Here's an article (in 10 parts) sent in by our very own Steve Shute;
Scanned the Zink car on the sands @ Daytona. This is
the "real" one, not Thropp's former K/SA hardtop drag racer, which PMD
"disguised" to look like a post coupe for the video...
By: Jack Mueller
You have to look carefully in the histories of Pontiac to find a mention
of the Vauxhall Victor. In fact, you have to look hard in Vauxhall's histories
to find more than passing reference to this compact car. The Victor started out
with tremendous hoopla, but soon showed its many weaknesses… what seemed like
a good idea became an everything-went-wrong situation.
story of the fist Victor – the F-Series models – started in 1954. Up to that
time, Vauxhall automobiles used one basic body shell; engine type and
appointments identified the different series offered. In 1954, management at
GM's British operation decided that the Velox / Wyvern / Cresta lines would be
replaced with different body programs. The new top-line passenger car would be
the Cresta series, powered by an overhead-valve six-cylinder engine. A smaller
shell would be used for the base product, to be known as the Victor. Both
platforms would have an "Americanized" look, as word reached the
company that Ford's English operation had new cars of their own in the works,
based on the lines of the 1955 Ford. The Victor would be a downsized version of
the 1955 Chevrolet.
dimensions of the F-series Victor evolved in keeping with other lower-priced
English cars. Victors sported a 98-inch wheelbase, with overall length of 167
inches. Powerplant for the Victor was the existing OHV four, with compression
upped to 7.8:1 and bored out to 92 cid. The update engine put out nearly 55 hp,
which was more to the "high performance" side of the Victor's
competition. Transmission was a three-speed manual, notable for its full
synchromesh; you could downshift to first while the car was in motion (rare for
many 1950's gearboxes). The car did not have overdrive, but did have an
overdrive-type 4.25:1 rear axle. Suspension for the car was a conventional
layout, with coil suspension for the front end and leaf springs with shocks for
the rear. Tire size started out at 5.60x13, with 5.90x13 added to the option
list shortly after production started.
body design was another mater. F-series Victors used wrap-around windshields
that included the notched front doors as found on 1955 Chevrolets. The rear
window was large and also wrapped in keeping with the American models. Also,
like the Chevrolet, the rear fenders had a sort of fin shape and the exhaust
pipe exited from a rear bumper guard. Flutes (creases in the hood panel) as
found on the 1955 Pontiac were incorporated into the small car. Trunk space was
tremendous for British cars in this market range, on par with American
automobiles. It did not look as sharp as its American cousin, but had an even
bigger problem than its appearance: British General Motors cars were built
fundamentally different than American General Motors automobiles.
was GM's first automotive unit to incorporate unit body construction in all its
cars. The early work came out well, and Vauxhall Motors Ltd. was soon recognized
as a leader in mass-production body-on-frame construction. The F-series victor
platform pushed the limits of the process since roof pillars at the windshield
and rear window were (at least then) significant to a successful unit body.
engineers felt cocky enough to push the limits this time. The Victor platform
started with a stressed floor pan rather than the re-enforced one used in past
Vauxhalls. A re-enforced center doorpost was welded to frame rail sections (but
not welded together to form a regular box frame) and to the floor pan to brace
the roof and body sides. A front sub-frame for engine and other items was
designed and welded to the floor pan without additional bracing or cross members
to help distribute weight (and stress). The result was a car with a series of
stress points in the area of the firewall. The designers knew this, but tests of
prototypes did not show serious fatigue.
the Victor got to prototype construction stage, news came from Detroit that the
platform needed a left-hand-drive version. GM management decided that the
Vauxhall Victor would be imported and offered through Pontiac dealers. Compact
cars were hot sellers as 1956 drew to a close, and GM would have nothing
domestic to compete until at least 1959 or 1960. Besides left-hand drive, the
people at the Luton, England plant had to look at undercoating to bottom of the
car to help prevent rust. Lacking experience on such things (the home market and
other commonwealth markets did not have the harsh climate that covered much of
North America in winter) it was decided that the bottom of the body would be
coated with a hot plastic material, which would be primed and painted to help
protect the plastic from stones and other debris. This move doomed the Victor in
North America before the first cars came off the boat.
were produced only in four-door sedan or station wagon form, the latter being
the first wagons (estate cars as the British called them) to be produced at
Luton (earlier Vauxhall wagons came through third-party coachbuilders).
