Pontiac History 1955-1981
Pre-1955 The flathead era, straight 6 and straight 8 engines with 6 volt systems were coming to an end
1955- Very big changes at Pontiac. A new body and chassis with an upgraded 12 volt electrical system. Sporty 2 door "Safari" introduced. The big change was however, the introduction of one of the finest engine designs ever built!
The 287 cu in "Strato Streak" V-8!
GMC trucks now come with Pontiac
engines when ordering a V-8
1956- Engine size increases to 316 cu in by enlarging the bore. A 2 4bbl induction system is offered.
The big news is that Semon "Bunkie"
Knudsen took over in charge of Pontiac
on July 1, right before the introduction
of the '57s are released. His first
change was to pull off the familiar
chrome strips or "suspenders" on the
hood of the 57 models. This man would
change the image of Pontiac that
remains to this day.
1957- Another increase in displacement by stroking yields 347 cu in. New model "Bonneville" is introduced,
all were convertibles with fuel injection, the
change to the performance direction is evident.
Tri-Power (3-2 bbl carbs) becomes available.
Pontiac wins prestigious Daytona Speed Weeks
in Florida starting Pontiacs climb to the lead in the performance market.
1958- 58s got a new frame and new coil spring rear suspension, Bonneville now is available as a hardtop and with Tri-Power or fuel injection. 2 door Safari dropped, last year the Chieftain model, all models now have 4 head lights, V-8 is bored to 4.06" to increase displacement to 370 cu in. Arnie Beswick switches to Pontiac. Daytona Speed Weeks won again second year in a row!
1959- Another very significant year for Pontiac. The 370 is stroked to 3.75" which brings out displacement to 389 cu in., 4 bolt main caps introduced on top engines and main journals are enlarged to 3", production engines now have cast cranks, first year for side motor mounts, Pontiac engines now being phased out on GMC trucks. A styling trend is started by using a split grille theme, the arrowhead emblem is introduced and a new advertising slogan is used "Wide Track" ( actually, it was "Wide Track Wheels" ). 3 men working at Woudenburg Pontiac in Mesa Arizona become a Top Fuel team. Dean Turk ( driver, chassis builder ), Bill Cox ( engine builder ), JD Braswell ( parts, misc ).
This car begins to set ET
and MPH records
everywhere it goes.
Mickey Thompson in an
injected Pontiac slingshot
dragster with a '59 Bonne-
ville Safari behind it in what
looks like a southern Ca.
neighborhood. '59 was the
first year Pontiac offered
the top of the line Bonneville
in a Station Wagon
Eddie Hill with early single
engined blown Pontiac
digger, this was around '59/'60.
If anyone has more info, please
takes 4 engined Pontiac
powered streamliner to
406 mph making the
Pontiac V-8 the fastest
engine on the planet!
This has gotta' be the baddest Pontiac of all time!!!!!
4 speed floor shifted T-10 trans now available, alum drum/wheel introduced ( 8 lugs), Ventura model is introduced, Jim Wangers wins US Nationals in S/S class with a '60 Pontiac, Fireball Roberts turns top qualifying time at Daytona 151.56 mph. During the 1960-62 period, Mickey Thompson set more world speed/acceleration records in various cars with Pontiac engines than you can imagine, dozens of them. Pontiac was well on the way to being the Premiere performance leader in the industry.
1961-Elliot M. "Pete" Estes
becomes Pontiacs new
General Manager & the
performance image of
Full sized models downsized with trimmer, cleaner look, less weight too. First year for perimeter frame (giving more leg room, etc) and 4 link rear suspension. Pontiac, again makes "Car of the year", 421 introduced over the counter in late summer, SD engine had forged (990) crank and rods, etc, Tempest compact introduced with innovative 4 wheel independent suspension, a 4cyl 195 cu in engine ( this was the right half of a 389),even a 4bbl version was available!, Marvin Panch wins Daytona 500 with a '60 Pontiac (158mph), Pontiac wins 30 out of 52 races!, Hayden Proffitt drove Mickey Thompson's '61 Pontiac to a O/OS class win at the US Nationals.
Here are 2 different dual engined blown Pontiac diggers. No ID. If anyone has ID, let me know. The damaged on on the left may be Jim Davis of Northern Ca.
1962-Lemans and Grand Prix introduced, 421SD now factory installed along with 389SD. Pontiac wins the majority of Nascar races over all the over branks COMBINED
It is a fallacy that these heads are a direct copy of the Chrysler 392. They were based on them but, the M/T HEMI head is well advanced with better ports, cooling and they're aluminum opening up great potential for further development. Besides, mopar guys, Chrysler gave up on the HEMI in '58 and could care less at the time. Kinda' makes you wonder if Chrysler engineers got a hold of these babys and decided to make the 426 HEMI 2-3 years later!
