Building Excitement No More: 5 Famous Pontiacs

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General Motors recently announced that as part of their cost-saving/restructuring plan, their 83-year-old Pontiac Motors Division would be phased out by the end of next year. The most famous is arguably KITT, from Knight Rider, which enjoyed two stints on television in the 1980s and 2000s. But so we don't have to mention David Hasselhoff by name (oops!), here's a brief recap of some famous Pontiacs.

1. The Ricardos' 1955 Pontiac Star Chief Convertible

When the Ricardos headed out to Hollywood as part of an I Love Lucy story arc, they drove there in a 1955 Pontiac Star Chief Convertible. Desi Arnaz had arranged a very attractive product placement deal with General Motors "“ not only did the automaker provide a brand new Star Chief for use on the show, each member of the show's writing staff was given a new Pontiac each year for the duration of the series. Catch any of the "Hollywood" episodes in reruns and you'll note that whenever even the slightest mention of the Ricardo vehicle is mentioned, it is almost always referred to as "the Pontiac," and very rarely simply "the car."

2. Buck Wilkin's "Little GTO"

Introduced in 1964, the Pontiac GTO (Gran Turismo Omologato) was one of the first true muscle cars. Like a lot of teenaged males of that era, Nashville's Buck Wilkin loved both hot rods and music. But unlike most teens, his mother had connections in the music business.

So when Wilkin scratched out the lyrics to what would eventually become "Little GTO" during physics class one afternoon in 1964, Mom contacted her pal Bill Justis, a composer and arranger who'd had hit in his own right with the instrumental "Raunchy" in 1957. Justis formed a music publishing company with young Wilkin, and then encouraged him to form a band in order to record it. There was no shortage of talent in Nashville, so in short time Wilkin formed Ronny and the Daytonas and "Little GTO" eventually hit #4 on the Billboard pop chart.

3. The Monkeemobile

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Though it never got the same amount of press as, say, the Batmobile, the Monkeemobile was popular enough to become the second best-selling model kit of all time (surpassed only by the Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee). When The Monkees series was in the planning stages, it was decided that among the many props required to emphasize their rock-and-roll lifestyle, one of the most important was a smokin' car. Pontiac just happened to get involved via a friend-of-a-friend connection (in this case, a friend of Dean Jeffries, who designed custom cars for Universal Studios, hooked him up with an account exec at Pontiac's advertising agency). The agency rep immediately realized that The Monkees, if it were a hit, would appeal to a very desirable audience demographic, and he supplied Jeffries with two 1966 GTO convertibles that were transformed into Monkeemobiles. The intermediary who introduced Jeffries to the ad exec was granted exclusive rights to the model kit (which went on to sell over seven million units) as a "thank you."

4. Oprah's Grand Prizes

oprah-pontiac.jpgMany of the folks sitting in the audience for the taping of The Oprah Winfrey Show on September 9, 2004, knew they'd been selected to receive tickets for that particular show strictly because they were in dire need of a set of wheels. The Internet was buzzing with rumors that Oprah might be giving a few free cars as prizes on the premiere episode of her 19th season. Imagine their stupefaction when the talk show host gleefully announced that all 276 members of the studio audience would receive a 2005 Pontiac G6 sports sedan. The tears poured as Winfrey led them all to the parking lot to show them the luxury options that would be included, such as XM Satellite Radio, OnStar Safety, and heated leather seats. The vehicles, valued at $28,400 each, were all donated by General Motors in an effort to promote the brand new G6, which had been designed with women in mind as the target audience. GM also paid for the sales tax on each vehicle, so this particular promotional gimmick cost the company approximately $7.8 million.

5. The '63 Tempest From My Cousin Vinny

How many of us who know nothing about cars (other than where the fuel nozzle goes) recall that the 1963 Pontiac Tempest had a feature called Positraction? A pivotal scene in the 1992 film My Cousin Vinny gave film fans a crash course on the workings of the limited slip differential. This particular option on the '63 Tempest not only saved the (fictional) lives of two wrongly convicted "yutes," it also helped Marisa Tomei to win a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award.

Any Fiero or Trans Am (or even Aztek) owners out there who care to represent?

April 27, 2009 - 1:05pm
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