final gearing for North America, the car was rather impressive for an import for
acceleration with a 0-60 time of 24.8 seconds, compared to 26.6 for the Hillman
Minx and 32.6 for the Morris Minor. With a road-tested top speed of 75.2 mph, it
ranked in what you might call a high performance category for four-door small
imports. The biggest stumbling block to the Victor at introduction was its
price. In its 1958 review of imported cars, Motor
Trend magazine compared POE (Port Of Entry) pricing of various makes with
other imports and American cars, the Victor came out the most expensive of all
the price, Pontiac dealers committed themselves to selling the line, at least
until something better from the home team came along.
Luton, at the Vauxhall plant, there was jubilation as orders came in. In the
first six months of production, 50,000 cars rolled off the line. A year later,
the 132,000th car went out the plant gate. Sixty-five percent of the
production went out of the country, most to the United States. For a short time,
the Victor moved well, then came the winter of 1958-'59.
and other highway deicers played havoc with the plastic coating, exposing bare
metal on the critical floor pan, resulting in premature rot of the thing that
made the car structurally unsound. American undercoating was not compatible with
the material applied at the factory, so dealers could not sell the fix as an
add-on. Owners also found that they were hard-pressed to keep up with expressway
traffic (a common problem to imports) . . . something not expected in an
automobile having the full backing of GM's high-performance division. Then there
was the problem of Pontiac's inability to promptly handle dealer warranty
transit claims. Cars would sit unsaleable for weeks or months while their
non-conformances were resolved.
designers went to work on the undercoating problem, incorporating a fix into the
F-series 2 program which went into production during February 1959. Body styling
was cleaned up, creating a very nice looking automobile. Flutes were removed
from the hood, and the exhaust pipe no longer ran out the bumper guard. The rear
quarters were filled out, with bumper guards toned down. Interiors were changed
with a more rational dashboard giving the car a more conservative British look.
basic model in Series 2 was the Super, with two-tone paintwork appearing in the
Deluxe version (leather upholstery was offered, but not on cars sent to North
America). The plastic undercoating was dropped in favor of conventional
American sales continued to slide, the rest of the world market was good to the
Victor. In the first year of production, 115,100 of the Victors moved out of the
Luton plant, with another 95,900 cars built between January j1960 and January
1961. Unfortunately for the platform, most of the sales came early in the
period. Pontiac introduced the Tempest in the fall of 1960, and dealers
preferred to push their own compact rather than the import car. It was a smart
move on the dealer's part as the bad news of the Series 1 grew worse, and took
the better Series 2 down with it.
the spring of 1961, a new, lethal version of the rot problem started to surface
in parts of the Midwest. Earlier I mentioned the attachment of the front
sub-frame to the stressed floor pan. Well, when the pan started rotting in this
area, the weight of the sub-frame combined with gravity to snap the car in two
at the firewall.
this was not a chronic thing, enough cars started to show the symptoms of the
disease (doors not closing properly, a noticeable sag in the fender line and
hood fit problems) to make the car a bad buy in anyone's book. Attempts were
tried to brace the area with new steel, but again, most dealers selling the car
in the United States did not have the equipment and experience to deal
adequately with unit-body construction problems. It was a good effort but not
enough to overcome the bad reputation that the original design had.
of the F-series Victors ended in September 1961, less than two months after the
1961 models were introduced. Total 1961 production came to only 22,043
automobiles, less than half the first six-month production of the Series 1 in
1957. Replacing the F platform was the better-engineered FB series, designed
with stronger roof pillars all around. The wrap-around glass was gone.
few dealers loyal to the project brought FB's into America but gave up the idea
early in 1962. Any dealers still sporting the Vauxhall crest on signage or
advertising did so as a means to help those people with Victors find someplace
that would still work on them and have access to parts. The last identifiable
Pontiac/Vauxhall dealer surrendered its Vauxhall franchise in 1966. It seems the
dealer sold his next-door neighbor (who was also the dealer's family doctor) a
Series 2 station wagon and kept the program active until the car was finally
not only is the Victor forgotten (or rather ignored) by Pontiac, but it appears
to be extinct on the American highways. It's been several years since any of
them showed up in the classified section of Old
Cars and none have appeared at the car shows I've attended over the last 12
years or more.
