Classic Cars Image Gallery
Classic Cars Image Gallery

The 1956 Pontiac Safari was longer, more lavishly trimmed, and more expensive than the Chevrolet Nomad. See more classic car pictures.

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By 1955, Pontiac was trying to redefine its dull-but-dependable image with the 1955-1957 Pontiac Star Chief Safari. What better way to do that than with a "dream car"?

Classic Cars Image Gallery

Safari -- the word has a lovely ring to it. The mind conjures up an expedition with the hunting party dressed in khaki suits topped off in pith helmets. An African setting: large animals, large guns, fine cameras. A couple of Land Rovers, steamy heat, a trace of an English accent.

Wrong! For General Motors' Pontiac Division in 1955 "Safari" represented the fanciest and sportiest of all station wagons ever manufactured, the Star Chief Custom Safari -- an expedition into the unknown, marketing-wise. The car was to be low in production, high in cost, striking inside and out, and it would enjoy a life span of only three years (though the Safari name would carry on at Pontiac and/or GMC).

Paul W. Gillian, Pontiac Chief Designer from 1951-1958, preferred the 1955 Safari over the 1956-1957 designs.

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Paul Gillan, who directed the Pontiac Styling Studio in the 1950s, came up with that wonderful name. The Pontiac Star Chief Safari's closest relative at General Motors was its near twin, the Bel Air Nomad, over at Chevrolet Division -- which is where the whole idea started. A great many people felt then, and still do, that these were two of the prettiest station wagons designed in the post World War II era.

Station wagons. Their heritage was an interesting one, dating back to early Cantrell-bodied "depot hacks" and 1923 Star wagons. Originally, these were meant to be high-volume haulers that really transported people to depots and stations to meet trains.

Interior body dimensions of the Nomad and Pontiac Star Chief Safari

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It was not happenstance that Pontiac's Safari wagon was such a remarkably striking design. Consider Safari's lineage as a General Motors Motorama show car. Remember seeing or hearing about those styling extravaganzas produced in the 1950s, which traveled major U.S. cities showing off flashy and elaborate automotive designs of tomorrow? Dream cars! Well, this styling dream came true in the form of 9,094 Pontiac Star Chief Safaris and 22,375 Chevrolet Nomads.

Several thousand people went down to their local Pontiac and Chevrolet dealerships from 1955-1957 and purchased those handsome station wagons. Little did they know that later both cars would later be awarded "Milestone" car status by The Milestone Car Society.

For more on General Motors Motorama show cars, see the next page.

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