Eons ago, sometime after life emerged from earth’s primordial soup and before lumbering, mammoth-like SUV creatures roamed over our roads, man carried his mate, his young, and all of his belongings from place to place in – the station wagon. Station wagons let American men, women, and children travel around the country for business, sightseeing, and the infamous family vacation from 1923, when Star offered the first factory-built station wagon, until 1996, when the last of the breed – the Chevy Caprice and the Buick Roadmaster – were offered.
Pontiac, named after Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa Tribe, became best known for building high-performance cars like the GTO, Grand Prix, and Firebird in the 1960s. But Pontiac was also a serious player in the station wagon market, offering upscale, dramatically styled wagons under the Safari name. The first Safari appeared in 1955 and was patterned after the Chevrolet Nomad. The separate Safari model continued through 1957 and then Safari became used as a station wagon model name for the Pontiac Catalina and Bonneville lines until 1966. Thereafter, the name was used on a variety of station wagons until it was discontinued in 1989.
The Bonneville was Pontiac’s top-of-the-line model in the late ‘50s – early ‘60s. The styling for the 1960 Pontiacs was a major change from 1959 – gone were any vestige of fins and Pontiac’s split grille. All Bonnevilles, including the Safari, featured luxury that was unsurpassed by more expensive cars. Standard equipment included deep pile carpet, a padded instrument panel with polished walnut trim, and a custom steering wheel. Bonneville buyers could choose from 15 “Magic-Mirror” colors.
The Pontiac Bonneville powertrain included a 215 horsepower 389 cubic inch V8 with a four barrel carburetor as standard equipment, along with a three-speed manual transmission. Horsepower options for the Bonnevilles ranged up to 348 hp, and many were available with the ‘Strato-Flight’ automatic transmission.
The Bonneville Safari was offered only in a six-passenger version, with a starting price of around $3,225. Pontiac sold about 370,000 cars for the 1960 model year, about 36,000 of which were Safaris.
Many station wagons were offered in 1960, but only the Bonneville Safari carried Pontiac’s “wide-track” performance aura, and few others could match its luxury and dramatic styling. Like many ancient life forms, automotive evolution no doubt contributed to the Safari’s extinction.
Pontiacs online: http://www.pontiacsonline.com/SAFARI%20PAGE%202.htm
Classic Car Database: http://classiccardatabase.com/specs.php?series=5636&year=1960&model=28914
Photo by Morven