If we are not permitted outside until August of 2023 it will be OK – I surely have enough shots of cars caught at the Curbside in my nearly endless stash to last until then. Like this one.
In the 1960’s there would have been few things duller than this Pontiac station wagon. Pontiac was selling a lot of cars, so they were pretty common in the suburbs of mid-60’s America. And who wanted a wagon? That body style was the height of un-cool. Everyone’s Mom had a station wagon, at least for awhile. This one would have been the worst – it was even beige.
But a funny thing can happen in the ensuing decades. The commonplace becomes rare. I have not seen a 1963 Pontiac on the streets in ages, so how cool that when I did it was a wagon!
The first thing that hit me about this car was the color combo. It is identical to the paint and interior shades of my grandma’s 1964 Catalina sedan. I wasn’t really a big fan of the color – it was far less appealing to young me than the pink and white ’55 DeSoto it replaced. Beige – how ordinary.
At least the car made up for its ordinariness on the inside with the copious chrome plating slathered all over the dash and the heater control that looked like a radio, with the little red bars that filled the central display as you cranked that knob around and around.
Gray-haired readers may remember these, along with the high beam indicator light shaped like the silhouette of Chief Pontiac’s head. I later discovered that air conditioned cars upped the ante with blue bars that started coming down from the other end when you twisted the knob in the other direction.
Can we all agree that there was never a better name for a station wagon than “Safari”? The names on most station wagons of the 60’s reminded you of every suburban housing development or shopping center built after 1956, seemingly named by use of a roulette wheel with words like Park, Green, Wood, Briar, Country, Town, Squire, Village, Brook and Lake. “After you go past Country Wood and Green Brook Village, hang a right at the entrance for Briar Lake. We’re the first tri-level on the left.” But nobody ever lived in a subdivision called “Safari”.
Everyone knew what a Safari was. It was that wild place where you could see elephants and lions and English men wearing khaki and pith helmets as they piloted Land Rovers through the tall brown grass of the veldt. Safari said exotic like no other station wagon name. Which is probably how that name hung around for so long on some decidedly not-exotic vehicles.
Like this one. In 1963 at least, because it is certainly exotic now. This particular Safari comes with some mysteries. Such as why there is a scoop on the hood. And why it sports a Chevrolet steering wheel instead of the translucent plastic number that so captivated me on Grandma’s ’64. [Update – A prior owner of the car solved this mystery in the comments – the original steering wheel was toast when he got the car and this was used as a replacement.]
It is even air conditioned, or at least got that way after getting out into the world. I thought Safaris were supposed to be hot? I think most of them were back then on sunny August days everywhere south of Maine. And what’s that back there? Aftermarket rear a/c? Or perhaps just a spare in case the unit up front goes out as you are sprinting away from a thundering herd of elephants?
Actually the hood scoop question was answered when I happened to find this car online when I was looking for some artwork to use. The car has been re-powered with a 1969 Pontiac 400 cid V8 with “Ram Air heads” (according to the description found here.) It should be able to outrun even the hungriest cheetah with that mill.
The engine is probably not as big of an upgrade as the Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 would be over the original Roto (“slim jim”) Hydra Matic. There would be nothing worse than becoming hyena-chow after your transmission takes a dump on you at an inopportune time and place.
The Chevy steering wheel is still a mystery. Maybe it is just there for the leaping antelope in the center hub?
Even with the stock 389 V8 under the sun-baked hood, a safari would be a task for which this Safari was well suited. A Trophy V8, according to Pontiac. After all, what fun is a Safari without a trophy? That big, meaty 389 was one good reason for the gnu car shopper to make a stop down the block from the Chevrolet dealer who was offering lots of similar wagons with a hundred fewer cubic measures of basic V8 firepower. Jumping up to an Oldsmobile only gained an extra 5 cubic inches, so why bother? Pontiac was indeed in a sweet spot during this era, as demonstrated by its surging sales.
