The following is taken from the description on
I cannot possibly better it, so include it here:
It is important to remember all this when considering the very French
Pontiac Bloc-Métal 45, introduced in 1945 as a replacement for the Bloc-Métal
41 (of ’41), itself a vast improvement on the original Bakelite Pontiac
of ’38. The “Bloc-Métal” name referred to the solid metal construction.
Despite the name and the date of introduction, actual production for
sale seems not to have started until ’46.
The entire life span of the Pontiac’s manufacturer MFAP, the Manufacture
Française d’Appareils Photo, seems to have been well under 20 years,
from its foundation by M. Laroche in ’38 to its closure some time in the
’50s; possibly as early as ’52.
Not without reason, the Bloc-Métal 45 is often regarded as the most
beautiful of all folding cameras, not least by the French
themselves—who, incidentally, use the term “un-folding” for what we call
a folder. Constructed from cast aluminium alloy, it really does look
gorgeous, especially if you polish it up with Solvol Autosol to remove
the dull gray oxidation of at least half a century: the last 6x9
Pontiacs seem to have been made in ’52, though 35mm cameras from the
same company may have survived a little longer.
The elegantly sculpted top plate is its most striking feature, with its
integral accessory shoe and rotating depth of field scale. If you don’t
believe that an accessory shoe can be a thing of beauty, all I can say
is, look at the Pontiac. But the 45 is a harmonious whole, from the
curved folding leg on the front panel or bed (which doubles as the lock)
to the shutter bezel, the black-and-aluminium detailing on the exterior,
the red-filled engraving on the spring-loaded carrying handle, and of
course the chrome self-erecting struts.
A particularly elegant detail that I do not recall seeing on any other
camera is a retracting body release on the top plate. When the camera is
folded, it is flush with the top plate. Open the door, and the button
rises to the operating position; close it, and it disappears again.
Another delightful detail is what appears to be a storage clip for a
cable release, complete with swivelling cap, inside the base plate.
The whole thing is a series of nicely finished die castings: the body,
the top plate, the back door, the bellows bed, even the handle, the
sliding catch for the back door, and the flip catch for the bellows bed.
The bellows are mitre-corner black leather and the red window for the
film advance is guarded by an internal, spring-loaded shutter, so you
have to push a button on the back to see the numbers when you are
winding on. This is of course a safeguard against light strike through
the backing paper with the increasingly super-speed panchromatic
emulsions of the day, some as fast as ISO 200 equivalent. Intriguingly,
the winding knob is engraved “Made in France” (in English), which shows
the importance attached to the export market.
~ ~ ~
Mention of history, of course, demands the question, why Pontiac? Well,
Pontiac or Obwandiyag (c. 1720-1769) was an Ottawa chief who allied
himself with the French against the English, but it seems more likely
that M. Laroche just liked Pontiac cars and regarded them as the epitome
of modern styling and affordable excellence.
The history of the company itself is also interesting. MFAP was one of
the few French beneficiaries of the German occupation, which forbade the
founding of new optical companies in occupied France. This allowed M.
Laroche to bring out his new all-metal camera model in ’41, and
essentially gave him a free run for the next few years. He even
advertised himself as the leading French manufacturer of cameras: this
was probably true during World War II.
~ ~ ~
Sylvain Halgand shows us
the instruction manual in French
a Pontiac collection can be seen
(although note that he incorrectly lists them as using 120 film)
to read the full shutterbug illustrated text click