Article by Bob Wicker              Research by John Chung             Photos from the Internet


Consider for a moment the humble station wagon. Old station wagons are more and more becoming seen as collector cars of status, as evidenced by their growing popularity and related rising prices. They are even beginning to show up at major auctions, crossing the block during prime time slots. Something that would not have happened just a few years ago.

But back in the era when station wagons were common sites on North America's turnpikes, highways, and city streets, when many middle class families either owned one or wanted to own one, station wagons were disdained by the average performance car enthusiast. They had a stigma of being the proverbial "soccer mom" vehicle of choice, much like mini vans are perceived today. Mom's grocery getter, the family hauler, not considered very cool. However, with the mini van having taken over that stigma in modern times, we can now look back and see the station wagon for what it was and what it is: The epitome of style and function.

In that era, when cars had loads of distinctive character, and their style changed, often significantly, from year to year, the station wagon was no exception. In fact, their design was often based on the the flagship models in each manufacturer's product line up. The full size, top of the line luxury cars bred many station wagon's form. And the sporty mid size cars often had wagon versions to offer as well. And these great wagons took on their own style as the long roof and extended wheel base drove the design even further and made them unique.

The station wagon carried out its utilitarian role by hauling families and their gear to their annual vacation destinations, often with a camping trailer or boat in tow. They were the means by which Americans explored National parks, theme parks, museums, monuments, mountain ranges, ocean shores, and other deserving destinations. They also hauled families to weekend getaways, to the local park, or the lake, or to Grandma's house for Sunday dinner after church. And, yes, they also hauled the groceries, got the kids to school, band and baseball practice, and performed many other mundane tasks.

While this author likes all old station wagons, I think Pontiac wagons were some of the best. The Pontiac wagon styling tended to convey a performance image, often backed up by high torque power plants that removed any doubt. Pontiac called many of its wagon models "Safari". A name that evokes images of travel and adventure. To many who own and drive these wonderful wagons today, every trip in them is a Safari, even if it is just a grocery run. 

This article will explore 25 years of these hardy, heavy haulers. It will examine the various wagon models offered each year, excavate the factory sales brochures and ads used to market them, and provide pictures of actual wagons as they appeared then, and today. So buckle up and join us as we embark on "The Great Pontiac Safari".  




1955 was the beginning of new and sporty styling for the Pontiac station wagon. Available in sporty 2 door models with the new 287 cubic inch V8 engines (2 or 4 bbl) these wagons were as much sports cars as they were family haulers. Much rarer than Chevrolet's Nomad, and to some, more attractive as well, the 1955 to 1957 2 door Pontiac station wagons are valuable collectable cars today. The 4 door models are also desirable and more affordable than the 2 door versions.

US Models: Star Chief Custom Safari 2 door, Chieftan 870 4 door, Chieftan 860 "Colony" 2 door (2 or 3 seat), Chieftan 860 4 door


1955 Wagon Production:

Star Chief Custom Safari 2 door:  3,760

 Chieftan 870 4 door: 19,439

Chieftan 860 4 door: 6,091

Chieftan 860 "Colony" 2 door:  8,618


1955 Sales Brochure

1955 Star Chief Custom Safari Magazine Ad

1955 Chieftan Magazine Ads

1955 Star Chief Custom Safaris

1955 Chieftan 870 Postcard

1955 Chieftan 870s

1955 Chieftan 860 "Colony" 2 door

1955 Chieftan 860 4 Door



Canadian Pontiacs in this era were based on Chevrolet platforms and used Chevrolet engines, but had Pontiac styling cues and often had model names unique to the Canadian market.

1955 Canadian Models: Pathfinder 2 Door, Sedan Delivery

1955 Pathfinder 2 Door

1955 Pathfinder

1955 Sedan Delivery



1956 saw only minor design and trim changes for the Pontiac wagons. However, the V8 engines were upgraded in size (to 316 cubic inches 2 or 4 bbl) and power.

