News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett Opinion

December 5, 2009

Mark Bennett: Automotive era passes with end of Pontiac

TERRE HAUTE — Only Pete Townshend’s power chords ever outmuscled that ’72 Pontiac Grand Prix.

Yes, The Who’s “Live at Leeds” album blew out the factory speakers in the Grand Prix I borrowed from my folks as a teenager. (Technically, I was to blame, considering I controlled the volume.) Otherwise, that car — carrying a 400-cubic-inch displacement V8 engine with a 4-barrel carb and the aforementioned 8-track stereo system — was one sweet ride.

My dad liked Pontiacs. When I got old enough to drive one, I figured out why.

They were fun, then. They stood for something, and stuck to those values — a precious commodity these days.

“At their best, Pontiac was the American muscle car. If you wanted to go fast, with a car that said, ‘Get out of my way,’ with a big engine and smokin’ tires, you were driving a Pontiac,” said Richard Truett, engineering reporter for Automotive News.

Though that brand’s high-performance heyday was the 1960s and early 1970s, its popularity lingered beyond that time. Pontiac hit its all-time high in 1984 with sales of 850,000, according to the Detroit News. Longtime Terre Haute auto dealer Mark Fuson remembers a six-year stretch in the 1980s when Pontiacs were the No. 1 registered vehicle in Vigo County.

“We had some good times back then,” said Fuson, president of Fuson Pontiac Buick Cadillac & GMC Trucks on U.S. 41 south of the city.

The iconic Pontiac brand, once known as General Motors’ “excitement division,” has reached the end of its road.

Pressed to cut expenses to meet the federal government’s bailout plan, GM decided in April to stop producing Pontiacs. The last car rolled off the assembly line Nov. 25 at the Pontiac plant in Orion Township, Mich. The Fuson dealership sold its last new Pontiac — a nifty G5 GT — on Tuesday. GM will continue to craft parts for existing Pontiacs, Fuson pointed out, and the dealership will keep servicing that brand while focusing its new-vehicle sales on its Buicks, Cadillacs and GMC Trucks. But, sadly, an automotive era has passed.

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