Pontiac's abandoned '57

Ben Williams September 24, 2020 8 No Comments


By Bill Rothermel, SAH

1957 was a significant year for its Pontiac Motor Division of General Motors. Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen came in July 1956, formally becoming general manager and taking control of this floundering brand. At era 43, he had been the youngest man to serve as a GM divisional manager. It had been Knudsen who maintained the trademark “Silver Streaks,” that had adorned Pontiacs because 1935, looked just like suspenders holding up a pair of pants. It was that he said, “You can sell an old man a young man’s car, but you can’t sell a young man an old man’s car.” Turns outside, he had been perfect.

In a last-minute hurry, literally before the 1957 versions came to promote, Knudsen unceremoniously purchased the Silver Streaks eliminated from Pontiacs before production began. And, hence, he set about changing Pontiac’s staid and stodgy reputation. From there on, the Pontiac Motor Division of all GM became its sportiest — a standing it carried forth before its death in 2010. The activity also let everyone know exactly that was in control of inventing the new picture and the direction at which Pontiac has been headed.

A rare surviving Transcontinental Safari in red with a white top from the Old Cars archive.

A rare surviving Transcontinental Safari in red with a white shirt from the Old Cars archivefile.

Pontiac’s show automobile trio

Three automobiles were declared by Pontiac Sales Manager Frank Bridge to introduction in the National Automobile series in New York on Jan. 11, 1957: the La Parisienne four-door, the Star Chief Custom Bonneville convertible as well as also the Star Chief Custom Safari four-door station wagon, later dubbed Star Chief Custom Transcontinental Safari. The La Parisienne was a Star Chief Custom four-door hardtop especially finished in Coral Mist and Pearl White having an asymmetric interior layout. La Parisienne never entered production, although the Parisienne title has been used on Canadian Pontiacs starting in 1958 and onto a Chevrolet Caprice rebadged as a Pontiac for the U.S. market from the 1980s. The Bonneville along with also the Transcontinental Safari became mid-year admissions for its recently revitalized GM brand.

Building a functionality rep

In 1957, Pontiac’s Strato-Streak V-8 engines were expanded into 347 cubic inches throughout the board. A total of eight drivetrain installments were provided with power ranging from a 227-hp market version to 317 hp at a “Tri-Power” triple-carbureted racing engine declared in December 1956. Star Chief Custom Safaris comprised a 270-hp four-barrel variant as standard gear. To exemplify the shift in Pontiac’s picture, the strongest engine 1957 had 100 hp over that of its powerful engine only 3 years before!

An ad pictured the Transcontinental Safari four-door station wagon, but oddly, it didn’t identify it.

An ad envisioned the Transcontinental Safari four-door station wagon, but strangely, it did not identify it.

“The Pontiac is your fastest-accelerating Detroit household car that Motor Trend has analyzed this season, which amazed us,” said the enthusiast magazine. Uncle Tom McCahill was both enthused about the new Pontiac in Mechanix

The raised displacement of this Pontiac V-8 has been achieved by extending the stroke out of 3-1/4 into 3-9/16 in. And all of main bearings were expanded 1/8 in. to 2. 62 in., the cube projecting was more powerful and bearing caps thicker, oil rings enhanced along with the valve guides . In NASCAR guise, strong lifters were fitted together with a 10:1 compression and heavy duty components. Pontiacs establish new course marks for stride from the Standing and Flying Miles in Daytona Beach and won the 160-mile Grand National race around the shore stock auto course with an average rate of 101.6mph — 11 miles quicker than the last document.

All 1957 Pontiacs obtained a fashionable facelift of a three-year old bodyshell. Pontiac proudly called the styling “Star Flight” that was emphasized by missile-like side trimming, flatter tailfins, prolonged back fenders with pre requisite hints, a 1.6-in. Lower hood line, fresh front and back bumpers rising length by 1.2 in., new taillamps and 14-in. Wheels which gave the car a 1/2-in. lower overall height.

