I'm writing this from the back seat of the Pontiac G8 GT. That's a midlevel-performance version of the sedan GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz asserts will return to Pontiac its long-absent dignity. Judging from the comfortable back seats and legroom, not to mention the reportedly solid platform, potent V8 and tight packaging, there's little doubt it will.
That's because the G8 GT (along with its LS3-powered sibling, GXP) is the first truly exciting car Pontiac's introduced in years, ironically arriving well after the company abandoned a borderline-fraudulent advertising claim of excitement creation. Lutz acknowledged the hubristic inaccuracy of the brand's old motto, "We Build Excitement," on stage at the New York auto show this week, evoking as evidence the defunct four-cylinder Grand Am, which, even in its malaise-era context, was slightly less exciting to operate than a lawn sprinkler.
Not that Pontiac's was the most egregious messaging offense of that period. Back in the early '80s, Ford insisted quality was "Job One." Simultaneously, it turned out the Fairmont, a car whose shoddiness was a thumb in the eye of every mid-level administrator who applied part of his stagflation-adjusted paycheck toward one. You may remember the Fairmont as the car whose horn was activated, without explanation, by pushing a plastic-capped stalk horizontally toward the steering column. Woe to the drivers who mistakenly plunged into the immovable steering-wheel hub (Note to self: research cases of jammed palms circa 1981). Others remember the Fairmont as a car beaten to the junkyard only by the Dodge Aspen/Plymouth Volare, a marginally more unconscionable shitbox.
(For the record, automakers weren't the only ones engaging in hyperbole. Burger King insisted one could have it one's way, yet failed to offer a fried quail egg or dollop of creme fraiche to those whose "way" involved those delicacies.)
The G8 shared Pontiac's stage at the New York auto show this week with a targa-topped version of the Solstice and a new version of GM's Australian Holden ute, the G8 sport truck. The latter may seem pointless to anyone who's not Australian, under the age of 40 or missing the gene for irony. Trust me; it's the kind of pointless that makes people uncomfortable enough to buy one. And if you think that paradox won't fly, just wait until someone builds a fiberglass cap for it.
The point of the story is that Pontiac, once an icon of performance, had been a victim of unspeakable corporate abuse during the past three decades. Remember what happened to Sybil (in that 1976 movie) after sustaining lesser parental disaffection? She ended up with a massive case of dissociative identity disorder. In the movie Sybil, it took a caring psychiatrist and some hard therapy to bring the Syb around. It's taken Bob Lutz's personal care to keep Pontiac likewise from ending up rocking in place and twisting its hair, which some say was in the company's brand-marketing plan for 2011.
The products are there, the excitement is palpable and it's up to Pontiac to live up to expectations.