(first posted 1/4/2016) Staid Pontiac had been revitalised in the 1960s, assuming a hipper, more youthful image. The magic of the first GTO and Firebird was an elixir of life for the mid-price brand, and GM would intermittently try and get a few more white drops out. Unfortunately, for the rest of its life, the spirit of Pontiac would be tarnished by corporate mismanagement and weakened by changing consumer tastes before being vanquished by bankruptcy. Before the brand’s untimely demise, Pontiac’s alchemists would create some curious vehicles.
G6 3.9 manual
Years produced: 2006-07
Total production: ?
It seems like it has gotten much harder to find a mid-size sedan from a mainstream brand that offers a manual transmission in North America for 2016. Ford recently discontinued the manual Fusion, leaving only the Buick Regal, Honda Accord, Mazda6 and Volkswagen Passat. Rewind ten years and offerings included the aforementioned vehicles, as well as the Mercury Milan, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy and Toyota Camry. Ah, but how many 2006 mid-sizers had a manual and a V6? Just four: the Mazda6, Altima, Accord, and this, the Pontiac G6 3.9.
Sadly, Pontiac’s first V6 mid-size sedan in over a decade would prove to be short-lived. Its niche was shrinking, as chief rivals would all lose their V6 manual variants by the end of the decade; only the Accord coupe and Altima coupe would survive past 2010, although the latter is gone now.
The number of G6 offerings had increased dramatically for 2006, with two new engines, a 2.4 four and a 3.9 V6, and two new bodystyles, a coupe and a convertible. The 12-valve 3.9 was a bored-out version of the base 3.5 High Value V6 with an iron block and aluminum heads. It featured Variable Valve Timing, a first for a pushrod V6. The 3.9 produced 240 horsepower and a stout 241 pound-feet of torque. This was a good 30 ft-lbs over the Accord’s 3.0 V6 and was available at 2800 rpm. 0-60 was achieved in 6.2 seconds.
The 3.9/6-speed manual specification was initially offered only in GTP sedan and coupe. There were varying reports of the manual transmission’s quality, with some critics referring to it as being cumbersome. The G6’s dynamics were also criticised, as despite the solid platform, the ride/handling balance needed fine-tuning: a generally compliant ride and competent handling were undermined by too much body roll in corners and up-and-down motion over bumps and ruts. Fortunately, the electric steering of lesser G6s was nixed in favor of a hydraulic set-up with more feel.
Some changes were made in 2007 to improve shift quality, but it would be the last year for the manual. A new GTP edition had been launched with GM’s new 3.6 High Feature DOHC V6, and the 3.9/manual combo shifted to the mid-range GT as an option. The GTP 3.6 had a new six-speed automatic with manual shift mode, an improvement over previous G6 auto’s four-speed box. Evidently, this is what buyers preferred and the manual didn’t return for 2008.
G6 Street Edition
Years produced: 2008-09
Total production: ?
Sigh. It seems Pontiac designers just couldn’t resist going back to the old well, despite a mid-2000s cleanup of their cars’ exteriors that had started with the smoothed-out Bonneville GXP. By mid-decade, almost all the cladding, oversized fog lights and black plastic-fantastic interiors were gone. This shift in design direction was best illustrated by the transition from boy-racer Grand Am to restrained G6. And yet, just a few years into the G6’s run and right after targeting enthusiasts with the manual-equipped 3.9, Pontiac released the Street Edition.
Mid-2000s GM was infamous for releasing uplevel engine options and corresponding “performance” trim levels that merely matched rivals in power output: look at the Malibu SS, LaCrosse CXS, et all. The G6 had launched with a mediocre 3.5 in 2005, before adding a punchier 3.9 for 2006. For 2007, the sporty GTP trim received GM’s new and increasingly ubiquitous High Feature 3.6 V6. For 2008, the GXP nameplate – previously reserved for V8 Pontiacs – replaced the GTP in the G6 range. The new flagship G6 also featured a polarizing, stretched new dual-nostril grille and revised lower fasciae both front and rear.