The brand new 1957 Bonneville convertible was Pontiac’s halo car because its top notch and most expensive offering. Included at the 5782 Bonneville cost was almost every attachment Pontiac provided, but air conditioning stayed available at additional price. Showcased at the Bonneville was regular Rochester fuel injection like that provided by Chevrolet. While Chevrolet promised to be the very first U.S. maker to provide one horsepower per cubic inch with its solid-lifter 283-cid V-8 with gas injection, Pontiac was originally reluctant to foster the horsepower of its own V-8 saying it had “in excess of 300 horsepower.” It ends up that the reluctance was because of its “fuelie” being ranked in 310 hp, significantly less compared to one-horsepower-per-cubic-inch evaluation of Chevrolet. Pontiac fuel injection also provided less horsepower than its triple-carbureted engine.

The 1957 Bonneville was published as a limited-edition version “for dealer use only.” Just 630 Bonnevilles were assembled for 1957 — one per trader. The Bonneville returned 1958 using a hardtop coupe added into the convertible offering.

The Transcontinental Safari station wagon was a late addition to the line and didn’t appear in the initial 1957 Pontiac brochure. This later Pontiac document pictured the car; note the headline labels it the Star Chief Custom Safari four-door and at the bottom, its further identified as the “Transcontinental.”

The Transcontinental Safari station wagon was a late addition to this lineup and did not seem in the first 1957 Pontiac leaflet. This later Pontiac file pictured the automobile; notice that the headline tags it the Star Chief Custom Safari four-door and in the base, its further recognized as the “Transcontinental.”

Top version becomes lost Pontiac’s blitz

With all the fuss over the limited-production Bonneville along with also the Star Chief Custom Safari two-door game wagon (Pontiac’s attachment to Chevrolet’s Nomad sport wagon), the Transcontinental Safari — that was really Pontiac’s top wagon — shot second phase. Today, that the Transcontinental Safari four-door noodle is practically unheard of and little understood by collectors. The brand new noodle was granted GM Style Number 2762SDF and priced in $3636. It has been an upmarket version of this Super Chief and Chieftain four-door wagons and Pontiac’s priciest station wagon: $155 over the Star Chief Custom Safari two-door wagon.

Outside, that the Transcontinental Safari was distinguished by a modified side spear containing a fourth chrome trim celebrity; unique paint; a normal roof rack; along with an enameled aluminum trim panel beneath the side Fireplace. The Transcontinental Safari’s anodized aluminum panel was comparable to that located about the high-line Bonneville convertible.

The Transcontinental Safari’s inside was pure luxury with real leather chairs such as a 70-30 front chair; the chair back to the passenger side has been considerably wider and accessible with a headrest. The back seat folded flat along with the freight area was carpeted to match the inside, which was completed with glowing metallic freight slats. The Transcontinental Safari was declared just a couple of months after generation of the remainder of this 1957 Pontiac line started and did not seem in early brochures, therefore one could only conjecture why sales have been few. Just 1894 Transcontinental Safaris made, which makes it nearly as uncommon as the Star Chief Custom Safari two-door wagon with only 1292 units constructed.

All however four of those 3186 Star Chief Custom Safaris (the two-door game wagon and the Transcontinental) were assembled with the discretionary Strato-Flight Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. ) Safaris armed with double exhaust utilized simulated bumper sockets with the exhaust to prevent fumes from entering the passenger compartment. Neither Star Chief Custom Safari returned to the 1958 model year. The Transcontinental immediately became Pontiac’s “forgotten ’57” in what was otherwise a critical season for the GM branch.

Perhaps best outlined from the publication “Pontiac Since 1945” by Richard L. Busenkell, “Nineteen fifty-seven can be pinpointed as the year in which Pontiac’s image truly did change. After two-years of dramatic improvement, the firebreathing ’57 models, aided by the glamorous Bonneville, succeeded in transforming the public’s perception of Pontiac. No longer would auto magazine and car buffs overlook Pontiac when discussing Detroit’s hottest cars. Never again would anyone be surprised when a Pontiac turned in a sizzling performance. Pontiac was well on its way to becoming something unthinkable a few short years before: the yardstick by which the performance of every other American sedan was measured.”

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