The Mickey Thompson aluminum Pontiac powered Rail featured HEMI heads and won the '62 US Nationals "Top Eliminator". Driver was Jack Chrisman who beat Don Garlits in the final. Jack also set low ET and top speed of the weekend! Pontiac Power!! Here is the M/T Hemi Pontiac putting away Don Garlits.
Here is the second Pontiac HEMI rail out of the Thompson camp. This was Jack Chrisman's own car 1962 and ran on Nitromethane
Fireball Roberts wins Daytona 500
again in '62 Pontiac (avg speed
152mph, top speed 170 mph)
Eddie Hill's twin Pontiac gas dragster runs 200 mph on May 6 at Hobbs, Nm. This was a full 2 years prior to Don Garlits exceeding 200 officially ( on nitromethane) at a NHRA event. Very Impressive indeed.
Back when Eddie "the Thriller" Hill ran real engines, Pontiac Power!
Tom McEwen drove another of Mickey Thompson's Pontiac diggers for awhile too. Here he had low ET with his Pontiac at 8.59 on gasoline in 1962.
This first page covers from the first V8 in 1955 until the GM racing ban in Jan, 1963.
For Pontiac history after the Jan '63 ban,
Page 2 Pontiac History link- (through the end of the Delorean era)
Page 3 Pontiac History link- after the Delorean era- (1970-1981)
TThese pages provide information on the Pontiac V-8 era, from 1955-1981 and beond and on items related to Pontiac history. In addition to a look at each year and the changes made, there is also a special focus on the higher horse power efforts. It is my hope that this page, and this site, will help your understanding and knowledge of the Pontiac era.
*Note- These pages, while informative, is far from complete. More photos and content is added as time allows and info becomes avail.
Also, check the "About Pontiac Heaven" page for yet more history. PLUS_ additional pics from the era at bottom of page
1963-389SD is dropped, big guns now is 421SD tempest in ht and s/w form, absolute terrors!, "Swiss Cheese" Catalina's make their own noise, 421 now available in street form in 4bbl or tri-power configurations with cast cranks and 4 bolt mains, racing ban goes into effect in Jan forbidding Pontiac to continue development in Super Duty program including multiple over head cam designs. Tempest now available with new 326 engine.
AJ Foyt started the '63 season with
Pontiac until the GM racing ban was
put into effect in Jan '63
Spring 1962- It was at this time that M/T in conjunction with Pontiac upped the ante in the horsepower wars and offered HEMI conversions. Who knows, could have ended up in the parts books if not for the ban (see "About Pontiac Heaven & Hemi" pages), must have drove the chev boys nuts! (what are we going to do now?!) ha ha ha ha
Bill Alexander with his foot in it at the "Pond" ( below left _ known as
San Fernando Raceway in '63
Bill Alexander's fuel Pontiac dragster "Shudder Bug" beats the feared Greer-Black-Prudhomme fueler at Lions Drag Strip, Long Beach, Ca. This was no small task, the GBP fueler has the greatest win-loss record of all time. It was beat only about 7 times in over 200 races. Where were you in '62? This car was recreated by Bill and friends around 2002 complete with blown Pontiac engine. Sadly, Bill died in 2013 RIP Bill.
The AA/Fuel Dragster of Dean Turk, Bill Cox and JD Braswell out of Mesa, Az. Running a 414" Pontiac on fuel competed successfully in Arizona and southern California throughout 1963 and into 1964. This dragster has recently been located and purchased for the Pontiac Heaven museum and restoration is in progress. There is a dedicated page for this car in the museum section of this site.
The Pontiac AA/Fuel Dragster of John Abbott running out of the Denver area. John had this Pontiac over 200mph and is currently restoring this car.
Eddie Hill's last Pontiac dragster, this one a AA/Fueler. Very pretty and very fast!
More pics and info coming as it becomes available and as time allows, check back
NOTE- this site has a dedicated page to the Pontiac HEMI, there is a link on the home page
2 Friends- A Ram Air V head and a M/T HEMI Pontiac head pose for the camera. The V head is owned by my friend Wayne Fern and were formerly owned by my brother Joe. The M/T Hemi head is in the Pontiac Heave collection and were purchased from Wayne in 1990
Above right- Bill Alexander driving the Pontiac powered Ernie's Camera "Shutterbug" fueler puts away the famed Greer/Black/Prudhomme Fueler at Lions.
Paul Goldsmith driving the '63 Tempest Daytona coupe putting away corvettes left and right! Pontiac power!