It seemed like the proverbial no-brainer when General Motors announced plans, early in the decade, to revive its legendary muscle car, the Pontiac GTO. After all, few automobiles had become so entrenched in American lore, inspiring songs, like Ronnie and the Daytona’s “Little GTO,” and countless appearances in film, TV and other corners of popular culture.
First launched in 1964, the “Goat,” as its fans liked to call it, was arguably the first true American muscle car, derived fromthe expediant and wildly profitable formula of stuffing a full-size V8 engine in a mid-size car and charging a premium for it.
The creation of General Motors’ mad genius, John DeLorean, the GTO dominated road and track until it was summarily abandoned in the wake of the first Mideast oil crisis. But with muscle making a comeback, GM’s new “car czar,” Bob Lutz, was convinced the muscle car could reverse the fading fortunes of the flailing Pontiac.
But the return of the Goat proved to be just the latest in a long series of setbacks for the once-popular brand. Potential Pontiac buyers did little more than yawn over the blandly-styled 2004 GTO and despite a series of frantic efforts to prop up the retro nameplate, disastrous sales forced the automaker to once again pull the plug less than three years later.
Now, it seems, GM is ready to toss Pontiac itself onto the automotive rust heap. On Monday, the ailing automaker unveiled its latest turnaround plan, this one triggered by President Barack Obama’s refusal to authorize a second round of federal aid for GM until it came up with a more acceptable business strategy. The plan the president rejected would have jettisoned Hummer, Saturn and Saab, but maintained Pontiac as a low-volume niche brand, paired with Buick and GMC.