- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 2, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

General Motors Corp. is doing more than trashing an American automotive icon by folding Pontiac. It is messing with my personal automotive history, and I don’t appreciate it. Pontiacs got my family through the 1950s and early ‘60s. Our first new postwar car was, I believe, a ‘46 Buick Fastback of such extreme length that several rows of bricks had to be removed from the rear of the garage to fit it in.

Apparently American workers were having a rough time adjusting from wartime to peacetime production because the carburetor and fuel pump leaked and resisted the token attempts by the dealership to fix it. This was when new cars were still scarce and the customer should consider himself lucky to have one, so don’t complain and, oh yeah, maybe it would be a good idea not to smoke near the car.

At the first opportunity, it was replaced by a blue, four-door Buick that exuded dullness. Young as I was, I knew this was a comedown. My parents had started their marriage with a maroon Buick convertible that lasted well into the war and my own arrival. They gave it up only because the top wore out - the rain didn’t even slow down coming through it - and, because of the war, replacement canvas was unavailable.

One day the blue Buick was gone, mourned only by mother, who had an almost Amish-like insistence that a car should be dull and unappealing. It was replaced in the early ‘50s by a Pontiac Chieftain or Star Chief - I forget which - a long tan and white two-door with a tan leather interior and an engine block that went on forever.

By this time, we needed and could afford a second car, so we got a gray Pontiac station wagon for Mrs. Excitement. Her motto: “All it has to do is get me from Point A to Point B.”

We bought our Pontiacs from a dealership just outside Pittsburgh that had the distinction of having a liquor store on the premises. That may explain our next station wagon. It was blue and white but had a vivid red leather interior. We were assured that this was a one-off factory fluke, but then the parents of one of my best friends came home with one.

My dad tore up the oil pan one day on a dirt road in the mountains and went out and bought a Jeep, long before Jeeps were fashionable. That introduced enough automotive variables to the family that the station wagon was traded in on a white Bonneville convertible. It was a great car, and it lasted long enough for me to drive it my last two years of college.

After I left home, my father diverged into a series of ever-larger four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicles and my mother into a series of ever less interesting four-door Pontiacs. Pontiac was producing GTOs and Firebirds, into which they would happily lever a massive 455-cubic-inch engine, but we weren’t having any of that.

One day I went home for a visit, and there in the driveway was mom’s newest car - a blue, four-door Buick sedan of surpassing anonymity. Our long fling with Pontiacs was over.

GM positioned its makes so that as one’s pay and prospects improved, one moved up from Chevrolet to Pontiac to Oldsmobile to Buick to Cadillac. Oldsmobile is gone and soon so will Pontiac, symbolic, perhaps, of what is happening to the American middle class.

Dale McFeatters is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.

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