But that grille wasn’t the worst part. The GXP, as well as the lesser GT, were available with the Street Edition package. Purely cosmetic, it added hood scoops and a gargantuan hammerhead rear spoiler which utterly messed up the G6’s clean lines. The GXP’s 252 hp and 251 ft-lbs was competitive but nothing extraordinary, making this appearance package even more ridiculous. At least the GT Street Edition did without the scoops and spoiler, merely adding the GXP’s unique fasciae but making do with the 3.5 V6 (219 hp and 219 ft-lbs).
The Street Edition showed just how confused GM’s “Excitement” division was in the 2000s. Although Bob Lutz had decreed it would become a cut-price, American BMW and the exciting Solstice and G8 had been released, GM was still signing off on over-the-top stuff like this, half-baked showroom-stuffers like the G5, and absolutely embarrassing dreck like the G3. And so the Pontiac division came to be shuttered during a year it was offering some of the most exciting cars it had ever sold as well as some of the most cynical and misguided. A pity.
LeMans GSE Aerocoupe
Years produced: 1988-90
Total production: ?
When one looks at the LeMans, it’s hard to decide which is more insulting: that GM deprived North America of its competitive 1984 Opel Astra for four years, or that when they finally brought it over, it was a low-buck, value-engineered Korean clone. Even more egregious was Pontiac’s use of the respected LeMans nameplate on a replacement for the cheapskate Chevette-clone Pontiac 1000. Even if GM had insisted on using a mid-size nameplate on a subcompact, they had far superior imports to use it on. But they didn’t. The LeMans happened. Perhaps to atone for their sin, Pontiac introduced the GSE Aerocoupe.
For a brand that had touted its “excitement” credentials throughout the decade, the LeMans’ predecessor had never offered a sporting variant. The 1988 GSE may have offered a bodykit and trendy body-color alloy wheels, but it was no faster than the regular LeMans: the same 1.6 four-cylinder powered the GSE, producing 74 hp and 90 ft-lbs.
For the GSE’s sophomore season, it received a shot in the arm in the form of a 2.0 four-cylinder with a more impressive 96 hp and 118 ft-lbs. A sport-tuned suspension was offered as well as larger front disc brakes. The Opel Astra body had aged well, so LeMans GSE buyers were getting a sharp-looking subcompact.
What they didn’t get anything as well-built or entertaining as the similarly-named Opel Kadett GSi. Its DOHC 2.0 four-cylinder pumped out 150 hp and 145 ft-lbs, numbers that were very close to the just-launched Quad 4 engine. In comparison, the LeMans GSE looked like a very weak effort. After 1990, GM dropped any pretense of sportiness in the LeMans range by shelving the GSE.
Astre Lil’ Wide Track
Years produced: 1976
Total production: 3000
Pontiac dealers were probably relieved to have something small and fuel-efficient to sell after the oil crisis of 1974, even if it was just a Chevy Vega with a split grille. However, Pontiac executives still decided to inject some excitement into their new subcompact range.
The Lil’ Wide Track was built for a special promotion sponsored by the Pontiac Dealers Association. Motortown Corp of Detroit, the company responsible for the 1976 Chevrolet Vega Nomad, were contracted to modify the Astres.
The $400 option package added Motortown-fitted wire mag wheels, window louvers, front air dam, rear spoiler, a chrome exhaust tip and various tape stripe decals. The only color available was silver. The only powertrain available was the Vega 2300 four-cylinder, by now improved and rechristened the Dura-Built 140.
Although the Astre was only sold from 1975-77 in the USA (it launched in ’73 in Canada), the Lil’ Wide Track wasn’t the only sport model. The Astre SJ combined upgraded interior materials with full instrumentation, a higher-output version of the 2300 and Pontiac’s Radial Tuned Suspension; the GT offered the same less the upgraded interior. Finally, to end the Astre’s abbreviated run there was the garish 1977 Astre Formula, now available with the 2.5 Iron Duke four-cylinder. And even after the Astre’s short run came to an end, there were mechanically-related, sporty Sunbirds in Pontiac dealerships.
