The Star Chief line was produced between 1954 and 1966. A Star Chief made it to the big screen, enjoying a brief cinematic debut on the 100th episode of I Love Lucy, when the entire gang drove out to California.
Production ran from 1954 to 1966 and was a luxurious convertible that served as Pontiac's premium model. The model could easily be identified by its chrome star trim along the sides.
In 1957, Pontiac introduced the Star Chief Custom Bonneville, which was a high performance model set to improve Pontiac's image and put it among the elite of performance marques.
As the 1950s came to a close, the Star Chief's design became very similar to the Catalina. The difference between these two easily identifiable, with most of the differences under-hood. The Star Chief came standard with a higher horsepower engine plus interior trim upgrades and built atop a longer Bonneville platform.
By 1967, Pontiac was no longer using the Star Chief name. In its place was the mid-priced model, the Pontiac Executive.
By Daniel Vaughan | Dec 2007
'Dollar for dollar, you can't beat a Pontiac' was the advertising jingle that represented Pontiac's steadfast reputation for reliability and quality in the 1950's.
Produced by General Motor's Pontiac division, the Star Chief was a prestigious top of the line model introduced in 1954 through 1966. Before the introduction of the new premiere model, all Pontiacs rode on the modest Chevrolet wheelbase. Riding on a 124-inch wheelbase, the Star Chief was available in Deluxe and the more expensive Custom trim. In 1954 Pontiac introduced air conditioning, a first for this price bracket, and seatbelts as an option in 1956. Powering the Star Chief was 248.9 cubic inch 122 hp straight eight engine. Still on the A platform, the prestigious model had an extra 11 inches added towards the rear of the frame.
Easily identifiable by its script on the front fender, the Star Chief featured four stars on the rear side trim and slightly modified fin details. The top of the line Star Chief in Customer or DeLuxe trim was priced starting at $2,301 in 1954. The Star Chief featured a very unique dashboard featuring full instrumentation, not shared with Chevrolet. The long-tailed Star Chief featured a ginormous trunk and a popular option was the Chieftain seven-tube radio. Motor Trend tested a 1954 Star Chief and found it had a top speed of 93 mph and could hit 0-60 mph in 17.4 seconds. Pontiac's four-speed Dual-Range Hydra-Matic was a much more flexible option when it came to performance compared to Chevrolet's two-speed Powerglide.
Making an appearance on the big screen, a 1955 Star Chief appeared on the 100th episode of I Love Lucy, when the whole gang drove out to California, 'California Here We Come'. The luxurious convertible was an example of GM's iconic two-door hardtop, a model that would appear in their four other divisions during this period. In 1955 the second generation Star Chief received an all-new body and the new V8 power replacing the straight-eight. '55 models could be easily distinguished by the two wide 'Silver Streaks' that ran the length of the hood.
Launched on January 31, 1955 was the new Star Chief Safari. Similar to Chevrolet's Bel Air Nomad, the Safari was a two-door hardtop wagon that was produced until 1957. The Safari name continued on for all of the division's standard four door wagons after that. Riding on a shorter 122 inch wheelbase the Safari wasn't technically part of the Star Chief line and the '28 series' and instead was officially part of the '27 series'.
The design of the Star Chief line was slightly modified in 1956. Improvements included heavier looking bumpers and a vertical slash on the front door just above the swage line.
In 1957 The Star Chief Custom Bonneville was launched. A high performance model that greatly improved Pontiac's image, the Bonneville was placed at the top of the most luxurious and elite automobiles of the time. Also new this year was the four-door 'Custom Safari Transcontinental'. For 1957 the silver streaks that ran down the hood were replaced with the new 'Star Flight' design. Gauges were relocated to an oval on the dash and the side trim now had a missile-shaped spear behind the front door. It was now only available as a two-door hardtop and two-door convertible.
The Bonneville became the 'ultimate Pontiac' in 1958 and was given its own position in the Pontiac lineup. This third generation of the Star Chief was no longer Pontiac's top dog lineup, but they were still an admired car, and the marques premium four door sedans and hardtops. The Pontiac lineup received an updated chassis in 1958 along with all-new bodywork that was now longer and lower. Modifications included a new honeycomb grille design and twin headlamps. The Custom Safari model remained on the shorter chassis, shared with the Chieftain, while the sedans and coupe models shared the stretched 124-inch wheelbase. Powering the '58 Star Chief was a slightly bored out 6.1 L version instead of the previous 5.7 L. The manual version increased slightly to 255 hp and the impressive 'PM' option was bumped up to 330 hp. Unfortunately 1958 Star Chief sales were disappointing, despite all of the modifications and updated bodywork. Sales for this year dropped sixty percent, and Pontiac's overall sales dropped more than a third.
Life wasn't fair for the fourth generation Star Chief lineup in 1959 as Pontiac directed its attention to the Bonneville and Catalina models instead. The Star Chief was limited to hardtops and sedans while the Bonneville received a full range of body styles. The first year of the 'wide-track' Pontiacs, for 1959 the Star Chief only made up 17.97% of Pontiac sales.
The Star Chief's design began to morph in similarity to the Catalina as the 1950s came to a close. The new Ventura was introduced in 1960 and the Star Chief was now limited to hardtops and four door sedans, and would continue as so until the end of production. The Star Chief was equipped and powered similarly to the cheaper, smaller Catalina series while the Ventura was much more extravagantly appointed line the top of the line Bonneville. Star Chiefs came standard with an electric clock. The Ventura rode the Catalina's slightly shorter wheelbase and was available with only two doors, which gave buyers a less expensive (yet still upscale) alternative to the Catalina. Produced only through 1961, the Ventura was replaced by the even sportier new Grand Prix.
In 1962 Pontiac rolled out the fifth generation of the Star Chief with base models priced at $3,097. New this year was an optional 421 cubic inch Super Duty V8 engine with three two-barrel carburetors rated at 405 hp. This rarely purchased option carried a hefty pricetag of $2,250. This year the hardtop was renamed the Star Chief Vista (much like designation in other Pontiac series). To distinguish the Star Chief models from the Catalina were three chrome stars on each side and Bonneville taillights. Depending on the year, the stars were found on either the roof or the rear fender. For 1962 no wagons were available and all Safari wagons during this period rode the four and a half inch shorter wheelbase shared by Chevrolet and Catalina.
In a process of retiring the Star Chief name the car was renamed the Star Chief Executive in 1966. Pontiac stopped using the Star Chief name in 1967 and it was replaced by the mid-priced model; the Pontiac Executive.
In Canada the Star Chief equivalent was renamed Laurentian and was used by Pontiac models using Chevrolet drivelines for greater economy. Different series name were utilized so used car buyers in the U.S. weren't sold cheaper Canadian models. Sources:
By Jessica Donaldson