Eric Peterson

Leon Valley, TX 78240


Dear Pontiac,

 I am BEYOND being frustrated. I'm not even sure why I'm bothering to write you again, except maybe to vent some of the frustration, anger, and disappointment I've accumulated dealing with you.

I've been trying to buy a Firebird, on and off, for more than two years. To date, I've visited SIX different Pontiac dealerships a total of TWENTY-FOUR times. I've spoken to other dealerships via long distance, and I've spoken numerous times with your customer service people. To be sure, I've run across a few individuals who seem both interested in selling cars and in NOT being rude, but these people appear to represent the exceptions. To save time, and paper, I'm going to summarize my experiences with Pontiac and Pontiac representatives in bulletized form. This will still take some time.

- I decided in early 1994, after nine years of owning high-tech turbocharged four-cylinder performance cars (a 1986 Ford Motorsport-Spec T-Bird Turbo Coupe and a 1990 HKS Stage IV Eclipse GSX), that it was time to renew my relationship with pushrod V-8 American automobiles. In other words: I'm tired of the buzz, and the turbo lag, and the premium gas, and the expensive parts, and the fact that it takes me 45 minutes and a metric socket set to change an air filter. I don't want to have to wait for a crate from Japan or Germany the next time I want more power, and I'd like not to have to special order alternators. I begin my search. Almost immediately I find that I very much want to find a Firehawk. 1 - In the summer of 1994 I visited Red McCombs Superior Pontiac in San Antonio. I'd had very bad experiences with Red McCombs dealerships before, but that had been years in the past, and I very much wanted to see and drive a Firehawk, and that dealership had advertised two cars, both red, both fully optioned. This is what I want. I visit the dealership and meet a salesman named Todd. Todd shows me the cars, which are not available for test drives, and shows me the sticker - which posts a price $10,000 over list. After several days of soul-searching, I return to Red McCombs and offer list, cash. Red's salesmen laugh in my face. I am no longer enthralled with Pontiac.

- Over the next eight months, during the second half of 1994 and into 1995, to be certain I'm clear on my wants, I visit Mitsubishi, Ford, Toyota, Mazda, and Nissan dealers. The new Eclipse GSX is a good start, but I can't sit upright in it. Scratch that real fast. The dealer offers me the chance to take a 3000GT VR-4 home for the weekend. If I wanted to spend $50,000 on a car, I'd send off for a replica GT-40 kit. I decline.

- Wow, Toyota dealers are trying hard to sell their Supra Turbos. The Yen has bitten them badly. Wonderful car, much better than the 3000GT VR-4. It FITS. Everything about the car is right. It seems cramped but that's just because so much of the bodywork is visible outside the greenhouse. A Toyota, it'll probably feel as good at 100,000 miles. Too bad it's also pushing $50,000. The salesman is polite and well-informed, and he's waiting for me upon my second visit. He offers me an almost irresistible trade-in allowance on the GSX - he says he has a friend who is looking for a fast SCCA event vehicle and already has it sold. He offers me a weekend in the Supra. No. Fifty-thousand dollars would buy a Saleen S351, or a Callaway Camaro without all the cosmetic bells and whistles, or a Firehawk and still leave some hefty change.

 - The Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo is as close to a muscle car on rails as I've ever driven, and again, I can take one home for a few days to make up my mind. Two seats, though, and the insurance burden that goes with it. Neither consideration is a showstopper, but sometimes Audrey and I take off for the weekend and we need a little space for luggage. I really don't want a two-seater...

 - The RX-7 is great, and leftover '94s are selling at $13,000 off list! Those thin aluminum doorskins in the land of Bubba are scary, though, and the sound system consumes the entire trunk! And we still have only the two seats. I don't think so. The RX-7 is a car for when we finish our home in the country with the car barn.  

- I consider Mustangs: Hmmmm... The T-bird spent 117 days in the shop undergoing warranty repairs in the three years I owned it. That's why I bought the Mitsubishi. More: the Mustang's ugly, sort of a generic HondaFordToyotaPodThing, sure, but the suspension and those 17" tires are tops. A Cobra-R? The salesmen laugh hysterically, unless I want to put up $20k - and they'll try to get me one. Finally, the spectre of the Lemon Thunderbird wins out...  

