March '19

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50 THE SHOP MARCH 2019 T he first Pontiac was the Mustang of its day in that it was small, offered good value, performed well and sold like crazy. It arrived in 1926, as a companion to the Oakland. Companion cars were smaller, cheaper versions of popular cars of that era. Most companion cars like the Buick Marquette, Oldsmo- bile Viking, Hudson Essex and Studebaker Rockne lasted only a few years. Pontiac was the only one in the bunch that lasted longer than the parent car it was based on. By 1931, Pontiacs were selling so well that General Motors dropped the Oak- land brand. Pontiac then became a middle- priced car competing with Ford's Mercury and Chrysler's De Soto. At first it offered a six-cylinder car for a few pennies a day more than a four-cyl- inder. While the six-cylinder Pontiac stuck around in some cases until the late 1960s, the brand introduced a straight-eight in 1933 and kept it for 21 years. By 1954, the Pontiac Silver Streak Eight was known as a very reliable, if old-fash- ioned car. Semon Bunkie Knudsen took over Pontiac in 1955. He quickly updated the product styling, introduced a V-8 and set out to make Pontiacs into hot-performing, youth-market cars. By the 1960s, the changes evolved into models like the Grand Prix, LeMans, GTO, Catalina 2+2, Firebird, Trans Am and others that followed the muscle car trend. In 1972, when the 10,000-member Pon- tiac Oakland Club International (www. was formed, there wasn't a great deal of interest in restoring Pontiacs. In fact, a man named Don Bougher started the club simply because he could not find parts for the first-year 1926 Pontiac coupe that he was restoring. In those days, the most collected Pon- tiacs were the 1940 Silver Streaks and the 1957 models (especially the supercharged Bonneville convertible and the Star Chief Custom Safari station wagon). This all changed when the pendulum swung to collecting muscle cars. In the 1960s and early '70s, Pontiac was thought of as GM's high-performance division. Super-Duty V-8 engines and options 50 THE SHOP MARCH 2019 Pontiac's Indian head logo was famous years ago. It was last used in the form of a high-beam indica- tor light on 1970 Pontiacs. Once thought of as GM's 'high-performance division,' the Pontiac brand still has a dedicated following. LOYAL COMPANIONS By John Gunnell Brooklyn's Nunzi's Automotive has been famous for Pontiac work since the original muscle car days.

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