What a great California-style of patina – perfect for a car also named after a sunny SoCal island. Or perhaps the patina could also be African style. Because it certainly isn’t the native midwestern variety, which results in brown watering holes in the lower body often big enough to contain a small crocodile or two. Which would really stand out with this light paint Pontiac called Yuma Beige. This was a really popular color, available for several years through multiple Divisions. How fitting that Cadillac would call this Sudan Beige in 1967-68. A Safari in Yuma is a poor substitute for one in Sudan. But enough talk about Sudans, lets get back to this wagon.
And enough talk of exotic Africa, because we all know that these wagons were mainly used to shuttle the neighborhood kids to the movies or the bowling alley. It is likely that the closest this Safari ever came to going on a real safari was a family trip to the zoo on a Sunday afternoon.
I suppose that there might have been a tiger in the gas tank, which would help everyone get to the drive-in for ice cream extra quickly. Was zebra-stripe a flavor in the 60’s?.
Is Pontiac the only one that really managed to put a little hippo in the hips of this really square body which it shared with its B body siblings? Pontiac sold a lot of these, a bit over 30,000 between the six and nine passenger versions – which was somewhere between 10-15% of Catalina production.
The Bonneville versions were rare to the point of being endangered, with a bit more than 5,100 built. And what’s with all the ships in the brochure art? It’s not like this was called the Pontiac Cruiser or Schooner or some other nautical thing. It was called a Safari, so where are the giraffes? At least the guy on the left brought some Camels.
Like all Safaris, this one must come to an end, at least on these pages. Although I would have preferred this one without the hood scoop, I am really quite smitten with it. No lion.
1957 Pontiac Chieftain Safari – J P Cavanaugh
1964 Pontiac Tempest Safari – J P Cavanaugh
1970 Pontiac Executive Safari – Perry Shoar
Chrysler Australia named their Valiant wagons the Safari as well.
You could even get a Regal Safari!
Indeed you could, and I doubt the professorial class who’d just spent a small ransom on their haughty Citroen DS station wagon appreciated the same name appearing on the distinctly declasse Val Wog Chariot wagon. Especially as the progress of the Cit was more regal than racy, and the Val about twice as fast to 60.
Somehow Pontiac and Buick “did better” with the same basic shared basic body shell than the other GM divisions did during this time period.
The scoop is from an SD Lightweight drag car of the same year. it was actually sourced from Ford, being used on Super Duty trucks of the period. Super Duty car?, Super Duty Scoop, natch.
Interesting – I had not been aware of this history and assumed that it was just a generic scoop. I am starting to like it better – a Super Duty Safari.
With all the effort put into keeping this car all-Pontiac, from the Ram Air engine to the SD scoop, that 62 Impala steering wheel is even more of a mystery.
Going with the African Safari theme maybe it was a tribute to the full-size Pontiacs assembled in South Africa (and Australia) from parts shipped from Oshawa, which included a complete right-hand-drive 1961 Chevy dash for the entire ’61-64 run? But they at least had Pontiac steering wheels. More likely it’s a convenient replacement for an original which had been sunbaked to nothingness.
Alas, we never got the wagons in Oz.
Aboriginal peoples had (and have still) a tradition of initiation to adulthood of walking about “on country” and living with (and off) the animals the outback, the closest Australian equivalent to a safari, albeit a three to six month one. It was called “walkabout”.
Pontiac Catalina Walkabout. Sounds alright, actually.
The factory clear acrylic wheel was trashed when I bought the car so I painted up the Chevy wheel to match the car and it’s been there ever since. I sold this car to my best friend and he still has it.
I just now saw your comment, so you may not see this. I am so glad you found your old car here. I loved seeing it, and I have added the steering wheel info to the text. I am happy to hear that the car remains alive and well.
Lovely car, lovely piece.
I like the hood scoop, it completes the Madagascar Surf Wagon aesthetic. Just needs a roof rack. I’d drive it!
“Just needs a roof rack.”
I suppose there can never enough lemur-carrying capacity for a good Madagascar Surfin’ Safari.
Indeed, I’m totally picturing this car with a couple of surf boards sticking out the rear window. If only it were in Southern California.
The reason for that Chevrolet steering wheel is the real elephant in the living room. Perhaps he favors seeing impalas when on a safari.
What a fun looking old wagon. No doubt it’s got some good stories to tell and I can’t help but wonder how many adventures it’s getting annually.
