The 1980s are not remembered as a high point for General Motors. Their vehicles from that decade were mostly sad machines that lagged behind European and Japanese rivals and reeked of questionable quality. But even then, the General could put out some innovative and unique ideas from time to time.
Pontiac in particular had some ridiculously cool concept cars during the Reagan Era. They debuted the spaceship-like Pursuit Concept in 1987 and the stunning Banshee Concept in 1988; the latter grew into the fourth-generation Pontiac Firebird.
The following year Pontiac's designers went all out with the Pontiac Stinger a new concept aimed at taking on the fresh and burgeoning sport utility market. And by "all out," I mean "built a car equipped with everything but the kitchen sink, and maybe the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure, too, because why the hell not."
(Welcome to Long Lost Concept Cars, a new semi-regular series on Fridays where we highlight amazing concepts from years past that never made it to production — but maybe should have.)
Sure, Jeeps, Land Rovers and a few others had been around since forever and a day, but sport utility vehicles were really starting to come into their own as a segment in the late 80s and early 90s. Automakers pitched them as "lifestyle vehicles" for "active people" who liked to go off road and have exciting adventures with their friends. So what if most of them never left the pavement? It was a great image to sell to people!
And the Stinger concept was so active, there were very few things it couldn't do. An open top, neon green, two-door dune buggy/Jeep combo that aped the Banshee's sleek nose, the Stinger was loudly and squarely aimed at catching the attention of young buyers who apparently spent most of their time at the beach and needed a vehicle to revolve entirely around this.
Okay, so the Stinger and its bright colors, cheesy theme music and grinning 80s teens seem ridiculous today. But the car was actually quite innovative, and ahead of its time in a few ways. It never saw the light of day, but if it had, could it have been the right car at the right time? Maybe.
What was it? A four seat, four-wheel drive small sport utility vehicle designed to take you to the edge... the excitement edge. The concept was loaded with delightful 80s gadgets, unique storage features and ahead-of-its-time luxury touches.
What were the specs? The Stinger concept had an Iron Duke-based 3.0-liter four-cylinder engine up front that put out 170 horsepower and was mated to a three-speed automatic transmission. HowStuffWorks says it had an active air suspension that could raise the car up to four inches for your off roading pleasure.
What else made it special? The ridiculous amount of storage spaces and fun add-on equipment. The Stinger had two "long distance cellular phones," a CD player, a detachable AM/FM stereo, a drink cooler mounted in the doors, a tool case, a first aid kit, a flashlight, an extension cord, two dust busters, a camping table, biking bags, and a garden hose. You read that right — it came with a fucking garden hose.
There is more stuff in the Pontiac Stinger than there is in my apartment.
What did it look like on the inside? One of the Stinger's most bragged-about features was its electric memory seats and steering wheel, a control panel for which was hidden in the drivers' side door. The seats were made of a wet suit-type material and boasted removable cushions that could turn into beach chairs. The roof panel was removable, and the rear seats could be raised up 15 inches by flicking a switch.
Was there anything the Stinger couldn't do?
Did it actually run? Based on all the promotional videos it runs around in, I'll go with yes. It looks like it was quite fun to take to the beach.
Was it ever planned for production? That's hard to say. An article over at High Performance Pontiac says that Pontiac execs were keen to put it into production, but for whatever reason — possibly the bureaucratic nightmare that was GM at the time — it didn't happen. From Ed Benson, then the director of market and product planning:
Though the '89 Pontiac Stinger was not a production vehicle, Benson seemed optimistic about its prospects. "If you wonder if there is a market for a vehicle like the Stinger, just look at the Pathfinder, the Dodge Raider, the Samurai, and certain executions of the Jeep," he says. "Look at what those are used for and the desires of those buyers and those who aspire to own them. We think there could be a total Pontiac execution of a Stinger-type concept that could represent a special sport vehicle in that emerging market in the mid-'90s."
Should it have been built? You know what? I like this thing, so I'm gonna go with yes. It's silly, but it's fun, and it seems pretty well-executed as a concept. Even though it's not likely a production version would have come with all that extra equipment, a roofless, beach-going 4x4 with just some of that stuff would have been a lot of fun.
At the same time, the 90s were probably the worst time in history for concept to production fails, and many of the worst offenders came from GM. Look what happened to the Pontiac Aztek on its way from exciting concept to disappointing real car.
I don't have a lot of faith that GM management, focus groups, or bean counters wouldn't have screwed this up somehow. Nonetheless, it's kind of a shame this thing didn't see the light of day. I have a feeling that a lot of people would have loved the Stinger.