1955-1957 Pontiac Star Chief Safari

1955 Pontiac Star Chief Safari
The 1955 Safari rode a 122-inch wheelbase, seven inches longer than the Chevrolet Nomad.
The 1955 Safari rode a 122-inch wheelbase, seven inches longer than the Chevrolet Nomad.

It was at this point that Carl Renner, who had much to do with the design of the Corvette Nomad, set to work on the 1955 Pontiac Star Chief Safari. His job, which was done in the body design studio, was to cut apart a full-size drawing, stretch it out, and mate it to the 1955 Chevrolet lower body, windshield, and other elements.

The Nomad/Safari treatment was translated directly back of the cowl, where it shared precious little sheetmetal with 1955 wagons or any other body styles. But engines, transmissions, chassis, frame, and running gear were identical to the regular Chevrolet/Pontiac lines. The more production body parts Renner could use, the lower the costs would be for what ultimately became a very expensive wagon to manufacture. Windshields and ventilator glass from hardtops and convertibles were used, as were floors from two-door wagons and door inners from two-door hardtops.

One of the remarkable things about the debut of the production 1955 Pontiac Star Chief Safari and Nomad was the ability of both divisions to finish their projects in just one year. Consider this: The mandate issued in January 1954 to put the Corvette Nomad into production (for Chevrolet and Pontiac) had been carried out in time for a January 1955 Motorama debut. This seemed nothing short of a miracle!

The Pontiac Star Chief Safari

The basic differences between Pontiac's Safari and Chevy's Nomad -- and there were many -- were predictable, dictated by each division's assignment. Pontiac's was to build a larger, heavier, more powerful, luxurious, and expensive model. Though both shared the GM A-body, the all-new styling, engineering, and overhead-valve V-8 engines were unique to each. By the mid-1950s, Pontiac preferred dignified phraseology like "Power and Beauty."

And it is important to note that Pontiac was caught up in a transitional period in 1955 -- near the end of Indian heads and Silver Streaks and about to evolve into what would soon become the very popular "Wide Track" Pontiacs. Meanwhile, Chevrolet's new and youthful image was clearly stated in three words, which became legendary: "The Hot One."

Pontiac Star Chief Safari cargo capacity with the rear seat up was 36 cubic feet, but when down this expanded to a more useful 71 cubic feet.

By February 1955, the $2,571 Nomad and $3,047 Safari entered a hotly contested station wagon marketplace consisting of 52 entries ranging in price from the $1,869 Nash/Hudson Rambler to a $4,209 Chrysler. The contemporary automotive press, represented by Motor Trend magazine, was quick to honor Chevrolet's Nomad by pronouncing it "The longed-for styling wedding between the production sports car and the family workhorse."

Pontiac's Safari certainly wasn't overlooked. It made the cover of Motor Trend's August 1955 issue, wherein Walt Woron described it as "a portent of the future with its 'leaning forward' look." His road test drew attention to the Safari's comfortable ride and Greyhound "Vista Dome" visibility.

Inside the 1955 Pontiac Star Chief Safari

Safaris and Nomads were the same from the beltline up. Inner wheelhouses, glass, doors, roofs, and tailgates were interchangeable; rear quarters and floors were not.

It is important to remember that the Nomad's wheelbase measured 115 inches, the Safari's 122 inches. The latter presented a much heavier look with its extra seven inches between the wheels, massive bumper-grille, not-so-clean taillamp treatment, and elaborate side trim as compared to the Nomad.

And indeed, the 3,636-pound Safari was heavier, by 300 pounds compared to the Nomad V-8. Offsetting that was a larger overhead-valve V-8: 287.2 cubic inches versus 265, 200 horsepower with four-barrel carb versus 180 for the Chevrolet with Power Pack.

To follow the Pontiac Star Chief Safari story into 1956, continue to the next page.

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