- A Viper?? No, way too expensive. And not practical in the least. Not that that's an indictment of the car. It is what it is.

 - This takes me back to this around March or April of 1995: I REALLY like the Formula or the Trans Am. Yeah, I think, lower tires like the Firehawk, ZR40-17s on a convertible, the SLP cat-back exhaust from Summit, and a Vortech, and I'll have something unique, for a bargain. Time to start looking seriously, I think.

- Against my better judgement, I visit the Red McCombs Superior Pontiac showroom again not three miles from my home. I seek a red/grey leather hatchroof 6-speed Formula or Trans Am coupe or a red/white/white leather 6-speed convertible. Either should have the unidirectionals and the 3.42 gears without traction control. To my vast surprise, I browse for thirty minutes and no salesmen accost me. There are cars I'd like to look at here. Finally, I intercept a salesman. He tells me "We have no 6-speed convertibles. Can't get 'em. Special order only. Very expensive. And we only give test drives in LT-1 6-speed cars when we have a deposit."

- After cooling off for a few days, I visit Rush Pontiac/GMC on the extreme outskirts of the city. There are two cars with potential: one Formula and one Trans-Am. I am told by a large truck salesman (that's a salesman of large trucks, not a large salesman) that there are no Pontiac salespeople available, that he doesn't even know where the keys are, that I should return Monday.

- I drive immediately to Park Pontiac, which is nearer my home, but with whom I am completely unfamiliar. There are many Firebirds, including a large number of 6-speed LT-1 cars, parked right in the front lot along the highway. Several have been there unmolested long enough that the brake disks are very rusty. I browse for thirty minutes. There are salesmen -- inside. I go into the showroom, where a number of individuals are clustered discussing adult cinema. Upon excusing myself and interrupting, one apparent salesman turns and tells me "Go back out to the lot. Take a card off one of the cars and call us back for an appointment."

 - I log onto Pontiac's online literature request service on Compuserve. I am rewarded with a large glossy brochure (which later turns out to be full of inaccurate option information) and a certificate worth a savings bond when I take a test drive in a new Pontiac. These materials arrive within days of my visit to your online literature request area. I am armed with information! If I can't get your idiot dealers to talk to me, I'll start my research without them!

- I visit Red McCombs Superior Pontiac again. I browse the lot, enter the showroom, compare my brochure with the brochures on display, SIT in the open Anniversary Special Trans Am convertible, which is indeed an automatic car. I am ignored.

- I visit Park Pontiac again. They are in the midst of a huge sale, pushing GrandAms. There are dozens of customers in the showroom. There are no Firebirds out front. After waiting in the showroom for twenty minutes a salesman dashing by stops and asks me if I've been helped. "No." He asks me if I'm looking for something in particular. I tell him I'm looking for a red/grey hatchroof 6-speed LT-1 or red/white/white 6-speed convertible, but that I'll happily look at ANY 6-speed LT-1 car. He tells me they have no 6-speed convertibles, but that they have lots of coupes "in the garage." He tells me he will find someone to help me. I wait for another twenty to thirty minutes, at which time I leave.

- A phone call to Rush Pontiac confirms that I can arrive in time to speak with a Pontiac salesman. I wasted a lot of time at Park. I drive forty minutes. Rush Pontiac has closed fifteen minutes prior to their posted closing time. No one waited for me. They're dark, and everything is locked.

- After once again cooling off for a few days, I see a transporter unloading at McCombs. I visit there that evening. They are in the midst of peak sales hours. I am unable to secure the attention of a salesman. As I move around the showroom a youth drives up in an older white Trans Am. The old 6.6 T/A is smoking badly. A salesman talking to other customers sees him, disappears into the back area, and returns with another salesman. As I leave a few minutes later, the second salesman is unlocking one of the Trans Am convertibles out on the lot for the youth...

