Saturday, November 9, 2013

Like the phoenix cockroach it emerges once again

How does that expression go? After a nuclear war, the only things left alive on the planet will be cockroaches and Cher? Well, add to that Pontiac automotive division.

Yep, the most deserving automotive division ever to be shut down is being resurrected by GM. Out of the financial dungeon, with their government loan shark payments over, General Motors is bringing back Pontiac with a small selection of new vehicles.

What alerted me to this was seeing the famous "chicken nose" on a silver car coming towards me while I was at work today. Looked like a Camaro body, but that unmistakable front end . . . yep, when it went by I saw the "Trans Am" decal on the side. Google-ing with my cell phone, I saw multiple unofficial reports of the automaker's relaunch.


Understand here that I've got plenty of experience with Pontiacs on which to base my dislike of their brand. To wit: I've owned four Pontiacs in my lifetime -- a 1969 Firebird, a 1978 Trans Am, a 1995 Firebird Formula, and a 1998 Trans Am. With the exception of the '69, all have been steaming piles of automotive excrement.

The "Smokey and the Bandit" model '78 looked great. Ran like crap. And man, did it rust. Like a cancer, it spread continuously and could not be contained or stopped. The last time I had it in the body shop, the guy there told me he went way past where the rust was, really dug out around the rear window . . . I shouldn't have any more problems. Yeah, couple of months later, there's the paint bubbling up again.

And anything electrical refused to work. After the third entire air conditioning system I replaced, I gave up and drove without air or defrosters. Always fun to be driving down the road when suddenly billows of black smoke start pouring out from under the hood because the a/c compressor, which wasn't running btw, seized up for no reason and burned off the belts. Nice.

The '95 Formula ran like crap, when it ran at all. The dealer said there was nothing wrong with the engine, it simply didn't have any power or pick up or anything. But like I said, that was when I could actually get it running. I spent 1 1/2 years push starting my car out of gas stations or restaurant parking lots or down my street when trying to leave for work. The car actually qualified for the Lemon Law, but like a fool, I never invoked it. When the mechanics at the dealership finally paid attention to me and checked out the relays, they found the problem and fixed it. But I spent the next year and a half waiting for the other shoe to drop. The notice about the air bags randomly deploying and injuring drivers did it for me. I decided to unload it before it killed me.

Again foolishly, I went back to the same dealership and ordered a new car, a '98 Trans Am, from the factory. I'll get one untouched by human hands, I thought. That'll fix everything.

What a dope!

Six months after I put down a $4000 deposit, my car arrives. I pick it up. Take it home. And the next morning fire it up to go to work. I hit the wipers to clean off the windows . . . and they won't shut off. Back to the dealer with my car having only 5 miles on it, for a new wiper motor. But it's fine now, I tell myself.

Uh huh.

Over the next ten years -- 5 window motors, 2 headlight motors, a water pump (right after the warranty ran out), and much more. The synchros in the transmission went out one gear after another. The rear end constantly leaked and needed new seals. The t-tops leaked. The vaunted Monsoon stereo lost two rear speakers almost instantly. When I took it back to the dealer (still under warranty) the service rep tells me that they'll have to rip out the entire back end of the interior to fix the speakers. "Is it worth it?" He asks me. "It'll never be the same back there -- rattles, squeaks, etc." So I didn't get that fixed. Soon the cd player quit. Then the digital read out for the radio/clock quit. The leather seats began tearing up within months. Clear coat on the paint began pealing off. Getting the picture?

When they charged me $4500 to rebuild the differential and rear half shafts I told the service guy the car wasn't worth $4500! The he tells me that there's a mysterious oil leak in the engine. They can't find it, so they'll have to pull the engine to see where it is. That was the last straw. Traded that thing in for my '08 Charger SRT, and never looked back.

See the problem with Pontiac is that they don't actually create their cars. They borrow parts and things from other divisions and incorporate them into their designs. To be truthful, they have great designers. The cars always look awesome. That '98 as well as the '78 were two of the best looking cars I've ever seen on the road. And the '98 fit me like a glove. Most comfortable car I've ever driven. But a mechanical piece of sh*t!

The engine in the '98 is actually from Corvette. They de-tune it -- change the intake and exhaust manifolds, and the chip, so that it has less horsepower than the Vette. That was the only good part of the car. Everything bolted to the engine was garbage. The transmission wouldn't pass muster in a tractor -- absurdly long throw, bad gearing and as I mentioned, the synchros went out in a matter of months. Same with the driveline. Constantly replacing u-joints or seals in the differential.

My neighbor was a Pontiac mechanic. When he told me how many window motors he installed daily, I complained about how many I had installed in my car. His response? "Well, we've got to have something to do down at the garage." Yep. Planned obsolescence. There's a business model. But apparently not bad enough to keep GM from bringing the beast back to life.

It looks like Buick will be selling the new Pontiacs as an alternative to their more family styled vehicles. There will be a Trans Am. A Bonneville. A small compact car to compare to BMW's 3 series. Some sort of small sports coupe/roadster possibly called the Firefly. And even an update on the old El Camino that was in the works when Pontiac was shut down. It was initially called the Commodore Ute before. They may go for Star Chief in the new version. They'll be borrowing heavily from Australia's Holden for platforms. The Trans Am will as always be the f-body shared with the Camaro (as I saw today).

I don't know, maybe they've learned their lesson. But we as consumers thought that when Japan first started kicking Detroit's ass, and we were wrong then. I'm glad they'll be putting people to work. Re-opening some old plants (I hear one of the old vacated Saturn plants may be utilized) will help the economy both locally and nationally. But don't expect to see me in one of the new Pontiacs. They've soured me for life on their brand.

But one thing I'm not soured on -- Olivia Sprauer aka Victoria V. James aka The World's Hottest English Teacher®

olivia sprauer aka victoria v. james


Anonymous said...

My only question is, it took you 4 cars to figure it out? You have stamina, I'll give youthat:)

postaldog said...

I kept thinking "Okay, that one was a fluke, the next one will be better..."

Yeah, guess I'm a hope springs eternal kind of guy.


Anonymous said...

There is glass half full, and those who drink right out of the gallon jug:)