Hey, JP – you forgot the Uniroyal “Tiger Paw” tires!
Haha, I did indeed. I can remember as a little kid being disappointed that our cars did not have them. The TV advertising was really effective. 🙂
KITTY! Now, why can’t we have ads that look like this?
Because we are oh so sophisticated…
Maybe the car was wrecked at some point and the steering wheel got bent and replaced with the first one they found at the junkyard that would fit? Speaking of dull and uncool wagons at the time, I watched an episode of The Donna Reed Show from season one (’58) yesterday and son Jeff is washing the family wagon. An Edsel wagon!
Oh man, do I like the ’63 or the ’65 better? These big Cats have it all: the best advertising and perhaps the best styling among ’60s big cars. They were beautiful in almost every bodystyle.
You see impalas on a safari!
I appreciate the wood custom made speaker boxes just behind the rear seats. They remind me of the earlier article on CC about speaker placements and such. I’m sure the owner found the perfectly optimal placement for ideal sound.
I can’t quite read the sign on the building – does it say City Hall? That may explain a certain attorney’s leather attache case perched next to a post unattended, but not for long we’re sure. It may have the monogram “JMM” near the latch.
Nice. BCS fan? That show has been really good lately!
Marginal fan at best. He should have gone to work for Howard. LOL
It is the City Market, a multi use downtown building with food vendors, market stalls and various other things. The briefcase is mine, which I set down as I took pictures after leaving the City-County building across the street and was heading back to my parked car. It has the initials of the guy I got if from. 🙂
Noticed that this has the optional remote control outside mirror, which always bugged me on Pontiacs, Olds and Buicks of this era as it was too far down the left fender to be of much use. My dad had the same one in his ‘63 Olds. The interior control was also not on the door, but on the dash. The non-remote mirror was in a much more convenient spot on the door. Curiously, Cadillac and Chevy had their remote control mirrors up on the door. Strange GM would not have standardized the mirror placement across all lines.
Wow, that’s a good one you pulled out of the archive! And lots of great Safari jokes you pulled out of there, too. My favorite was the Sudan pun (even though I love Waguns best).
Some fair points you make, especially the one about how this wagon was the epitome of UNcool when it was a late model car, but is about as cool as can be now. Wagon body style, dog dish hubcaps, surface rust..er..I mean patina, lowered stance, hood scoop. What a hip car!
Pontiac had some of the best styling of the 60’s, particularly 63-67 in the full sizers and 65-70 in the mid sizers. This wagon is so sweet with it’s low tailfins, stacked headlights and hip bulge.
Safari is definitely one of the best wagon names. I submit that the very best, in my personal, long-held opinion, is Custom Cruiser (or just Cruiser as applied to every Olds wagon from 71-95). It would certainly go better with the nautical brochure theme Pontiac had going.
The Impala steering wheel doesn’t mystify me much. That car has obviously spent quite a lot of time baking in the southwestern sun somewhere. The original translucent steering wheel certainly disintegrated long ago. This wagon, as cool as it’s modern state is, doesn’t appear to be a high budget project. When the owner found the Chevy wheel, it’s a perfect color match and is a pretty cool looking wheel in its own right. The mismatch would only be noticed by Pontiac nerds like us while looking like it totally belongs there to the casual observer. Finding the correct Pontiac wheel may be hard and/or expensive, so I think it was a reasonable choice. But I do love those Pontiac helms.
Thanks for the fine write up!
Oh, and I forgot to mention: is it a coincidence that the brand that sold Safaris also came up with the Tiger motif for their GTO? A GTO and a Safari, what a garage full of sweetness that would make! Then or now.
Agree on the steering wheel!
Here in often sunny, perpetually hot & humid New Orleans, those gorgeous translucent steering wheels died early also,
“Gnu Car Buyer” was a good one, too!
In the 1960’s there would have been few things duller than this Pontiac station wagon.
Having been a car-obsessed ten year old in 1963, I could write up quite a long list of cars (and not just wagons) duller and uncooler than this. As far as wagons go, it was by far the coolest, period, except of course a Bonneville. Pontiac coolness had been growing strongly since 1959, and the ’63 was red hot.
