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Sunday, December 23, 2012

History of Pontiac -Part 1

(above: 1957 Pontiac Chieftain Two-Door Sedan passes through the frames of remembrance as a ghost of a lost America, lingering as an echo on the Mother Road)

To the Mother Road of Ghosts

Perhaps it needed to happen. But the loss of Pontiac for the enthusiast community is still raw just beneath the surface, eliciting mixed feelings, just over two years since production ceased --yet another American brand in decline succumbed to the anvil of unsentimental market forces and time's relentless advance. On that fateful day, press releases announcing the end were written simply, with no fanfare or ceremony: "November 2, 2010--General Motors Corporation (NYSE: GM), a United States-based automaker, has officially ended production of the Pontiac brand."

Herein with an acknowledgment of its legend and a wistful nod to an era truly finished, it still seems somewhat unbelievable and hard to accept: Pontiac assembly lines are gone, shuttered, abandoned, are memories in the dark, with the likes of the iconic GTO, Trans Am, Firebird, LeMans, Catalina and Bonneville slated not to carry on in any iteration. At least not into the foreseeable future. 

Eleventh-hour attempts to reinject relevance into the Pontiac moniker, via the GM Australia/platform-sharing Holden Monaro experiment to revive the GTO (during a very brief American presence from 2004 to 2006) failed to gain the necessary market traction to keep the momentum alive. And despite the impressive result, an American V8-powered 6-speed muscle car (with the LS1 and LS2 series engines from Corvette), the Pontiac “fuel for the soul” apparently did not amount to sales. 

The neo-GTO, Soltice, and the follow-up 4-door G8 (another Australian GM platform-sharing muscle car experiment from Holden Commodore) were too little too late. Years of vague and unappealing styling had already metastasized into the inevitable demise awaiting the brand. Pontiac was finished. But what a great run and legacy it has left. 

In this multi-part series we will reminisce, recount, and review the decades of driving and styling excitement the Pontiac division of GM gave to the automotive world. From its humble beginnings to its rise to worldwide fame and on to the downward spiral --its fall from grace, Pontiac blazed its own path. And perhaps primarily known today as the harbinger of the 1960s era American muscle car, Pontiac's storied past is more than just ensconced in raw power and testosterone-driven sales. For this we must track back to 1755  and immerse in American Indian lore:

Chief Pontiac (1720 - April 20, 1769) was a great leader of the Ottawa Indian tribe. He organized his and other tribes in the Great Lakes area to fight the British, in what is known as Pontiac's War (1763-1764).

Rise of the Chief 

(above: hood ornament of the 1951 Pontiac Chieftan Deluxe 4 dr sedan)

Pontiac became chief of the Ottawa Indians in 1755. He soon became the head of the Council of Three Tribes, an intertribal group consisting of the Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibwa people. The French traders and the Indian tribes had coexisted well, trading furs for supplies like food, guns, ammunition, and tobacco. In 1760, the British had just defeated the French and taken over their forts. Sir Jeffrey Amherst, Major Robert Rogers and British/colonial troops occupied Fort Detroit, and the British took possession of other forts around the Great Lakes region. Some of the British, including Amherst, were contemptuous of the Indians, limiting trade and angering the tribes.

Invading the British

In 1762, Pontiac enlisted all of the local tribes to drive out the British. The English called this action "Pontiac's Conspiracy." Pontiac's strategy was to have each of the 18 local Indian tribes attack the fort nearest to them in May 1763, and then to eliminate the British settlements. Pontiac planned to begin the rebellion by taking Fort Detroit.

Laying Siege to Motor City

Pontiac planned to conquer Fort Detroit (what is now Detroit, Michigan) on May 7, 1762, but his plan was betrayed, and the British found out about it. He therefore did not attack as planned. Pontiac did lay siege to Detroit, encircling the fort with warriors, blocking supplies and reinforcements. On July 31, Pontiac won the Battle of Bloody Run, but reinforcements eventually did come to Detroit, and Pontiac retreated. The tribes captured eight of the 12 forts that they attacked, and the settlements were left in ruins.

A White Flag then Betrayal

By 1764 the French no longer supported the Indian efforts and actually sided with the British, and the British re-took many of the areas. Pontiac agreed to a peace treaty in July 1766 at Fort de Chartres, Illinois. He was murdered, clubbed to death, by a Peoria Indian three years later. To avenge Pontiac's death, the Ottawa Indians killed many Peoria Indians. Forged in bloodshed, Pontiac's name and image would thereafter find a new beginning and eventually penetrate modern social consciousness. 

Sympathy and Acknowledgment

In homage to the fallen leader, the city of Pontiac, in southeastern Michigan, was established in 1819. Jumping ahead 71 years, to 1893, Edward M. Murphy established the Pontiac Buggy Company in Pontiac, Michigan producing horse-drawn carriages thru 1906. From this inception the Chief would rise again... 

