Top-10 favorite Pontiacs: The Chief, the Bandit and the Goat

In the spirit of ESPN and Hamilton, we continue our series, this time featuring favorite Pontiacs

17
15651
Pontiac GTO
Topping the list of favorite Pontiacs is the classic GTO

Inspired by ESPN’s recent promotion of the debut of the Broadway musical Hamilton on Disney+, we’ve presented our twist on the Sports Center Top-10 with our Top-10 Favorite Fords, Top-10 Favorite Chevrolets, Top-10 Favorite Dodges and Top-10 Favorite Plymouths.

After this, we’ll conclude the series with our Top-10 favorite Hudsons, but before we get there, here are our favorite Pontiacs:

Pontiac Parisienne concept car | GM archives

10. Pontiac Parisienne — Pon-ti-ac Pa-ri-si-enne, seven syllables that delight as they roll off the tongue. The Parisienne was the full-size Pontiac sold in Canada from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, and for a couple of years as the end in American dealerships as well. It was Pontiac’s version of the Chevrolet Impala and for many baby boomers, seeing one in the U.S. provided an international delight. But before it was either, the Parisienne was an elegant concept car displayed at the GM Motorama in 1953.

9. Chief Pontiac — The Odawa (Ottawa) leader who led the Native American fight, which became known as Pontiac’s War, against the British occupation of the Great Lakes area from 1763-1766. The battle began with the siege of Fort Detroit. 

When General Motors president Alfred Sloan decided the automaker needed a car to slot between Chevrolet and Oldsmobile, he launched Pontiac, which was named after the Michigan city where the car was built; the city had been named for Chief Pontiac, whose tribe had lived in the area. 

Pontiac Azték

8. Pontiac Aztek — Many consider the Aztek to be the ugliest car ever produced by an American automaker, but once you opened the doors you were treated to the Swiss Army knife of American cars, with a removable cooler instead of a center console, removable backpacks that attached to the front seat backs, four power outlets, and as many as 22 different configurations for the rear cargo area, including a slide-out tray for tailgating.

RELATED:  Are you ready for limited-edition SUVs?

7. Pontiac Silverdome — If you lived in Michigan in the last quarter of the 20th Century, the Pontiac Silverdome was the focus of sports activity — the home of the Detroit Lions and Michigan Panthers (pro football), Detroit Pistons (pro basketball) and Detroit Express (pro soccer); host to college football bowl games, to Super Bowl XVI, and to the state high school football championship games. The facility with its Teflon-coated roof, held up by air pressure from beneath, also hosted the WrestleMania which drew an indoor event attendance record 93,173 people, a record broken when 93,682 showed up for a mass with Pope John Paul II. The Silverdome also was host to record-setting concert audiences, including more than 76,000 listening to Led Zeppelin.

Alas, the roof succumbed to heavy snowfall, the surrounding structure was demolished and an Amazon distribution center is set to open on the site in 2021.

6. Pontiac Trans Am — Actually, I’ve never been a fan of Pontiac’s version of the GM F-body/Chevrolet Camaro, but I know I’m in the minority. My distain traces to May 1989, when I spent the month in Indianapolis on behalf of AutoWeek magazine. I was granted use of one of the 20th anniversary Trans Am Indy 500 pace cars with its turbocharged V6 engine. At least it was turbocharged if you had the patience to plant your right foot, slowly count a thousand one, a thousand two, a thousand three before the turbo woke up and you started to move. I was not patient, nor a fan of the car.

RELATED:  Video: Jay Leno dissects a 1922 Wills Sainte Claire at his garage

But having said that, I know the Trans Am is a fan favorite, especially after its starring role in Burt Reynolds’ 1977 movie, Smokey and the Bandit.

I also like the fact that the Pontiac Trans Am helped support the Sports Car Club of America because the car company paid the sports car club a royalty to put the name of its wonderful pony car racing series on the sporty version of Pontiac’s Firebird.

Original Banshee concept | GM archives

5. Pontiac Banshee — Actually, there were two Pontiac concept cars that were labeled Banshee. The first, in 1962, was a Corvette-based concept that previewed the styling for the first Pontiac Firebird, well, except for its two-hinged trunk that could open from the front or the rear. The second, in 1988, again previewed future styling cues but had a fiberglass body over a tube-frame chassis. The car was so sleek it looked like it might be mid-engined, but it was not. However, it did have doors that opened at the touch of an infrared signal.  