I have seen a couple in junkyards, but the two examples I came across were really rotted through at the sub-frame/floor pan area and could not be moved, let alone considered a restoration project. I do hope, however, that at least a few examples will surface examples of the only postwar automobile from GM's British division exported in great numbers to America.
Due to our lovely U.K. climate very few early victors survive, Vauxhall
(our GM) built real rot boxes for many many years, now they just build
was first offered on selected 1940 Oldsmobile models as an option costing a mere
$57.00. The 60th birthday is being observed now because General
Motor's Detroit Transmission was reorganized to produce Hydra-Matics in May of
1939 and the first production Hydra-Matics were shipped to Oldsmobile in October
of that year. They debuted in dealer showrooms soon thereafter. When Alfred P.
Sloan, then GM's chairman, took his first ride in an Oldsmobile fitted with
Hydra-Matic, he was more than impressed. He commented, "For 15 years, I
have felt that the gearshift lever had no place in a really modern car,"
adding, "I feel very strongly that it is only a matter of time when every
car must have this kind of a transmission." While this never happened, and
I, as one who still likes to shift a slick five-speed, hope it never will,
Sloan's statement has come pretty close. Today, most motorists in North America
wouldn't even consider buying a car that requires gear shifting and clutch
Hydra-Matic development team was headed up by Earl Thompson whose synchromesh
transmission had eliminated double clutching as well as crunching and grinding
of gears. Prior to the Hydra-Matic, he had developed the short-lived Automatic
Safety Transmission semi-automatic for GM.
was an instant hit with Oldsmobile and 20,000 units were sold in the first year.
Cadillac added it as an option in 1941, and between the two divisions, about
200,000 of them had been installed before car production ceased for the duration
of World War II. However, heavy-duty military versions of the Hydra-Matic were
produced during the war. Mated to Cadillac V-8s, pairs were used to motivate
light tanks, howitzer carriers, and self-propelled anti-aircraft guns.
Torq-Matic, with a four-fold increase in torque, was used in the Pershing tanks
and Hellcat tank destroyers.
automobile production resumed after the war, so did Hydra-Matic production. By
1947 GM had produced its 500,000th Hydra-Matic. In 1948 Pontiac was
the third GM division to add hydra-Matic to its option list and the million mark
was hit in 1949. Cadillac in 1950 was the first automaker to offer Hydra-Matic
as standard equipment, this on its Series 60 and 62 models.
The resounding popularity of shiftless driving required the other manufacturers to offer automatics to remain competitive. While some developed their own, others took the easy path by purchasing Hydra-Matics from GM. Thus, it was first available on 1950 Nashes, 1951 Hudsons, 1951 Kaisers, and 1954 Willys Aeros. Since Ford Motor Company would not have its own automatic available until 1951, Hydra-Matics were installed on Lincolns starting in 1949. By 1953, Hydra-Matic was available on about one-half of the American marques. It was even available on Bentley, Rolls Royce, Jaguar, and several other European brands. Hydra-Matic became available on GMC light-duty trucks in 1953 and on Chevrolet trucks in 1954. Powerglide was available earlier on sedan deliveries.
up in Detroit, I still remember the night of August 12, 1953 when GM's Hydra-Matic
plant in Livonia, Michigan burned to the ground. This was catastrophic since it
was the world's only source of Hydra-Matics. GM applied a Herculean effort to
recover. Tooling was repaired and rebuilt even as the ruins were still
smoldering. GM obtained the giant World War II bomber plant at Willow Run from
Kaiser-Frazer and completely revamped it for Hydra-Matic production. Twelve
weeks to the day of the fire, the first Hydra-Matic rolled off the new
production line. Because of that fire, you will find some 1953-'54 Cadillacs and
Oldsmobiles fitted with Buick Dynaflows and Pontiacs with Chevrolet Powerglides.
Non-GM companies using Hydra-Matics were even more severely impacted since they
had lower priority. Lincoln, for example, stopped production for 55 days with a
reported loss of 7,000 sales.
the years there have been many improvements to the Hydra-Matic. While the
selector on earliest versions read N-H-L-R, in 1946 it was changed to N-Dr-Lo-R.