- After seeing Red McCombs' immense newspaper ads the following weekend, I visit Superior Pontiac a FOURTH time. I browse quickly because I have a meeting after lunch. There are new cars here. A salesman approaches me. I thank him, and explain that I have a meeting in twenty minutes. He tells me that there are no 6-speed convertibles, but that I'm welcome to look through all the cars with him and drive anything I want. I promise to return. He tells me he looks forward to that. The salesman was Todd. He had remembered me from my attempts to buy the Firehawk almost a year before, and told me he knew I was serious if I was back again. About that he was right.

- I return the next evening. Todd is nowhere to be found. I am able to get two other salesman to tell me that they don't know where Todd is, but they offer nothing else as each hurries off to his other business. I browse the showroom for half and hour, and leave.

- Hearing these stories, a close friend calls a friend of his who owns a Pontiac dealership in Karnes City, two hours south of San Antonio. Randy Witte calls me. He apologizes for the behavior of the 'big city salesman' and runs a computer search for me. There are two red/white/white leather 6-speed LT-1 convertibles in San Antonio, he tells me. One is at Park and has been for weeks. The other is at Red McCombs and has been for months. I suggest that the one at McCombs is the sales manager's car - a red/white/white leather 6-speed TransAm convertible with aftermarket chrome wheels. Randy speaks with the Superior Pontiac sales manager and calls me back. Randy says Superior re-affirms that the car is present, that it is NOT the sales manager's demo, and he offers me a discounted price because he's already worked out the transfer... Since I HAVEN'T DRIVEN ONE OF THESE THINGS YET, I must decline. Randy gives me the VIN for the convertible. I check at lunch and find that it is indeed NOT the sales manager's car. Pontiac's computers say that precisely the car I seek is here, but I haven't seen it, and twice I've been told it doesn't exist! While I'm in the lot adjacent to the showroom, closely inspecting the sales manager's beautiful car, three salesman on the apron ignore me.

- That evening I go to Park Pontiac to see the red/white/white LT-1 6-speed convertible Pontiac's computers claim they have. They are very busy. I am ignored. I try to get the attention of any salesman for twenty minutes. I fail. I leave.

- Furious, I drive out to Rush again in an attempt to drive ANY 6-speed LT-1 car. They have closed half an hour early.

- On a business trip to Austin I stop at South Point Pontiac. A salesman there is friendly and courteous, and greets me as I exit my Eclipse. I thank him profusely and explain the problems I've been having with other dealers. He expresses shock, and apologizes for them, but admits that he has MANY other customers from San Antonio. Unfortunately, South Point has no 6-speed cars whatsoever. I leave him my card and a written description of the car I want to find.

- Upon returning to San Antonio I pick up my lovely wife and try Superior one last time. Audrey DETESTS visiting car dealers, and has been absent at the purchases of my last five cars and trucks, but she agrees to accompany me "to attract salesmen". It works. Todd approaches us, remembers me. I try to resolve the inconsistencies in the different brochures. He refers us to the sales manager, who is very well-informed although somewhat aloof. My questions are answered, but I am told A THIRD TIME that 6-speed LT-1 convertibles are special order only, very expensive, and that there are none there. This is the same sales manager who told Randy Witte two days before that precisely the car I specified was in his back lot and available for transfer to Witte Pontiac. Ignoring this evident misinformation, I apologize to Todd for returning without an appointment (he was keeping customers waiting for the few moments it took to take us to the sales manager), and we agreed that my wife and I would return after dinner in one hour to test drive "any car on the lot", in Todd's words. He and the sales manager also told me that 'If you don't see it on the lot now, it's not available.' My wife and I returned in exactly one hour. Todd never showed up for the appointment he had set with us. We waited almost forty minutes past the appointed time. No other salesperson would speak to us, except to insist that we wait for Todd. The sales manager seemed to actively avoid us.

 - Realizing that there is yet a final alternative to Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds, and various Japanese supercoupes, I visit the lone local BMW dealer to see an M3. After browsing the lot for twenty minutes I enter the showroom. A salesman immediately rises from his desk and greets me. I think this is promising. He asks me what I'm looking for. I tell him. He looks me up and down and tells me 'You probably couldn't afford an M3. You want to see these 325s out here....' I'm back to Firebirds.

