Pontiac, RIP: A Love Affair Gone Sour

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Everybody remembers his first car, and most of us remember a second coming-of-age milestone: our first new car. After years of driving around in Mom's old Chevrolet Caprice or Granddad's (may he rest in peace) Ford Torino (it too), finally came the day when you wiped your hands of automotive grease and traded in the wrenches for your first new set of wheels and breathed in its intoxicating new-car smell. Having grown up in the backseat of my father's 1957 Pontiac, I had little doubt that my first new car, too, would proudly sport the arrowhead marque.

The Pontiac brand retired on Monday by General Motors was born as the Oakland Car Co. in Pontiac, Mich., in 1907. GM acquired the company two years later. Its 1926 Pontiac model was so popular that the GM division changed the Oakland name in favor of that of the 18th century Ottawa Indian chief. And its GTOs, Firebirds and Bonnevilles were among the leaders of the pack of 1960s muscle cars. (See the 50 worst cars of all time.)

Unfortunately, my first new car — a 1979 Pontiac Sunbird — was an unfitting $5,300 homage to the old warrior. It was a lemon, a cut-rate and an ill-aimed stab at beating the Japanese competition in the growing market for smaller cars spawned by rising fuel prices. None of the Pontiac heritage had rubbed off on the Sunbird. After the car saw several years of gentle driving, mostly by my wife, an interior door handle popped off. The fan knob went kaput, and the radio played only intermittently. The final indignity was when the hood release broke, making it difficult to get to the generally well-running engine to add oil or coolant. (See the 12 most important cars of all time.)...

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