There seems to be a sort of rule of thumb in the automobile business that you don't introduce a major styling change simultaneously with an important engineering advance -- like a new engine, for instance. That's like expending all of your ammunition at once, which is obviously no way to fight a war. Still, once in a while this "rule" is violated, as it was with the 1955 Pontiac.

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The 1955 Pontiac had all-new styling as well as a powerful new engine.
The 1955 Pontiac had all-new styling as well as a powerful
 new engine. See more pictures of classic cars.

The all-new General Motors A-body, shared with Chevrolet, gave Pontiac a fresh, vibrant look: crisper, smoother, nearly three inches lower, and far more contemporary looking than the 1954 models. Pontiac proclaimed: "Everything New But Its Wonderful Name!"

That was indeed true, and designer Paul Gillan made sure that Pontiac got its own distinct look below the beltline, even though it had to share rooflines with Chevrolet. Flashy two-tone paint jobs were very popular in the mid-1950s. In Pontiac's case, the upper color swept down to the middle of the front doors, then back across the rear deck, creating the illusion of greater length.

The front bumper was massive, and the grille was hardly more than a chrome-framed air intake. Above it rode a hood "that bows low to offer you a fine new close-up of the road." It carried "the sparkle of twin Silver Streaks," and just behind it was the new "Hood-High Cowl Ventilation" air intake.

"New ideas abound -- wherever you look ... Air-scoop-like hoods above newly recessed headlamps and -- along the crest of each [rear] fender -- twin Silver Streaks, curving down to emphasize the importance of big, sharply outswept tail lamps. ... An arching center bar conceals license-plate lighting ... joins the new, wrap-around rear bumpers -- massive and handsomely contoured."

To get a more complete picture of how fresh those new ideas were, inside and out, take a look at the following chart for an in-depth comparison of the 1954 and 1955 Pontiac:


1954
1955
Base price*
$2,557
$2,499
Shipping weight*
3,551
3,568
Wheelbase, inches
124.0
124.0
Overall length, inches
213.7
210.2
Overall width, inches
76.6 75.4
Overall height, inches
64.7 62.5
Bore × stroke, inches
3.375 × 3.75
3.75 × 3.25
Stroke/bore ratio
1.111:1 0.867:1
Displacement, cid
268.4 287.2
Compression ratio
7.70:1 8.00:1
Horsepower @ rpm
127 @ 3,800
180 @ 4,600
Torque @ rpm
234 @ 2,200
264 @ 2,400
Horsepower per cid
.473 .627
Weight (pounds) per bhp*
27.96 19.82
Valve configuration
L-head
overhead-valve
Valve lifters
mechanical
hydraulic
Electrical sustem
6-volt
12-volt
Braking area, square inches
171.0
178.0
Performance (from Motor Trend):


Top speed, mph
92.8 100.3
0-60 mph, seconds
17.4 13.8
Standing 1/4-mile, seconds
20.7 19.7
Standing 1/4-mile, mph
65.0 70.0

* Star Chief Custom Catalina hardtop coupe

Station wagons betrayed their kinship with Chevrolet via the rear fenders, in which heavily chromed taillight bezels fit into the same openings used for Chevrolet taillights.

Following the lead of the 1954 Buick and Oldsmobile, a wraparound windshield was considered mandatory. "A crystal sweep of Safety Plate Glass curves around you in half-circle fashion to open the wide world of view ... and alert you to it," proclaimed the sales brochure. "Pontiac's dramatic new Panoramic windshield increases your area of forward view up to twenty-six per cent. For beauty, for safety -- all around the car -- this is the vision ... of the future!" As a bonus, there was less distortion at the corners than was common on some other makes.

Pontiac's new exterior styling was seen as generally pleasing, even exciting -- save for what some thought a rather unfortunate blunt front end. The ever-quotable veteran auto tester Tom McCahill, writing for Mechanix Illustrated, said it made the car look "like it was born on its nose."

Inside was "Pontiac's all-new instrument panel -- with new red-line speed indicator, centered glove compartment with 'beverage-cup' door, controls at your finger tips." Star Chief Customs came with Firegold or Turquoise Blue cloth upholstery, "alive with the fire of metallic glints," available in solid colors or two-toned with pale White Mist.

Customs could also have a combination of leather and nylon-faced fabric, while the Custom Catalina offered full leather seating. The Star Chief convertible featured Morrokide upholstery in four colors, with ivory-white for "striking contrast." The top came in four colors: black, gray, green, or tan.

In the slightly less deluxe non-Custom Star Chief four-door, patterned nylon-faced fabric contrasted with the "sheen" of sharkskin cloth. As expected. Chieftain interiors were plainer, particularly in the base 860 series.

To learn about the new Pontiac's engine, continue on to the next page.

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