Curbside Classic: 1957 Pontiac Chieftain Safari — Are We There Yet?

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Curbside Classic: 1957 Chieftain Safari – Are We There

November 11, 2011

The humble wagon.  Everyone remembers the wood-bodied versions from the and 40s and even the behemoths of the 1970s.  But in the there was no more iconic than the station wagon, and weary Pontiac is a rare of that era.

The station was a creature of necessity.  Through the and 40s, large families the exception rather than the and normal sedans took of them just fine.  did a small but steady business in 7 passenger sedans like Cunningham’s DeSoto Suburban, but were rarities.

But 1946 what became known as the boom.   From 1940 to number of families with 3 doubled, and the number with 4 quadrupled.  By 1957, the boom had its peak with 4.3 million new and a modern record of 3.77 per family.

  And all of these kids had the habit of making friends who inclined to ride along it was time go somewhere in the family

A basic sedan was not going to be car for the modern family of the 1950s.  So, the American auto industry mark phenomenal growth of the three decades hence, the saw explosive growth of another new segment: the all-steel, sedan-based, station wagon.

Station wagons had been since the Model T and before, but it a long time to get all of the wood out of things.  Although Willys was with the Jeep, the 1949 Suburban was the first of the mass offerings.  Chevrolet was there in and Pontiac, of course, came for the ride as well.

  Ford the last entries, with its all steel wagons.  Along with the nation’s families, the transition from bodies to steel would be why station went from less 3% of production in 1950 to nearly 17% by

By 1957, virtually everyone was in the business, because the family car was where a significant chunk (and the money that with it) was.  Pontiac was no

The 1957 Pontiac station were an interesting juxtaposition of two philosophies.  Pontiac, under the of Bunkie Knudsen, was beginning its to become America’s favorite car.  This year saw the new kick the Star Chief the top perch on the totem pole.

  The Bonneville was one hot car, with Tri or even Rochester fuel the car admission to that exclusive club required 300 horsepower as a condition of

But Pontiac was not just about the market, and offered quite a few in 1957, all of which would be Safari. The 1956 Safari had model that shared Chevrolet’s Nomad body.  The Nomad-based was back for 1957 (as the Star Custom Safari),  but it had a lot of

  In addition to this basic Chieftain Safari (which came as a 2 door), there was the level Super Chief

Pontiac must have that four station wagon were not enough, and at mid year us the ultimate Poncho wagon: the Chief Custom four Safari, also known as the After the Bonneville, this was the expensive Pontiac in the book, probably accounts for its sales of a bit 1,900 units.  Maybe our coast correspondents can keep eyes peeled for one of these

  It would be my guess that the in this illustration were not those with the 3.77

Unfortunately, sales at Pontiac down fairly substantially the board in 1957, to roughly units (from over a million in 1955).  This is owing to new models in the Mercury and showrooms.  Even our subject car, door Chieftain 9 passenger was never a very common with sales of about

  Altogether, Pontiac sold 32,000 wagons in 1957.

this Chieftain model was the basic of Pontiac wagons, it was no strippo.  Just look at the of trim, both inside and As was often the case in these the buyer who elected to move up a Chevrolet was rewarded handsomely.  The Strato Streak V8 was up to 347 cubes for This was not much smaller Cadillac’s 365 cubic inch

  Also, that beefy V8 was with either a 3 speed (rarely) or the same Dual Hydra Matic as was in Oldsmobiles and This Pontiac wagon was a lot of car for the in 1957.

We all know that is a subjective thing.  Pontiac to have done a reasonably job of differentiating itself from its brother, if not exactly disguising its A body roots.  The increase to 122 of wheelbase in even the lower didn’t hurt here.

Indian Chieftain Cruiser

  This Pontiac fits into the Harley Earl of automotive design – lots of and flash.  Not a lot of subtlety or understatement I have always wondered how it was and not Oldsmobile that got its sides with a huge rocket spewed stars as exhaust.

a 1957 Dodge parked however, this car would looked dated pretty and reminds us all why the Forward Look was so

One thing I have never is that upside-down V on the hood.  I it when Pontiac was still being by the ancient straight 8, but why did it after the modern V8 came in 1955?  Wasn’t a big chrome V mandated in those years?  It seemed so.

  It also appears Pontiac was on the way out of town even in

It is kind of hard today to 9 people spending much in one of these.  Looking at it in person, the car isn’t that big.  But we remember that in those before seat belts common (let alone safety seats), any den mother or coach could cram a kids inside without trying, so I suppose that a nine would have fairly comfortable.

  And in a ’57 Pontiac, everyone got to sit looking

I spied this car along the in a consignment lot in Evansville, Indiana on a trip to the city.  Thinking I am not sure I can ever recall a ’57 Poncho wagon in the flesh This one is a little rough, but is in good shape for an original After all, station would be passed down family to family (in order of resources) and then to a tradesman or two who generally wring every bit of life out of them.

   Other a lot of surface rust, this car pretty solid.  Rocker did not usually last this in the midwest during this car’s

I have been trying to out the color combination on this I cannot imagine a green car a red and white interior coming out of the GM in those days.  That more like one of those 70s Chrysler anomalies that we all heard about.  Maybe the was a repaint.  Or maybe the car was special by a department store Santa.

  Who What I do know is that makes me nostalgic for a time the 1960s when GM would you a full set of gauges even in the low model.  The truth is, whoever this car new got a heckuva package, if the styling was a little overdone.

I am glad that the place was on the day I stopped to photograph this This is the kind of car that my name.   Even though the side of my brain would me to run away as fast as I possibly the other side says on – some fresh paint, a new set of and we can all go out for ice cream.”

So, who start us out with 99 bottles of on the wall?   And no, we are not there yet, so you just have to hold it we stop for gas.


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