Pontiac is Racist

  • September 21, 2023

The Washington Redskins no longer play football; instead a “football team” from “Washington” does.

That, at least, is what the ex-Redskins were called until someone came up with “Commanders” – a name as vapidly generic as the latest refrigerator white or silver crossover SUV.

Of course, it was said – mostly by white Leftists – that the Redskins name (and image) were racist. As if a team of elite-level athletes would abide playing under a derogatory name. As if fans of the Redskins were mocking American Indians when they cheered for the Redskins.

Most American Indians understood that the Redskins name and image were meant to honor the bravery and spirit of American Indian warriors in battle – which is what a pro football game is in every way other way except for the actual scalping. The Redskins – like any other pro football team – played to win. Not to mock.

How about Pontiac?

Did GM – the parent company – intend to make fun of the great chief after which it named what was, for many years, among its most successful car divisions? That makes all kinds of sense, doesn’t it? Because when you’re trying to sell people something, you want them to associate what you’re trying to sell them with something embarrassing . . .  .

Of course, it was in fact the opposite of that.

Pontiac, the man, was a a great chief – a formidable leader of his people, the Odawa. He was a key figure in the French and Indian War that pitted the British (and American colonists) against the armies of France and their Indian allies in North America. He organized his tribe – along with allied tribes – to fight the British in the Great Lakes area and for control of what was then Fort Detroit (that became the Motor City).

Pontiac was no fool – and GM honored his spirit (as well as his likeness) when it named its Pontiac division after him in 1926.

At first, Pontiac – the brand – was a kind of adjunct to Oakland, in the same way that Mercury was an adjunct of Ford except in reverse order as Oakland was considered the the fancier (and pricier) brand. But Pontiac quickly overtook Oakland in popularity and took over the business by 1933 – the chief’s image and the stylized arrowhead leading the way.

These symbolized the boldness that Pontiac became famous for in its heyday. Who else but Pontiac – under the leadership of a chief Pontiac himself would likely have considered a kindred spirit, i.e., John DeLorean – would have had the audacity to put together and actually offer for sale a car like the 1964 GTO?

It changed the course of the car industry.

Before the GTO, there were powerful cars – for those who could afford them – and the rest were plebeian cars, for those who could not. The wild thing Pontiac did was to take the power and make it affordable – by taking a big engine from a full-sized Pontiac and installing it in a smaller, lighter – and much less expensive Pontiac. Thus, the Tempest became the GTO – and thus was born the first mass-market muscle car. It created a whole new category of car and inspired a bevy of respectful emulators. No one tries to emulate the insulting.

Pontiac also led the way in pioneering what became the personal luxury coupe, in the form of the Grand Prix (especially the SSJ version, which was reputed to be DeLorean’s personal favorite and heavily influenced in its design by the man himself). This type of car became one of the most successful kinds of cars by the mid-1970s, by which time every other division of GM was producing (and selling lots of) similar cars, such as the Chevy Monte Carlo and the Buick Skylark and the Oldsmobile Cutlass.

Ditto Ford and Chrysler (including, famously, the Cordoba of Ricardo Montalban fame).

And – of course – there was the Firebird. Named after – and in honor of – the American Indian mythological figure, it became one of the most iconic cars ever.

Initially, it was a kind of also-ran that GM allowed Pontiac to sell as its own, slightly different, version of the brand-new 1967 Camaro. But by 1970, it was running ahead of its sibling – especially the Trans-Am version, which made its debut that year sporting a full complement of air dams and spoilers as well as the now-famous “shaker” scoop poking through its hood that literally shook left-and-right in concert with the mighty Ram Air III (and IV) V8s that were under the hood. It made its sister car, the Z28 Camaro, look almost like a dowager in comparison.

It was a car worthy of its arrowhead crest. If Chief Pontiac had been around in 1970, a RA III four speed Trans-Am would likely have been his car of choice. Perfect for scalping the competition.

No one took offense – because who would? Boldness and presence being laudatory attributes.

Luckily – as it turned out – GM retired Pontiac 13 years ago (after the 2010 model year) by which time it had become something no longer bold – and without much presence. It had stopped selling Pontiacs many years prior, when GM decided to use the name of the great chief to re-sell Chevys and Buicks.

That was insulting. A mockery.

And it was more-than-reason-enough to stop re-selling Chevys and Buicks under the name of Pontiac. But to suggest that Pontiac – in its heyday – was some kind of slight, a kind of vehicular minstrel show, is as idiotic an assertion as the recent ones made about the Washington Redskins.

Proud warriors don’t need to be apologized for.

And Pontiac – the man and the brand – were just that.

. . .

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