I was perhaps influenced by a family across the street whose two sons were car crazy, had hot rods, and drove the family ’60 Pontiac wagon like maniacs. They had a friend who sometimes showed up in a ’63 Catalina rag top. Now that was about as hot as it got, except for a GP.
FWIW, n this crowd, a wagon was cooler than a sedan, for its utility, especially out at the reservoir. 🙂
PN: I agree. This Pontiac wagon was far from dull.
I am 9 years older than you and was also very car obsessed in the 1950s and 1960s. I considered the Pontiac and Oldsmobile wagons of that era to be as beautiful and exotic (and as fast) as their sedan counterparts. They had gobs more power and style than the basic Ford and Chevy wagons, and their dashboards were marvels of sweeping three dimensional styles of steel and chrome. Lots of chrome!
By comparison, late 1950s and early 1960s Fords had dashboards that looked like a single stamped metal panel laid over underlying gauges. And that old fashioned exposed shifter rod was plain embarrassing. (Remember, I drove a 1959 Ford Galaxy for a while in the 1960s so I saw that dash design a lot).
This probably all started when at the age of 13 I rode in a brand new 1958 Oldsmobile 88 wagon on a long night time trip jammed into the back seat with three other kids. While my brother and two friends slept, I stared with growing love and fascination at the elegant and dimly lit dashboard and the Oldsmobile’s sumptuous (to a 13 year old) interior. And it was so quiet!
I consummated my love for Oldsmobiles when I bought a very used 1957 88 sedan in [about] 1964. It wasn’t trouble free – but then neither was I.
agree – it was much cooler than the Catalina 4 door sedan – and better looking too
The AC unit in the rear is something else…..does it say WATER towards the right hand side of the control panel? I wonder if it is an automotive “swamp cooler”, though I have never seen or heard of such a thing.
As to those two air conditioner units, they’re Bon Aire vintage evaporative swamp coolers. The one in the back is just a slightly later version. I’m more familiar with the round ones hung on the window, but this would work too, with a fan, as long as the humidity is low enough.
Classic Buick 4 holer Woody Wagon (51?) with a swamp cooler and everything including the kitchen sink.
Fun read! I will always have a soft spot for aging Pontiacs…had three all made btwn 1957-1960. How does one explain the asymmetrical paint wear down to the primer on the tailgate to right of the latch from top lip of tailgate to midpoint…not seen on left side of tailgate…maybe long-termed direct sun exposure due to being parked in one place for an extended time, perhaps? It has that “resurrected from the pasture” look. My patina and the Pontiac’s would be a great duo.
I don’t recall the details, but was this Catalina from the era when GM still outsourced its full size wagon bodies? Or was that prior to 1963-64? Or was that only Buick?
For 1963, Pontiac could be the most CC’d make, deservedly? There has even been one, perhaps more, on the 1963 Tempest.
Detroit stopped outsourcing wagon bodies when they went all steel. For Plymouth and the car-based Dodge two door wagons, that was 1949; all had gone in house just a few years later.
For those curious how Plymouth and Chevrolet Truck both sold Suburbans simultaneously for decades, it’s because Suburban was the trademark of U.S. Body & Forging. They mounted wood wagon bodies on both car and truck chassis for decades, finally throwing in the towel when Plymouth introduced that all steel wagon. Yes, station wagons were wagons back then, whether cars or trucks. The original meaning of “sport utility vehicle” was a Jeep, International Scout or Bronco.
My grandmother had a ’63 Bonneville Vista four door in dark blue. I loved it dearly and considered it gorgeous, though my father disliked the long, long trunk and consequent aircraft carrier profile. He later got a ’64 Catalina Safari in medium blue. The color was deceptive; it was a lemon. If you like your Roto Hydro automatic, more power to you, but don’t use it to haul a family of six, full camping gear for the same including both Coleman stove and Weber grill, tools, groceries, canoe and ephemera through the mountains. He went through three, and never bought a Pontiac again.
