It was the summer of 1982. REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You” dominated the charts and Raiders of the Lost Ark played on movie screens across the country. It was August—just days after MTV played its first videos and nearly everyone was wearing Jellie shoes, headbands, and legwarmers. I was seven and living in Virginia, down the road from my cousins, Bobby, Mike, and Christy.
Even before I knew anything about boys, I knew my cousin Mike was popular with the ladies. He had a ton of girls after him and whenever someone would tease him about being a ladies man, he would drop his eyes and smile softly ... so humble. He was good looking, fun, and athletic. I idolized him.
One of my most vivid memories of Mike is him outside in the summer sun, shirt off, washing his white Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with the big red eagle on the hood. He doted on that car way more than he ever doted on any woman. That car—it was the epitome of cool … just like Mike.
And so I was saddened to be reminded this week that the Pontiac brand had finally shut down after eighty-four years of providing the world with muscle cars like my cousin Mike had. While the brand had been in decline for years—its “peak” sales year was in 1968—Pontiac’s closing still stings. Who can forget colors like “Tiger Gold” and the distinctive silver and charcoal paint on the 10th anniversary Trans Am? How many babies were conceived in the backseats of the Firebirds at the drive-in theater? What can compete with the GTO? Who can forget the Firebird driven by Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields to flee from the law in Smokey and the Bandit? These cars are a part of the American tapestry.
The reasons for Pontiac’s downfall are numerous. The love of muscle cars faded. The move to cut costs by then-GM CEO Roger Smith that combined Pontiac’s manufacturing, design, and engineering with other GM brands, which made Pontiacs less distinct and more like other GM cars. Then there was the lack of consistent leadership, vision, and strategy. Gas became more expensive; cars became smaller.
Although the last Pontiac rolled off the assembly line in May, GM dealers will continue to service the cars and honor their warranties. But any new Pontiac still sitting on a lot will now be considered a used car.
The curtain has closed on Pontiac, but at least Knight Rider will live on in syndication. Bravo, my friend. Bravo.