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A Contrarian Take on Mercury’s Demise

It coulda been a contender.

by on Jan.05, 2011

The original Mercury logo, used from 1939 to 1940.

Editor’s Note: As reported, this week, Ford’s long-struggling Mercury brand officially ceased to exist as the New Year rolled in.  But whether it should have been sent to the automotive rust heap is a matter of debate.  While most folks were happy to see it go,’s resident historian – and contrarian —  Mike Davis weighs in with an opposing viewpoint.

According to the latest definitions, a contrarian argues a counter-intuitive position against the conventional wisdom.  (Note: the word contrarian does not even appear in my vintage 1967 American College Dictionary, much less the one I used as an undergraduate 15 years earlier.  Nor does Microsoft’s spell-check like it.)

Ford Motor Company, after starving its traditional “medium-price” Mercury nameplate for years, finally pulled the plug with production of the last Mercury Grand Marquis at the St. Thomas, Ontario, assembly plant earlier this week. Assembly of badge-engineered Mercury Milan, Mercury Mariner and Mercury Mountaineer ended last year.  Even earlier, the company killed off Mercury Cougar and a decade ago never invested in a Mercury version of Focus.


Requiescat In Pace, Pontiac

When GM decided it needed an easier step-up from Chevrolet, the Pontiac brand was born.

by on Apr.29, 2009

The Pontiac brand, introduced as a 1926 coupe and sedan, was Sloan's first step up marketing ploy.

The Pontiac brand, introduced as a 1926 coupe and sedan, was Sloan's first "step up" marketing ploy.

In truth, the Pontiac brand is not yet dead; it’s only had its death sentence pronounced by General Motors, in an April 27 announcement about adjustments to its February plan for survival that was rejected by the U. S. Treasury Department. The pronouncement came after months of rumors and speculation. 

In addition to announcing that Pontiac would be “phased out by the end of 2010″-20 months from now-GM said it would dispose one way or another of Saab, Saturn and Hummer by the end of this year, a mere eight months distant, in the process targeting a 42% reduction in dealer count by the beginning of 2011. 

When all these cards are dealt, or dealt with, GM will still have a viable “step-up” product system with Chevrolet car and truck, Buick, GMC truck and Cadillac. Many of GM’s dealerships lately have been Pontiac-Buick-GMC and Cadillac. I’ll be willing to bet that for 2011 Buick will get some entry-level models, as they once had beginning in the Sixties, and it is conceivable they could be called Pontiacs or even have familiar Pontiac model names.  

This announcement is very hard on GM people whose pride is grievously wounded whether or not they still have jobs and benefits. To the legions of Pontiac fans, especially the boomers who came of driving age just as Pontiac changed is image from stodgy to racy in the late Fifties, the news is nothing short of cataclysmic. 

The Pontiac brand, introduced as a 1926 coupe and sedan, became the first major, uh, product step in Alfred P. Sloan’s strategy to create “step-up” marketing of motorcars. Notably both Pontiacs were “closed” at a time when “open” cars were still the majority of those sold, one of many “firsts” known to Pontiac enthusiasts. 

Three years earlier, by means of price adjustments, Sloan had rationalized GM’s crazy quilt organization of different brands and companies acquired by founder Billy Durant starting in 1908. 

In 1922, GM’s car lineup consisted of five brands: Chevrolet, priced at $510 to $1,395, Buick from $865 to $1,395, Oakland from $975 to $1,545, Oldsmobile from $1,095 to $2,145, and Cadillac from $3,100 to $4,600.

This confusing overlapping stew was corrected a year later with this lineup: Chevrolet $490 to $795, Oldsmobile $750 to $1,095, Buick Four $935 to $1,495, Oakland $945 to $1,395, Buick Six $1,275 to $2,285, and Cadillac $2,985 to $4,600. Later came product feature step-ups, a straight eight in the Buick, for instance.

But GM decided it needed an easier step-up from Chevrolet-offered then only with a four-cylinder engine–so it introduced Pontiac as a one-price ($825) model with a standard six-cylinder engine, a companion to the pricier Oakland.

From 1936 to 1956, Pontiacs were noted for their often heavily chromed waterfall front end appearance. Generally they shared GM's Fisher "A" Body with Chevrolet.

From 1936 to 1956, Pontiacs generally shared GM's Built by Fisher "A" Body with Chevrolet.

After international promotion around its quintessentially American “Indian” name, it could be said that Pontiac was an overnight success, but so were Plymouth and DeSoto a couple of years later. By the depth of the Great Depression in 1932, Oakland-a Durant acquisition in 1909–was gone but Pontiac lived on in its place.  

From 1936 to 1956, Pontiacs were noted for their often heavily chromed waterfall front end appearance. Generally they shared GM’s Fisher “A” Body with Chevrolet.

A flat-head straight-eight engine was added. Pontiac claimed to be first with a column shift, in 1938. For 1949 an “Indian” moniker, Chieftain, was introduced for the upper series.  (more…)