US Models: Star Chief Custom Safari 2 door, Chieftan 870 4 door, Chieftan 860 2 door (2 or 3 seat), Chieftan 860 4 door

1956 Wagon Production :


Star Chief Custom Safari 2 door: 4,042

Chieftan 870 4 door: 21,674

Chieftan 860 4 door: 12,702

Chieftan 860 2 door: 6,099

1956 Wagon Model Illustration

1956 Magazine Ads

Art Fitzpatrick Rendering

1956 Star Chief Custom Safari Postcard

1956 Star Chief Custom Safaris

1956 Chieftan 870 Postcard

1956 Chieftan 870s

1956 Chieftan 860 2 Door

1956 Chieftan 860 4 Doors

1956 860 4 Door HY RAIL Inspection Car

1956 Canadian Models: Pathfinder (2 or 4 Door), Pathfinder Sedan Delivery

1956 Pathfinder 2 Door



In 1957 the styling was changed significantly. Rear fins were extended and the design appeared larger. The V8 engines again grew to 347 cubic inches and were again more powerful then the previous year. In addition to 2 and 4 bbl engines, there was a tri power set up (three 2 bbl carbs) available as well.

US Models: Star Chief Custom Safari "Transcontinental" 4 door, Star Chief Custom Safari 2 door, Super Chief  4 door, Chieftan 4 door, Chieftan 2 door

1957 Wagon Production:

Star Chief Custom Safari Transcontinental 4 door: 1,894

Star Chief Custom Safari 2 door: 1,292

Super Chief 4 door: 14,095

Chieftan 4 door: 11,536

Chieftan 2 door: 2,934

1957 Sales Brochure

1957 Star Chief Custom Safari Transcontinental Postcard

1957 Star Chief Custom Safari Transcontinental

1957 Star Chief Custom Safari Postcard

1957 Star Chief Custom Safari Postage Stamp

1957 Star Chief Custom Safaris

1957 Chieftan Safari HY RAIL Maintenance Car


1957 Canadian Models: Pathfinder 2 Door, Pathfinder 4 Door, Pathfinder Deluxe 2 Door, Pathfinder Deluxe 4 door, Pathfinder Sedan Delivery

1957 Safari Pathfinder Deluxe 4 Doors

1957 Pathfinder Sedan Delivery



The 1958 line up saw a change with all wagons being called Safari. The 2 door wagons were dropped from the US line up. Pontiac went to quad horizontal headlights, a design feature that would remain through 1962. Once again the Pontiac V8 grew, now to 370 cubic inches, and was available with 2 or 4 bbl or tri power.

US Models: Star Chief Custom Safari and Chieftan Safari (6 or 9 passenger)

1958 Wagon Production:

Star Chief Custom Safari: 2,905

Chieftan Safari 6 Pass: 9,701

Chieftan Safari 9 Pass: 5,417


1958 Sales Brochures

1958 AC Spark Plug Magazine Ad

Featuring a 58 Star Chief Custom Safari

1958 Star Chief Custom Safaris

1958 Chieftan Safaris

1958 Chieftan 9 Passenger Safari (Tri Power)

1958 Chieftan Safari HY RAIL Maintenance Cars


1958 Canadian Models: Pathfinder Safari 2 Door, Pathfinder Safari 4 Door, Pathfinder Sedan Delivery, Laurentian Safari, Strato Chief Safari (All available as 6 or 9 passenger models)

1958 Canadian Sales Brochure

1958  Laurentian Safari

1958 Pathfinder Sedan Delivery (1 of 449)

Very Rare 1958 Pathfinder 2 Door




1959 saw brought the beginning of the  legendary "Wide Track"  design that would become a Pontiac trade mark for years to come. Canadian wagons, however, would continued to be based on Chevrolet chassis platforms and would not share the wide track stance. The new body styling also gave the wagons a wider, flatter, more horizontal look. The full size wagon line moved to the new "B" body platform on which it would be based through 1976. The wheelbase varied during that period from 123 to 127 inches, depending on the year and model. The 1959 Bonneville was also the beginning of the use of a three tone interior that continued in various forms through 1962. This interior, especially the seats, are considered by many to be the most attractive of any classic car line. Surely productions costs brought those great interiors to an end. The Pontiac V8 was again enlarged to 389 cubic inches. This displacement would remain as the standard V8 through 1966 in 2 bbl, 4 bbl or tri power trim.

US Models: Bonneville Custom Safari, Catalina Safari (6 or 9 passenger)

1959 Wagon Production:

Bonneville: 4,673

Catalina 9 Pass: 4,084

Catalina 6 Pass: 21,162

1959 Sales Brochures

1959 Russian Sales Brochure

1959 Art Fitzpatrick Rendering

1959 Magazine Ads

1959 Bonneville Custom Safaris

1959 Catalina Safaris


1959 Canadian Models: Parisienne Safari, Laurentian Safari, Strato Chief (all 6 or 9 passenger)

1959 Parisienne Safari Postcard

1959 Laurentian Safari Postcard

1959  Laurentian Safari

1959 Strato Chief




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