Glory Days All in Rearview Mirror, Pontiac Being Shut Down

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Byline: Andrea Billups, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

PONTIAC, Mich. -- Mayor Clarence Phillips was just getting out of high school when his parents made the down payment on his first car, a Pontiac Super Chief.

I used to call it the blue bug, said as he recalled his first set of wheels. It was just an old beater, but it was a sweet car. My parents made the first payment and said go for it, so I maintained it. Since then, I have been driving a Pontiac at one time or another for the past 30 years.

Mr. Phillips' wave of nostalgia was prompted by the announcement Monday that General Motors Corp. will end the brand that since 1927 has shared his city's name as part of a sweeping restructuring that will close 13 plants and half of its dealerships and eliminate 21,000 factory jobs.

It's a sad day for Pontiac, just a major disappointment, said the mayor, whose city, a suburb of Detroit, is facing its own set of economic difficulties on par with the Big Three automakers. It's almost like we are watching our history just slip away in front of our eyes. It's a world-famous brand and some beautiful cars have come out of those models.

Across the nation, many Pontiac enthusiasts grieved the loss of Pontiac and reminisced over its historic stable of muscle cars. The fabled GTO spawned a 1964 song by Ronnie and the Daytonas and is often credited with giving birth to the muscle car era.

The Trans Am debuted in 1969 as the ultimate Firebird and really took flight in the '70s with its iconic eagle logo on the hood. A black model with a gold eagle was immortalized in the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit, solidifying its image of rebellion and freedom.

This is my baby and I love her, said Stephen Jahner of Lansing, Mich., who has put more than 200,000 miles on his dark green 1997 Pontiac Firebird. "I was planning on driving her until she dies and I may yet buy another engine just to keep around for when I need it.

Ever since I was a kid, I always loved the styling that the Firebird has, with the scoop on the back and the shark's nose on the front, Mr. Jahner, a comic and collectibles store owner, said of his Pontiac's sleek lines. I love my car so much that even though I've driven it for 10 years, every time I walk out and look at it I go, 'Oooh, how did I get so lucky to drive such a cool car?' I was seriously dismayed that they are going to cancel the Pontiac line.

The company's history goes back to 1893 with the Pontiac Buggy Co. in Pontiac, Mich. The division made only horse-drawn carriages, but when founder Edward Murphy took note of rising automobile sales in 1907, he saw the future and started the Oakland Motor Car Co.

In 1927, with economic pressures hitting automobile companies, GM created the Pontiac line under the auspices of Oakland. The brand surpassed the 500,000 sales mark in 1929. By 1936, 1 million Pontiacs had been sold.

Production stagnated in 1942, when the auto brand ceased production during World War II, but came back in 1946. …