Book Review: “Pontiac Concept and Show Cars,” by Don Keefe

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Pontiac Concept and Show Cars, by Don Keefe
Pontiac Concept and Show Cars
By Don Keefe
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
The Pontiac GTO, Grand Prix, and Fiero are just a few of the memorable models of the famous General Motors marque. For anyone who has visited a car show, a fun aspect involves admiring the concept cars. Pontiac Concept and Show Cars by Don Keefe offers a detailed and entertaining look at the variety of concept and show cars created by Pontiac. While I’m a bit of a gearhead, I found some of the text over my head. This stems from Keefe’s emphasis on the engineering and mechanical perspective. But the book can be enjoyed, even if you’re not a car mechanic. Despite the specialist bent, the book’s text reads like articles from car magazines.
I enjoyed learning about automotive design icons like Harley Earl and John DeLorean. Harley Earl’s designs are quintessential Midcentury Modern. Sleek, stylish, and space age, they embody the optimism and ambition of the Fifties and Sixties. Notable examples include the 1954 Bonneville Specials, the GMC L’Universelle, and the 1956 Club De Mer. The Bonneville Specials are reminiscent of the earliest Corvettes and the GMC L’Universelle is probably the coolest minivan ever designed. (Well worth a Google search.)
Beyond the visual aesthetics is the business history of Pontiac. Pontiac became integrated into General Motors in the 1930s and eventually settled into a mid-range marque, balancing design and luxury with performance. What specific facet received emphasis depended on who ran Pontiac. By the end of the Fifties, the Midcentury Modern aesthetic seemed old and dowdy to the younger car market. Thus began the “Win on Sunday, buy on Monday” strategy for sales. Pontiac won big in racing, until it was unceremoniously discontinued due to executive meddling. But Pontiac didn’t go down without a fight. It merely re-branded the product. Muscle cars offer race performance without any explicit connection to sanctioned racing.
Don Keefe profiles many different kinds of concept and show cars. From concept sketch to final product involves numerous intermediate steps. These include clay models (scale and full-size), exterior studies, interior studies, engine-less shells, and full-concept models. It was also fascinating to read how a lumbering corporate leviathan like General Motors did business. Concept cars offer a unique perspective, since they can both reflect public opinion yet also showcase a designer’s dreams.
I’m rating this lower only because the material is rather niche. But gearheads and fans of Midcentury Modern should pick this up.
Out of 10: 8.0, or 9.5 if you are a gearhead or are interested in Midcentury Modern design.
Read even more about Pontiac Concept and Show Cars: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing

Karl Wolff has been a local TV production assistant, museum curator, and undergraduate teaching assistant. He currently reviews books for CCLaP, the New York Journal of Books, runs his own blog (The Driftless Area Review), and has written features for Milwaukee's own Alcoholmanac Magazine and INFO* Magazine.