2009 Pontiac G8 GT - You Broke My Heart
I get sad each time I drive my 2009 Pontiac G8 GT. Not because the bright red G8 isn't a wonderful machine and a blast to drive. Not because Dad thinks I'm "crazy to own a Pontiac" (he drives a Hyundai Elantra - so his opinion on cars doesn't carry much weight) And not because my friend Dave - who fancies himself a car expert - thinks it's a Bonneville.
Factoring in the performance, reasonable base price and rave critic reviews - the G8 should have been a grand-slam market success. But it flopped, and that's where the sadness comes in.
Years ago I wrote of vehicular evolution, (Moto-Darwinism) and how great cars like the BMW 3 series, Chevrolet Corvette, Porsche 911 and Ford Mustang became that way not through luck- but dogged determination and commitment by their manufacturers. Each of these four cars started with a sound technical premise but possessed some rather glaring initial deficiencies. Gradually, each evolved into the masterpiece and market success it is today.
Of the diverse automotive brands I've experienced over the years, few were as consistently special as Pontiac.
Whether it was Tom Sivak's 1970 Ram-Air III Trans-Am, Cary Hill's 1969 Firebird 400 or Billy Pire's 1969 Grand Prix 428 HO, classic Pontiacs had certain common traits. They were supremely stylish, fast, balanced, well built and affordable.
Of these Pontiacs, Billy's Grand Prix was the most memorable. Nothing on the road looked like a classic GP, and few cars could touch the staggering all-around performance of that Verdero Green 370 HP supercar. It it was nearly faultless in every dimension.
A naive youngster could be forgiven for assuming that Pontiac would continue to build upon this legacy of excellence - but the opposite happened. The 1970's fuel embargoes, economic depression and short sighted management ripped the soul from GM's brand strategy and gave us crap in return. Impala based Bonnevilles, Malibu based Grand Prix and gutless "corporate" engines. Far from evolving, Pontiac regressed into just another anonymous GM division with absolutely nothing unique to offer.
Upscale, performance oriented buyers that once (rightly) viewed Pontiac as GM's "Excitement Division" headed for the nearest BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Infiniti or Lexus dealership and didn't look back.
Fast forward to 2004. Bob Lutz finally tried to right this painful wrong, and restore Pontiac's legacy as the excitement division once again.
Lutz found a short-term solution 12,000 miles away - in GM's tiny Australian Holden Division. For decades, the performance junkies "Down Under" had been quietly curating and perfecting GM's performance heritage. They contributed the RWD Holden Monaro and Commodore to aid in Pontiac's revival. Excellent platforms these, with stylish bodies, stout RWD performance suspensions, luxury features and big V8 power. All the attributes that once made Pontiacs great.
But like the delusional German high command trying to deploy long destroyed divisions at the end of WWII, Pontiac had too little remaining brand equity to work with. In the eyes of customers, the damage done to Pontiac by years of neglect couldn't be undone.
The John Delorean and Jim Wangers magic had indeed left the building.
The most telling proof of Pontiac's decline? GM had to go all the way to Australia to find EXACTLY the same features and attributes that Pontiac had natively possessed in abundance decades before. Kind of sad - isn't it?
The 361 horsepower G8 GT is an exact modern interpretation of Billy Pire's 1969 Grand Prix. Staggeringly fast, smoothly refined, luxurious, affordable and stylish. I can't help think that the G8 is precisely the car that the original Grand Prix would have evolved into - had GM only had the commitment and vision to see it through.
That's where my sadness comes in. Pontiac's G8 is the vehicular embodiment of too little, too late. The last ditch effort to save a fabled brand that deserved more from management, and deserved a better fate.
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