 - I wrote a scathing and angry letter to the individual whose name appeared on the savings bond certificate. It must have hit somewhere, because a gentleman named Roger Ackels with Pontiac regional sales in Houston called me the same morning the Pontiac headshed faxed my letter to him. We spoke for nearly an hour. We are both 'car guys'. He apologizes and makes no excuses for the two largest Pontiac dealers in south Texas. He does suggest that I try Rush Pontiac again, because that dealership has changed hands - and was changing hands during my previous experiences. I agree that this upset at that dealer may gave sapped the motivation of some of the salespeople there. He offers to bring any car I care to name to my door for a test drive. He makes an open ended offer of assistance to do whatever needs to be done to get me into a Pontiac. He cares about his job, about his company, and I do not wish to inconvenience him to that extent, and I am angry in the extreme over this whole thing. I will wait, I tell him, or devote my resources to the several collectable cars I already own. It's not at all like I NEED to replace anything or to augment the collection.

- Because Roger Ackels took the time to correct the problem your salesmen caused, I started looking at Firebirds again after some weeks of cooling down. On the fifth of June, I travelled to the I- 35 Auto Ranch, a Pontiac-GMC truck dealer some distance north of here. I browsed the lot for fully thirty minutes. There were cars I wanted to see. As I prepared to enter the showroom, a clattering old Camaro with a front tire almost flat pulled up into the lot. A young man, maybe 18 or 19, dressed in rags, got out and began to look over the Firebirds. The man's family piled out of the car to accompany him. A salesman appeared. As I began to say hello, he walked right past me and began to show the small family the car I had just been looking over. This repeat of the experience at McCombs does not make me happy. I entered the showroom. I excused myself and interrupted the conversation of two apparent salesmen. One asked me what I was looking for. I told him, but added that I'd be VERY happy to drive ANY 6-speed LT-1. "We don't have anything like that. Firebirds are scarce, and what you want we don't have and won't be getting. You need to try someplace else."

- I tried South Point in Austin again. Upon arriving there the evening of the 28th of June I found them to be VERY busy. They also had a large number of cars that seemed to fit my requirements in most respects. Although I had left a card and a written description with them, they had never called back. Neither could I secure the attention of anyone that evening. After forty minutes of browsing and waiting, during which time I entered the showroom and sat in the black LT-1 convertible on center stage, I left. Again, they were very busy, but that doesn't excuse the fact that they failed to call me when several cars fitting my requirements showed up.

 - Over the next few weeks, I saw several hatchroof red Formula coupes appear on the Superior lot, which I pass twice a day or more. No one ever called. Having visited that dealer SEVEN TIMES, I refuse to take the initiative again. They have my card and my number and a description of what I want.

 - On the 26th of June, while leaving my accountant's office, I saw a shiny new red hatchroof Formula parked in the parking garage. The driver had in fact parked along the back row near my Eclipse. I examined the car. It was a red hatchroof grey leather 6-speed Formula. And it had new Auto Ranch dealer tags on it. I guess they were getting one after all.

 - I don't like the Camaros. That mirror blending in with the fender has bothered me since it first appeared on Probes. Nevertheless, I believed that if I drove an LT-1 Camaro, and liked it, I would order a comparable Firebird from Witte Pontiac.

 - On the 2nd of June I visited Ancira-Winton Chevrolet in Leon Valley, not more than a mile from my home. I thought that any dealer whose owner drove around town in a silver Callaway Supernat couldn't be all bad. I browsed through ALL the Z28s in the lot, sat in the car in the showroom, collected literature, and left after forty minutes of not having seen one free salesman - and of not having been offered the assistance of any, either.

 - On the 3rd of July I visited Ancira-Winton Chevrolet again. The results were precisely the same, except that some of the salesmen weren't busy. But none approached me.

 - On the 5th of July I visited Benson Chevrolet some distance from home. I spent FIFTY MINUTES going through the sticker of every last Z28 in stock, and five minutes sitting in the car in the showroom - a beautiful polo green 6-speed LT-1 convertible. After browsing the literature, I left.

- On the 6th I tried to call the 1-800-2PONTIAC phone number listed by the CIS online service. They tell me they're set up to handle problems owners have with their cars, not problems potential owners have with becoming owners.