Later it was changed to P-R-N-D-L to reflect the addition of a "PARK"
feature. Then lower gear markings were added as the transmission became more
sophisticated. A Dual Range Hydra-Matic was added in 1952. In 1956, there was a
new version based on what GM called the Controlled Coupling principle and used a
second fluid coupling. It was offered on all Cadillacs, as the Jetaway Hydra-Matic
on Oldsmobiles, and Strato-Flight Hydra-Matic on Pontiacs where it was either
standard or optional depending on the model. The long-lived Turbo Hydra-Matic,
which has been offered in many versions through the years, first appeared in
1964. Another important engineering feat was Front End Turbo Hydra-Matic used on
1966 and later Oldsmobile Toronados and 1967 and subsequent front-wheel-drive
Cadillacs starting with the Eldorado. By 1967, GM had produced the 20-millionth
Hydra-Matic and the 25-millionth in 1970. By the mid-'90s, electronically
controlled versions of the Hydra-Matic were being offered.
may wonder why Buick developed its own transmission, Dynaflow. It seems that
with Buick's torque-tube drivetrain set-up, which was directly connected to the
rear end, all the jolts and jerks produced by the Hydra-Matic design as it
shifted would be felt throughout the car, definitely not in keeping with Buick's
noted ultra-smooth ride. With the Hotchkess-type systems used on other GM
products, this was not a problem since shifting action was absorbed by their
rear springs and universal joints.
There has been quite a bit of interest in the Canadian Pontiac cars by Pontiac owners in the USA so I thought that I would go into some of the interesting history for those of you who are still interested.
We will start at the end of the depression years; Many car companies did not survive the depression. Even the big three were affected by the depression so much so that cars like Cadillac and Lincoln were on the line! It is only with their more profitable and cheaper offerings they were able to survive. At this time the Canadian divisions of the large American automakers realized that the Canadian market was somewhat weaker and needed more entry level cars rather than all the mid-price vehicles that existed. Chevrolet, Ford and Plymouth were the bread and butter cars of both nations. in the USA the Pontiac and Dodge were only slightly more upscale and slightly more expensive. In Canada the price difference between the low end cars and the low mid priced cars was greater. The solution for Canada was to use more common parts from the cheaper cars with slightly more upscale trim at only a slightly higher price. Canadians would feel that they were getting an unique vehicle and a better deal for the dollars.
This, in 1937 the first significant "Canadian" Pontiac was introduced! This new Canadian Pontiac was called the 224; it featured a 224 C.I. overhead valve six based on the Chevrolet engine and was offering something that would not be offer in the USA till the mid sixties, which was an overhead valve 6 cylinder engine. The body for 1937 remained totally the same as the American Pontiac. However, the next year for 1938 the Canadian Pontiac also adopted the Chevrolet body, making the Canadian Pontiac more unique. In 1941, the Canadian Pontiac cars returned to using the US style L Head flathead till 1954, except for the period of WW2 when manufacturing in Canada was suspended for the war effort, but continued to use the modified Chevrolet bodies with Pontiac badging. For example, 1950-51-52 Fleetleader Deluxe (Canadian Pontiac) looks like a Pontiac but one could identify the Chevrolet in them with the Chevy rear fenders, taillights, etc. The 1954 Pontiac Fleetleader Deluxe has the distinctive profile of a Chevrolet 210 Deluxe and used the same frame and body and grill , hood and trunk streaks and engine from Pontiac. Starting in 1955 Pontiac was still using Pontiac styling and some of the interior trim from Pontiac but they were built on Chevrolet chassis with Chevrolet drivetrains. The Canadian Pontiac success came in 1955 when it shed its Chevrolet appearance and had full Pontiac styling with multiple body styles like convertible and wagons; it had retained the Chevrolet powertrains and shorted chassis though! The 1958 top of the line Pontiac Parisienne looked very much like the U.S. Bonneville but shared its shorter frame and drivetrain with the Chevrolet Impala. In the USA Pontiac sedan deliveries, that were available were based on the Chevrolet sedan deliveries, until 1958. The '59 and '60 Pontiacs were scorned cars, in Canada, by many buyers for it had the large wide-track body placed on the narrow tracking Chevrolet chassis and was the cause of a few laughs. The 1959 Strato-chiefs and the 1960 Laurentian and the 1962 Laurentian were all six cylinder cars, which was unheard of in the US Pontiacs. In 1962 when the Chevy II compact was introduced, in Canada,its twin the Acadian was offered in Canada only. Also, when the mid-sized Chevelle appeared, in 1964, GM Canada offered the similar Beaumont. The Pontiac cars were so successful in the Canadian market that by the early sixties the Canadian Pontiac Strato-Chiefs, laurentians, and Parisienne were challenging Chevrolet as the best selling cars in Canada! By 1965 the famous Auto-Pact between Canada and the USA made these "special" models ruduant and manufacturers could now bring models back and forth freely across three border. 1970 when models started blending together and all full sized Pontiac models were offered in Canada from the lowly Strato-Chief to the big Bonneville. Of special note, Canada exported many of its Pontiac cars, over the years to its British Commonwealth countries where they were imported there with a minimal duty because Canada is a British commonwealth country whereas if the GM cars went to these countries from USA they would be subject to a higher duty and therefore less competitive in those countries. That is why many foreign English speaking nations are familiar with names like Parisenne and Laurentian, etc.
