidiaries have evolved strange, marsupial auto lineages in their island continent. For instance, the straight six and RWD never died down there, and even spawned performance versions. Imagine a turbo Granada, if you will...

Anonymous said...

GM will go down in history as a serial brand killer who finally killed themselves with a thousand paper cuts.

Nathan Brindle said...

"Well, don't complain that nothing is made in America anymore."

Doesn't follow. If it's crap, who cares if it's made in America or not? Crap product from Detroit defenestrates* brand loyalty. We saw the same thing back in the '70's.

I've been lusting after a Nissan Altima for years. I've held off because (with one lapse in the late '70's) I've always "bought American", whatever that meant after Daimler bought Chrysler. I won't waste my time with GM or Chrysler products anymore; I'll go ahead and buy that Altima when my Intrepid finally gives up the ghost.

Assuming, of course, that the Big Zero and his accomplices in congress leave me enough scratch to actually buy a new car by then.

_______
*There you go, Og. I used that word again :)

the pawnbroker said...

the demise of gm had its genesis in the early 70's at the hands of .gov. engines with the displacement to be powerful were reduced to anemic lawnmower motors by bolt-on smog devices, and giant shock absorber bumpers added hundreds of pounds and had all the style and aerodynamics of a boxcar.

when my twenty-two year old wife fell for the swoopy appearance of the '76 chev. monte carlo, i bought her one, and it proceeded to burn a hole in a piston of its anemic 305 ci engine at 1500 miles...i took that as a sign, and not one of the eleven new cars we've purchase since then was a US built model, although there have been several US trucks and jeeps along the way. when misguided patriots chided me for not buying 'murcan, i responded that i refused to subsidize mediocrity and that in any case, those US badges concealed what were often vehicles more than 50% produced elsewhere.

the US makes did improve vastly over the years and their sales reflected that; but rather than reinvest those earnings into developing and pioneering new technology and staying ahead of the japanese and european game, they rested on their piles of cash and allowed the unions to squeeze the life from their cash cows. and brands that had distinct personalities and market niches were homogenized so that there was no more difference between a chevy and an oldsmobile than the nameplate itself.

and now they (including the unions who were ostensibly protecting the workers) are getting their just desserts. it is true that there are now many US made vehicles that are equal to many of the foreign ones, but like the fiero that tam mentioned, it's too little too late; they have become irrelevant in the minds of vehicle buyers. and now that .gov runs the board, they will finish the job that they started in the 70's, killing with largesse that which they mortally wounded with regulation.

still, those of us who remember the pontiac gto's (fondly called goats) of the sixties, devouring car magazines and learning and reciting specs and traits of those magical chariots as we approached that golden age of sixteen (that to us was the true age of majority), dreaming that we too, would be tearing up the pavement in one of those dream machines...

will mourn the passing of (another) icon of our youth.

jtc

J.R.Shirley said...

Aztek: ugliest vehicle evar.

Bram said...

"Well, don't complain that nothing is made in America anymore."

There are some great Hondas, Nissans, BMWs, and Toyotas made here in the U.S. Of course they most of them are made in right-to-work states far from Detroit.

Tam said...

Yeah, my BMW was imported all the way from South Carolina.

(BMW = Bubba Makes Wheels)

theirritablearchitect said...

"the straight six and RWD never died down there, and even spawned performance versions."Yes, and I'm one who'd gladly take a modern, reworked Falcon wagon (new bodywork, please) with their terrific straight six and a six speed manual...but there just isn't a market for that sort of thing here (or I'm led to believe).

Suppose I'll just stick with my Subaru.

4B said...

Solstice and G8 aren't going to be Chevy's or anything else. GM's closing the Wilmington Assembly plant in DE where the Saturn Sky and Opel/Vauxhall GT and Pontiac Solstice are put together.

Pontiac's demise is bad news for Holden too. It looks like Holden is going to have a go at marketing the G8 as a Chevy badged LEO cruiser that won't be available to the public as a new vehicle.

It's sad, but this has been coming for a long time. Better run out and get a Challenger too if you want one - Chrysler will be in Chapter 11 by suppertime.

reflectoscope said...

Aussie V8 Supercar is proof that auto racing is still interesting. My Mazda3 and a contemporary Focus apparently have about 1/3 of their parts in common, but a Focus is a pretty good tranquilizer, while the Mazda is about as much fun as I've ever had in a car, and good mileage to boot.

If Pontiac has done this to themselves, I can only hope it will be an object lesson to the rest of the market. I'll grant you they put out some interesting designs in the last year or two, but that obviously wasn't enough to refloat a sinking ship.

Jim

Anonymous said...

