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Classic Car Cultist: Pontiac Aztek

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On: Mon, Dec 26, 2011 at 1:17PM | By: Chris Salamone

Classic Car Cultist: Pontiac Aztek

The Pontiac Aztek?! How can a vehicle which tops Edmunds’ “100 Worst Cars of All Time” and ranks 39th in AOL’s “50 Worst Cars of All Time” be featured as a classic? While not a mainstream classic – to be sure – the Aztek was a vehicle of immeasurable, yet quirky practicality that charmed nearly 30,000 sales per year from a dedicated following. But the Aztek looked like some sort of pseudo-futuristic Orwellian disaster – a fact which has landed countless criticisms.

Love it or hate it, the car’s freaky looks and uber practicality are precisely what made this vehicle a classic among certain demographics. Ok, fine. Generation X hardly qualifies as a demographic.

When the Aztek was first exposed to the public in 1999, consumer interest pushed the vehicle into production. Pontiac promoted its funky, millennium-appropriate versatility and CBS’s newly-born game show Survivor offered a market-ready Aztek to a winning contestant.

Then the unthinkable happened. Pontiac execs aimed to sell about 75,000 units per year, but the Aztek never breached 30,000. By today’s standards, 30,000 sales would be a strong figure from a ‘niche’ market vehicle. The problem: GM thought the Aztek was revolutionary, deserving of greater glory.

And why not? The Aztek was one of the first cars to feature a computerized rapid-prototyping/rapid visualization tool, designed by NASA contractor Johnson Controls, which produced an optional heads-up red display. The vehicle’s interior dimensions allowed drivers to haul sheets of plywood, full-size bicycles, or the occasional human body – for camping, of course. A center console doubled as a beverage cooler and tent/air mattress package. The Aztek’s built-in air compressor and rear cargo tray allowed owners to hook a vehicle-mounted tent into place and camp with ease.

Let’s not forget the Aztek’s 10 speaker Pioneer stereo with rear-accessible controls or a tailgate which included built-in cup holders and contoured seats.

Pontiac’s Aztek was produced from 2001-2005 and derived power from a reliable 3.4-liter V6 engine mated to an optional Versatrak, full-time, all-wheel drive system. The Aztek’s mechanicals weren’t flashy, but everything else about it was just plain odd. So odd, that filmmakers have used the Aztek to spice up their products at least 18 times since the vehicle’s inception, in recognizable media like Breaking Bad, One Hour Photo, and Dark Angel.

So what if the Aztek has graced the likes of Time’s “50 Worst Cars of All Time” and “50 Worst Inventions” (Yes, that’s two more ditch lists). On an episode of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert once noted that he deposited the body of Mr. Goodwrench in a Pontiac Aztek. By our estimation, few vehicles in history could boast such an inventive use of cargo capacity.

Still interested? Check out Car & Driver’s promo video:

Photo Gallery (click a thumbnail to enlarge)



Stephy21 | 2:19PM (Mon, Dec 26, 2011)

I like all the features the Aztec has, but i don't like the body style it makes is look awkward.


dwalter | 2:52PM (Mon, Dec 26, 2011)

I remember absolutely hating everything about how the Aztek looked when it was released, but now I don't mind it so much. It really was ahead of its time.


imwithcoco | 10:29AM (Thu, Dec 29, 2011)

Except the G8, all 1980+ Pontiacs were ugly.


AutoHistory | 10:46AM (Mon, Jan 2, 2012)

Fair enough, but everyone thought the Roadrunner Superbird was hideous too. Maybe in 30 years we'll see Azteks roll across Mecum for $100,000. It's certainly unique enough.

  • AutoHistory

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