Grand Am sedan
Years produced: 1978-79
Total production: 4706
The first Grand Am of 1973 was a mid-size LeMans derivative that promised Trans Am excitement with Grand Prix luxury. It was easily one of the most impressive domestic intermediates of the mid-1970s, but that didn’t translate to sales. Brougham Fever was contagious, and cars like the related Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme were dominating the sales charts. The Grand Am was axed after a dismal 1975, but it wasn’t down for good. The nameplate returned on the downsized A-Body for 1978, once again featuring a unique front fascia and a choice of coupe or sedan body styles. Although it again lasted just 3 model years, the revived Grand Am sedan was sold for only 2.
The 1978 had a less prominent prow, and behind that prow was less prominent as well. While the ’73-75 had a choice of 400 or 455 cubic-inch V8s, the new Grand Am offered only the Pontiac 301 with either a 2- or 4-barrel carb or the Chevy 305 in California. For ’79, the Buick 231 V6 became the new base engine. Although there was no increase in power over the regular LeMans, all Grand Ams came with Pontiac’s Rally RTS handling package with larger stabilizer bars, 205/70R14 steel-belted radial tires, power steering and power front disc brakes.
Although those features came standard, there were some curious omissions. For example, full instrumentation was optional, as were bucket seats and a console. And while the first Grand Am had featured a more upscale interior design shared with the Grand Prix, the second Grand Am had the same dashboard as the entire Pontiac A-Body range; those with “Grand” in their names merely added some extra insulation, different seat trim, door pull straps and carpeted lower door panels. There was nothing a prospective Grand Am buyer couldn’t have optioned on a LeMans, except for the unique front-end styling and four-speed stick (LeMans could only have a three-speed). On that note, a buyer could opt for a padded vinyl roof on the Grand Am coupe albeit not the sedan and there was even available loose-pillow style seating for ’79. The revived Grand Am had proved to be less “pure” a touring sedan than its predecessor.
Pontiac had publicized the first Grand Am heavily but the second Grand Am, despite being listed in promotional material as a separate line from the LeMans, was given less attention. The sedan was almost forgotten by Pontiac and buyers alike: 2,841 sedans were manufactured in 1978 and a further 1,865 in 1979, less than half as many produced as the coupe. The sedan was axed after 1979 and with sales even lower than its predecessor and scant promotion and differentiation, the Grand Am line would again be axed before the related LeMans’ time was up.
Pontiac, throughout its entire lifetime, offered various mainstream sedans, coupes, wagons and crossovers. To separate it from any other mainstream marque, however, they always made sure to tap that elixir and offer cars that promised and/or delivered genuine excitement. The week after next, we shall look at 5 more of those attempts.
Cohort Capsule: 1977 Pontiac Astre
Curbside Capsule: 2007-09 Pontiac G5
The Almost Forgotten Engine: Pontiac 265 CID V8
I thought the LeMans looked familiar, once a favourite of chavs & boy racers as a Vauxhall Astra in the UK. There was a Daewoo version as well as the Opel & Vauxhall
The Daewoo version came to NZ, my sister test drove one after their return from Europe thinking European car built in Asia should be good, she promptly bought a Toyota the Lemans was awful, though I do know people who bought cheap used ones that went well for a long time on terrible roads before disintegrating.
X2. Those were marketed in Israel as Daewoo Racer (yes) for cheapskates who understand nothing about cars. Rubbish car and now mostly extinct.
I was working for a VW/Pontiac dealership when the Lemans was new. The parts manager had one as a demo. and it spent half it’s time in the shop. Not only was it trouble prone, I drove it a couple of times and was not impressed at all with it’s lack of power, (being automatic didn’t help) how it drove or the noises it made.
In the mid-nineties the 1984 Opel Kadett E made a comeback as the Daewoo Nexia. Several other Daewoo models arrived later and the brand was renamed as Chevrolet. A few years ago it was withdrawn from our market entirely.
Small Block Chevy. Quite literally.
Infinitesimal-block Chevy, more like!
Lil’ Chevy MatiZ. Sounds like a rap artist.
I read that as “intestinal block”!
The G6 shows what happens when Pontiac management gets off track. The Grand Am had been one of their great successes. It had outlasted it’s Olds, Buick and Chevy stablemates because it offered a unique value package which combined more expressive styling than what was being offered anywhere else.
