5 Cool Pontiacs You Probably Never Knew Existed

Discontinued in 2010, Pontiac went into the automotive history books after a string of disappointing models and a flop called the Aztek. But the brand also left behind some of the greatest classics ever built in the United States.
Pontiac classic cars 11 photos
Photo: Barrett-Jackson, Mecum Auctions, Pontiac, Lou Costabile/YouTube
1977 Pontiac Can Am1977 Pontiac Can Am1971 Pontiac GT-371971 Pontiac GT-371963 Pontiac Tempest Super Duty1963 Pontiac Tempest Super Duty1967 Pontiac Firebird Sprint1967 Pontiac Firebird Sprint1975 Pontiac Astre Lil' Wide Track1975 Pontiac Astre Lil' Wide Track
The GTO is obviously the most legendary, but the list of iconic Pontiacs also includes the Firebird, Trans Am, Bonneville, and Catalina. However, GM's division also built quite a few uncelebrated gems. And I'm here to introduce you to five of them.

Pontiac Tempest Wagon Super Duty

1963 Pontiac Tempest Super Duty
Photo: Mecum Auctions
Launched for the 1961 model year, the Tempest was responsible for the arrival of the GTO as a package on the LeMans trim in 1964. However, the nameplate that joined the midsize market in 1964 was actually born as a compact for the 1961 model year. The latter was somewhat mundane in the performance department, but very few people know that Pontiac used it to create a ludicrous factory dragster.

It happened in 1963 when Pontiac's racing program was on a high note thanks to the 421-cubic-inch (6.9-liter) Super Duty V8 engine. The drag-spec mill is famous for having propelled the full-size Catalina to quarter-mile success in the early 1960s, but it also found its way into the Tempest right before GM banned factory racing in late 1962.

Having found out about the company's plans to end factory involvement at the drag strip, some Pontiac engineers spent Christmas of 1962 putting together a dozen Tempests with the 421 V8. But not all of them were two-door hardtops, the layout of choice for drag racing. Pontiac took the high road and fitted six four-door station wagons with the Super Duty powerplant, creating the fastest factory-built grocery getter at the time.

Come 2023, only one of the six wagons is still around. Restored to original specifications, it was auctioned off for a whopping $450,000 in 2010.

Pontiac Firebird Sprint

1967 Pontiac Firebird Sprint
Photo: Mecum Auctions
Almost five years after the Tempest Super Duty was born, Pontiac officially joined the pony car market with the Firebird. Developed to go against the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro, the Firebird morphed into a full-blown muscle car capable of up to 370 horsepower by 1970. And it also spawned the iconic Trans Am series.

But while Detroit was relying on brute force and high-displacement engines, Pontiac tried something different by installing a beefed-up overhead-cam inline-six in a Firebird fitted with handling-enhancing features. The goal was to offer an American alternative to European GTs with a lighter, high-revving powerplant.

The resulting car was called the Sprint and slotted between the base six-cylinder model and the entry-level V8 version. Rated at 215 horsepower, the Sprint provided an extra 50 horses over the standard inline-six model. In 1969, Pontiac increased displacement from 230 to 250 cubic inches (3.8 to 4.1 liters) to squeeze 230 horsepower out of the OHC-6 unit.

With inexpensive gas and lots of V8s to choose from, the Sprint wasn't as popular as Pontiac had hoped and only a few thousand units were sold. Come 2023 and these cars are getting increasingly more attention from enthusiasts, but they're quite hard to find with only a few hundred units known to exist.

Pontiac GT-37

1971 Pontiac GT\-37
Photo: Lou Costabile/YouTube
The GTO may be Pontiac's most desirable and valuable classic muscle car, but it's not the rarest. That title goes to the GT-37, a rather unknown version of the LeMans. It was 1970 when Pontiac introduced the T-37, designed to become the most affordable midsize two-door hardtop on the market. Later that year, the company created the GT-37 package, which turned the T-37 into a stripped-out muscle car for drag racing.

