The story of the Solstice is one of triumph for Pontiac in the waning days of the Division, and at the same time, a tale of hope squashed. When Robert A. Lutz returned to General Motors after more than 35 years, he brought with him not only a vision of a revitalized GM, but also new products for the ailing Wide-Track Division.

In addition to bringing the Holden Monaro stateside as the new GTO, Lutz also set out to give the Division something it hadn't had since the Fiero—a racy two-seater. This time though, it would be a front-engine, rear-drive sports car to compete with the Mazda Miata. The original open-roof show car and the production versions that followed were so close that one would be hard pressed to identify the subtle differences. Though the Solstice was a thoroughly modern design, it was still very much in the mold of Pontiac's Banshee and Bonneville Special show cars of generations past, and, like its predecessors, used a lot of existing technology to keep production costs in check—had they been approved for production.

At the same time that the fully functional "roadster" prototype was built, a second design was also unveiled—a coupe that was displayed as a full-scale model. Though it was a non-running mock-up, it nevertheless showed that Lutz and General Motors had big plans for the little two-seater. Though differing in final execution, the production Solstice coupe bowed in '09 and was clearly based on the original mock-up. It offered some additional features the show car didn't have, such as removable roof panels, making the new Solstice variant a targa body-style in the technical sense. Like the open version, the Solstice coupe was available in both standard and GXP versions; the latter featured a 2.0L turbocharged, intercooled, and direct-injected Ecotec four-cylinder.

At 260 hp, the engine is a technological marvel, easily rivaling anything coming from Europe or Japan in terms of both sophistication and performance. It all starts with an aluminum block with strategically placed reinforcement ribs to add strength with a minimal increase in weight. To it, GM added a forged crankshaft and rods, cast pistons with jet-spray oil cooling, double overhead cams with variable valve timing, and direct injection. To this package, they added a turbocharger with dual-scroll exhaust turbine for lag-free response and an air-to-air intercooler, which drops inlet temperatures by more than 200 degrees F, allowing for 20 psi of boost in stock form.

The aforementioned direct injection sprays a precisely timed pulse of fuel directly into the combustion chamber, allowing for additional charge cooling and more complete combustion. The system makes 260 hp in stock form out of just two liters of displacement.

Think about that. Here is a 122ci four-cylinder that makes nearly as much power as the 350ci LT1 V-8 in a '94-'97 Trans Am, while weighing a little over 300 pounds and providing that magical 30-plus-mpg rating. That is 130 hp per liter, or 2.13 hp per cubic inch—more horsepower per unit of displacement than any GM engine has ever achieved, even surpassing the vaunted 638-horse LS9 V-8 that powers the ZR-1 Corvette.

Back to the Solstice's show car beginnings, there was a lot of interest at GM in spinning new vehicles off the Kappa platform. To that end, GM built other concept cars from the Solstice, namely the Vauxhall VX Lightning, the Saturn Curve, and the Chevy Nomad. All three were shown at the '04 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, but unfortunately, nothing further came of them.

Although other new performance Pontiacs came to market, such as the G8 and the G6 GXP (Pontiac's last Pro Stock racecar), the Solstice was the last full platform developed specifically for Pontiac—the GTO and G8 came from Holden and the G6 was a Corporate platform. True, Saturn and Opel received versions of the Solstice, but that was done to increase the viability of the car from a sales and dealer perspective. The bottom line is that the Solstice was the last Pontiac-specific design ever offered, and for that it should be revered for what it truly stands for.