 - On the 10th I visited Smith Chevrolet in downtown San Antonio. I HATE driving downtown, but as my options are somewhat limited, I did anyway. I drive up near the parked row of Z28s, and immediately a salesman appears and introduces himself. I think maybe the attitude has changed at local GM dealers because Kelly AFB is closing, and they're worried about sales, but I've never been to Smith before and so I give the gentleman the benefit of the doubt. Within ten minutes I am driving a 6-speed LT-1 Camaro Z28 coupe. It's not a hatchroof, and it's dark red, and the leather is graphite and there's no monochrome trim package, and I have problems sitting up straight in it, but it is nevertheless the VERY FIRST 6-speed LT-1 I've DRIVEN. After months, I get to drive one of these machines. I like it, except for the headroom problem. I thank the salesman profusely. He runs an inventory search for me, but no hatchroof Z28s or are in stock, and neither are there Z28 convertibles. He offers to run a computer search.

 - Wayne calls me within HOURS that same day. I am impressed. He has located two bright red/tan leather/tan top 6-speed Z28 convertibles in Houston, and a green/tan one in San Antonio. It's the one at Benson, in the showroom, that I sat in, reading their sales brochures, where they ignored me. Seeing that green/tan is an option, I agree to try to test drive the car at Benson and then return to Smith to get it transferred if I like it.

 - That same evening I stop off at Ancira on the way home because it's obvious they have a new group of Camaros. I am immediately greeted by Glenn, who explains that he's just moved over from the Benson dealership. Within ten minutes I am sitting in a dark red/beige leather/hatchroof 6-speed Z28. I have plenty of headroom. We drive the car. I like it. I tell Glenn that I will return with my wife to see it. As I'm about to leave I check the headroom in a Z28 automatic convertible on the lot; there is plenty, more than in the hatchroof.

 - Two days later I get a thank-you note from Wayne at Smith re-affirming his willingness to order me anything, or search for a specific car, or generally go what it takes to sell me a Camaro. This guy cares!

- The early afternoon of the 7th I visit Benson again. They also have lots of additional cars that I hadn't seen before. Most are automatics. I spend nearly forty minutes in the lot. I am ignored. I enter the showroom - no mean feat because of the construction - and move over to the 6-speed convertible. It's not leather, but it's the only one there is. If I could drive this car, maybe I could order what I wanted.... Salesmen come and go, some eating, most talking among themselves. Other customers come in, are immediately greeted, are led into cars to take test drives while I'm standing by the convertible. After a time I politely (it is getting DIFFICULT to be polite) interrupt some salesmen. They confirm that there are no other 6-speed convertibles. I ask if it might be possible to drive the one they have. 'Sure,' comes the response, 'we'll be happy to move that car out of the showroom provided we have a purchase order first.' I leave in disgust.

 - I call Wayne at Benson to tell him this story. He isn't in, but he returns my call within minutes. He apologizes for the Benson dealership. We laugh at the impasse I've reached, that I want a convertible but can't drive one.

 - The evening of the 7th I return to Ancira with my wife. Glenn sees us come in the door and meets us with the keys. 'Take your time', he tells us, and tosses me the keys. Audrey is uncomfortable in the car; she is tiny, and the passenger seat isn't adjustable. She says she could live with the hump in the floor if she could get comfortable in the seat, but she can't. We return the keys to Glenn and wait while he finishes with other customers. He does some research for us, tells us that NO Camaro has an adjustable passenger seat. He doesn't know if that will change for the '96 model year. He can tell us that no Z28 6-speed convertibles are arriving before the end of the model year. He tells us that the convertibles don't perform, anyway, that they're 800 pounds heavier. This is incorrect, but I don't call him on the bluff... er, the 'error'. This is the only problem I have with Glenn at Ancira-Winton. He's been a big help, really.

- On the way home we happen to drive by Red McCombs Superior Pontiac. There are FOUR Formula or TransAm convertibles on prominent display out in front. We pull off the highway and drive into the lot. One of the cars is a bright red/white leather/white top 6-speed TransAm with a three-month-old inspection sticker and nearly 2000 miles on the clock! I check the VIN. It is, of course, the car three different people here had told me didn't exist - the car Randy Witte's computer search had located weeks before! It is, of course, the car that I would have bought if Todd had bothered to show up for the appointment we made so many weeks before, and if we had 'found' the car on their lot. There is a salesman approaching us. Audrey and I are both so blindingly furious that we ignore him and leave. It would have been impossible to deal with these people now. One of us would have hit somebody.