I'd like to mirror Jay G's comment.
My first experience with a fiero was droppping a 350 small block into it with my cousin (my first time, be gentle). Not only was it a learning experience for me, but (dam*) that car performed so much better than the family station wagon.

no radio button specific ID, but I go by psyfenris (at) gmail (.) com

Tam said...

I can't imagine what it's like under the hood of those v-8 Fierii. The 2.8L six-banger almost needed to be jacked up in its mounts to change the plugs on the front cylinders...

I'll bet it was a handful if the rear end got out from under you, too. I ground-looped mine once, doing a 1080 through the office park parking lot and only miraculously not hitting the parked cars on either side.

Rabbit said...

I have a friend who put a 454 into a Fiero. So long as you were attempting to go in a straight, forward direction, it was only terrifying. Any attempt to turn sharply or brake was like a hideous ergot-induced nightmare.
The grocery buggy with the lawnmower engine we built when we were 12 years old had better handling characteristics.

Actually, it fit reasonably well, but yes, any maintenance involved a chassis lift and a high-lift jack.

Regards,
Rabbit.

Tam said...

What kind of FWD gearbox would you bolt up to a Mark IV?

Anonymous said...

With all of these Fiero owners, did no one else have the repeated headlight relay failures ($22 a pop), the repeatedly failed pot-metal bar in the headlight mechanism (only available as an assembly - so I hit the wrecking yards for take offs), and during the rare times when they were working... the spring loaded headlight covers would pop up into the airstream on their own at anything over 115mph (indicated).
And at 60,000 miles, it was burning oil and belching white smoke at startup despite religious adherence to the maintenance schedule...

My '86 Fiero GT was the last American car I owned.

tomcatshanger said...

Hey, the Aztek lives on as the Prius.

**wv "rescu" No, no one is rescuing Pontiac.

atlharp said...

Well, if it had to die- I am glad it was Pontiac. As an owner of two Grand Prix's, and a fan of the brand I am happy to see it not pass into the Collective hands of bureaucrats and labor thugs (Which is what will happen....). So long old friend, it was better for you to die than be made into a mockery.

Pontiac R.I.P.!

D.W. Drang said...

When I worked summers on the assembly line at Dodge Main the "old timers" regaled us with stories of how the UAW and government were competing to work the demise of the auto industry. They didn't say it that way, but that was the gist of it. Maybe because most of my fellow summer-workers were the kids of managers... (I was the exception, my grandmother was retired from the assembly line, but had trained so many managers that I was eligible for the "summer job for legacy kids" deal. $7.00 an hour in 1977!)

WV: reuksomm. "When I look at an Aztec" I reuk some..."

Tam said...

"With all of these Fiero owners, did no one else have the repeated headlight relay failures ($22 a pop), the repeatedly failed pot-metal bar in the headlight mechanism (only available as an assembly - so I hit the wrecking yards for take offs), and during the rare times when they were working... the spring loaded headlight covers would pop up into the airstream on their own at anything over 115mph (indicated)."

No, because after the first headlight glitch, I just locked them both in the "up" position.

My friends and I used to play a game called "Left, Right, or Both?" every time we approached a Fiero from behind. (Referring to which headlight will be stuck in the "up" position, of course...)

TJP said...

Not sure how I should feel about the decision. I don't think it's a good idea to kick out 21,000 of the people who actually produce something that the market may want. The other option would be to jettison a bunch of pensioners who presumably stayed on the job due to a promise of future security. Would that be fair?

Like in nature, microbes that create particularly lethal symptoms severely limit their survival by killing hosts before there is a chance to propagate. I apologize for that analogy.

B.S. philosopher said...

I've been told on good authority that the "transmission" in the early Fieros was in fact a slightly modified Chevy Citation transaxle turned ass-about. Combine that with a gutless Iron Duke 4 cylinder and you have "Driving Excitement".

I dated a a girl in High school whose Fiero burned to the ground in the parking lot in 1987. It was the second one that year...

GM has been a long time dying and I am sad to see it go, but they have a tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Probably the first example is killing the Corvair in '69 when they had finally gotten it all ironed out.

GM essentially ceded the 2 door RWD muscle car market to Ford when they killed the Camaro/Firebird in 2002 and the full-size RWD car market also in 1996 when they killed the Impala/Caprice line.

Tam said...

"I've been told on good authority that the "transmission" in the early Fieros was in fact a slightly modified Chevy Citation transaxle turned ass-about."

The entire powerpack/rear suspension of a Fiero was pretty much an X-car front clip turned backwards.

Bram said...

