Merriam-Webster defines the summer solstice as the point in the sky occupied by the sun on or about June 22nd when summer begins in the northern hemisphere. On the longest days of the year, the sun sets right around 8:30 PM in Chicago, with remnants of daylight still visible for the next half hour or so in the fading sky. Any day of the week is great for an evening walk. There’s so much promise inherent with summer’s official arrival. From that point on, the days may be slowly and surely shortening by increments, but summer is just beginning. This yellow Solstice GXP was parked near the campus of the local university on the Sunday that Daylight Savings time had ended. The sun would set at 4:40 PM that day.
Loyola-Leone Beach Park.
The best way to describe that afternoon was “gray”. A soft blanket of clouds acted as a filter through which only a few, stray beams of light seemed to pierce. In this gauzy daylight, colors seemed muted, even those of the changing leaves. I’ve been through the bi-annual time change for decades now, and yet I feel there’s never any effective way to truly prepare for how I’m going to feel on the day the clocks either spring forward or, as was the case three weeks ago, fall back. I love fall and its cool, cozy quietude, as well as the melancholy beauty of the early darkness and bare trees once the leaves have fallen.
I have also come to appreciate an empty beach. During summer, there was a smorgasbord of sound between music coming out of speakers, human voices, birds, passing traffic, the bells of ice cream carts, and crashing waves. By this point in autumn, traffic on North Sheridan Road is still very audible, but at the shore, it is the sound of the waves of Lake Michigan crashing against the sand and pebbles at regular intervals that is at the forefront. Whoosh... I remember sitting there, next to the guys who brought their cat that day. Whoosh... I didn’t make it to the hot dog stand this year. Whoosh... Summer 2020 was an exercise in sheer willpower after the mayor had “closed” the beaches all season. Whoosh… I got through that. I can get through anything.
Against these ruminations on this quiet, introspective Sunday, the daylight-on-wheels shade of yellow paint on this two-seat Pontiac stood out almost as if selectively colorized in an otherwise black-and-white photograph. Here was an example of a model named after the longest days of the warmest season as seen while well on the way to the other solstice, the cold one. Long past its prime, I had often seen this car while riding a city bus, but had never before had a chance to inspect it this closely. What could be considered Pontiac’s proverbial summer solstice? Its wholesale reinvention that had started in the late ’50s had blossomed in the ’60s in that “Wide Track” era, with beautiful, desirable, high performance cars like the early Grand Prix, GTO, and Firebird.
One could also make a case for the ’70s being Pontiac’s summer solstice, with individual models like the midsized, Colonnade-platform Grand Prix and the Trans Am variant of the popular Firebird selling like crazy, even if the rest of its lineup didn’t live up to the promise or runaway popularity of those two cars. Demand doesn’t necessarily translate to superiority. Still, the GP of the seventies was loved by many, attracting 228,000 buyers in ’76 and over 288,000 in ’77, its peak year. Sales of the high-performance Trans Am were impressive at 93,000 units for ’78 (almost equaling the 94,000 combined total of the other three Firebird submodels), but would smash through the hundred grand barrier the next year with almost 110,000 units, being the most popular Pontiac F-body, by far.
When the Solstice arrived for the ’06 model year, Pontiac was far along into its months of short days and long, dark nights. It was still inconceivable to me that the entire Pontiac brand would be gone just four model years after this attractive two-seater had first arrived. Based on GM’s rear-drive Kappa platform, the Solstice came standard with a 177-horsepower, 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine. The GXP, of which this yellow roadster is an example if my license plate search was correct, featured a turbocharged 2.0L Ecotec four-cylinder engine with 260 hp, which represented a significant, useful, 47% power upgrade. A 0-60 mph time in the mid-five second range made this a legitimately fast car.
While the Solstice was said to handle well, most criticisms centered around its general lack of refinement. Fit and finish were lackluster at best, wind noise was an issue even at moderate speeds, and as would be expected with a car with a folding top and a bobbed tail, it couldn’t haul much cargo (which, admittedly, is never the point of owning a convertible). Just over 65,700 found owners over the course of its five, official model years, with production having ended in mid-2009. When the Solstice was discontinued that July, it was a feeling not dissimilar to how it often feels when I see that the lifeguard towers have been removed from the beaches after Labor Day weekend.
The only trouble with that metaphor is that instead of the promise of another summer in the coming year, Pontiac was shut down completely by 2010, months after the last G6 was produced that January. I honestly don’t know how to feel about Daylight Savings time. Without it, the days would have been getting shorter much earlier in the year, which would have meant even fewer afternoon walks, which I love. Less daylight is inevitable and scientific, no matter whether its hours are allocated at the beginning or the end of the day.
I realize now that it’s not Daylight Savings time that’s sometimes challenging for me… it’s when it’s over. The slightly banged-up condition of this Solstice reminded me of a child’s favorite plastic beach toy that had been well-loved and played with all summer. It sat in the darkness of an early-November afternoon, resolved to wait patiently in the hope of being granted just one more season of long, sunny days in the open air.
Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, November 5, 2023.