Pontiac Pursuit

Car of the Day #43: 1987 Pontiac Pursuit concept

Pontiac Pursuit
Buttons! BUTTONS! The future is going to be amazing!! • via Pontiac/GM

There are at least 40 functions on its steering wheel.

Problem: I’m starting to like it. (Especially after watching Craig Singhaus’ video review of this drivable concept car in 1988. Keep reading.)

There’s something about the Pursuit that perfectly encapsulates the ’80s. Its heavy-handed use of sculpted plastic? Wraparound glass? Digital displays with multiple colours? Perfection.

It’s packed to the gills with show car magic, but I think it says more about us now than we’d care to admit — either by inclusion (Cybertruck-like steering) or omission (screens and battery packs).

The spec sheet is a great place to gain insight into where car designers of 1987 saw the future of a certain segment going.

I think you can agree that many of these features can be found on a typical modern sports coupe; predicting the future is hit and miss, though its four wheel steer by wire system is quite Cybertruck-like.

  • 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine with 200 horsepower
  • Four wheel electric power steering 
  • Air suspension
  • Run-flat tires
  • All-wheel-drive
  • Heads-up display
  • Rear entertainment system
  • Satellite navigation
  • Onboard weather reports
  • A million buttons and no touchscreens

Crazy, right? Lucky car owners around the world are enjoying features found on the above list, more than 30 years later.

What does this say about us, that Pontiac engineers and designers predicted the future of features so accurately? That the onward march of technology is inevitable? Or that we will always try to pack as many features as we can inside our vehicles? 

We don't need this stuff. It just adds complexity where it’s not useful. Our roads, overall, are getting better. Our manufacturing systems are getting more accurate. Our vehicles are lasting longer, even though we’re in them for more time every day.

Just imagine how good future coupes would have been if they had traded a few features for a little more simplicity.

Well, this is awkward:

Actual, terrible Pontiac Sunfire coupe from the year 2000. I was there, man. • via Pontiac/GM

Back to the Pursuit. As a Citroën fan, the car’s best feature is its steering and suspension system. 

Its wheel spats (fender skirts) all ‘round move with the wheels and can be removed for tire changes, but more interestingly, inflatable air bladders were added to the suspension in order to control ride height, which was changeable from the steering wheel.

I HIGHLY recommend you watch this video — yes, the Pursuit was a 'drivable' prototype.

In addition—and very Citroën—it was fitted with an active pneumatic suspension that controlled body roll, pitch, and dive. It’s something that was fitted to the Citroën Xantia Activa from 1994 onwards but never reached mainstream popularity.

By the time the exterior styling of our vehicles starts to ape the Pursuit concept, Pontiac’s effort will seem quaint.

Is it the type of vehicle that enthusiasts of the future will start to lust after—more Dyson than Detroit muscle?

Quite possibly. Like the Saab EV-1 featured recently, the Pursuit was also seen in Back to the Future Part II.


Thank you to my supporting members: Brad B., Chris G., Daniel G., Daniel P., Ingrid P., Karl D., Luis O., Michael J., Michael L., Michelle S., Mike B., Mike L., Mike M., Richard W., Sam L., Wiley H.

Saab EV-1
Car of the Day #27: 1985 Saab EV-1