Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002 by John Gunnell
published 2012, Krause Publications
368 pages, softcover
There are some books that are not a ‘good read’ by any means, but if you’re really into a subject then these books prove to be valuable parts of your collection. Among those are what we’ll call reference books, and the Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002 is most certainly such a book.
Krause Publications was quite well known for its Standard Catalog series, which began as a coin collectors publication but touched on other collectibles such as baseball cards and in the case of today’s review, automobiles. The company was absorbed by F+W which has in turn succumbed to bankruptcy. I mention this because in my recent searches, I’ve not found an updated version of this book (ie. one that includes the final years until Pontiac’s demise in 2009). In light of the company’s business issues, I suspect that it’s unlikely any update will arrive.
So, what to say about the Standard Catalog of Pontiac… Well, it’s a thick book, completely in black and white, and the paper is newsprint-like. The layout is in some ways like Sixty Years of Chevrolet, though it reads even less like a narrative. That’s not to say there isn’t anything in the way of story – there is. After the foreword and the ‘how to use this guide’ stuff, there’s a decent overview of the history of Oakland and Pontiac, and brief profiles on Pontiac-Oakland Club International and Pontiac Historic Services, both great resources for Pontiac fanatics.
It should be noted for those who are not aware… Oakland Motor Car Company, based in Pontiac, Michigan, was a division of General Motors. In the 1920s, GM instituted a ‘companion make’ system, sort of a ‘junior brand’ to other GM brands. Oakland’s junior was Pontiac (the others were Viking for Oldsmobile, Marquette for Buick, and LaSalle for Cadillac). The goal was to cover as much of the potential market as possible. Ultimately, the program did not last long. Interestingly Pontiac displaced its senior make, and Oakland was no more.
The book proceeds with what is essentially each model year as a chapter. Beginning with the 1908 Oakland, pages are filled with sections organized by year. Each section contains (where applicable): a description of each model line offered that year; breakdown of the I.D. data; a production total grid; a listing of engines offered (standard and optional) for each model; chassis specifications; technical information (ie. transmissions, final drive ratios, suspension type, fuel capacity); drivetrain options; major convenience/appearance options; option packages; and finally historical notes, including total Pontiac production, ranking amongst US automakers, road test results and other trivia. Later years actually break out the engine, chassis, technical and options sections by model.
You can see that for the early years, where there were maybe 2 car lines offered and with few options, a ‘years-worth’ of info may take up a page, including photos. The year 1976, with 8 model lines on offer, occupies 4-1/2 pages. For 1997, it’s 7-1/2 pages. I’d imagine that only those who thrive on knowing every last bit of trivial information would be enticed to slog through these sections.
There is a 25-page section of larger size Pontiac photos, and the end of the book has more charts with a year-by-year style number chart, some interesting Pontiac facts, and build data through 1972.
Now, as I’ve mentioned, I happen to have a 1976 Grand Prix as my summertime cruiser. I actually bought this book prior to getting the car, but as a reference this book has been great. I used the 1976 I.D. data section to decode my VIN number:
2- Pontiac Division
J- Grand Prix (not including SJ)
57- 2-door hardtop
M- Pontiac 350 cubic inch V8 with 2-bbl
P- Pontiac MI plant
(the last 6 digits being the sequential number)
The M code 350 is the base on the Grand Prix and Firebird Formula, rated at 160 horsepower (oh, those smog-year engines), and 280lbs-ft torque.
Of course, there are some things to quibble with this book.
Firstly, it’s a real shame that every picture is in black and white, especially since so many of them are from Pontiac sales material. With a collection of stats and little in the way of narrative, colour picture would have gone a long way to increasing visual appeal.
Secondly, there are a number of errors. I can’t necessarily pick out any in terms of the statistical info, as I have nothing to check this text against. However, there are a number of pictures that are either repeated for multiple models, or are obviously labeled incorrectly.
Thirdly, I’m a little puzzled that there’s essentially no information on Canadian Pontiacs. Now, some may question why I bring this up. The thing is, like many automakers in the days before the Auto Pact, the Big Three had some ‘Canada-only’ products. For GM, these included what some call ‘Cheviacs’. These were cars styled like full-sized Pontiacs, but with slightly altered sheet-metal, that was put on what were essentially full-sized Chevrolet frames, complete with Chevrolet engines. Instead of names like Star Chief, Catalina and Bonneville, they were named Strato Chief, Laurentian and Parisienne. So why do I question why these cars are not included?
Well for one, a number of Pontiac models were built in Canada, some exclusively. The final generations of the Firebird for example were built at Ste. Therese Quebec. Secondly, the Parisienne was a Canada exclusive from 1958-1983. However, GM had discontinued Pontiac’s full-size cars in the early 1980s. Catalina was gone, and the Bonneville name moved to what had been the Grand Lemans. But buyers looking for full-sized cars simply bypassed Pontiac rather than settle for the mid-size Bonnie. GM’s solution was to import the Canadian-market full-size Parisienne until 1987. This story is missing from the 1983 model descriptions – Parisienne just appears as the top-line model with no explanation of the name which hadn’t appeared until then. It just seems odd, given the history.
With all that said, I’ll echo what I’d said earlier. This is a great resource as a reference. It doesn’t necessarily stand alone as a reference, but it’s got a wealth of information for those who need to know more about Pontiac.
Pros: a wealth of data and information, an important resource
Cons: all in black and white, some very noticeable errors, the final 7 years of Pontiac production are missing
Where to find it: Amazon, ebay, private collections (most likely out of print)