D.W. Drang - I worked 3 summers on the GM line '85-87 for the ridiculous pay of $12/hr. I learned lots of stuff there: never buy an American Big 3 car and never invest in a union company. I'm surprised they made it this far - the company was obviously dying 20 years ago.

mts1 said...

I dated a a girl in High school whose Fiero burned to the ground in the parking lot in 1987. It was the second one that year...I got to drive a couple of Pontiacs (my parents learned their lesson with Plymouth products, so off to the next mistake), and in both, the firewall got so hot you thought the car would combust if you drove it for more than 30 minutes. In winter. My uncle's had the same problem.

I'm surprised they killed Oldsmobile and let Buick live. Now, I'm surprised they're killing Pontiac and let Buick live. Who buys Buicks? And they're killing Saturn and Buick lives. And Saturn was a well made car, that's the surprise.

B.S. philosopher said...

Who buys Buicks? A billion and a half screaming Chinamen...

Owning a Buick in Beijing, 2009 is as necessary to the upwardly mobile Chinese as it was for an American yuppie to own a BMW in 1987...

Tam said...

"A billion and a half screaming Chinamen...
"

*tosses moonshine into fire...*

Anonymous said...

"Shoot straight you Army pukes"

:)

Ed Foster said...

A greased string out of a cat's....

That is beyond erudition. I worship, nay, grovel at your feet.

rickn8or said...

Who buys Buicks? Someone who parks in the left lane at 10 mph under whatever speed the rest of us are doing. When you finally work your way around them, yep, on a damn cell phone.

I was making my swoop last weekend to Knox-vegas and passed/was passed by a seventy-something Trans-Am. With Antique Auto plates. "And then Depression set in."

og said...

The flammability of the Sheet Molded Composite they made the body panels from was what caused me to nickname it a FireArrow. With a v6 they were fun to drive. At my size it took a shoehorn and a couple warm spoons to get me into it.

THe designers of the Aztec had a whole bucket of Butt Uglium, the "element" used to design the "Element" (you didn't think that name was an accident, did you?) and now some other manufacturer will be using it. I hope it is Mahindra and not Ford.

Anonymoose. said...

Had an early 90's Pontiac Grand Am for a bit. It wasn't good. It wasn't bad. It was just there. It was fairly reliable... but it ate belts. The AC worked well... but it was uncomfortable. For every good quality, there was a bad one to cancel it out. Well, except the price. $1.

Very good car for socialists, I imagine.

Matt G said...

Quite possibly the worst car that I ever owned was a 1982 J2000 (Pre-"SunFire") that I bought for $600 cash in 1991. Even though it ran, and had no body damage, I got ripped off. After replacing the transaxle twice in the next year, I gave up on it and sold it to the junk yard for a penny a pound, and never regretted it. (The engine cranked right up when they took it, too.)

How is it that no one here has a fond memory of any Pontiac made in the last 20 years, and yet this company kept running? What was the damned point?

If the market was able to sustain it, it would have. They sunk themselves. If the market wants a new viable car company, we'll see one come up, soon enough. Frankly, I still have enough belief in our country's ability to make a new and interesting car, that I'm happy to see the silly placeholder in the marketshare go under.

Let's see the Atom be marketed here. At ~$25k a copy, I'm actually interested.

Assrot said...

I never owned a Trans Am. I had the same year GTO and Fiero that you had.

I liked the GTO.

The Fiero was too small for my tall ass frame. It was nice and quick in traffic but it seemed like a ready made coffin. It was also a piece of shit that blew a head gasket about once every 9 months. I sold it for what I paid for it after a few years and as many head gaskets.

I never thought much of any other Pontiac.

Joe

Tam said...

Heh. I liked my Fiero when it ran, too, but not so much when I was cussing it on the side of the road, which was frequently. ;)

Diesel said...

GM, in their infinite wisdom, decided to use an off-the-shelf inline 4 banger when they came up with the Fiero. Unfortunately, the oil pan that came with the motor wouldn't fit when they put the engine in the car. Solution?

Reduce the size (and capacity) of the oil pan just enough to fit.

Hence Fiero car fires the likes of which not seen since Herbie was still running around in great numbers...

Brandon said...

Well, don't complain that nothing is made in America anymore.My Corolla was made right here in the good ol' U.S. of A. 85,000-plus miles on it so far.

Mechanical failures: zero.

Check engine lights: one. Carb cleaner on the MAF sensor probe cleared that right up.

When Detroit regularly produces something that approaches that sort of engineered reliability, I may consider it. Chrysler and GM need not apply; fool me once, etc. No need to pile on with "My Corsica/LeBaron has x00,000 miles on it;" I said regularly.

Tam, that greased-string bit ought to have a beverage warning.