Of interest, to those in the USA, the Canadian Parisenne became available in the USA in 1983 before disappearing completely after 1986.
Pontiac has been a strong and respected name plate in canada since they started building Pontiac cars in Canada since 1926. The bulk of the Firebird cars for the North American market were built in the Oshawa, Ontario plant in Canada. This plant will shut down with the end of the final production of the 2002 Firebirds. GM has called the stopping of the Pontiac Firebird a hiatus; maybe it will rise again like the Phoenix of legendary times.
I hope that this has shed some light into the production of pontiac cars here in Canada. I own 3 American Pontiac cars; a '28 Landau sedan, a '51 Chieftain sedan and a '54 Starchief Custom Catalina cpe. Anyone with comments can contact me by clicking the button;
Appears to be a factory photo showing the release of the Tri-Power option in late December, 1956. This particular engine is what was called the NASCAR version, and featured solid lifters, -886 cam (McKeller #6), 10:1 squeeze, and a Delco dual-point FI distributor, which allowed the use of a JONES/Motorola mechanical tachometer.
ONES cable-driven tachs featured a
"tattle-tale" redline, which indicated highest RPM achieved. It
could only be reset with a key, and was more of an engine monitor than a
driver's indicator, since the Chief Mechanic usually had the only key.
This pic was snapped on the sands of Daytona Beach in February, 1957. The
John Zink-prepped 2711 2dr sedan ran 131.7 mph in the flying mile with a 2.56:1
rear. A PMD video is usually shown at the POCI Nats, which
"recreates" this particular scene. However, sharp eyes (like
mine) instantly note that the featured car is really a Chieftain
This 57-2711 is seen taking the checkered flag at the NASCAR Performance trials
at Daytona Beach in February 1957. It is a "sister" car to the one
above, and was also prepped by John Zink. The driver is believed to be a young
rookie named Cotton Owens. The
Old Cars Weekly
Robert c. Ackerson
Although many mechanical components were carried over from 1948, the 1949 Pontiacs were regarded as all-new cars. Along with Chevrolet and the smaller Oldsmobile's, all 1949 Pontiacs were based on General Motors’ new A-body. It was upon the new body that Pontiac asserted it had “the most beautiful thing on wheels,” a comment best left to the visual tastes of the viewer. But few could deny that the latest Pontiac was a handsome automobile.
The clean lines of its new envelope body, well-proportioned by a 120 inch wheelbase, were accentuated and not overwhelmed by its chrome trim. While Pontiac’s hood-mounted silver streaks weren’t exactly new, they flowed smoothly into the new car’s overall styling theme.
minor styling changes set the 1950 Pontiac apart from the 1949 model, but 1950
became Pontiac’s best production year to date with a total of 446,429 cars.
Pontiac’s steel bodied station wagons were no longer newsworthy, the same
could not be said of the new two door hardtop Catalina model. A prototype of the
Catalina had appeared in early 1949 GM shows, but Pontiac and Chevrolet had to
wait until 1950 to offer their first two door hardtops.
other Pontiac models, the Catalina was available in De Luxe or upscale Super De
Luxe trim. The latter was offered in just two exterior colors: Sierra Rust and
San Pedro Ivory. These colors were also reserved for the Super De Luxe
Catalina’s leather interior.
the last five years of their production life, the power of Pontiac’s six and
eight cylinder L-head, in-line engines, which dated back to the 1930s, gradually
increased. When the Catalina was introduced in 1950, the straight eight was up
to 268.2 cid, and with the optional 7.5:1 compression ratio cylinder head, it
developed 113 hp @ 3600 rpm. The six cylinder was available with either the
standard or optional high compression cylinder head with respective ratings of
90 hp @ 3400 rpm and 93 hp @ 3400. By 1951 the eight cylinder with a 7.5:1
compression ratio had a peak output of 120 hp. Equipped with the high
compression option, the six was rated at 100 hp.
