Car Guy

Another One Bites The Dust

A last nail in the coffin for the great high-performance Pontiac.

By 8.7.14

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Some unhappy news came in the mail yesterday. A notice that my favorite car magazine—High Performance Pontiac—will be ceasing publication after the October issue.

Pontiac itself, of course, ceased building—scratch that, selling—cars almost ten years ago (in 2006) and really—if you’re a purist like me—hasn’t purveyed anything truly “Pontiac” since the very early ‘80s, when the last-of-the-line Pontiac V-8s were made. I’d go back even farther, to 1979. That was the last year you could buy a brand-new Pontiac powered by a high performance Pontiac V-8. And even those—the final run of “T/A” 6.6 liter 400s—were leftovers from the ’78 production run. They were installed in a relative handful of Trans-Ams and even fewer Formula Firebirds, and only paired with a manual transmission. The smart set knew these would be last of ’em—and snapped ’em up quick, at top dollar. Today—almost 40 years later—these second gen birds of rare plumage are highly collectible.

But that’s just the problem—well, HPP’s problem.

I guess it’s my problem, too.

It’s been almost 40 years since the last 400-powered Pontiac left the factory. Smokey & The Bandit came out in ’77. A long time ago. How many people who are 25 today have even seen it?

It was old before they were born. Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed. Dead. Burt Reynolds looks dead.

Sally Field hawks Boniva on TV.

My ’76 Trans-Am is a relic—from its final-year 455 to its 8 track player to its 15x7 stamped steel Honeycomb wheels.

And I suppose, so am I. Or on my way, anyway.

The Pontiac hobby is an older guy’s hobby—which is to say, a dying hobby.

When the Boomers—and then Generation X (that’s me)—do the inevitable fade-away, so will the mass-market interest in the cars of our generation.

This has already happened to numerous—and now largely forgotten brands. Studebaker, anyone? Or reach back farther to Packard, DeSoto, Kaiser Frasier. Sure, there are isolated pockets of grumpy old men who still remember. Who maybe still have an artifact from the Before Time parked in the garage. Their kids—certainly their grandkids—know nothing about it and what’s more, don’t care. It’s just that “old car” as far as they’re concerned.

It’s happening to Pontiac, too. Check the aftermarket performance parts catalogs; they’re almost all Chevy and Ford with a little Mopar thrown in. The division that birthed the GTO—which transformed an industry—is hardly represented at all. Try and find a straight-inlet Quadrajet, if you want something to do for an afternoon.

Or three or four.

Who’d a thunk it?

John Z. DeLorean could never have imagined it… but then, he’s long gone, too.

HPP tried to survive by including articles about the new Pontiacs. Well, about the badge-engineered stuff Pontiac was selling and marketing (but not building; remember, “Pontiac” was a label after the mid-1980s and sold GM engineered and “corporate”—Chevy—powered cars with some Pontiac styling affections, that’s all) through ’06. Like the “new” GTO—which was just the old Aussie Holden, repackaged (they had hoped) for U.S. consumption. And the Solstice—the uglier twin of the Saturn Sky. These were Pontiacs in appearance only—and even then, only kinda sorta. Which might have been possible to overlook, if they had at least been Pontiacs where it counted—under the hood. But they weren’t.

Same-same Chevy-sourced monotony.

There is nothing wrong—and much that is admirable—about the LS series of V-8s that powered “Pontiacs” like the latter-day GTO/Holden Monaro. These V-8s are perhaps—indeed, are arguably—the finest pushrod V-8 engines ever designed, delivering stupendous power and not-bad fuel economy while complying with all the latest government emissions ukase and doing it without elaborate technology or expense. It’s not surprising they won out.

But, in the end, they are not Pontiac V-8s and—if I may presume to speak for at least a majority of my fellow Pontiac people—we’re not interested in non-Pontiac stuff. We don’t own ’em, don’t work on, don’t care how they work—nor that they may work better than a Pontiac V-8.

Ergo, we’re not interested in tech articles or even feature articles about ‘em. Same goes for the cars themselves.

That meant—High Performance Pontiac-wise—half the magazine was of no use to us, and of little interest. Speaking just for me, I’d flip past every article that wasn’t about a real GTO (1964-’74) or Firebird (1967-’81) or even a Fiero.

I can find articles about LT-1 and LS3 build-ups in pretty much any issue of Car Craft or Hot Rod. But that’s exactly whey I bought HPP instead.

It’s not that the corporate/Chevy-powered stuff is bad. It’s not—and it would be idiotic to argue otherwise. What I’m getting at here is preference—which is subjective. Some guys prefer blondes. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with brunettes—or redheads.

What I rail against is the ascendance of sameness—everywhere.

Come to think of it, what made me a Pontiac guy is probably—at root—the heterogeneity of Pontiac itself… well, when it was still itself. My ’76 Trans-Am has a very different personality than a ’76 Camaro (no Z28s that year) even though they’re cousins and rolled of the same assembly lines in Van Nuys, CA and Norwood, Ohio. I liked that my Pontiac did not have a Chevy engine under its hood.

Again—not that there’s anything wrong with Chevy engines.

I just happen to prefer Pontiacs.

In a weird way, HPP was killed by the same thing that killed Pontiac itself: Too much non-Pontiac stuff on the menu. It’s probably no longer financially feasible to produce a dedicated Pontiacs-only magazine as a mass-market publication, because the mass market is no longer there. It’s growing a pot belly—and gray hairs—and yelling at the kids to get the hell off the grass.

What was it OJ said?

It happens.

It’s just too damned bad that it has to.

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About the Author

Eric Peters is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities: The Cars You Love to Hate (Motor Books International) and a new book, Road Hogs.