While successful, the cladding was not being copied by the other big three and definitely not the more expensive Japanese competitors. The clientele for the car was all American and weaning them off the small rear drive platforms formerly available was successful with the Grand Am.
So what does Pontiac do. They change the name and move to a much more expensive to produce world platform. Out goes the distinctive cladding and in comes the inoffensive international styling. Did anybody seriously think this would not crash sales?
So in come the packages described above to try to turn the G6 into a Grand Am. Imagine instead a real Grand Am with that 240hp high value 3.9. GM’s 60 degree V6 was intended to be the new small block. This was the kind of engine that the Grand Am buyer would have loved. Unfortunately the Grand Am buyer got no love in return from Pontiac.
The G6 sold just as well as the Grand Am and added a convertible as well. Also, it had to move to Epsilon as GM was consolidating their mid-size offerings onto that platform and had already started with the Malibu.
You forget, too, that the ’85 Grand Am wasn’t exactly boy-racer in appearance. It was heavily derivative of the BMW 3-Series in many respects and it was only later that they started to tack on the bodykits and cladding.
The Grand Am may have been popular with people of particular tastes, however I don’t know where they could have gone further with that design language as they already had heavy cladding, myriad round air vents and big fog lights. Continuing on those themes would have produced an Aztek Sedan. Nobody else was really following this design language and perhaps that is for good reason.
The G6 was still distinctive, especially with its wedge profile and dual-nostril grille, but it also appealed to more mainstream tastes. And while I’m sure its fleet sales percentage was relatively high, just like the Grand Am’s, it sold strongly right up until Pontiac was axed. So no, sales did not crash with the G6. While I may agree that dropping long-running names is often an unwise decision and one GM made far too often, and while the G6 was not perfect and could have used some further handling and interior tweaks, it was a big step up from the dated Grand Am.
The 1985 Grand Am had the groved plastic side cladding that the Grand Am was known for on the LE and optionally on the base model. I suppose the twin nostril grill could be compared to BMW though it was mounted lower and the GM roofline on the first generation would not be mistaken for any BMW.
There was a transition in 04-05 where the only retail Grand Am was the two door V6 with four doors going to fleets and the G6 was V6 and four door only. I have not heard the argument that overall the G6 was a successful continuation of the Grand Am franchise. Hence the low production numbers of the specials. Or G6 total production in 2007 before the economy changed compared to Grand Am production in 1997 or 1987.
In 2005 they stuck us with (obsolete) loaded Grand Am GT coupes in large numbers…very unfair tactic when the G6 was also a 2005. For most of 2005 the G6 was only available in the more expensive V-6 version, further driving away typical Grand Am customers.
John C: The last two sentences of your second paragraph were inappropriate for this website and, frankly, distracted from what you were trying to say. Be more careful with what you say.
Jason and William. I will step back from commenting. No offense was intended.
I had a ’92 Daewoo LeMans GTE 4 door, with the same front styling as the Opel GSi, even with the same font. It was my first car in Korea, and I was tickled pink to be on wheels again after no driving for 2 years. I would describe it as an Opel built in the dark.
Was it a POS? Yep. Did things break on it? Yep. Did I care? Nope. I paid 700 bucks for a 5 year old car and had a ball driving the pee out of it. And all of them in Korea had a much higher standard of equipment than the Pontiac versions, they all had power windows/locks and AC.
One thing the Koreans couldn’t expunge from the design was the Germanic DNA. It handled great on it’s big alloys, and even though it could only do 160 kms/hr (100 mph)
it was rock steady at that speed. I dumped it when the AC quit, in retrospect I should have just fixed it and kept driving it.
The US Pontiac debacle was similar to the one Pontiac Canada had 2 decades earlier with the Vauxhall Firenza, but that’s another story.
The difference is that with the Firenza, a POS in it’s home country became an abomination when exported, while the Opel, with it’s decent basic bones, got screwed up royally by Daewoo. There was a great deal of finger pointing and recrimination between Daewoo and GM over who’s fault it was, but in the end in didn’t matter, the result sure did.
The Pontiac LeMans is a 1984 Opel Kadett E aka Vauxhall Astra Mk2. The first gen Opel Astra, the Astra F (so counting from Kadett E to Astra F), was introduced in 1991. Generation K has just been introduced.