McCahill’s test of a 1950, two door fastback Pontiac with manual transmission
and the six cylinder engine in Mechanix
Illustrated, March, 1950, resulted in a zero to 60 mph time of 15.4
seconds. As McCahill noted, “in the pickup and get-away department, the
Pontiac six is right up there with the immediate competition and doesn’t have
to take a backseat for any of them.”
in its test of a 1951 Pontiac Chieftain De Luxe four door sedan, depicted
Pontiac’s straight-eight as “staid.” The magazine also noted that the
6.5:1 compression ratio engine with 116 hp @ 3600 rpm had a “fairly good”
torque output of 220 lb.-ft. @ 2000 rpm. This provided the Pontiac with a better
than average power to weight ratio. The Hydra-Matic, found on over 70 percent of
all new Pontiacs, gave the Pontiac straight-eight a zero to 60 mph time of just
over 20 seconds. Motor
Trend recorded a maximum speed of 92.9 mph.
designs were used for both the side body trim and grille in 1951. Changes in
Hydra-Matic’s design made it easier for a driver to “rock” the car out of
mud or snow. Both the De Luxe and the Super De Luxe versions of the Catalina
were continued with Sapphire Blue and Malibu Ivory now exclusive to the Super De
twin spear side trim made it easy to identify the 1952 Pontiacs. Belfast Green
and Sea Mist Green were the De Luxe Catalina’s new exclusive colors. The
output of Pontiac’s was again increased, this time to a standard 6.8:1
compression ratio and an optional 7.7:1 ratio.
six cylinder engine with those ratios now developed 100 hp and 102 hp,
respectively. The ratings of the eight were 118 hp and 122 hp. These
developments and the availability of General Motor’s new 4-speed Dual-Range
Hydra-Matic transmission, had limited impact on Pontiac’s top speed. The zero
to 60 mph time of a 122 hp, Hydra-Matic equipped model did, however, improve to
just under 19 seconds.
1949 to 1954, most changes in Pontiac’s front coil and rear leaf spring
suspension were primarily ride enhancements. In 1953, revisions in the front
suspension, collectively called “Curve Control,” included the use of Longer
springs, stronger A-arm supports, and revised shock absorber valving. These
alterations, which reduced both brake dive and wheel camber change during
cornering, were accompanied by new sheet metal and a longer, 122-in. wheelbase.
Pontiac styling remained modern by not extreme, and was highlighted by a one-piece windshield, a larger rear window, and a moderate up-kick in the rear fender profile. Revisions in Pontiac model identification resulted in the Super De Luxe Catalina becoming the Custom Catalina. The 1953 version featured an exclusive laurel Green and Milano Ivory two-tone paint scheme.
production in 1954 totaled 287,744 cars, down significantly from the 418,619
produced in 1953. The drastic drop can be attributed to competitor offerings of
more powerful OHV V-8s in Buick's and Oldsmobile's. These siblings also gave
formidable opposition in the form of comparably priced models with new body
shells. The time had come for Pontiac to change direction.
But if an end to an era at Pontiac had arrived, it concluded in style. A new Starchief series in either De Luxe or Custom trim with a 124-in. wheelbase and a 122 hp eight-cylinder engine was introduced for 1955. A Catalina hardtop, along with a four door sedan, was one of the two Custom Starchief models offered. Exclusive to the Catalina were three exterior colors: Coral Red, Maize yellow, and Biloxi Beige. The Catalina was also offered as a 122-in. wheelbase Chieftain Custom with either a 115-hp six or the eight cylinder engine.
initially overshadowed by Chevrolet’s emergence as a performance leader,
Pontiac also began to redefine its role within GM’s automotive empire in 1955.
For thousands of Pontiac enthusiasts, the Catalina name would conjure up visions
of the South California island of Santa Catalina, a graceful vintage World War
II aircraft, or the timeless hard-top designs of the 1950s.
