Saturday, August 03, 2013

“Aztek Attack”




c. 2013 Rod Ice
All rights reserved
(7-13)




“The Pontiac Aztek was a mid-size crossover marketed by Pontiac from the 2001 model year to the 2005 model year along with its rebadged variant, the Buick Rendezvous.” – Wikipedia

More than a decade ago, I became friends with a local woman named Misty. She, her husband, daughter and mother were all customers at the store where I was a manager. We were conversational chums from the beginning, for no apparent reason. She was an Air Force veteran and a businesswoman, so I appreciated her knowledge and experience. But otherwise, we had little in common. Still, our conversations would cover topics of a diverse and intriguing nature.
Misty’s most interesting habit was to regularly purchase off-the-wall motorcars. In particular, her ‘daily driver’ was a white Pontiac Aztek. It suited the practical needs of her family, but was undeniably weird for a middle class, GM vehicle. I couldn’t think of another person in my circle of friends who owned such a car.
I nicknamed it the “Assault Vehicle.” I reckoned it fit with her military experience.
The Aztek literally looked like something out of a futuristic, action movie. The sort of conveyance one would expect to be piloted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rutger Hauer or Sylvester Stallone. Or something that the military might secretly be using in faraway places like Iraq or Afghanistan. But this aura disappeared when she took me for a ride. As a passenger, I felt like a minivan occupant, shrouded in blandness. Inside, nothing matched the vehicle’s aggressive exterior. The ‘AV’ felt like what it really was – a go-getter for the kids.
Later, Misty got divorced and moved to Cleveland. General Motors discontinued the Aztek after 2005. Yet the roadgoing parade of these quirky people-movers did not go away.
As the years passed, I continued to see them on a regular basis. Colored in hues of white, red, black and orange. A few in blue or green. I reckoned the federal government’s ‘Cars for Clunkers’ program would have cleaned them out of existence. But they continued to appear.
Misty had moved on to a Smart by Mercedes-Benz. She thought my interest in the Aztek was mildly strange. With the passage of time, however, this redheaded stepchild of Pontiac remained a curious target for off-hours research.
A bit of reading uncovered important facts about the motorcar. It was styled under the direction of Tom Peters, who also created the C7 Corvette for Chevrolet. At introduction, it was called “Quite possibly the most versatile vehicle on the planet.” Based on the U-body/GMT 250 platform, the Aztek had a 3.4 liter, V-6 engine and was offered in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive versions. It was built at the Ramos, Arizpe, Mexico assembly plant along with the chunky Buick Rendezvous.
Pontiac bragged that the vehicle could carry a standard sheet of plywood (4 ft. by 8 ft.) in its cargo area with seats folded down. Additionally, one available option was a center console that also served duty as a removable cooler. Another was a tent and inflatable mattress combination, with an onboard air compressor.
The Aztek was regularly criticized for its aggressive looks. One automotive authority attributed the demise of Pontiac, in part, to this vehicle. Famously, GM executive Bob Lutz observed that many of their cars looked like “angry kitchen appliances.”
Time magazine eventually named it one of the 50 worst cars of all time.
General Motors projected sales of up to 75,000 per year for the line. But in its best year, Aztek sales only reached 27,793.
Amazingly, J.D. Power and Associates awarded the mini-minivan with high praise.
A look at Kelly Blue Book indicated that a 2002 Aztek, in excellent condition with 132,000 miles on the odometer would still fetch $4521 at a dealer in our area. Personal experience looking at local car lots revealed that the asking price for such vehicles was even higher. A seller in Bedford had a similar model with 86,000 miles listed at $9497, for example.
Misty found this investigation to be a subject of humor. She was befuddled by my attachment to her bygone people-hauler. Still, pleasant memories remained.
On the Internet, I discovered an enthusiast group for the vehicles at www.aztekfanclub.com, which had been founded by Tom Moog while Pontiac still offered this oddity. Other articles available indicated that the site was later purchased by Ken Rhyno, a Canadian corporate project manager.
In modern times, my friend Misty has become much more loyal to the Mercedes-Benz Smart than she was to the Aztek. But every time I see an ‘Assault Vehicle’ on the road, I still think of her, and smile.

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