- Audrey and I have a discussion that evening. She convinces me that I wouldn't really be happy with the level of equipment in the Camaro. She's right; it would be another step down, like the change from the T-Bird to the Eclipse. A step-up in performance, to be sure, especially after I got a chance to hotrod it, but a step down in trim and equipment nevertheless. And of course she didn't like the hatchroof Z28 because of the seat, but that was the only problem. She suggests, and I agree, that if I'm going to purchase an LT-1, it'll have to be a full-dress Formula or TransAm. And she comments that I really have been talking convertibles. That would solve the seat issue, too, I note.

 - When I arrive home I find two new issues of auto trade magazines: Autoweek and Car&Driver. Both feature prominent articles on the new WS-6 package in the Firebird. It's exactly what I want: 275-40ZR17s, more power, better handling, and at a price far below that of a Firehawk. Sure, I've never driven a convertible, but that's what I really want. A hatchroof coupe would be nice, but the convertibles are making me crazy. The articles present different information on the availability of a WS-6 convertible.  

- On the 9th I call Randy Witte in Karnes City. He knows nothing at all about the WS-6, but he will research it for me. He calls me later that day with some rough preliminary information. Only coupes this year, he tells me.

 - I call my contact Roger Ackels in Houston. After all, he promised me he'd try to do anything he could to sell me a car. A customer service type named Barbara returns my call the same day. This is a good sign; she tells me Roger remembers me. I ask her to find out when I can get a WS-6 Convertible. She promises to find out for me.

 - I hear from Barbara in Houston the same day. WS-6 convertibles MAY go into production in early 1996, but she can get me one of the very first WS-6 coupes in the southwest, possibly as soon as October. Would I rather wait for the convertibles? Yes, I would. She tells me to call her the first business day after the 1st of January, 1996. I put her number up on my blown-up zerox copy of the photo of the PPG WS-6 convertible prototype that was published in Autoweek. I wait. And wait. And wait. I REALLY want a WS-6 convertible. At this point the Eclipse had been my daily driver for longer than anything I've ever owned.

 - In the meantime Chevy announces the Z28 SS in both coupe and convertible forms. I am tempted. I think maybe we could fit an SS with Recaros for Audrey, but the convertible still clips you for the full package price but omits the wheel, tire, and suspension upgrades. I regard that as something approaching a ripoff. Nope, not for me. I'd like to do business with Wayne at Smith Chevrolet, but I need to find out about the WS-6 convertible first.

- In November of 1995 I start checking with Pontiac dealers again. I visit the all new Gunn Pontiac in Universal City, the group that bought the old Rush franchise. They have no Firebirds that I can find and no place to park. After driving around the lot for ten minutes I THINK I find a customer slot, but a security guard waves me away sternly. I leave.

- The following week I visit South Point in Austin again. I am greeted by a different salesman and told that the other person has left the firm. I am shown all available literature and all the cars on the lot. Unfortunately, South Point has no 6-speed cars except for an already-sold WS-6, the first they've seen. Neither South Point nor I really want that I should drive someone else's car. However, the polite sales reps at South Point verify while I wait that WS-6 convertibles are not yet available and that '96 Firebirds will NOT have those ridiculous DRLs, something about which I had been concerned. (The 2-3 shift lockout is bad enough, but the lockout combined with DRLs is almost enough to write off the car.) The salesman takes my card and promises to look around for me. I think to myself though, "Why didn't they call me about the WS-6 they got?"