Independents Make Colorful Exit
Old Cars Weekly News
By Bill Siuru
Two-tone paint jobs have always been popular, but usually with the second color on the roof. In the days before slab-sided styling, the separate fenders often got the second color.
In 1955, the big three introduced two-tone and even three-tone pain schemes with color separated by chrome strips that were called "sweep spears," "color sweep," or "side sweep" in the brochures. The purpose of these styling cues that appeared on Fords, Chevrolets and Plymouths as well as the other big three marques [including Pontiacs] debuting in 1955 was to make cars look longer and lower.
Actually, for the big three, the 1950 Buick's pioneered the "spearside" molding idea and the 1954 Oldsmobile's were the first models to use it to separate colors. Also, the limited edition 1953 Oldsmobile Fiesta used a variation of the design.
Another benefit of the idea is that it was a great way to separate top-of-the-line models from their lesser siblings. Back then, you could distinguish a Bel Air From A Two-Ten, a Fairlane from a Customline, or a Belvedere from a Savoy from a block away. It also allowed major appearance differences between model years with minimum changes to the production line.
This styling fad was really a blessing for the independents, which by the mid-1950s were on their last legs and had virtually no budget for developing new models. With a minimum investment in tooling for chrome trim, they could not only have a fresh look, but also incorporate styling cues that were competitive with those of the big three.
By 1955, true Hudson's were history and for 1956-'57, Hudson's were badge-engineered Nash's. The "Hashes" did have their own distinctive front ends and trim that included different paint and chrome configurations from the Nash's. Nash's use of multi-tone paint schemes rather successfully updated the basic body design that dated back to 1952.
Certain 1955 Rambler models could be ordered with zigzag chrome separating colors. The all-new 1956 Ramblers featured a variety of multi-tone paint schemes. Here Hudson and Nash versions were the same design. After 1955, the Hudson and Nash Metropolitans had two-tone paint jobs separated by chrome.
Packard also updated aging body styling partly with multi-color paint and chrome with different configurations for 1955-'56 Clipper models and Patrician and Caribbean models. Likewise, Studebaker used the concept on its 1955 coupes, sedans and station wagons.
The two-tone Studebaker President Speedster had one of the best looking two-tone treatments of any model from an independent automaker. Studebaker offered a rather large number of different layouts on its 1956-'57 models. In its final year, 1955, Willys tried to survive with two-tone Aero-based Custom sedans and Bermuda hardtops. Only Kaiser did not join in, but then again in 1955, it built only 1,231 cars.
Pickups were not immune from this styling fad. For instance, International pickups and Travelalls as well as Studebaker Transtar pickups of the era could be ordered with two-tone paint designs.
Sent to me again by Steven A. Shute not 57 but interesting for us Brits;
Do you know the story behind why there are two colors for the Indian head in 1955? It turns out that PMD originally issued all the Indian heads in amber. However, during that year the Federal Motor Vehicle Department issued new regulations concerning lights on motor vehicles. The Feds decided that no color should be visible from the front of the vehicle. Only white lights were allowed. So Pontiac dealers had to recall cars with the amber hood ornaments and replace them with clear Lucite. Most of the amber inserts were trashed. PMD made a mid-year change at the plant and began issuing only clear inserts for the hood ornaments.
You can now by reproductions in either clear or amber from Ames.
I was sent this file some time ago I believe it was a HPP magazine article though I'm unsure. If this breaches copyright please let me know, but I thought the car was so beautiful that not to share it would be a sin!
In 1957, things were happening at Pontiac. The changes had started the previous
summer, when Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen became Pontiac's new general
manager. Soon after that, he hired Pete Estes and John DeLorean, in a move that
would mean great things for the company for many years to come.
Top: If you wanted Pontiac's new Bonneville in 1957, you could get it only one way: loaded, with a convertible top and the 300-plus horsepower 347. Total production was 630. Bottom left: Just as he did to the rest of the car, owner Bill Schoenig painstakingly restored this interior to its current immaculate condition.
The Strato-Streak was
enlarged and improved for the next two model years, until it measured 347 cubic
inches for '57. And then, as if the two "Extra Horsepower" Tri-Power
options weren't enough, Pontiac introduced a Rochester fuel injected version,
available only in the new top-of-the-line Bonneville.