How Pontiac Built Excitement

Pontiac established a clear identity while other divisions sometimes struggled to find theirs. With its wide track drive stance and V8-powered performance upgrades, Pontiac become known as the excitement division. This positioning freed up designers to usher in a new breed of Pontiac vehicles, which resulted in a number of "firsts" for the division over the last 42 years. Here are highlights.

1957 -- Bonneville convertible was the first Pontiac model with a fuel-injected engine. The 1957-60 convertibles with tri-power engines are still big draws for collectors, according to High Performance Pontiac magazine.

1959 -- The first "Wide Track" models hit the streets. The 64-inch width from tire to tire led the industry, and not only gave Pontiac a styling statement and more stability, but also an enduring marketing theme.

1960 -- Pontiac wins its first Daytona 500 stock car race with a Catalina driven by Marvin Panch. Soon, Pontiac customers could buy a Super Duty package for their own Catalina with a 421-cubic-inch V8.

1962 -- Promoted as Pontiac's first personal luxury car, Grand Prix debuted. The success of this segment, in which buyers got European-inspired styling cues for a palatable price, also spawned the Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Toronado.

1964 -- A defiant group of Pontiac engineers slipped a V8 engine in the light, midsized Tempest/LeMans coupe and called it the GTO performance package, promising 325 horsepower.

1965 -- An instant success, GTO becomes its own model and gives birth to the muscle car era. Collectors especially drool over the GTO Judge models built from 1969-71. The Judge option included a Ram Air engine boost, Rally II wheels and rear spoiler.

1967 -- Pontiac introduces its first "pony car," Firebird, to compete with the Ford Mustang. In 1969, the V8-equipped Trans Am model makes its first appearance. Trans Am models, particularly the versions with performance upgrades such as WS6 and Firehawk, remain highly coveted by collectors.

1984 -- Fiero was Pontiac's first two-seat mid-engine sports car. The package with the 2.8-liter V6 engine option gave the car more than style points and remains popular among fans.

GTO, G8 Revive Rear-Wheel Drive

The spirit of Pontiac performance found new life in the past several years, producing a few jewels that collectors may be clamoring for in the future.

2004 -- After a 30-year hiatus, Pontiac revived the GTO brand, following the established template of a V8-powered midsize coupe with rear-wheel drive propulsion. Fans loved the 400-horsepower LS2 V8 engine, the car's optimal balance and sporty handling, but many felt the understated styling (based on the similar Holden Monaro model in Australia) wasn't true to GTO's glory days.

2006 -- Solstice, the first Pontiac roadster, charmed customers with its concisely smooth design, carefree demeanor and affordable price.

2008 -- G8 had a few things in common with the 2004-07 GTO. Both originated at GM's Holden subsidiary in Australia. Both offer bold V8 performance and rear-wheel drive for exceptional straight-line speed and cornering ability. And both spent too little time in showrooms.

It should also be noted that Pontiac's performance pedigree continued to be reinforced through racing. Even in 2009, Pontiac vehicles were winners in NHRA Pro Stock drag racing and Grand-Am Rolex Series road racing. This heritage, along with the parade of classics and collectibles, should help Pontiac muscle maintain a prominent place in the automotive universe.