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Another Detroit make goes bye-bye

by Jerry Hitchcock
| November 5, 2010 9:00 PM

The recent news that Pontiac is going out of business shouldn't be much of a shock, but, in the end, the once fabled brand just couldn't keep up with the times.

My first car was a 1967 Pontiac Catalina station wagon, dubbed 'The Maroon Baboon' by one of my witty friends. It was a great car - and by great I mean it kept me out of trouble for the most part.

My freshman year of high school I inherited the family's wagon, much like Eric Foreman's character on 'That 70's Show.' And like Eric, I appreciated my car for what it was at the time - transportation, an A-to-B vehicle, not a sexy little 2-door with loud exhaust and a killer stereo system.

The best thing about the car turned out to be the worst thing I could think of at the time: The front driver's side wheel and tire were out of balance, enough so that if you drove much past 55 mph, the whole car started to shimmy wildly. This little speed governor kept me on the right side of the law, and easily in the middle of my lane at all times.

The MB got me and my friends through many adventures in those years. On my way back to town after picking up a friend in a blizzard, the dirt road started collecting 2-foot high snow drifts, the wind blowing them at a 45-degree angle. The drifts caused me to fight to keep the MB on the narrow road. After about 20 or so drifts, I must have got over-confident, and the next thing we knew, the Catalina took a dive for the right-hand ditch.

With most of the front of the car buried in snow, someone got a back door open and we walked a mile or two to a farmhouse to call for a ride back to town.

It took about a week to get the MB back in operation. A tow truck got it dislodged from the ditch easily enough, but back in town the engine compartment was filled with snow, which had frozen solid. A few warmer days later, I walked down to the station, turned the key and she fired right up.

The MB bucked snow and dodged deer on the highways of central Montana for the next three years, before my brother got a little too rough with it one night (not sure why he was driving it - he had wheels of his own by then). The result was a busted transmission, and the MB took another tow, this time to the junkyard, and soon was a victim of the crusher.

I didn't fret much, because soon I was the proud owner of a 1973 Monte Carlo, which had a great-running 350 engine and cruise control. I utilized both as I took some buddies on a maiden voyage on the three-mile stretch east out of town, gunning it up to over 100 before setting the cruise control. Somehow we all survived.

Another buddy later in life had a 1969 Pontiac GTO convertible. We tooled around in that for some time, the top down and our hair tossed about more often than not. Now this was a car for guys - one women actually paid attention to when you idled along the boulevard. It also had plenty of giddy-up!

A girl I knew in college had a fairly new Pontiac Fiero, and I was more in love with the car than her, but after getting behind the wheel, I decided quickly I could do without both. The Fiero didn't live up to the performance I expected from a rear-engine sports car.

Much like Oldsmobile almost a decade ago, Pontiac will now fall by the wayside, as General Motors continues its struggle to remain a viable worldwide automaker.

As for the Maroon Baboon, for all I know its crushed remains are motoring along a highway again, part of another Detroit creation. Maybe it's even schemed some way to get a tire and wheel out of balance enough to once again keep its occupants safe.

Jerry Hitchcock is a copy editor for The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2017, or via e-mail at jhitchcock@cdapress.com.

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