Pontiac was a car before it was a potato. As is typical of US brands, Pontiac has often been marked by two or more emblems, including the silver streaks and from 1959 the famous split grille.
The first Pontiac badge was a literal affair, reflecting the fact that the brand name was purloined from the chief of the Ottawa Indians. It featured two overlapping circles, one containing the left profile of an Indian chief. Above this head was the word PONTIAC with CHIEF OF THE SIXES around the bottom. (Unlike cheaper Chevrolet in Alfred P. Sloan junior's elaborately masterminded product hierarchy, the 1926 Pontiac came with a six-pack, but this differentiation was short-lived.)
The other circle (tails, as it were, to the Indian's head) carried a laurel wreath and PRODUCT OF GENERAL MOTORS lettering.
In 1929, this fussy arrangement was replaced by a Pontiac bonnet emblem and Pontiac script on the radiator grille. Many 1930s models ran the logo on the bonnet sides, by now picked out in bright red; Chief Pontiac's head in silhouette with flowing headdress. Appropriately, this racist theme was dropped on the radical-looking 'Wide Track' 1959 models with a downward thrusting chrome-enclosed red dart splitting the grille sections.
- Introduced in January 1926 at the New York Auto Show, the Pontiac was advertised as 'Chief of the Sixes'. It was essentially a spin-off brand from Oakland with both being built in the same factory.
- In 1927, the Pontiac Chief became America's best-selling six, which augured well for the following year's Chevrolet which would ditch its four in favour of a six.
- In 1932, Pontiac became one of few companion cars to outlive its sibling when Oakland production ceased and the division was named Pontiac.
- Only the Chrysler Letter Cars (300C, etc) achieved more fame at Daytona in the 1950s than Pontiac, which picked up the Bonneville name to celebrate its successes. At Daytona Speed Week in February 1958, it took the first six positions in its category with speeds up to 137.69mph (221.68km/h), averaged in opposite directions.
- The late Joe Schemansky was the man responsible for the 'Wide-Track' '59 models. The '59 Pontiacs, Schemansky told this writer in a 1985 Wheels interview, took Pontiac 'out of the high-button shoe class'. The '59 range picked up Motor Trend's COTY.
In the market for a new car? Check out Australia's Best Value Cars.
Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.
Want free access to 5 years of Wheels archive content? Sign up now!