(first posted 12/17/2014) One doesn’t exactly see ’55 Pontiacs like this often on the freeway, looking like it might well be a regular or daily driver. Stephanie shot it yesterday on I-205, coming home from Portland. Unlike the glamorous coupes and convertibles one might see at a car show, this is how I remember ’55 Pontiacs; it’s just like one some neighbors had back in the day; a solid, plain sedan, minus the hub caps.
Maybe my title doesn’t do the Pontiac justice, as Chevy and Pontiac had been sharing A Bodies for a long time. In fact, the 1932 Pontiac was the very first GM car to share its body and much of its chassis with another brand: Chevrolet. It was a desperate measure taken by GM President Alfred Sloan to save Pontiac in the depths of the Depression. It not only started a long tradition of Pontiacs and Chevys sharing A (and other) Bodies, but also opened the way for the other GM divisions to share bodies too, once Sloan realized the tremendous cost savings. The beginning of GM’s consolidation.
In 1955, Chevrolet and Pontiac got a handsome new body, and although the Pontiac version had some redeeming qualities, it clearly started out as a Chevy body that Pontiac had to make look different. The Chevy was a clean and organic design; the Pontiac’s a bit less so. As per tradition back then, Pontiac added some extra inches on the front, to come up with a 122″ wheelbase for the Chieftain, and 124″ for the Star Chief.
I’m a huge fan of the very clean Pininfarina-esque ’55 Chevy front end. The Pontiac’s looks a bit fussy and contrived, and is based on an earlier Motorama show car. Along with the still-present “Silver Streak” trim on the hood, it’s a rather busy front end for such a clean body. But it has plenty to like, as well as fans.
Pontiac also got to share the Nomad sports wagon body, and here again, it looks a bit busy compared to the Chevy. But I’m sure Harley Earl encouraged that. Needs some more chrome trim!
1955 was a very good year for Pontiac, setting a new sales record (554k units) it wouldn’t again equal or surpass until that golden year, 1963. And like Chevrolet, it had a brand new V8, a 287 CID motor that shared certain design aspects with the Chevy, like the stud-mounter rockers. It was high time to give the ancient flat head straight eight the heavy ho; the last of its kind. Like the Chevy small block, the Pontiac V8 would go on to have a long life, and grow all the way to 455 cubic inches, and then shrink back to 301. There was even a sad 265 inch version built for just two years, undoubtedly the most pathetic Pontiac V8 ever built.