Available with three V8 engine options, it came with Rally wheels, sports mirrors, hood-locking pins, and vinyl accent stripes. When fitted with the range-topping 455-cubic-inch (7.5-liter) V8 rated at 335 horsepower in H.O. guise, the lighter GT-37 was a half-second quicker than a GTO Judge with the same mill down the quarter-mile.

Sold for only two model years, the GT-37 wasn't particularly popular. Granted, Pontiac moved about 6,500 units in 1971, but very few of them were ordered with the 455 H.O. engine. But while rarer than the GTO, the GT-37 is not as expensive on the classic car market due to its lack of notoriety. And that's a great combo if you want a unique car that's faster than the king of Pontiacs.

Pontiac Astre Lil' Wide Track

1975 Pontiac Astre Lil' Wide Track
Photo: General Motors
Introduced in 1972 as a rebadged Chevrolet Vega, the Astre is a Pontiac enthusiasts rarely talk about. And that's far from surprising given that the Astre is a rather dull subcompact from the Malaise Era. On top of that, this Poncho didn't really catch on back in the day, even though the Chevy Vega it was based on was a huge success.

The latter moved no fewer than 277,705 units in 1971 and sales increased to 394,592 cars in 1972. Things went even better for the Vega during the 1973 model with 427,300 deliveries. The Astre, on the other hand, sold only 23,345 units in the same year. The gap between the two got even bigger in 1974. While Chevrolet moved 460,375 Vegas, Pontiac sold only 17,361 subcompacts. The Astre was an early disappointment and something had to be done.

Jerry Juska stepped in and proposed a sporty package called the Lil' Wide Track for the 1975 model year. Developed in cooperation with Motortown Corporation, a company specializing in custom automotive work, the package included an aggressive front splitter, a rear spoiler, window louvers, wire wheels, and red/yellow stripes. The bundle did not come with upgrades in the performance department, so the Lil' Wide Track featured the same 140-cubic-inch (2.3-liter) inline-four engine with only 87 horsepower.

But even so, it remains the coolest iteration of the Pontiac Astre and a more appealing alternative to the Chevrolet Vega. It's quite rare too since only 3,000 examples were sold.

Pontiac Can Am

1977 Pontiac Can Am
Photo: Barrett-Jackson
For the final Poncho on my list, we're going back to the LeMans. But not to the compact that emerged in the early 1960s or the midsize that spawned the GTO in 1964. The LeMans I'm talking about here is the more mundane fourth-generation model produced in the early years of the Malaise Era.

Sure, it's quite the boring car in terms of design and performance, but it was used as a base for a very cool two-door right before it was redesigned for the 1978 model year. Meet the Can Am, the one-year wonder that was supposed to revive the spirit of the iconic GTO.

Created by Jim Wangers, the marketing wizard behind the Ford Mustang Cobra II, Dodge Aspen R/T, and the AMC Hornet AMX, the Can Am harkened back to the golden muscle car and took its name from the iconic Canadian-American (Can-Am) racing series. Based on the Le Mans Sport Coupe, the Can Am got a long list of visual goodies, including a ducktail rear spoiler and the Trans Am's shaker hood scoop.

It also came standard with Rally II wheels as a nod to the late 1960s and was dressed in white with tri-tone stripes in orange, yellow, and gold. Fortunately, the Can Am was more than just an appearance package. Instead of using a regular LeMans unit, it was fitted with the 400-cubic-inch (6.6-liter) W72 V8 offered in the Trans Am. The mill generated 200 horsepower, which was 20 horses more than the similar 400 V8 fitted in the LeMans Sport Coupe.

Granted, it was far from impressive compared to muscle cars from the golden era, but we need to keep in mind that the most powerful Chevrolet Corvette came with only 210 horsepower on tap in 1977. Production of the Can Am came to a halt after only six months and 1,377 units built, which renders it a Malaise-era rarity. This number also includes a batch of 42 cars equipped with an Oldsmobile 403 engine rated at 185 horsepower.

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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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