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Loss of Pontiac brand is blow to enthusiasts

PHILADELPHIA -- Pontiac. It began 83 years ago as a line of cars unoriginally named after a town in Michigan, which was itself named after a Native American chief.

PHILADELPHIA -- Pontiac. It began 83 years ago as a line of cars unoriginally named after a town in Michigan, which was itself named after a Native American chief.

Over the decades, Pontiac would evolve into an automotive brand so cool it spawned collectors' clubs and a muscle car_the GTO_honored in song by the Beach Boys (and Jan and Dean, and Ronny and the Daytonas before them).

So it was with considerable sadness that Pontiac enthusiasts _ from car dealers to car owners _ reacted to the latest fist-to-the-midsection announcement by General Motors Corp. this week: Part of its survival plan includes killing the Pontiac brand.

The line, which also boasted the Firebird, the Trans Am (Burt Reynolds' custom wheels in Smokey and The Bandit) and the Grand Prix, will be phased out no later than next year, the company said.

"I don't know that the effects of this have really set in yet," said Pat Duffy, general sales manager at Faulkner Pontiac Buick GMC in Trevose, Pa. "It's going to be tough. You have people that really enjoy the brand and have been driving the brand for years."


Kevin Mazzucola, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia dealers' group, said GM's decision to discontinue the Pontiac line "shows that the nostalgia portion of the debate certainly gets outweighed by the cold business facts of what's going on."

He likened GM to a seriously ill patient, currently alive because of an infusion of $15.4 billion in government loans and faced with life-and-death choices.

"You don't want to lose that arm," Mazzucola said, "but if you have to lose the arm to save the body, what are you going to do?"

Since most Pontiac dealers carry other brands, the end of the line is not expected to be especially onerous to many of them from a business standpoint.

What concerns Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, is what all this product evaporation is going to mean to the buying public.

"If the chopping and cutting continues, where do the consumers come out on all of this?" Appleton asked.

That's what Duffy wants to know, noting that the least expensive Pontiac is about $10,000 less than the lowest-priced Buick.

"Not having those more-economical vehicles to provide to the public is going to be difficult," Duffy said.


That the end of the road is near for Pontiac was of no grave consequence to Mike Aumont. What he plans to do is keep babying his baby _ a 1968 Le Mans convertible he bought 25 years ago, has extensively restored, and still gets a blast out of driving around South Jersey.

"It's just the passion of driving the car and enjoying the looks you get_the old 'wow' factor," the 56-year-old owner of an auto-repair garage said to explain what has had him hooked on his Pontiac all these years.

Such oldies will grow even more beloved among the 8,800 Pontiac owners who are members of the Pontiac-Oakland (for Oakland Motor Car Co. which GM bought in 1909) Club International, an umbrella organization based in Minnesota with 75 chapters around the world, most of them in the United States.

Said the club's office manager, Paul Bergstrom: "We'll have to covet our old Pontiac cars even more."

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