Edward Murphy of the Pontiac Buggy Co. in Pontiac, Michigan wanted to enter the motor car era, and teamed up with Alanson Brush, designer of the early Cadillacs. Brush showed Murphy a rejected Cadillac design, which was used for the first Oakland car (Pontiac used the Oakland brand for its buggies) in 1907. In 1909, William C. Durant of General Motors purchased a 50 per cent stake in Oakland, and acquired the remainder later that year with Murphy’s passing.
Pontiac was introduced as a companion brand to Oakland in 1926, with a low-priced six-cylinder model. In 1933, Pontiac was producing the cheapest straight-eights in the US. The Pontiac line tended to consist of dependable cars, with Native American-themed names from 1949.
In 1956, Semon ‘Bunkie’ Knudsen became general manager of the division, and revamped its image with the aid of E. M. Estes and John Z. de Lorean. The Bonneville model was released for 1957, with Pontiac’s first fuel-injected engine, priced close to a Cadillac. In 1961, Pontiac débuted its Le Mans line, beginning to emphasize performance, for which it remained known till the brand’s demise. It was during this era that Pontiac launched its first GTO (for 1964), arguably its most famous model line, and the Firebird pony car (for 1967). Pontiac also created the intermediate personal–luxury car when the Grand Prix was shifted to the A-car platform for 1969, netting another hit for the brand.
The following decades were less kind to the Pontiac brand, with US laws stifling performance of its cars. It had some high-profile product placement in the 1970s and 1980s with Smokey and the Bandit and Knight Rider, which saw the brand through tougher years. The Pontiac Fiero was a mid-engined car that came right in its later years. But the styling of some of its later models was ruined with cladding, which supposedly made the cars look sporting, but in fact made them appear clumsy. By the 21st century, Pontiac was finding itself again, having débuted cars that hardly helped the brand, such as the Aztek SUV. Despite launching a handsome roadster, the Solstice, and a powerful sports sedan in the G8 (a facelifted Holden Commodore (VE)), both of which helped restore part of its performance image, it fell victim to its parent’s financial woes.
GM phased out all Pontiac models by the end of 2010.