My second car was a ’63 Catalina. I loved it, but it ended the romance for me. Handling was Improved GM with the extra wide rear axle, and styling never got old with the stacked lights and low, clean grille making the outside look ten feet wide, and the “second radio” a/c controls within. But about the time I got leg cramps from the lack of thigh support and figured out it had nothing on torsion bars for stability, I figured out why John Z. Delirean’s hair turned white. Trying to make driver’s cars from the GM parts bin was an impossible and thankless task. Plymouth’s win-you-over beat worked on me.
A bit of sleuthing on the interwebs revealed that indeed, Buick did outsource its station wagon bodies to Ionia until 1964; so did Oldsmobile from 1957. There is no mention of Chevrolet and Pontiac, though:
“1954’s most important contract was the construction of bodies for Buick’s new all-steel Estate Wagon. Ionia had been building Buick’s wagons since 1949 and were rewarded for their hard work when the Buick contract was renewed. From 1954 through 1964, Ionia manufactured all 139,344 station wagon bodies sold by GM’s Buick division. Ionia supplied Oldsmobile with station wagon bodies beginning in 1957, producing 143,696 station wagon bodies through 1964.”
I also learned from the article that my 1963 Corvette’s body was built by Ionia from subassembles from Molded Fiberglass. The bodies were assembled and shipped by train to St. Louis, MO for final assembly.
After reading this, I felt compelled to go on a hunt for any Pontiac Safari related propaganda (ads, brochures, etc.) with a safari theme of any sort. No luck whatsoever. I’d have thought that at some point over decades of Safari wagon production, some ad agency would have thought to include something like a family driving through a safari park or something. But maybe Pontiac didn’t want to be seen as copying Peugeot too much with their safari-themed ads!
This is a great wagon; I’m glad you dug the pictures out of your endless stash for us to enjoy!
Unfortunately, this is cut. I have the full version on VHS & DVD–it’s really quite funny and original. This guy’s accent is perfect. Goes over details of the ’60 wagon, with lots of jungle/safari puns. Concludes with “As we say in the ancient Pontiac tribal language, ‘Ooka nooba, nawga hooka, cucamunga.’ Which of course means, ‘Be sure to visit your Pontiac dealer.’ ” Or something like that.
Aha! Great find… he certainly nailed the part, too.
Besides the Yuma Beige color, another beige that was popular then was “Fawn Beige Metallic”. It seemed as though every other Chevrolet was painted that color. You could even get it for your Corvette.
It had all the gloss and sheen of dry caked mud, even when nearly new.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone use when they restored their car.
Love the wagon, and those are the biggest aftermarket AC units I’ve ever seen!
Yup! My first car, a ’67 Corvair Monza, had the exterior color name of “Sierra Fawn Metallic”.
When it was only four years old the factory “Magic Lacquer” paint on the hood, top and trunk faded down to a dulled down Mississippi River mud shade.
Dammit, I was hoping to be the one to explain what those mystery machines were. My parents moved to southern Arizona in 1960. We were at 5000 feet, so maybe five degrees cooler than Tucson which is maybe five degrees cooler than Phoenix. But even there at that time pretty much no middle class person would buy a new non-air conditioned car. Those Bon-Aire things were around although I never rode in anyone’s car that had one.
Pretty ambitious to have one in the back as well.
Some relatives from back East did a road trip in summer a couple years later and stopped in at our house for a couple days. Along the way they bought one of those ram air tube shaped coolers than hung outside at the top of the passenger side window. The air came in through the slightly lowered window. To wet the cylindrical evaporative pad inside there was a pull string which spun it around, dunking them in the water. The passenger had a job to do. Quite the Rube Goldberg invention.
We got a Falcon wagon with factory air conditioning, but actually a hang on unit, in 1963. Same as in the original Mustang, but but unlike the Mustang, with a bench front seat it meant no kid could be stuck in the middle of the front seat in the summer or no AC to the rear and one cold kid.
Nice find! I could do without the scoop as well, but the sunburnt paint is just perfect for a fun cruiser.
Liked the guy brought some Camels. The only thing missing is a Tamil Tiger reference.
I’m on board with the big Poncho being a cool wagon.
Partial to the ’65 – ’66 models.
I don’t think it was a factory offering, but a few ’65 – ’66 wagons have been retrofitted with fender skirts from the other body styles. I thought Pontiac missed out not making them standard on the Bonneville wagons.