- In early December I visit the Auto Ranch again. There is a metallic green TransAm on the apron, a new car. I stop to examine it. It's a 6-speed taupe leather, hatchroof, CD, performance axle, uprated tire car - PRECISELY the car I was looking for earlier in the year except for the color, and green is my second (Audrey's first) choice. A salesman materializes. I explain that I had been looking for precisely this combination for some time, and that his employer had treated me quite badly the last time I visited. He apologizes profusely and immediately sets three other workers in motion to move minivans and trucks so that we can take the car for a drive. He tells me the car is "Top of the Line". I tell him that I realize this was true some months before, but that I'd really prefer a WS-6 now that they're available. "Oh, well, yeah, the WS-6 is technically top of the line, now." We start the car. It stalls twice. The salesman moves it down the ramp and into the lot. It stalls. We move it off the property and change places. I like this car A LOT. We proceed two miles down the highway and the car stumbles. The "CHECK ENGINE" light comes on, begins to flash, steadies down. The car is VERY down on power, and it takes a heavy foot to keep it moving with traffic. It wants to stall, and almost all the power is gone. I limp it around the turnaround to head back to the dealership. It stalls. I get it into traffic, sluggishly, and whatever problem there was disappears in a cloud of tire smoke. With the pedal all the way down to make the malfunctioning engine move the beast, the car is now under full power acceleration with no apparent problems. My attempts to regain control are hampered by the sudden failure of the driver's seat adjustment mechanism, tilting my seat back against the rear split bench. I like this car, but I am NOT thrilled. The salesman, obviously a little shaken, tells me "Of course, these are problems we'd fix under warranty."

- Two weeks later my wife and I return to drive the car. Both the engine malfunction and the seatback have been repaired. Audrey is comfortable in the TransAm passenger seat, but agrees with me that I won't be happy unless I get the best available. The salesman is disappointed, but I keep his fax number on file so that when I find out if WS-6 convertibles will be built I can include the Auto Ranch on the quoting list. He offers to order me a WS-6 coupe, but I really want to wait to find out if convertibles will be available.

 Towards the end of the year I change jobs. I am offered a lucrative position in one engineering firm, and my own graphic design and illustration firm and my wife's software development business are both doing extremely well. It is time for me to move on. In the packing and moving of my voluminous professional materials I misplace the phone number for the customer service people in Houston. I am not worried about it at the time.

- In early January I visit Gunn Pontiac again. There are parking spaces. I browse the lot and the showroom, but I am ignored. There are a large number of LT-1 cars, but all are locked, blocked, and boxed in.

- That same week I get a call from the salesman who had worked for South Point, the one who took my card. He now works for Red McCombs Pontiac in Austin, a franchise transfer. I am not thrilled about the Red McCombs affiliation, but he has a green, leather, 6- speed, optioned hatchroof WS-6 coupe on the lot. I travel to Austin frequently, so I am able to visit this new dealership within two days. The car is precisely the same as the TransAm at the Auto Ranch, except it is of course a WS-6 and the leather is dark gray. The salesman has the keys within minutes, and we're driving the car as quickly. This machine is AWESOME. The intake noise coming through the windshield is exhilarating, and the performance surpasses the promises made by wonderful engine noises. The overall impact this car has puts the Camaro to shame, although in fairness I've not driven an SS. I REALLY want one of these. I begin to regret that I hadn't priced it out, and that I hadn't even brought my pricing guides.

 Three miles out a horrible noise starts coming from the rear end, a clanking, rattling noise like a loose anti-sway bar. It happens mostly on bumps, but there is a light rattle in the straights, and a grating noise in turns. The salesman says, "Hmm, yes, there is a noise. I'm sure it's normal." (thunk, thunk, rattle, rattle, thunk rattle GRIND) "Or at least it's nothing we wouldn't fix under warranty."

 "Er, um, the upholstery is the wrong color in this one, John, sorry." Too bad. I had had my checkbook with me, even if I wasn't completely prepared, I probably would have bought this car.

- After some weeks of serious consideration, I decide that I really must have one of these despite the fact that neither Firebird I test drove has made it four miles without breaking. My continuing research indicates convertibles won't be available, and a reassessment of my needs demonstrates that a coupe will be a more practical alternative. Of course, seeing a red-orange metallic hatchroof WS-6 coupe with the taupe leather interior had a lot to do with that decision, too. I had a long talk with the owner at a rest stop between Austin and Dallas, a very happy man despite what he called "Spotty quality". Audrey and I had a long, long talk about this, too. She understands that I'm most likely going to buy something fast and expensive, and she'd rather we plan it together than for me to make the decision without her. We decide this: I would still consider buying a Ram Air Firebird if I can get an extended test drive, at least a weekend, hopefully five or six days, and if it doesn't break during that interval.