Nice to see the Kadett GSi again, around 150 hp was the norm for a C-segment hot hatch back then.
A man and his family emigrated to the United States to live the American dream . He spoke with a very thick accent. One day he decided to surprise his family by buying a car. He ventured home with it and parked it in the garage. He announced to his family that he bought a Pontiac “birdcar”. His son asked if it was a Firebird. He said no. His wife asked if it was a Sunbird. He said “No, it is a Pontiac Goose! Come, I show you.” They all went down to the garage, he opened the overhead door and proudly showed off his new car. His son informed him “Dad, that’s not a Pontiac Goose, it’s a Pontiac 6000 SE.”
Alternate version of the GOOLE story?
From the same vein as the 710 cap and the Datsun 28 oz.
Goose might have made sense given the Firebird and Sunbird though!
Not a 6000 SUX?
“8.2mpg, an American tradition”
The styling of that LeMans GSE, while inoffensive, makes that Astre look like a Firebird by comparison. Different ideas of what a small car should look like, in two different decades and on two different continents.
Car and Driver ran a comparison test between the 2nd generation Grand Am and the BMW E12 528i. It was as big of a mismatch as I’ve seen, but of course Car and Driver found plenty of complimentary things to say about the Pontiac. Perhaps there was still some of the Car and Driver in play that picked a Pontiac GTO over a Ferrari GTO in a comparison that only occurred in the writer’s imagination. OTOH, when there is advertising to sell and SWAG to scoop up on paid trips to exotic locations; they’re as capable of saying that Detroit is suddenly building competitive cars today as they’ve ever been.
Not only do I not read car magazines anymore, I cringe when I think about how much money I spent on them over the years and what I could have done otherwise with that money.
And they’re so much worse today. At least then there was a chance the person flattering sponsors had an engineering background and an interest in cars. Today, you’re as likely to get someone who just had friends that figured out they could leech off the corporate teat at a four star level by regurgitating press releases and helped them join the party.
“The average American driver will be better off with the Pontiac”
That sounds familiar.
What the heck is an “Astre” and how is it pronounced?
Pontiac`s badge engineered Vega. It was pronounced aS-stray.
If you’re curious to know how it was pronounced by French-Canadians like me, it sounded like “Asstr” (with an almost-silent “r”).
As for what it means… It could designate a star or any celestial body but I never used that word to designate something else than a Pontiac! And it’s been a long time since I could! My uncle had one that he used for racing when I was a kid. Of course, it had an engine transplant!
People were referring to Vegas and Astres as Dégats (meaning spill or damage) or Désastres (Disasters). Again, you barely ear the “r” and the “e” at the end of “désastre”
“Star” in French.
We called them Ashtrays back then, As-tra was a twin of the Vega.
Actually, “astre” is a French-derived word (for celestial body or star), but it is pronounced “AS-truh”, with the emphasis on the “AS”. The “e” is almost unpronounced. (from Wiktionary.org).
In fact, here in Quebec, even the “R” is almost not pronounced by most people. It sounds like “ASST”, a one syllable word.
Yeah, I would think that even ’70s Pontiac management would know to not release a car in the US with a name pronounced Asstray.
The only cars I really like in this article are the 1978-79 Grand AM sedans. Now that’s a sharp looking car with a nice interior. The rest can be dumped in the nearest trash bin.
Frank, I bought a new ’78 Grand Am coupe and kept it for 11 years. For 1978 it was a nicely styled car, wearing the GM intermediate downsizing that year very well. The interior and instrument panel sold me, with nice buckets, console, a full compliment of gages and a sport steering wheel – just like in the picture above. The 301 4 bbl was no rocket, but performed adequately in the lighter, downsized body. RTS suspension made it a nimble handler as well. Liked the styling more than that year’s Grand Prix, which was far more formal.
Fit and finish were not the greatest and after 100,000 miles everything started to go at once. Probably no worse than other American brands at the time. Had a 6000 LE and two Bonneville LE’s after this that were far less rewarding. Finally in 2001, after a lifetime of Detroit iron that had become increasingly disappointing, I bought an Acura and never looked back.
