Review: Don Keefe’s ‘Pontiac Concept and Show Cars’ from CarTech Books
The Pontiac brand has been six feet underground for roughly six years, but its presence remains very much alive today. On your daily drive, you are still likely to see plenty of late-model G6s, G8s, Vibes, and Azteks on the road, and you will no doubt find a few Bonnevilles or GTOs at any classic car show. Author Don Keefe, the Pontiac historian who also penned Grand Prix: Pontiac’s Luxury Performance Car, does his part to keep the heritage of the brand alive with his latest book, Pontiac Concept and Show Cars: Includes Club De Mer, Banshee, GTO Flammé, Cirrus, Firebird Pegasus & More (and, yes, that is the complete subtitle).
The subtitle of this book (a book to which I will henceforth refer as Pontiac Concept and Show Cars for the sake of blessed brevity) would qualify on TV Tropes as an instance of “Exactly What It Says on the Tin.” This book includes not just the five legendary vehicles mentioned in the title, but many more—nearly 50 cars in total, to be precise. Each one of these classic cars is rendered in loving detail through both pictures and text, making it a fitting addition to the bookshelf of those who long for the days when the Pontiac brand was alive and well.
Pontiac Concept and Show Cars: Includes Club De Mer, Banshee, GTO Flammé, Cirrus, Firebird Pegasus & More
By Don Keefe
Product Details: Hardcover, 192 pages, 10 x 10 inches
Publication Date: March 2016
Publisher: CarTech Inc.
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Pontiac Concept and Show Cars is a fascinating look at a brand’s rise to prominence and its push to be at the cutting edge of the automotive industry.
Former Smoke Signals Editor-in-Chief Don Keefe tells the history of the Pontiac brand through the individual stories of nearly 50 different concept and show cars created over the course of eight decades. Starting with the 1939 Plexiglas Pontiac that wowed crowds at the 1939-40 World’s Fair and closing with the 2006 Supercharged LSX Solstice, Keefe provides the reader with a bounty of information about how the vehicles came to be, how both the public and GM brass responded to them, and where they went after their moments in the sun.
The author establishes a tempo for writing about each vehicle that he sticks to for the duration of the book: chapters will give a brief overarching view of where Pontiac was as a brand for a period of years, and then sets about the task of breaking down each significant concept or show car. Each vehicle is first discussed in terms of how it fit (or didn’t) into Pontiac’s plans for a particular year, and then described concerning its exterior, interior, and powertrain. The historical mechanism allows insight into some of the minds behind Pontiac’s ascendance—Harley Earl, Bunkie Knudsen, and John Z. DeLorean are the most fleshed-out—and gives the reader a greater sense of their overall importance to the brand.
Each passage on a vehicle closes by detailing where it was shown, how it was received, and what its fate was thereafter. The earlier entries tend to end with a sad tale of disappearances and likely dates with the crusher, but there are a fair number of entries that cover the details of vehicles being restored and changing hands across numerous classic car auctions. This makes the book particularly informative if you might consider tracking one of these rare Pontiacs down and spending a pretty penny on it.
Pontiac Concept and Show Cars is a fine-looking, sturdy book that’s an easy gift to give to the auto enthusiast in your life. There is a good amount of informational meat within for readers looking to expand their understanding of both the Pontiac brand and automotive trends throughout the years, but the numerous color and black-and-white photographs are arguably the main attraction, made for sitting out on the coffee table.
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Keefe’s fondness for and knowledge of the subject matter comes through quite clearly in the text. Pontiac Concept & Show Cars is a highly-informative tome for anyone looking to glean the history of the Pontiac brand, get a general sense of the aesthetic and technological directions of the auto industry in certain eras, or simply learn how the various vehicles described herein came to be. That this is so evidently a passion project for Keefe is to the book’s great benefit; at many points, you can feel the author’s love for the Pontiac brand seeping through the ink.
Keefe’s writing hits in such a way that it’s readable for both enthusiasts and the unacquainted. Keefe presents the technical and architectural aspects of each car in a manner that would have you think he was there for its formulation and construction, which helps put the reader in the driver’s seat (pun intended). Keefe’s prose is fairly straight-forward, and there is little in the way of deviations of style. There are the occasional sections where we learn about a vehicle from the perspective of the author after having the opportunity to ride in it, and those tend to tell more of an actual story than a dry recitation of technical aspects. Still, the pattern for the most part has the author presenting the information from an authoritative historical perspective.
Pontiac Concept & Show Cars is also a solid book to have if you just want to look at cool pictures of neat (and weird) cars from years gone by. Given that a major portion of this book’s appeal is actually showing the vehicles in question, the photos are very much the star here. There are several of them from varying times and places, though there are some photos (primarily toward the front of the book) that curiously lack attribution.
For as imperative as having so many photos in this book is, there is some degree of nitpicking that can be done with regards to the way they are laid out. On some pages, the combination of different photo orientations and longer blocks of caption text create sizable empty spaces that feel a bit jarring to the eye. Other pages simply have a bit too much going on and wind up feeling cluttered. While the balance of photos and text is typically good, there are places where it feels that the book would have benefited from a keener eye for on-page aesthetics.
One nice touch that stands out in particular is the choice to color the edge of every page for each entry in a hue that typically matches that of the vehicle it features. Having, for example, the pages covering the 1962 X-400 Grand Prix marked in red to separate it from the aqua blue pages covering the 1963 Maharani makes it easier to breeze through cars if you just want to flip through and look at the photos in between sips of coffee.
On the whole, if you are a gearhead with a particular affinity for Pontiac, then Pontiac Concept and Show Cars is a necessary addition to your bookshelf or coffee table.
Pontiac Concept and Show Cars is available through the publisher’s website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and other retailers.
Product provided for review by publisher.
- Kyle JohnsonEditor
Kyle S. Johnson lives in Cincinnati, a city known by many as "the Cincinnati of Southwest Ohio." He enjoys professional wrestling, Halloween, and also other things. He has been writing for a while, and he plans to continue to write well into the future. See more articles by Kyle.