NWautos: Seattle's local source for new and used autos


May 30, 2010 12:00 AM

Local Pontiac fans share the love of their recently closed brand


A row of classic Pontiacs at a Pontiac Oakland Club International show last summer. (Les Leslie / Pontiac Oakland Club International)

When local Pontiac owners roll up to their car shows this summer, they'll do it with more pride than ever.

General Motors' announcement last year that it was shuttering the Pontiac brand has united local enthusiasts who have banded together to preserve the Pontiac legacy. Their drive comes from personal histories with the brand and a passion to keep those memories alive.

"It was the first car I ever remember being cool," says Mike Santella, president of the Northwest GTO Legends club, of his grandfather's 1964 GTO. "It was the first car I drove 100 mph in."

The GTO Legends' car show in August is one of three local Pontiac club-sponsored shows this summer. The Western Washington Firebirds and the Puget Sound Chapter of the Pontiac Oakland Club International are also holding events.

When Jeff Driscoll, president of the Firebirds club, was in high school he wanted a Ford Mustang, he says, but the price tag deterred him. Instead, he bought a 1971 Formula 400 Firebird and was hooked.


Local Pontiac clubs have even more pride at their shows since the brand was shuttered last year. (Les Leslie / Pontiac Oakland Club International)

"I've owned at least one ever since," he says. He currently owns three: a 1970 Formula 400, a 1976 Trans Am and a 1989 Firebird.

Dan Dickey, president of the local Pontiac Oakland Club chapter, says his enthusiasm for the brand comes naturally as the son of a Pontiac dealer. Despite his affinity for the brand, however, Dickey's first car was an Oldsmobile. "That's bad, isn't it?" he jokes.

His current Pontiac collection, however, makes up for his prior transgression. Dickey owns a 1976 Pontiac Bonneville as well as two 1955 Pontiacs, including a rare Safari station wagon.

Reaction among collectors to GM's announcement was generally one of disbelief and sadness, club members say.

"We are still reeling and asking ourselves how this could happen," Driscoll says. "We didn't see that decision coming at all. We thought Pontiac would be a small niche of GM, that they would have a few brands. And we could live with that."

Pontiac shows

  • Puget Sound Chapter of the POCI
    All Pontiac, Oakland and GMC Street Show: June 20, Meeker Days Festival, Puyallup. pugetsoundpoci.com
  • Northwest GTO Legends
    Northwest Muscle Car Meet: Aug. 8, XXX Rootbeer, Issaquah, northwestlegends.com
  • Western Washington Firebirds
    All Pontiac Show & Shine: Aug. 15, Country Village Shops, Bothell, allpontiacshow.com

While Santella describes the reaction of local Pontiac owners as "sick to their stomachs," he also gives a different perspective on the decision. Some Pontiac purists, he says, "are almost happy to see the brand go. Ten, 20 years ago, GM snatched the identity of Pontiac away."

Local owners use different words to describe the identity of Pontiac in its heyday, but all emphasize exceptional performance and style.

"Pontiacs were superior engineering coupled with well-built, well-engineered, well-designed American muscle," Santella says. "They were super-fast, handled well, looked masculine and embodied the personality of the buyer to which they were attempting to appeal."

And don't think that discontinuing the Pontiac brand means the local clubs will go away.

"We will be a stronger unit," Dickey says. In fact, he adds, the three local clubs have become much closer, more frequently attending each other's car shows and events.

"We know that we have to band together, because we don't want people to forget Pontiac," Driscoll says. "All the cars they have had in the past, all the history -- we have to keep that strong."