I never warmed up to the styling on the G6, and much preferred the other flavors that came out on that platform, especially the Saturn. I never knew that a V6/stick was available.
One minor nit, the Arab oil embargo which set off the first American fuel shortages (“The Energy Crisis!”) was in 1973. It hit late enough in the year (mid summer, if I recall correctly) that 1973 model cars still finished out with a sales record. It was the 1974 model year (beginning in the fall of ’73) that got hammered with high fuel prices, and an economy that dove into a nasty recession.
It was in October.
Those G6 GXP’s struck me as baby Maybach Exeleros.
Buck teeth and squinty eyes do not make for a pretty face.
CC Effect! I saw an immaculate one of these while riding past a hotel parking lot a few nights ago. The spoiler was what made it stand out and caught my attention! 🙂
Shame on GM. Even saddled with truly crappy vehicles , no other division of GM was better than Pontiac at putting lipstick on a turd. Those at Pontiac division deserve a lot of credit for trying to make something out of nothing..
Even after the halcyon days of the sixties, no other GM division could compare with the marketing prowess of Pontiac. The problem was, unlike the sixties, the vehicles of the seventies and later couldn’t come close to living up to the hype.
It’s tough to claim you sell ‘excitement’, when all you’ve got is a bunch of stripes and geegaws that look like they came from a JC Whitney catalog.
I’ve always liked the Astre (once the 2300 engine issues were resolved to some degree), and the first generation Sunbird that followed it. I feel like they were the right cars at the right time with the right combination of flash and practicality. As evidence of this I always refer back to my memory of my grammar and junior high school faculty parking lots, where Sunbirds and Monzas (and to some degree Vegas and Astres) were plentiful. These cars sold to young professionals in large numbers when they came out (presumably their target market). GM had pretty good momentum starting in the small car market before it crumbled completely to the europeans and japanese. I sometimes wonder if the loss of steam is all attributable to a lack of quality and reliability, or if it’s just as much a product of the growing number of imports flooding the marketplace.
When these cars came out they were competing with the Beetle, the Corolla, maybe the Datsun 510…all good cars but not particularly inspiring from a design perspective. Naturally a young upwardly mobile american with “Typical Mainstream American Tastes” (Don’t shoot me for that description, I simply mean folks who might have been used to and comfortable with the running trends in american automotive styling during the period) might be swayed by the GM offerings, where the interiors were designed to mimic trends in larger american vehicles, the styling mimicked established model lines, and versions of typical options and packages on higher priced model lines were available on these entry level models. By the time the ’70’s ended there were Celicas, 200SX’s, Sciroccos, etc., and these “mini Firebirds and Camaros” started looking a bit trite. Did the buyer of a ’77 Sunbird run out in 1980 or 81 and buy a Celica? Or did his/her income and standing now make him a Monte Carlo or Grand Prix buyer? And what were his options at his Chevy or Pontiac dealership if he wanted another small sporty economy car? Another Monza or Sunbird…or if he waited another year or two, the decontented and even less exciting J2000 or Cavalier.
While the G6 never excited me in any way, shape, or form, one element of the six-cylinder models always annoys me. On the trunk lid, one side has a badge that says “G6” and other side in the same font is “V6”. A Pontiac G6V6. Alrighty.
The Grand Am comes across quite well for the time.
I love how Pontiac used (what I always considered to be) the correct abbreviation for “little,” li’l, apostrophe between the 2nd and last letters, not following the last letter. I’ve never understood the use of the abbreviation lil’ that so many musical artists and the author here uses. Is it a sign of my advanced ageing that I follow the language of a 40 year old advertisement as opposed to that of anyone from the 2000s?
For 2016, VW Passat (US version) is automatic-only.
Among mid-size sedans, only Mazda6 and Honda Accord remain available with manual transmission.
My gawd that G6 GXP Street Edition rivals the Aztek for ugliness….
BTW the 2016 Passat no longer offers a manual transmission. The ’15 offered a 5-speed stick with the 2.0T four and a 6-speed with the TDI, though in both cases conforming only to VW’s crazy option package grouping (because obviously nobody would want a manual and a sunroof in the same car). Obviously the TDI isn’t of the facelifted ’16 model (whether it was intended for sale before dieselgate broke I don’t know, but there was much wider manual availability in diesel Golfs so maybe it was), but anyway VW dropped the gas-engined manual while they were at it.
