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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pontiac Banshee: Killed by the Corvette


Copyright © 2015 Bold Ride LLC.


Before he founded the company that would bear his name and created the car that would become an iconic part of cinema, John DeLorean was a madman in a lab at Pontiac. He was responsible for the Pontiac GTO, and wanted to continue furthering the brand’s performance stature. He had his sights set on an incredible car called the Banshee. Too bad General Motors can be a hot mess at times.
GM has this very backwards, often schizophrenic approach to the the Chevrolet Corvette. No car among any of its brands can have performance greater than that of the vaunted Corvette. It is an approach that has killed many cars through the years. And the Banshee is one of them.


In March of 1964, the Ford Mustang entered the market, and as it became a sales success other automakers scrambled to build a competitor. DeLorean and his team at Pontiac set about creating the XP-883 concept. It was a small two-seater with a long, flowing hood and short rear deck. Among the group of concepts crafted, two drivable prototypes emerged. One had a straight six while the other featured a V8. The six-cylinder model weighed only 2,200 pounds. It sounded like an ideal sports car.
Around the same time, the third-generation Corvette was under development (the Corvette Mako Shark concept came out in 1961), and if DeLorean had his way, the XP-883, which they called Banshee, would have outperformed the Corvette. It would have has just as much power with the V8, but weighed less. This did not sit well with GM brass, which instructed DeLorean to cease all work on the car.


DeLorean was forced to change gears and work on a Pontiac-branded sibling to the Chevrolet Camaro. He was not allowed to change many of the components, mostly just the front and rear fascias. He was allowed to use their own unique suspension design. That car became the Pontiac Firebird, which became an icon all its own.

As for the Banshee? On Sept 10, 1965, GM head of design Bill Mitchell received a memo instructing his team to take the Banshee clays and update them “reflecting a Chevrolet design for the two-passenger version coupe.” The XP-883 could become the third-generation Corvette.


There would be other Banshee concepts through the years, and each featured design elements that would make their way to various Firebirds, Camaros and Trans-Ams. In another case of GM Corvette-paranoia the 1968 Banshee II was later renamed the Fiero.

 The eventual Pontiac Fiero of the 1980s was originally planned with a V6, which would have given it performance rivaling the contemporary ‘Vette. Instead, the Fiero debuted with a 2.5-liter I4 making a paltry 92 hp. It would eventually get a V6, but the damage had been done to the car’s image.

Like the Fiero, the Banshee is a prime example of General Motors’ inability to let other models thrive and coexist with the Corvette. The fear was that they would cannibalize sales, but who knows what new buyers GM could have attracted with these various offerings through the years.