 No problem, said I to myself; I've got the phone number of some people in Houston who can set that up for me. Or, I did. After frantic searching I located the piece of paper with the photo and the phone number on it. I am saved, I think. On February 2nd I called Barbara. She was unavailable and I left a message. No one returned my call. On February 5th I left another message in the morning, and no one returned my call. In the afternoon I got through to her, and she remembered me. She told me, and I told her that I understood, that WS-6 convertible production was still uncertain. She was suddenly interrupted by another line and promised to call me back within ten minutes. I gave her my new phone numbers. She did not call me back. On the sixth I reached her again on a second line, and she promised to "call ya right back babe." She did not. I left a message for her on the eighth, and on the ninth I reached her, but she was busy and promised to call me back immediately. She did not. Six tries is quite enough, thank you.

 I accessed your area on CIS on the tenth of February to find that there was no provision for feedback. I found your website and left a shorter version of this letter there. I received no response.

 I tried your 1-800-PMCARES hotline. No one answered. The second time someone answered but the line cut off immediately. The third time no one answered.

 I've spent more than 100 hours trying to buy a Formula, TransAm, or Firehawk. I've written three letters, spoken to three people who tell me they want to help, visited several dealers who sometimes want to help, and another several dealers who really don't give a hoot.

Just for your reference, I did a lot of experimenting during these exercises with my apparent level of prosperity and appearance. At times I tried driving the Eclipse, my Nissan 4x4, my wife's Neon, rental cars, my old Cobra Jet T-bird. That made no difference. I tried t-shirt and jeans, suit and tie, shirt and slacks, and my $120 lifting sweats with new Nike Airs. No difference. I tried clean-shaven, and I tried covered with stubble. I tried hair loose, ponytailed, and hidden under a baseball cap. All. no difference. I'm 6'2", 220 pounds, and I don't frighten small children. I use complete sentences and I say "Excuse me" when I try to get the attention of a salesman.

 You have taught me something, however. Through this experience I've come to realize that instead of hoping that a new high performance car will be problem-free, that expecting -- indeed, planning -- for potential problems opens up a world of possibilities. In fact, after Audrey and I sat down and discussed this a final time, we came to the conclusion that another option would be for me to buy TWO cars, one practical with a warranty and one completely impractical for short trips and fair skies. Thus, I've traded my Eclipse even-up for a '96 Neon Coupe with the twincam SCCA ACR package. The second car will be an '84 Ferrari 308GTS, or a Westfield SEight, or possibly that ERA GT40, since finances have improved pretty dramatically over the past year. When I wrote the note via your web page, the Ferrari looked like it was going to be the one, but it turned out to have some problems that probably can't be corrected by the seller cost-effectively. I'm leaning towards the SEight, or an equivalent like the Rotus. Every time I see a new TransAm I just get MAD.

 Do you realize that in the amount of time I spent trying to buy a car from you bozos, I could have earned enough to pay cash for the SCCA Neon? Do you have any idea of how absolutely insane that fact is? You wouldn't BELIEVE how much "mileage" I get out of this story!

 In the last twelve years I've owned more than a dozen new and project/hobby vehicles, not counting the three motorcycles. I'm 33. Let's figure, assuming some advances in medical technology, that I'll have until I'm 70 to enjoy my automotive hobby. Figuring conservatively, that gives me the potential for another forty cars or so. I've never owned any GM product, let alone a Pontiac. Would you like to guess how many of those potential cars will be Pontiacs? How many will be GM products? Here's a hint: it' s the same number for both answers and if you add it to itself it doesn't get any bigger.

 I'm really glad to hear you had a record year last year. So sorry I couldn't do my part to help out.


Eric Peterson

Vice President, Sisyphus Software - A Registered Autodesk Multimedia Developer

Owner, Sisyphus Graphics

Director of Forensic Animation Services and Principal Engineer, Manufacturing Systems Division, Engineering Spectrum, Inc.

Contributing Author, Artist, and Technical Editor, New Riders Publishing