Interestingly, the five-door non-GTI Golf with a manual is only available *with* a sunroof.
At least in my parts (Washington DC area), the non-sunroof Golf S is the only 5-door available with a manual. I think Volkswagen’s online configutor, like Toyota’s, only only show you what dealers have in your area which is why it asks you for your postal code at the beginning.
Thanks for the interesting article. I have many fond memories of the $500 and sometimes $1000 commissions on leftover Lemans GSE’s. The easy way to sell them was to assign them to first time buyers who came in for a Trans Am and were presented with the GSE at time of delivery….yes it happened successfully many times! The GSE did have better seats and a few other interior upgrades than the base Lemans. In my opinion, the G6 is a much better Grand Am that should have kept the Grand Am name. 2005 was a strange year….end of Bonneville, Grand Am, Sunfire, Century, Lesabre, Park Ave, Regal (2004)….very well executed plan to confuse and drive away loyal customers and deal an insurmountable blow to stand-alone (non-chain) dealers 🙂
I’ve heard of bait and switch, but never to the point of letting a customer order one car and then trying to foist a completely different car off on them at delivery!
Everytime that I see one (picture, that is!), I think about how good the Vega/Astre cars looked! As has been said MANY times, it’s such a shame that GM did not set the engineering bar as high as the visuals bar!! 🙂
Except for that hideous window louver on the special edition. The 50″ height helped the proportions, if not the headroom, particularly compared to the Pinto.
Imagine trying to manufacture over 400,000 of a totally new car in the first year. In three body styles and a myriad of a la carte options. It’s amazing any of them worked. The Citation was an even bigger deal.
I like Grand Ams and Lemans’, but it’s a Deadly Sin…..not necessarily for it, by itself, but for the ideas like that, plus the idea that somehow, someone would want to buy a Pontiac Acadian (or Astre) that was a poorly disguised Chevette or Vega.
I have to admit that as a marketable business idea, the idea that enough people would want a compromise somewhere between the Trans Am’s sportiness, and the Grand Prix’s luxury both help to solidify GM’s attitude of “we’ll do this, because we have the money to, even if it doesn’t make any sense. Let’s just try to wring every last cent out of any prospective buyers that want anything that drives!!!!”. To me, that signifies that GM and Pontiac really didn’t have a clue about their market……the guys that want a Trans Am want a Trans Am. You’re not going to opt for the much more sedate and less sporty Grand Am, if you’re hooked on the way that a Trans Am looks and drives. Nothing less is going to do. You don’t say to yourself, “I hope that Trans Am gets good gas mileage and is practical”.
Even if we delve into the Trans Am buyers that want more practicality, if you want a Trans Am that looks like a Trans Am with less balls (and better fuel economy), you buy the base V6 variant. If you want a Trans Am with more luxuries, you order the power locks/ windows, A/C and whatever cushy options that they have available.
I believe that in the second run of Grand Ams from 1978-80, that a four door was available. Why on Earth would anyone buy a four door Grand Am? Is it because the four door Trans Am not available? (obviously not, but asked as a rhetorical question to help prove a point). The idea at GM was probably that they wanted to hone in on the guy that maybe has a family, maybe something that is still sporty that is still practical to the wife. Fine enough, but then we’re back at the four door Lemans.
On the Grand Prix side of prospective buyers, it makes even less sense……the Grand Prix is already sporty enough of a coupe, with two doors, and a long hood/ short deck look, and it’s got the luxury appointments if you need it (though, a Grand Prix with roll down windows, no A/C, standard bench seat and no cruise is hardly more comfortable or luxurious than a Trans Am in similarly optioned form). And two doors is already difficult enough of a sell to the wife/ girlfriend, because she already wants you to stop buying two door cars that it’s a hassle to get your children in and out of the backseat.
