This original newspaper ad from 1959 showed the retail store staff, as well as some of the
In today's world of huge big-box stores and vast outlet malls, it is hard to imagine automobiles being sold directly from the factory. Yet, there was a time when a few automobile manufacturers had direct retail outlets that sold to the general public.
One of these factory outlets was the Pontiac Retail Store in downtown Pontiac, Michigan, at 65 Mount Clemens Street, only about a mile and a half from the vast Pontiac Motor Division production facility on Joslyn and Montcalm Avenues.
This fully functioning Pontiac dealership opened on April 14, 1951, with one very big advantage—it was directly connected to the factory. If a new Pontiac was in for a repair and the parts were not in stock in the parts department, the dealership sent a parts chaser to the factory assembly line. The chaser would pick up the needed parts and return them to the retail store so the repairs could be made. Now that was service!
The company letterhead used a graphic of the building, as well as a bright red Indian head
All of the General Motors executives in the Detroit area who wanted Pontiac company cars could order them and pick them up directly from the retail store. GM employee Henry Gotham was the general manager, Hank Kline was its new-car sales manager, and Joe Wells was the used-car sales manager.
Every September, the dealership's employees covered the glass windows in the front showroom in brown paper to hide the contents of the Pontiacs awaiting the new-car introductions. About the third week of September, the paper came down and the new Pontiacs were shown to the public for the first time. (New-car introductions were very big events back then—every model received new styling and went on public display for the first time, always with spotlights and fanfare.)
The Pontiac Retail Store was one of the few dealerships that actually had a basement for inside car storage. In 1957, when Pontiac General Manager Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen built his new flagship performance car, the fuel-injected Bonneville, to start the performance-image turnaround for the brand, he could not get Pontiac dealers to take all 630 Bonnevilles built, so he hid a group of them from upper management in the basement and behind the retail store until they could be sold. The Bonne-ville had a hefty price tag of $5,700, and because it was possible to purchase two Star Chief convertibles for that same price, it made for a very hard sell.
In 1959, the city of Pontiac built Wide Track Boulevard, a four-lane loop that connected the northbound lanes of Woodward Avenue with the southbound lanes circling downtown Pontiac. The Wide Track Boulevard expansion took out several businesses and buildings, including half of the Goodwill used-car lot of the retail store.
There were several dealers in the area, like Russ Johnson Pontiac in Lake Orion, Homer Hight Pontiac/Chevrolet in Oxford, Jack Haupt Pontiac in Clarkston, Shelton Pontiac in Rochester, Royal Pontiac in Royal Oak, Causley Pontiac in Mt. Clemens, Packer Pontiac in Flint, and Clohecy Pontiac in Detroit. If someone looked for the best deal on a new Pontiac, there was no better place to go than the Pontiac Retail Store. Some of the local Pontiac dealers were not happy with it, as the retail store's salesmen undercut pricing that other local dealers could not.
There were stories about special cars ordered at the retail store on Monday being set in the lineup Tuesday, built Wednesday and Thursday, and delivered back to the Retail Store on Friday. The retail store also sometimes received the first run of cars built with special options that were being introduced, such as high-performance engines. Engineering might put a new Ram Air package together, then test it. If it was going into production, that development car might end up on the retail-store lot.
This author’s father, Arnold “Denny” Denison, and his good friend Bob Giroux were both mas
One such prototype was the '59 Pontiac Catalina Safari pickup, an El Camino-type vehicle that was built for possible production. It did not make it past the prototype stage but was sent to the retail store for evaluation. The prototype became a parts-chaser vehicle, used for several years to drive back and forth to the factory—kind of like a drag car only instead of a quarter-mile at a time, this was 1.5 miles.
In 1971, Pontiac General Manager F. James McDonald closed the retail store and used the facility for a much needed emissions-research lab. Remember, back then, all of the General Motors Divisions had their own engine-design, development, and production facilities, and they were left to find out how to make them pass emissions testing on their own.
These original leather key holders were embossed with the Pontiac Retail Store’s name and
In the later '70s, General Motors brought the five brands' engine-design and development programs into one group. It was the beginning of GM Powertrain, and the end of Division-branded engine programs.
In 1980, a major recession prompted GM to reconfigure the retail store once again as thousands of General Motors workers were laid off from the Fisher Body, Pontiac assembly and foundry, and GM Truck & Bus assembly plants in Pontiac's city limits. GM's human-resources department took over the building to deal with all of the layoffs.
The Pontiac Retail Store used GMC trucks and a Harley-Davidson trike to haul and chase par
As the economy picked up, GM Truck & Bus managed the facility and filled the service bays with prototype builds of upcoming trucks and drivetrain-development vehicles for testing at the Milford Proving Grounds. GM Truck & Bus used this facility in one form or another up until GM's bankruptcy began in 2008. Shortly after that, the historic site of the Pontiac Retail Store on the corner of Wide Track and Mount Clemens (now University Drive), was leveled, just like so many other long-standing GM properties.
Nevertheless, the Pontiac Retail Store goes into the history books as one of the most unique automotive dealerships to sell Pontiacs to the general public. Many great cars that passed through its doors are still around, including that '59 Pontiac pickup prototype. Check those buildsheets for number 07631, as that is the dealer code for the Pontiac Retail Store.