Curbside Classic: 1946 Pontiac Torpedo

The bulbous nose of this tank, it turns out, is a great disguise. Inside this ’46 Pontiac Torpedo couple, there’s a GTO itching to climb out.

You’d never know, to look at it. In fact, this Torpedo seemed mostly spent, when I found it in my mechanic’s garage.

Brian, who may be the last truly independent garage guru in Iowa, soon would have this old machine purring like a newborn. I don’t know how he does it, although he has turned the same trick on a string of vintage vehicles around the region. He certainly has kept my cars whirring along obediently, as well, so I’m not one to question his judgment.

Recently, an area denizen brought Brian this fire-engine-red model, a 1946, which represented Pontiac’s first step into the postwar years – and a giant step it was. Pontiac was still a couple of decades ahead of its design zenith of the GTO, Grand Prix and Firebird Era, but the ’46 Torpedo was a definite nod in that direction.

Torpedos are considered to be among the earliest “muscle cars,” which, of course, would be a Pontiac forte in due time. Some were outfitted with inline 8’s, although this particular example had the standard six-banger.

This model hadn’t seen daylight in years – perhaps, decades — Brian assured me. The big car had been relegated to storage by an old guy connected to one of the largest businesses in the region. A grandson of the owner decided it was time to give this aged hulk some new life. Blanketed with layers of dust from so many years of activity, the Torpedo wouldn’t start (very old gas, Brian said), and it was towed, lifeless, to the garage.

Virtually everything inside and out was original, Brian discovered. Even the tires were ancient.

A few parts had to be replaced, but soon, the old Torpedo was ready to roll again. A lot of work still had to be done to clean up the car, before it could roll through the countryside in its original splendor. Brian wasn’t sure what plans the owner had for the old Pontiac.

But the makings of something great were all there.

Pontiac reached its style and performance peak in the 1960s, but the brand had plenty of tools at its disposal then, with a marque to suit every taste in automotive fashion and performance desire.

The Big Chief had a simpler approach in the war years, both before and immediately after — Torpedo was its specialty, and it had a flavor for every taste. Pontiac launched the Torpedo in 1940 on GM’s B-body. The streamlined shape gave it the look of a torpedo and was GM’s turn away from the running boards and long, stumpy designs of the ‘30s. By the time this Torpedo was made, it was using GM’s A-Body, and the more expensive Streamliner was using the B Body.

There was room for five or six real adults in one of these.

Under the hood of this car – which was adorned by the customary plastic Chief Pontiac head mounted in a metal base – was an inline six-cylinder engine, which came standard.

This particular example was not entry-level. Inside, it had woodgrain trim around the interior doors, a heater, cigarette lighter, six-tube radio and an electric clock.

Deluxe Torpedoes had notchback styling, and Customs, such as this model, got sleek fastbacks.

Pontiac made the most of the Torpedo moniker, coming out with five body styles, including a business coupe, convertible and two- and four-door sedans.

Beige corded wool cloth upholstery were common in these models, and this one is no exception. There was also a Super Streamliner Torpedo subseries. Supers had the same body styling and trim but featured two-tone worsted wool cloth upholstery with pin stripes and added sponge rubber seat cushions, electric clocks, deluxe flexible steering wheels and divan type seats with folding center armrests. Two body styles were available: a 5-passenger 2-door Sedan Coupe and a 5-passenger 4-door Sedan.

The “cow-catcher” grille got horizontal bars, while the headlamps were placed on the outer edge of the cars bulky front fenders.

For 1946, new Pontiacs looked much the same as later prewar models. The dash contained full instrumentation with round gauges. The engines didn’t change.

The Torpedo ended its run with the 1948 models.

It didn’t end with a thud. Pontiac’s real boom years were still in the future. Models like this made sure the Chief stayed on target.

(Editor’s note: Jim Offner has been posting at CC for years as “Iowa”.)