Performance and pizazz: The appeal of Pontiac

What makes Pontiacs so popular in today’s collector realm? Duh! For more than 50 years, the prime goal at General Motors’ second-from-the-bottom brand was to build excitement, which Pontiac Motor Division continued doing well even after horsepower became a dirty word in the ’70s.

When the great American muscle car came back into vogue some 20 years later, “Ponchos” again ran at the head of the pack. Sure, the venerable Trans Am finally did retire in 2002. But then up stepped the reborn GTO in 2004 to stir additional souls.

Unfortunately the Aussie-sourced GTO lasted only until 2006, and PMD itself fell victim to GM’s cost-cutting axe in 2010. Dreams, however, don’t die so easily, and many among the longtime Pontiac faithful shed nary a tear for two reasons: They still have their beloved vintage vehicles to play with, and they never really could warm up to modern-market machines.

As veteran collector Floyd Garrett explains, “Everyone loved the [2004] GTO, and it was a great car, a great driver, but they didn’t really put any ‘GTO’ on it.” Translated: Nostalgic baby boomers weren’t necessarily the target market. “If Pontiac [was still around today and they] called and said I could buy any GTO I wanted, it would be a 1964 black two-door post sedan with Tri Power, a four-speed and a red interior,” adds Garrett. “But that’s just me.”

According to fellow GM devotee and longtime PMD parts supplier Steve Ames, “it made no difference” to collectors when Pontiac closed its doors last year. “Most of these guys aren’t allied to new models,” says Ames, who, like many of his comrades in the restoration aftermarket, realized there was no correlation between Pontiac’s latest products and the old legends. The parent company may be gone, but the classic creations continue to live on. And on.

Like Garrett, Ames agrees that it was the mucho performance and pizazz produced by Pontiac during the ’60s and ’70s that guaranteed undying popularity for all those GTOs and Firebirds. He is far from the only witness to conclude that few original muscle cars could match Pontiac’s 1969-71 GTO Judge as far as sheer head-turning capability goes. He’s especially fond of flashy Judge convertibles, six of which presently reside in his collection.

Rarity also catches Ames’ eye, further explaining his attraction to topless Judges: Production was 108 in 1969, 168 in 1970, and a mere 17 in 1971. Truly rare are the top-shelf Ram Air IV versions, hands down the pinnacle of Pontiac’s high-performance pecking order in 1969 and 1970. He owns a pair of Ram Air IV Judge droptops (a ’69 and a ’70), along with two other RA IVs; one a 1969 GTO convertible, the other a 1970 Trans Am.

As for other Ram Air Judge numbers of note, noted Pontiac man Milton Robson sold his RA IV convertible a year or so back for more than $600,000.

In Floyd Garrett’s opinion, the prime collectible Pontiacs are the race-ready, also-rare 421 Super Dutys of 1959 to 1963. He’s owned every year and cherished ’em all, but if he was pushed to pick one? “I loved the ’62, and that ’63 — if you didn’t like that one you don’t like cars,” he says. Yet his all-time favorite was his 1961 421 Ventura, a deluxe-trimmed black beauty he favored both for its awesome performance and so-so-’60s panache. “It looked a little narrow, more slender than the ’62. I loved the grille, the lines, and being a bubble-top didn’t hurt.”

Sensational form and function: it seems Pontiac offered them both in spades a half century ago — hence the proliferation of Pontiac collectors today.

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