(continued in Part 2)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Prologue: Endeavour's Arrival and Staging at LAX

(September 21, 2012, Space Shuttle Endeavour arrives in Los Angeles in the grandeur of an epic Hollywood movie)

With the fanfare of a celebrity, Endeavour arrived in Los Angeles, September 21st, 2012, atop its 747 transport, complete with chase planes. That it marked the "final end" phase of NASA's 30-year Shuttle era, the homecoming took on a ceremonial aura akin to a Hollywood red carpet event -the Endeavour, as a de facto star on the walk of fame, had been lifted skyward for the millions of Angelenos below to admire in awe. The occasion was somewhat unbelievable if not fascinating. Throughout the day the Endeavour's flightpath and sighting opportunity was the most discussed thing. "Is it going to pass over our building?" "Where in the sky will it be?"-were the primary concerns, with people taking long lunch breaks to gather for the spectacle.

From a report on September 20th, 2012, the day prior to arrival:

"NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) with space shuttle Endeavour mounted atop [from Kennedy Space Center, Orlando, Florida] arrived Sept. 20 at the agency's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in California [Edward's is northeast of Lancaster/Palmdale in the high desert].

Following an overnight stay, the SCA and Endeavour will salute the Edwards Air Force Base area early Friday, Sept. 21 with a low flyby northbound to Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area. Next the aircraft will travel south, making a pass over NASA's Ames Research Center, Vandenberg Air Force Base and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory before heading into the Los Angeles area.

Finally, the SCA and Endeavour will land about noon PDT at Los Angeles International Airport, for an arrival ceremony before Endeavour is taken off the SCA and transported to 
its permanent home at the California Science Center next month." 

(Space Shuttle Endeavour 'drydocked" in a hangar at LAX awaiting its final journey across Los Angeles to the California Science Center located several miles to the northeast, near the LA Coliseum. This photo and ones following below courtesy of  Cloud King,

A couple of days after I had written and posted it, I forwarded my first Endeavour article [whose link is at the bottom of this article] to a friend of mine who works in the aerospace industry as a flight engineer. He blogs under the user name "Cloud King," featuring his lush atmospheric photography, found here:

Cloud King's reply included a series of photographs he captured of Endeavour while it was staged at LAX. I answered "Omg wow. May I use these pics for a follow-up article? Was this at the hanger at LAX? Please tell more." 

He answered: "Yes that is the LAX hanger ... We used to lease the same hanger where the Shuttle was parked. There were tons of security at the hanger all packing guns. A call was made, we showed up and got in. When I walked in the hanger I was totally blown away, I was in "NERD HEAVEN" !!! At first they would only let us take photos only from the floor but when they they got full intel on who we were. they let us up stars to walk the cat walk around the Shuttle. I ended up going two days in a row so I got tons of photos."

(Space Shuttle Endeavour 'drydocked" in a hangar at LAX; note the human scale as relative size comparison)

He further elaborated in response to my photographs of the Endeavour, specifically about rolling down Crenshaw Boulevard: "Looks like you were back on my old stoop Chad. I used to stay one block off the "Shaw". Glad to see the Shuttle made it through LA without slings and arrows. I took off out of LAX @ 0500 Fri and saw the Shuttle as it was leaving airport property. When we returned "eight hours" latter it was on SepĂșlveda! It was parked in a bank parking lot in Westchester. That's two to three miles an hour with stops. All of a sudden my feet are now hurting ..."

(Space Shuttle Endeavour 'drydocked" in a hangar at LAX; note the human scale as relative size comparison)

Several excellent videos shot by amateurs and professionals captured the various moments and stages in the Endeavour's final journey. One particularly excellent one shot at LAX is posted here: 

(Space Shuttle Endeavour 'drydocked" in a hangar at LAX)

below excerpt from:

From the hangar, on October 12, 2012, Endeavour "left the grounds of the Los Angeles International Airport and is now on city streets, heading east toward Inglewood.
The massive spacecraft, rolling at under 2 mph, left the airport at 2 a.m. exactly. "Right on time, it just cleared the gates," said airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles.
The weathered shuttle -- its blemishes easy to see -- took up two of the four lanes of the road as it rolled down Northside Parkway, and a handful of vehicles led the procession, including a truck that had a U.S. flag fluttering behind it.
At the first sight of Endeavour, scores of onlookers waiting patiently on city streets began running on Westchester Parkway, some with camera tripods in tow, snapping photos furiously. 
They had been waiting hours in the dark, some perched on top of car roofs, and others on ladders and step stools yearning, in the crisp autumn darkness, for their first glimpse of America's last space shuttle.
About 100 people whooped and hollered from the corner of Westchester Parkway and McConnell Avenue...

Over the next two days, the 170,000-pound shuttle is expected to travel at no more than 2 mph along the 12-mile route that includes Westchester Parkway, La Tijera Boulevard, Crenshaw Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The shuttle is moved by four computer-controlled transporters that will help it negotiate complex turns and avoid streetside obstacles.

At points along the way, the space vehicle will be inches away from buildings and protrude onto driveways and sidewalks. Because of the enormous weight of the shuttle, thousands of heavy steel plates have been used to reinforce city streets. En route, the public can see the shuttle on Friday at a number of public viewing areas along Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood, including Isis, Hindry and Glasgow avenues as well as La Cienega Boulevard.

On Saturday, there will also be several designated public viewing areas, including the Forum in Inglewood, the intersection of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and certain parking lots in Exposition Park."
My personal account of the Endeavour's cross-town travel is documented here: