CC Museum Tour: Pontiac Transportation Museum – Old School

The city of Pontiac, Michigan may not be as widely-known as Detroit, Dearborn, or Flint as far as automotive production is concerned, but their motoring history is rich enough to support a new museum. Recently opened in an old elementary school, the Pontiac Transportation Museum houses dozens of Pontiacs, GMC Trucks, and lesser-known nameplates from those nascent days of the American motorcar. My wife and I decided to take a day trip in our ’74 Firebird and return to Pontiac’s ancestral home to check it out.

We were immediately greeted by a staff of nice volunteers who explained that the museum was opening in phases. Only about 20 cars are currently on “display,” but they also noted that we could take a tour of the unfinished part of the facility, which ended up being our favorite part of the trip. In the finished section, we found not only cars but also an impressive display of memorabilia.

Among my favorites was this commemorative piston. Pontiac diehards assert that Pontiac truly died in 1981 when the last 301 rolled of the line.

What was the purpose of these tiny floor mats? It doesn’t matter; they’re now on my shopping list.

The main floor had an early Pontiac, this 1927 model.

And it had the last Pontiac built, a 2010 G6 that was originally sold to a rental fleet but ended up in private hands.

The line workers had signed the car wherever there was free space. One may wonder why GM didn’t hang onto this car, but in 2010, GM’s bankruptcy was still very fresh, and they were in the process of selling off a great deal of their less-valuable cars. The last Oldsmobile was auctioned off several years after it was built in 2004 (it was an Alero, by the way).

There was a ’68 Firebird Ram Air II and a ’64 GTO convertible on the floor, as one might expect. The Firebird was a knockout.

There was a one-off 1973 Grand Am wagon, built for Bill Collins as a company car. Apparently, a Grand Am wagon was planned but canceled at the last minute, so this was the only one produced. The 1972 Grandville in the background was used to haul a “Customer Services Mobile Training Unit” from dealer to dealer to train technicians how to work on the new models.

This 1940 GMC truck was right up my alley, and most likely yours if you like old trucks at all. It was built in Pontiac.

Pontiacs from the 1930s through the mid 1950s seem as if they’re overlooked in collector circles, but this 1935 model makes it hard to understand why.

As does this 1938 model, which is one of my favorite cars in the museum because it looks original and it’s not perfect. The museum houses plenty of Pontiacs and Oaklands from the early days; for those of you who don’t know, Oakland came before Pontiac in General Motors’ early Sloan ladder. The Pontiac was introduced in 1926 as a companion model, and unlike GM’s other aborted companion models such as LaSalle, Marquette, and Viking, Pontiac hastily outsold and replaced its Oakland parent.

Our guided tour through the back of the museum made our trip. The section that is officially open is admittedly limited for now, something that the volunteers seemed almost apologetic about. One of the volunteers named Steve told us he’d take us for an extended tour, and it couldn’t have been better. Steve was a retired GM line worker, and he was knowledgeable, friendly, and not showoffy at all. He was also a true believer in the need for museums to preserve our heritage that could so easily be lost. I can’t say enough nice things about him.

Steve and I both loved this 1942 Pontiac, a rare one from that final model year before World War II.

Nothing to see here but the nicest lineup of Colonnade Pontiacs you’ve ever seen: a LeMans, a Grand Am, a Can Am, and a ’73 GTO.

Steve explained that money was the main issue in expanding the new museum, as every museum must understand. This part of the building was once the school library; notice the ’66 Bonneville peeking out from around the corner in the darkened back room.

Here’s a Pontiac T1000, a Chevette clone from the early 1980s.

I love when museums proudly own “everyday” cars from a company’s history, such as this like-new ’79 Bonneville. Although I’d much rather drive my red Firebird (or that ’38 Pontiac shown earlier), it’s important to remember what the average car on our roads looked like back then.

It was impossible to not take a long look at this Canadian Parisienne Safari, complete with Chevrolet underpinnings. Notice the narrow track compared to its “wide-track” American counterparts.

Or how about this mid-’70s trifecta: two Venturas and a Grand Prix.

I fell in love with this Vauxhall Victor from across a crowded room. Why was it at the Pontiac Museum? Before the Tempest was introduced in 1961, Pontiac dealers sold British Vauxhalls as a compact alternative to their big Wide-Track Catalinas and Bonnevilles. I don’t recall ever seeing one in person, so this was an exciting part of the day for me.

Here’s another perfectly imperfect example of an everyday car: a 1950 Pontiac sedan.

The front end of the 1967 Pontiacs is a bit polarizing, but I like it, especially on this wood-sided 1967 Executive Safari with a 428 under the hood.

Or this “perfect blue” 428-powered Bonneville; Steve explained that this was a contest giveaway car back in 1967.

How about this four-seat Fiero?

Or this 1980 Firebird Esprit Yellowbird? Or not one, but two Pontiac 2+2 NASCAR homologation specials in the background?

The museum wants to restore this GMC Motorhome, perhaps in conjunction with some restoration classes for younger people.

We hung out at the museum for over an hour, and then we raided the gift shop for a t-shirt, a “Fisher Body” hat, and a highball glass. I’m excited to see how the museum expands over the next several years, and I hope that they’re successful. Michigan’s automotive heritage is endless, and it’s important that we don’t let it all slip away. I’m glad that some Pontiac fans are putting up their time and money to support their favorite brand.

P.S. Just to make it a Pontiac History kind of day, we drove about 15 miles into Utica to see the building where my Firebird was shipped back in October 1973. USA Tire was once Kelly Minnick, Inc., a Pontiac-Buick-Opel dealership – it was kind of cool to take the old ‘Bird back home.