Chief Pontiac on the Warpath

Editor's Note: Ward's David C. Smith channels the long-dead Indian chief who has an ill-fated General Motors division named after him, and finds him spinning in his grave. I'll smoke no peace pipes with General Motors Corp. For 83 years GM took advantage of my name by putting it on millions of cars without sending a single royalty check. Now they're killing my namesake division off, and it looks like

Editor's Note: Ward's David C. Smith channels the long-dead Indian chief who has an ill-fated General Motors division named after him, and finds him spinning in his grave.

I'll smoke no peace pipes with General Motors Corp.

For 83 years GM took advantage of my name by putting it on millions of cars — without sending a single royalty check.

Now they're killing my namesake division off, and it looks like I'll wind up as just another asterisk in automotive history.

I can forgive many transgressions but if I were still a young brave, rather than a relic, I'd lead another siege on Detroit and invade GM's headquarters.

Don't laugh. I led an attack on the British at Fort Detroit in 1763, along with my French allies. We didn't win a conclusive victory, but my daring Detroit raid led to uprisings in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. News reports of the day labeled my exploits as “Pontiac's Rebellion.”

After three years of nonstop hostilities, I signed a deal with the Brits that ended the fighting. What followed was the same old story. They didn't have shredders in those days, but a bonfire was a surefire way of killing a treaty.

I headed out to the Illinois territory to settle a few scores with the Peoria tribe, but treachery awaited me and a Peoria assassin did me in.

That may have ended my claim to fame, but apparently the politicians in Michigan, Illinois and Quebec liked my moniker so much they named cities after me.

Then there's GM, which not only humiliates me by ending the Pontiac brand but also besmirches the name of my Aztec cousins in Mexico by using their name on a Pontiac crossover that has reigned as Chief of the Uglies.

My automotive spirit is reflected in the arrowhead logo adopted by GM for all Pontiac models starting in 1959.

My association with Pontiac, the car, was not always that subtle. During the 1930s when chrome hood ornaments were all the rage GM designers served up my likeness in many different ways, but always with my feathered war bonnet sweeping back like I was in a wind tunnel. They were quite imaginative, because no actual pictures of me have ever existed.

My GM roots go back to the Oakland automobile line that GM acquired in 1909. It was made in the city of Pontiac, the county seat of Oakland County, MI.

GM dropped the Oakland nameplate six years after its successor, the first Pontiac, dubbed “Chief of the Sixes,” was introduced in 1926 at the New York Auto Show. It was powered by a straight six generating a prodigious 40 hp and carried an $825 sticker.

In 1935, GM added chrome strips on the hood, stretching from the grille to the windshield, and advertised my namesake as “The Silver Streak.” The “Star Chief Catalina” arrived in 1950 but by 1957 my likeness was unceremoniously sacked. Other sub-series like the “Chieftain” and “Super Chief” — GM always milked my name and status for all it was worth — held on until 1959, and the “Star Chief” didn't fade until 1965.

Although I was hurt by this emasculation, I still cheered when Pontiac introduced cars that since have become legendary such as the Grand Prix (1962), the famed GTO muscle car (1964), Firebird (1970), Grand Am (1975) and Fiero (1984).

As chief of the Ottawas, I had two names. One was Pontiac, the other Obwandiyag. I only wish GM had adopted the latter. Imagine this tongue-twisting tagline: “Obwandiyag Builds Excitement.”

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