The Pontiac Kammback: Innovation vs. Convention
It’s an unfortunate quirk of human nature to resist anything that defies convention, even if the change offers solid improvements over what came before it. History is filled with examples of this tendency. In the American Civil War Union military planners rejected repeating rifles, despite their clear superiority over single-shot weapons. It was only by special order from President Lincoln himself that they found their way into soldier’s hands.
Another example is the initial resistance within the medical community to vaccines. To “proper” medical men the idea of using an illness to prevent an illness was too absurd to deserve consideration. The fact that it worked didn’t seem to register in their straitjacketed minds.
This same tendency has shown up all too often in automotive history as well. Case in point: the Pontiac Trans AM Kammback, which was a favorite play toy of GM designers during the 70s and 80s. With a host of advantages over more traditional layouts, it should have signaled a new era in automobile manufacturing. But, alas, it was not to be.
The term “Kammback” actually refers to an approach to auto body design developed by German aeronautical engineer Wunibald Kamm back in the 30s. It envisioned smoothly flowing lines that ended in an abbreviated tail end. Wind tunnel tests have shown this approach to offers significant advantages over the more popular “teardrop” shape.
In 1985 GM created a prototype that welded a Trans Am with a 305 ci V8 to a Kammback hatch, giving the sports car a boost in both performance and fuel economy, along with extra storage space. The idea of combining practicality and excitement into a single vehicle is an old one that has spawned lots of dreams but few real innovations. The Kammback was an exception to this rule, and GM apparently took it seriously for a number of years. Sadly, it axed the idea in favor of more traditional approaches.
The Kammback design lived on, but it was wedded to other types of motor cars than the Trans Am, for example the ever thrilling Honda Insight and the pulse-pounding Toyota Prius (be still by racing heart). The original ’85 Trans Am Kammback, meanwhile, sold at auction in 2010 for $35,200.00, a disappointing sum for a vehicle that represents one of the better concepts to come out of Detroit in the last several decades. I guess that’s the price to be paid for swimming against the stream.