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Issue 06:01:03 - January 16, 2006

1955 Pontiac Star Chief ... a design leader

The 1955 Pontiac Star Chief Pontiac had a fantastic year in 1955, which was the first time the company had ever sold more than a half million cars. Pontiac's 1955 models had V-8 engines that could top 90 mph and had 180 horsepower. One model, the Pontiac Star Chief, contributed significantly to Pontiac's success that year.


GM's Pontiac division built the Star Chief model from 1954 to 1966. Until 1957, it was Pontiac line's prestigious model, and Chrome star side trim made the car easily identifiable.

Claim to fame

Several I Love Lucy episodes featured the Star Chief during the 1954 - 1955 television season. In one episode, for example, Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel piled in a 1955 Star Chief convertible to drive to Hollywood. Featuring the 1955 Pontiac Catalina Star Chief Custom

Pontiac changed the Star Chief Catalina's design in 1955, giving it a new sporty look and feel along with a V-8 engine. The Custom Catalina hardtop offered 62 factory options and accessories for 1955.

Options such as the illuminated Indian head hood ornament, a dashboard compass and a purse holder for ladies made this car unique. It had 51 features such as these, which made consumers love the car even more. Its fame grew as numerous magazines used the Custom Catalina as a cover-page feature or photo. The car was also featured in an episode of the television series My Classic Car.

Revealing the Bonneville

The Star Chief Custom Bonneville was a high-performance line introduced in February 1957 at the Daytona Beach race. It became the "ultimate" Pontiac in 1958, offering a two-door hardtop or convertible model.

The Bonneville was the first in the Pontiac line to have fuel injection, and it competed with the DeSoto Golden Adventurer and the Chrysler 300. There were 630 Bonnevilles produced, and at first they were only offered as a convertible.

The Bonneville's engine was a V-8, bored out to 370-cubic-inch displacement. It could achieve 310 gross horsepower and had a top speed of 130 mph or more. The car could go from zero to 60 mph in only 8.1 seconds. A tuned stock model could go up to 144 mph. The model weighed 4,285 pounds and cost, on average, $4,400.

In 1958, Bonneville added the two-door hardtop to its line, and the car became a series. Pontiac also dropped the prices to around $3,100 for the hardtop and around $3,200 for the convertible. There were 400 Bonnevilles with fuel injection until they were dropped in 1959.

Star Chief gives way to Bonneville

In 1958, the Star Chief offered a two- and four-door Catalina station wagon, hardtop and sedan. Bonneville took the prestigious label from the original Star Chief. Star Chief, however, was still considered a great line.

In 1959, Pontiac limited the Star Chief to only hardtops and sedans while increasing the Bonneville to a full range of body designs. This decision pushed the Bonneville front and center to Pontiac's market. The new model Catalina and the Bonneville grabbed the bulk of attention for Pontiac.

The Star Chiefs of the 1960s were almost identical to the Catalina models, which were Pontiac's price leaders. The major difference was in the engine output. The Star Chief's engine output was higher, and it had a standard interior trim upgrade. It was also built on the much longer Bonneville platform.

The Star Chief was renamed the Star Chief Executive in 1966, before it was retired. The Star Chief name was dropped in 1967, and the design was renamed the Pontiac Executive, putting the line in the mid-price range.

Although Star Chief eventually lost its identity, the model will always be remembered as being the "mother" of many great designs. Some of these designs live on today.


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