Pontiac Bonneville Special concept | GM archives

4. Pontiac Bonneville Special — Chevrolet had its Corvette, so in 1954 Pontiac unveiled its Bonneville Special, a 2-seat roadster concept car that one-upped its Chevy underpinnings with a straight-8 engine and a jet-fighter-style clear, hinged bubble canopy. The jet theme continued at the car’s tail, where the spare tire was mounted in a housing that resembled a fighter jet exhaust.

RELATED:  Jay Leno comes away impressed with the 2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4S
Club de Mer concept | GM archives

3. Pontiac Club de Mer — The Bonneville Special was, well, special, but two years later Pontiac one-upped it with its Club de Mer, a much more dramatic 2-seat concept car with a brushed-aluminum body, hidden headlights, bubble-style twin windshields, a single tail fin and a 300-horsepower V8 engine linked to a rear-mounted syncromesh transmission.

2. Pontiac GTO (the song) — As part of the launch program for the Pontiac GTO (see No. 1 below), Jim Wangers, marketing genius at Pontiac’s Campbell-Ewald advertising agency, commissioned a song about the car and, as the story goes, helped to create a group, Ronny & The Daytonas, to sing it. The song, written by John Buck Wilkin (aka Ronny) hit No. 4 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart. The video above shows Ronny & The Daytonas in a reunion appearance in Franklin, Tennessee, in 2015.

1965 Pontiac GTO

1. Pontiac GTO (the car) — For the 1964 model year, Pontiac’s assistant chief engineer John DeLorean basically back-doored into production something called the “Grand Tempest Option” (aka Pontiac GTO, the initially actually standings for Gran Turismo Omologato, as in the sensational Ferrari 250 GTO. 

Basically, what DeLorean and his team had done was to find a way around the General Motors ban on high-performance by wedging a 325 horsepower, 389cid V8 engine under the hood of the mid-sized Pontiac Tempest LeMans, backing the powerplant with a Hurst manual shifter and strengthened suspension. The result is what would become accepted as Detroit’s first muscle car and a new era in American automobiles was off and running, from stoplight to stoplight. 

Advertisement Journal Survey
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

17 COMMENTS

  1. I agree the 1962 Grand Prix with the DeLorean styling was the best looking Pontiac ever. My friend’s dad had the silver one and I am still looking for one. The rear antenna was better than the fender mounted one.

    • I would have to agree with this. The 1962 Grand Prix was a great car. I owned one as a teenager and I am looking for one to purchase again. There are a few out there for sale.

  2. Really great list.
    as a Greater Detroiter I enjoyed the Silverdome bit.
    When opponents were trying to kick long field goals, the Lions would psyche out lickers by opening several exterior doors. The acconpanying “breeze” usually did its magic!
    Also—I love the Aztek(Az-tech?).

    Hope to find a low mileage , AWD model.
    I think they’re cool as heck!..

  3. Guys,
    Your pic is of a 65 GTO, the 64 had an entirely different grill. I know as I wanted a 64, but couldn’t afford it, and had to wait for the 65 Tempest LeMans.

  4. I’m pleased to see the Aztek made the list. I’ve only talked to three owners, but they all loved theirs. As for ugliest car ever, I don’t think anything now, before or into the future can possibly top the four-door pickup truck. Looks like something Homer Simpson would design. Plus, lacks the functionality of a real pick-up with a full-size bed. I know, there are four-door pickups with full-size beds, but they’re half a block long and a menace in parking lots.

    “Little GTO.”
    Worst
    Car
    Song
    Ever

  5. A ’70 GTO Judge co-starred with Falfa’s (young Harrison Ford) “American Graffiti” “55 Chevy (driven by James Taylor on camera this time) in a drive-in favorite, “Two Lane Blacktop”, often double featured with the original “Gone in 60 Seconds”.
    Not as popular as the Bandit, but a worthy car flick and nice period piece.

  6. Remember that episode of the Simpsons when Homer designed a car for his brother’s car company and ruined the company? As far as I’m concerned, the Pontiac Aztek is a real life version of the Homer. A turd of a car that eventually killed the brand.

  7. I have had 4 67 Lemans.
    A 72 sports Lemans
    66 starchief. 4 door lowered. With 389.
    I love them all.
    Then had a 67 gto.
    91 grand am le with sport appearance, 5 spd 2.2 16 valve dohc.
    Father had 1939 pontiac 2 door sedan.
    Love those Pontiacs.

  8. 1966 Grand Prix 421 HO Strat-o-Bench seat option auto on the column All power all gauges rare door edge trim eight lugs…

    I have seen this car and it’s original window sticker at over $5300.00 made it the most expensive Pontiac that particular Dealership had ever sold up until that day!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here