After 84 years, Pontiac runs out of gas

DETROIT -- Pontiac, whose muscle cars drag-raced down boulevards, parked at drive-ins and roared across movie screens, went out of business Sunday.

The 84-year-old brand, moribund since General Motors decided to kill it last year as it collapsed into bankruptcy, had been in decline for years. It was undone by a combination of poor corporate strategy and changing driver tastes. On Sunday, GM's agreements with Pontiac dealers expired.

Even before GM's bankruptcy, Pontiac's sales had fallen from their peak of nearly a million in 1968, when the brand's speedier models were prized for their powerful engines and scowling grills.

At Pontiac's pinnacle, models such as the GTO, Trans Am and Catalina 2+2 were packed with horsepower. Burt Reynolds and Sally Field fled the law in a Firebird Trans Am that raced through the 1970s hit movie Smokey and the Bandit.

By the late 1980s, though, Pontiacs were taking off their muscle shirts, putting on suits and trying to act like other cars. The brand had lost its edge.

Bill Hoglund, a retired GM executive who led Pontiac during its "We Build Excitement" ad campaigns in the 1980s, blames the brand's demise on a reorganization under CEO Roger Smith in 1984. That overhaul cut costs by combining Pontiac's manufacturing, engineering and design operations with those of other GM brands.

"There was no passion for the product," Hoglund said. "The product had to fit what was going on in the corporate system."