My first car was an ’88 Pontiac Grand Am that was handed down from my mom to my sister, then brother, then back to the sister and finally to me. It was maybe the crappiest vehicle I’ve ever ridden in: it had a perpetually wet back seat (as in, it was always damp for some reason) and one day when I was cruising both rear shock absorbers busted through the trunk — that was probably more my fault that Pontiac’s, but it wasn’t fun.
The little 4-cylinder got me from A-B though, and for that I will always be thankful. The day we finally got rig of it (on trade-in for a Ford F-150 pick-up!), the front left wheel actually fell off. That piece of sh*t could have popped at any moment, but waited until we got rid of it. What a trooper. Yet another reason to remember brand Pontiac (which was killed today by parent company GM) semi-fondly.
But it was the Firebird, GTO, LeMans, Bonneville, TransAm, Grand Prix and others that made the brand iconic. Recnelty they brought back the GTO — and despite it’s big ass engine, decent tuning and righteous drive-ability, it was evident that Pontiac just wasn’t pumping like it used to. Frankly it wasn’t much different than Oldsmobile (which has the word “old” in it, and pretty much guaranteed that brand’s demise would come sooner than later).
If you’ve ever seen an old Pontiac, you’ll recognize the famed hood ornament (pictured), an American Indian, is maybe the most bad-ass signature in all of car history. The gravitas of that icon was strong through the muscle-car era and even into the 70s and maybe the early 80s. But at some point driving a black Camaro look alike (the Firebird) with a giant flaming bird on the hood (yeah you, Smokey…and bandit) became uncool, nay downright douchey.
What was once a symbol of strength faded through the years into an abysmal iconographic meme. Actor Will Ferrell drives a Thunderbird (a suped-up model of the Firebird, I think it had a 506ci engine, which is massive) named “Red Dragon” in Old School — his character is kind of stuck in college and metaphorically speaking Pontiac was sorta stuck back in a time when it meant something if your car was 1980s cool.
Let’s not forget Knight Rider, OK?
The brand never transcended that kind of cool, even with the later Grand Am, Grand Prix and other models it tried to inject some life into in the late 90s. It was always stuck in that “remember how great high school football was” kind of way. It was probably time to go long before today — back before someone thought, “for the 88 Grand Am, let’s do maroon with gray fender accents and a grey interior — that’ll make their panties drop.” Yeah, it was probably too late in 88.