Monday, May 7, 2018

Pontiac's 1958 One-Year-Only Body

General Motors was rich during the 1950s because it dominated the American automobile market.  So when it made a marketing mistake it was able to throw money at the problem to correct it.

A case in point was the body type used by 1958 Chevrolets and Pontiacs.  This was during the last years of Harley Earl's reign as GM's styling supremo.  Normally adept at leading styling trends, by the mid-1950s Earl began losing his touch, running out of new ideas.  In part this was because the design evolution of the 1930s and 1940s had run its course, so it wasn't clear to those who had lived through that era what might be done next.  In Earl's case, he reverted to the rounded (large radius curves) kind of shapes that he usually preferred.  Unfortunately for him and GM, Chrysler Corporation's new slim 1957 line proved hugely popular while making GM car seem bloated and stodgy.  So GM launched a crash program to redesign all its cars in a somewhat Chrysler-like manner for the 1959 model year.

The 1958 Pontiacs were styled before Earl and his crew knew what Chrysler had in the works for '57.  Production lead-times from concept to showroom in those days ran about three years at best, so nothing much could be done for those Pontiacs aside from fiddling with ornamentation.

Below are examples of the 1958 Pontiac line.  Unless otherwise noted, images are of cars for sale.


A Pontiac from the final year of using 1955 bodies.  It's a 1957 Star Chief Catalina four-door hardtop sedan.  Its side-trim theme will be carried over into 1958, a common GM practice for maintaining brand identity when new bodies are introduced.

And this is its 1958 counterpart, a Star Chief Catalina four-door hardtop sedan shown in a factory photo.  Note the side trim theme.  The rest of the styling is new.

A Star Chief Catalina 2-door hardtop.

The same car from a different angle, showing rear-end styling.  'Fifty-eight Pontiacs got quad headlights, so stylists added quad tail lights.  Note the chromed fake vent abaft of the door.

Side view of Chieftain Catalina 2-door hardtop.

Chieftains ranked below Star Chiefs in the Pontiac market hierarchy.  This is a Chieftain 4-door sedan.

Factory 3/4 view photo of the same model.  Note the heavy, rounded roof above the side windows.

The top of Pontiac's '58 line was the Bonneville.  Here is a Sport Coupe shown in a Barrett-Jackson photo.  The side trim design is jazzed up in the baroque manner found on 1958 Oldsmobiles and Buicks, though not so extreme.

Same car.  Ornamental clutter includes the following: Four stars on the rear fender flanks rather than the three on Chieftains.  Four horizontal hash marks abaft of the front wheel opening.  What seems to be an air exhaust port above the backlight.  Grooves on the trunk lid.  And that outrageous  faux- rocket-like exhaust at the front end of the rear fender two-tone panel.  The car pictured here had fuel injection (rare on '50s American cars), so it had dash along with the flash.

A 1959 Pontiac Bonneville Vista Hardtop Sedan to show what Pontiacs looked like with the new crash-program GM bodies.  Much cleaner, but still not a well-coordinated design.

1 comment:

emjayay said...

The 1958 Pontiac and Chevrolets had new bodies (the center section is the same) and new frames and suspensions (different in each). The 1959's rode on the same frame/suspension underpinnings but with completely different bodies. I'm sure no one in 1959 had any idea that the base of the car they were buying had anything to do with anything before that.