The top-of-the-line Pontiac during the 1960s and '70s, the Parisienne was a full-size rear-wheel drive car. It was built on the GM B platform in the US from '83 until '86 and in Canada from '59 to '86. It came standard with high-end features like courtesy lights, chrome accents and special trim moldings. The Parisienne wagon continued under the Safari nameplate until 1989.
During the 1958 model year the Parisienne entered the production lineup as a sub-series within the Laurentian line. The following year it became a separate model. For nearly the duration of the Parisienne production run it was the Canadian nameplate for the top of the line model sold in GM of Canada's Pontiac showrooms. The standard features of the Parisienne were different from Canadian Pontiac models by the luxuriousness of the upholstery fabrics, bright trim moldings, courtesy interior and trunk lights. Other standard equipment was unique exterior accent chrome pieces and the availability of both 2 and 4 door hardtops and convertibles.
Making good use of the conservative Chevy chassis and drivetrain, Canadian 'full size' Pontiacs were close siblings to Chevrolets. Though these vehicles did feature American Pontiac-styled exterior body panels and interior instrument panels. The Parisienne and Canadian Pontiacs utilized the same transmissions and engines as full-size Chevrolets, including the 230 and 250 cu inch 6 cylinder and 283, 305, 327, 350, 396, 400, 409, 427 and 454 cu inch V8s. All of these engines were joined to the same transmissions as Chevrolet including 3 and 4-speed manual, the 2 speed Powerglide and eventually the 3 speed Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmissions.
Pontiacs were constructed in the same GM of Canada assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario as the Chevrolets and had also had parallel model lineups as 'full size' Chevys. The Parisienne had very similar features and amenities as the Chevy Impala, while the Pontiac 'Strato Chief' was similar to the Chevy Biscayne and the Laurentian to the Chevy Bel Air. The Pontiac version of the Parisienne featured more custom and expensive upholstery fabrics. Beginning in 1964 the 'Custom Sport' 2 door hardtop top and convertible model line was right in line with the Chevy 'Super Sport'.
In 1966 Pontiac debuted the 'Grande Parisienne'. A 2 or 4-door hardtop model which was the sibling to Chevrolet's lush Caprice, though Grande Parisiennes until 1968 took their styling cues from the US-market Grand Prix. Despites its Chevrolet foundation, for most of its life the Parisienne resembled the US-market Bonneville.
On the opposite end the Pontiac Motor Division of GM in the U.S. manufactured models with chassis, drivetrains and equipment exclusive from other dealers; Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac and Chevrolet. During most the 1950s until 1970s the American Pontiac model lineup included the Catalina, Executive, Ventura, Star Chief and the top of the line Bonneville. Distinct to the US lineup until 1969 was the 'Grand Prix'; a special 2-door hardtop model with special styling features and luxury and sporty equipment that included bucket seats, high output V8s, tachometers and flashy trim pieces.
Thankfully a huge marketing success for GM of Canada was the mixture of Pontiac exterior styling on an inexpensive Chevy chassis and drivetrain at a price point only slightly higher than Chevrolet. For several decades 'full size' Pontiacs ranked third place behind Chevy and Ford in sales, around 70,000 plus units yearly. Heavier and beefier American Pontiacs with higher price-tags and higher operating costs because of large displacement V8s requiring high octane fuel, had little appeal in the Canadian marketplace. This was due in part to low disposable incomes in the Canadian market, a population base one tenth the size of the US, more sensible spending and savings sensibilities and higher tax and gasoline prices. The sale of US Pontiacs in Canada was further proved unprofitable on the manufacturing side by maintaining special part availability for a low sales vehicle with import/export tariffs and barriers between Canada and the US.
The US Bonneville was downsized to the mid-size G-body platform for the 1982 model year. Though the re-sized Bonneville was sold in Canada, the full-size Parisienne continued on for 1982, though Chevy components replaced the distinct Pontiac front and rear end treatments and interiors. US Pontiac dealerships continued to want a full-size rear wheel drive vehicle to replace the lost U.S. market share and gain back traditional Pontiac customers who wanted a large rear wheel drive car, the Parisienne was imported from Oshawa, Ontario, Canada and sold in the U.S. starting in the '83 model year. It kept the model name Parisienne, along with the specs from the Canadian original.
On the outside it was a rebadged Chevy Impala and had the Impala rear taillight panel that was fitted with Pontiac-spec taillight lenses. The nose though was borrowed from the Chevrolet Caprice joined to a Pontiac grille. The '85 and '86 models kept the rear-end styling from the 1980 to 1981 Bonneville. A base model; similar to the earlier Catalina and the then-current Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale in four-door sedan and Safari station wagon form, and a lux Brougham four-door sedan; featuring velour upholstery and loose-pillow fitted seats, were the two Parisienne ranges sold. For the United States market no two-door models were offered, though a coupe version was offered in Canada through 1983.
Until 1969 right-hand drive Pontiac Parisiennes and Laurentians were assembled in Canada for the export to a few countries like Australia and the UK. 1961 through 1964 models had the '61 Pontiac dash reversed for RHD. The 1965 to 1969 models utilized an adapted version of the '65 Chevy Impala dash panel until 1969, again shared with Chevrolets. Shipped to Australia and assembled at GM's Holden plant were Pontiac right hand drive 'kit cars' crated at GM's Oshawa, Ontario manufacturing plant. They used some domestic parts like seats, heaters, 2 speed ventilation systems and opposing windscreen wipers. Pontiac 'kit cars' were also assembled in Europe and South Africa. Shipped to New Zealand, Australian vehicles were CKD; welded and painted locally, while SKD cars; completed body locally assembled to frame.
GM chose to drop the Parisienne line following the 1986 model year with no plans for a replacement though it still sold well. The Bonneville name was found on a front wheel drive model with similar dimensions versus the '82 mid-side model, classifying the car as a full-size vehicle by the EPA. Though the wagon model known only as 'Safari' continued on until 1989.By Jessica Donaldson