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The wide track feeling is about to become history

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POSTED May 4, 2009 1:34 a.m.
Pontiac was the General Motors car line growing up.

Your parents drove a Chevrolet. The nice elderly couple down the street drove a Buick. Middle-age folks who were moving up were behind the wheel of an Oldsmobile. And those who were well-to-do – relatively speaking – owned Cadillacs.

It was the Pontiac line, though, that beckoned the young and young at heart. It was pure muscle under the hood even in the sedans. They even looked powerful. The very names revved up their image – Grand Prix, LeMans, GTO, Firebird, and the ultimate GM everyman’s muscle car – the Firebird Trans Am. Sure, Chevrolet had the Camaro SS but it was the Firebird Trans Am that turned heads. You’d give your eye teeth for a Corvette but they were out of your price range.

You could sit for hours and look at the full color brochure of the sleek Firebird Trans Am with its signature screaming firebird on the hood, its engine air intake, and the classic finishing touch – the T-top.

It was the car that 25-year-old guys back in the 1980s dreamed about. It was also the only purchase my mother ever talked me out of getting. She had my AAA insurance agent Stan Thompson drill me about the insurance costs. She harped on the gas price that had soared past $1.30 a gallon and the difficulty I had buying gas during the gas shortage especially since I was driving 22,000 miles a year. She even had police officers tell me how muscle cars attracted more attention - including that of police. And if that wasn’t enough, she told me to think about how I’d feel after I got a Trans Am and realized that the screaming firebird was a bit overstated for my personality.

So I caved in and settled for a root beer colored Firebird complete with T-top. Settled isn’t the right word. It was a great car. Detroit may have had some issues with making sedans back then but not with their American-style sports cars. It was comfortable. It handled well. And it was great having the T-top off summer, spring, winter or fall. It could rain lightly by driving down the freeway you’d stay dry as rain drops swooshed over the sleek design and stayed out of the passenger compartment.

I departed with it after three years and 80,000 miles for another Pontiac – hybrid diesel Pontiac Grand Prix that dropped $7,000 in value the money I drove it of the lot.

The Grand Prix got great mileage but within two months I was broadsided. Two months later I was back in a T-top but it wasn’t an American made car. It was a graphite gray 1983 Datsun 280ZX. My allegiance to American made cars dissipated when I got my Grand Prix back. The trunk was filled with Toyota parts boxes at the independent body shop my insurance company steered me to.

I was upset about not having genuine GM parts on the car so the body shop sent me to where I bought the Firebird – Reliable Pontiac Cadillac. I was anything but a happy camper when a slightly irritated parts manager asked me what I thought originally came on my car when I asked him why they sold Toyota parts to the body shop for my Pontiac.

It ended my 100 percent allegiance to American made cars. The Datsun 280ZCX was followed by two Volvos including a 740 that was the biggest rolling lemon I’d ever had the displeasure of knowing about. I called it the “Full Employment Act for Volvo Mechanics.” It was the only car I bought on impulse. They must have figured I was crazy trading in a 280ZX for a Volvo and in retrospect I was. Everything went wrong with the car.
At 92,000 I palmed the 740 off on a Volvo dealer and bought the Volvo equivalent of a VW bug – the 240 Volvo. No qualms about the 240 at all.

Since then I’ve driven American cars. That’s where I’ll disagree with those who think American cars can’t cut it. The Chevy S10 Blazer lasted for 15 years with barely a problem. The Malibu fastback was as close to perfect as you could get and I’ll put my Ford Escape hybrid up against anything Europe or Asia can toss at it.

The demise of the Pontiac line makes sense. It costs tons of money for manufacturers to offer redundant car styles – even with different nameplates – plus literally thousands of option packages.

Still, I can’t picture Hollywood ever making a movie about a modern day crime-fighting knight who drives a talking Nissan Sentra or a band coming up with a top hit entitled “Little Kia Rio.”

Pontiacs were the things American dreams were once made of.



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