The year was 2009, and General Motors suffered as a result of the recession that occurred in the year prior. Faced with Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the automotive giant unceremoniously sheared several of its brands from their portfolio. These included Saab, Hummer, Saturn, and most surprisingly, Pontiac.
12 years later, cars from these brands still carry passengers on a daily basis, with a fair inventory present even on campus. It seems Pontiac isn’t dead after all.
Drive anywhere in western Pennsylvania and you’ll find fleets of Vibes, Grand Prixs, Torrents, and G6s. If you’re lucky, you may even spot the infamously ugly Aztek that’s grown in fame thanks to “Breaking Bad.”
For others though, the brand’s history is best appreciated through classic models, like the famed GTO, Firebird, and Le Mans.
Zack Wirick, a local car enthusiast, owns a lesser known Pontiac model from this era: a 1956 Star Chief Custom Catalina. Mechanically, these are similar to Chevrolet’s Bel Air, except with Pontiac’s 316.6 cubic inch StratoStreak V8.
“I bought it as my first car before my junior year of high school,” he said. “It was in the newspaper classifieds.”
He observed the car, covered in hay and dust from the time spent in a barn, explaining that its original owner parked it inside around 1994 when the water pump started to leak.
Wirick graduated from Leechburg Area High School in 2015, and the Star Chief still runs fine, displaying the character of an unrestored, used classic car with no exhaust, a fair amount of rust, and an aged patina.
Wirick said that his favorite aspect of the car is that it’s easy to fix.
“After trips to multiple parts stores, swap meets and private junkyards, I wouldn’t hesitate to take it anywhere in the country after I address a few minor things,” he said.
From Wirick’s survivor to immaculately restored show cars, classic Pontiacs keep on going, just like their contemporary brethren.