Tom D., I haven’t heard that song in many many years (maybe 50 or more), but as soon as it started I correctly anticipated all of the various sections and hooks.
Memory, especially long term, is a really interesting thing.
As Bob Hope used to say: “Thanks for the memories”.
Haha, I had forgotten all about this one, thanks for bringing it up.
Nice old wagon – great patina. I’ve always liked the ‘60’s Pontiacs, and the ‘63 models are among my favourites. Just by coincidence, that wagon is the same age as I am and we’ve both aged pretty well…though a black Grand Prix coupe would be my first choice in ‘63 Ponchos. Still, I’ve always had a soft spot for big old wagons, and that would be a top contender for my garage.
Even this Ford Guy found these very handsome at the time. Roof racks and “going anywhere” personified in this GULF ad:
Love Pontiacs of this era. So gorgeous! And thanks JPC for the detailed photo and description of how the heater control works.
I happen to have a couple of photos, both taken in California in Decemeber 2005. The first is a twin of this Catalina wagon spotted in Bishop. It almost looks like someone was trying to paint the car from the can shown beside it.
And here’s the other, with surfboards! Taken on the famed Pacific Coast Highway near Seal Beach. Even though the plate says “BONNY 59,” the rear view (not shown) indicated it was a Catalina.
You’re right — Safari is a cool name for a station wagon. Of course, I thought Studebaker resurrecting the Conestoga name for its wagons was pretty cool, too.
I am a little surprised that none of our eagle-eyed readers noticed something about this car, especially in view of our recent dive into the wiper systems on these GM cars: The opposing wipers do not overlap when parked. My guess is that replacement wiper arms/blades are shorter than regulation, pulled from some other vehicle of the period. It is one more mystery.
“But nobody ever lived in a subdivision called ‘Safari.’”
Au contraire, my good sir!
A quick Google search reveals at least two: “Safari Waters Ranch,” about an hour southeast of Dallas, and “Old Safari Heights,” which is not far from the southernmost point of Louisiana, on the Gulf of Mexico.
All manner of subdivision names were in use during the decades following WWII (I grew up in one of many suburban “Sherwood Forests” across the US), that it’s difficult to imagine many name variations that weren’t used during those years.
Ha, I live in mid 60’s suburbia and we have a Robin Hood / Sherwood Forest themed area a few blocks away.
I however live in “Pleasant Valley” which is also a perfect place to find this wagon 🙂
I grew up in Glenwood Park. And bought this album as a youngster while living there.
I lived in a Pleasant Valley subdivision in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. It’s a very common name, along with Pleasant Hills.
I think, or had though, that that Hood Scoop was the Ford Truck “Big Job” or “Super Duty” hood scoop used from 1957 through 1965, although I usually have seen them on the 1957-1960 models. Exact same design as that on the Pontiac.
I actually read that same thing 20 or 30 years ago, in Cars and Parts magazine.
When Pontiac first put a hood scoop on its cars in the early ‘60s, it was faster, easier, and less expensive to use the Ford truck part, than to tool up and produce a run of hood scoops for a relatively small number of Pontiacs that included this feature. Makes you wonder how often manufacturers used other manufacturers’ parts instead of developing their own.
A close up of the Ford truck “Big Job” hood scoop. Note how the 3 indentions on the scoop line up with the indentions on the Ford truck hood – designed for the Ford Truck.
I had one…..a 1959 Bonneville. I sold it when I got my draft notice in 1964 for my SE Asia paid vacation for a year. Bought a 1956 Pontiac when I got back to the states. These were great cars!
About 1970, I used to get an occasional ride to school in a school-mate’s mom’s 1964 Catalina Safari. Most of the paint was in somewhat better shape than the one here, in that popular mid-60s GM metallic blue-green. But the sheet-metal displayed stark evidence of where she drove it, or more likely, how she drove it, as there was not one straight body panel on that car!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Here’s one of my other Safaris. I have two 62’s, two more 63’s and this 64 that I drive the most. It has a 455 and working air conditioning, tilt wheel, power windows, disc brake conversion and will tow my Serro Scotty trailer.