And some still wonder why Pontiac is out of business? I think that a better question is, “what took so long?”. GM, in general, has made some pretty baffling moves, but I had to illustrate the case of the Grand Am as one of GM’s Deadly Sins. Why they brought the Grand Am back, AGAIN, from the morgue only adds to the confusion. In fairness to Pontiac, I think that as a brand, when they lost their Pontiac specific engines (was it 79? Or ’80?), the GM corporate homogenization turned most of their brands into a parts bin redundancy. Realistically, I could have seen Pontiac getting the axe after the Fiero failed to sell (itself a parts bin victim, with the Iron Duke). There was nothing, really, that Pontiac had to differentiate itself, except for probably the Firebird/ Trans Am. Why didn’t they just roll the Trans Am into their Chevy lineup? And also later, the Solstice was a great idea…..it too, became a victim of a company with too many parts bin sharing ideas and not enough individual ideas to separate itself from GM’s other lines.
As recently as 1988, Pontiac was third in total sales…the third, fourth and fifth generation Grand Am’s were a HUGE sales/marketing success.
That’s good to know. But you have to wonder if those sales were the proverbial battle, but not the war. At some point, people stopped believing in what the company had to offer. Trends change, but not enough people wanted to continue on with Pontiac. Especially with GM’s poor quality control–people may have bought into the brand, the ideal and the styling, but if the cars were poorly made, ultimately, the brand will fail at some point. Peak sales only account for so much, because you have to wonder what type of permanent damage was permanently done to the company’s reputation. Word of mouth spreads like crazy…..and when it’s bad word of mouth, no amount of advertising will get people to buy (unless its a diehard brand loyalist or constantly finding first car owners to sell to).
The bottom line is that they’re not in business.
The brand was still selling strongly at the end. It was killed as a condition of GM’s bankruptcy bailout, as was Saturn. Buick would have been gone too if not for China.
First, great researching for this article. I would like to borrow a G6 with the V6-stick for a weekend for an extended test drive. There isn’t a single car from this list that I’d actually want to own though. I can think of some rare Pontiacs that are more my style. Maybe in part two. 🙂
+1,I’m sorry to say there wasn’t much excitement being built by Pontiac with these limited run models.
I do like those Grand Am sedans, though I didn’t know they existed until recently.
I didn’t find the stretched G6 grille to be off-putting, even though it reminded me of a large tongue. However, I did find the coupe to be ill-proportioned, and I think this is because GM didn’t bother to shrink the wheelbase. And that giant rear spoiler looked like Dracula’s cape.
“See the chrome exhaust extensions. And remember this is a Pontiac”
Car & Driver called the Astre a Vega with better decals. ‘Nuff said.
There is a ’77 clay model Catalina (4 dr) that looks like an overgrown version of the ’78 LeMans. The six window greenhouse originally appeared on the Italianate ’77 Chevrolet sedan proposal. At some point, that 4-door roofline was switched to the downsized ’78 intermediates. In Pontiac’s case, the entire Catalina design became the intermediate Pontiac. The Italinate (Pininfarina) design roots-“pure, smooth, essential”- shine through in the clay model. Less so in the production model. In any case, this tighter European shape doesn’t lend itself to American-style special editions- bigger grilles and other macho makeovers.
Putting the Pontiac L’il Wide Track into context requires remembering that Datsun had been selling their subcompact as the L’il Something and their pickup as the L’il Hustler. For shame.
I saw a G6 last week for the first time in years. It was a convertible. I’d gotten as far as test driving one in 2007, but decided the mechanism wouldn’t last, and I don’t have a garage to leave the top down overnight.
BMW needs to stop taking their grille design cues from Pontiacs of 15 years ago.
“Fun” fact: the fog lights in the G6 GXP are the same ones used on the 04-06 GTO.
I never knew about those stick shift 3.9L sedans. I wonder if they still had AFM? A manual 2007 GT with the subdued exterior bits sounds quite fetching. The hydraulic power steering is the cherry on top. Max torque at 2800rpm in a fairly lightweight stick shift sedan sounds like a torque-steering riot. Rarer than hens teeth though, a nationwide cars.com search for ANY manual GT/GTP g6 comes up with nothing.
A manual G6 sedan would be a rare bird today. My 2006 has been a nice ride, let down only by the cheapskate GM plastic interior of that period
Those wheels on the Lil Wide Track look like the same ones used for the 78 Mustang II King Cobra.