John Sawruk (third from right) and the Pontiac Service Team are in the midst of preparing
This article will venture into uncharted waters in the interest of recording Pontiac's history as I lived it. As many of you know, I've been dealing with kidney cancer since 1997 and I want to make certain I share as much as possible with you. We invite reader feedback to Editor Tom DeMauro regarding your interest in this style of article.
I know you're used to reading restoration, car show, and tech-tip articles, but there are some other aspects of Pontiac that have never really been explored. How did all the great Pontiac products come to be? Who created them? You probably only recognize a few of the most famous names.
One of the first things to remember is that all of the Catalinas, Tempests, etc., we sold helped pave the way for more exciting products, some of which were very low volume. I was also told and shown several times that if we sold nothing but stripped, base cars, we would lose money. Obviously, we were making money on options. Unfortunately, few of the cars that were Pontiac's economic base are saved, collected, or shown at car shows. GTOs, Firebirds, and convertibles are what we typically see. The importance of the less exciting, high-volume cars is usually overlooked. Four-door models are prime examples.
This is the presentation of the GM Boss Kettering Award for the Pontiac 2.5L four-cylinder
The Pontiac Division was a team. Up to the '80s, the General Manager controlled this major organization. Engineering, Manufacturing, Purchasing, Sales, and other staffs reported to him. Direct design and manufacturing responsibility for much of the product resided at the Motor Division. Pontiac's home-plant geography was small enough that we could easily walk or drive to visit other areas or other people.
Pontiac was also a family. The organization was small enough that many of us knew each other. Steve Malone, recently deceased Chief Engineer, used to say, "There are more people wandering the halls of Chevy Engineering at any one time than I have in the entire Pontiac Engineering building." Like any team or family, we didn't always agree with each other, and sometimes had heated disputes, but we respected one another. In Engineering, whether talking with an hourly person or the Chief Engineer, you were always treated as an equal. Of course, sometimes the higher-level person had to make a decision-occasionally an unpopular one.
Here, John is leading a GM Value Engineering seminar in 1981. GM was the first company to
How did one's career proceed at Pontiac Engineering? I'm sure the process changed over the years, but I'm going to use my career as an example and focus on 1967 through 1988. Some people, like me, came as summer students. I was fortunate to receive a GM scholarship (ultimately used for college recruiting), while some went to the General Motors Institute (GMI), now called Kettering University.
Entry-level engineers began their careers in the Special Problems Laboratory (as I did in 1968), where a lot of instrumentation was used. They spent about a year working on noise, vibration, and stress.
After this, they generally moved to one of the experimental groups-Engine, Chassis, or Body (in my case, Experimental Engine). Here, they were involved in test work. At this stage were generally "Sixth Level" engineers. They put experimental parts on in the lab, road tested them and analyzed the results. Working with their counterparts in the Design-Development groups (these people were generally "Seventh Level" and had company cars) prepared them for further responsibilities.
During my internship in 1967, then upon my return to the Experimental Engine Group in 1969 as an engineer, Development Engineer Walter Heidacker made certain I was well educated in the valvetrain area. Bob Newill, also a Development Engineer, taught me about combustion and ignition. Test Engineer Dick Hartzell (recently deceased) and Supervisor of the Experimental Engine Group, Jim Kaufeld, taught me many test procedures.