Now, here’s a name you may not have heard in a long time: Pontiac. Once one of the top-selling automotive marques in the United States, the Pontiac badge got discontinued by General Motors in April 2009 because their management team was unable to keep up with the times. However, before that, Pontiac was producing some of the most badass classic muscle cars ever and, indeed, helped to define the American muscle car era. Who could forget about the incredibly cool 1987 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am GTA? Or how about the Mustang-rivaling 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge Ram Air III that looks like it should be piloted by The Fonz?
Yes, Pontiac certainly had its glory days, but those days are long gone. At one time, though, the Pontiac logo was about as iconic as any badge in the automotive industry. And it underwent many changes since the Oakland Motor Car Company (which later became the Pontiac division of GM) opened its doors in 1907. The company’s namesake comes from the city where the Oakland Motor Car Company started out: Pontiac, Michigan. In 1909, they became a division of GM and, in 1926, the first car bearing the Pontiac name took to the streets. And the rest is history.
But, while Pontiac is dead these days, for the sake of reminiscing, let’s take a look at the history of the once-iconic Pontiac logo. Will GM bring back the Pontiac brand one day like they did the Hummer brand? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
The First Pontiac Logo
The very first Pontiac logo was an image of the Odawa Native American chief Pontiac, who was most well known for leading his tribe in a war against the British that was named after him. Pontiac’s War took place in the Great Lakes region and spanned from 1763 to 1766. The town in Michigan where Oakland Motor Car Company was named after the Native American chief and, thus, the Oakland Motor Car Company named their top-tier line of vehicles after the town in which the company started.
Eventually, GM discontinued the Oakland brand and only produced cars with the Pontiac badge. It was during this time period that Pontiac came out with some of the coolest hood ornaments ever to be put on a car, modeled after the likeness of Chief Pontiac. The normal badge featured a profile of the chief’s head in white and gold contour over a red shield. This logo lasted up until 1930 when it underwent some purely aesthetic changes.
From 1930 to 1959
While after 1930, the Pontiac logo still included the name of the brand and a profile view of Pontiac’s head just like the previous logo, they did make some major stylistic changes. It became more minimalistic and modern, using a thicker and more slanted font. They also got rid of the color, changing to a two-tone badge in black and silver.
However, while the badges on Pontiac cars during this were mostly in black and silver, the company replaced the black with red in print advertising campaigns. Perhaps the idea was that the black would be classier on the vehicles while the red would stand out more in print.
From 1959 to 2002
In 1959, the Pontiac logo underwent a radical change. Fearing that they’d lose the attention of young car enthusiasts with their old-school-looking Pontiac-head logo, the management of the brand decided to completely rework their badge. The new design featured the red, downward-facing arrow that more or less persisted until the Pontiac brand was discontinued in 2009.
The Pontiac arrow of 1959 featured a thin black line around its border and a simplistic, elegant white star near its top. This logo would pretty much come to define the Pontiac brand in the modern era. And, while it did undergo some minor changes in 2002 and 2004, it would pretty much remain the same red arrow for the rest of the brand’s lifespan.
The Modern Pontiac Logo
In 2002, the Pontiac logo got a little bit thicker and the thin black border was replaced by a thick, three-dimensional silver one. In 2004, the logo underwent another set of minor changes. It became much glossier and more balanced and the wordmark underneath it changed slightly as well. After 2004, the “P” and “A” in the logo were open instead of closed.
The Firebird Logo
It’s certainly worth mentioning that the Chief Pontiac head and the red arrow are not the only logos that have ever been associated with the Pontiac brand; they also had an entirely different logo for their Firebird line of sports cars. The legendary Firebirds were created to compete with the Ford Mustang, and they did a pretty good job of that. They came with a 230-cubic-inch inline-six that was capable of making 165 horsepower, which was fairly impressive for a base model in 1967.
The Firebird logo was meant to reflect the name of the brand as well as the sporting prowess of the cars, and so they made a design incorporating an intimidating bird breathing fire. And while the logo disappeared with the Pontiac brand for a while, it resurfaced in 2020 when Trans Am Worldwide released their Trans Am Super Duty, a track-terrorizing monster that produces over 1,100 horsepower from its engine. In my opinion, the Super Duty is the perfect way to pay tribute to Pontiac’s classic muscle cars.