1953, but suddenly it’s 1951 for Chev and Pontiac

Nineteen fifty-three was a big year for automotive milestones.

In the USA, Ford and Buick were celebrating their 50th anniversaries. 

The Plymouth brand had been on the market for only 25 years. 

Meanwhile, GM’s Chevrolet and Pontiac divisions were proclaiming that they had released all-new models.

Well, almost all-new.

They were a rebody of the aging 1949 cars. 

To save costs and boost profits Chevrolet and Pontiac shared the same body shell.

Both featured a “revolutionary” a one-piece windscreen.

Although they used the same body shell, GM’s design teams were able to create enough styling differences to ensure Chevrolet and Pontiac customers were satisfied the cars were not the same. 

Drive train and chassis/suspension differences added to the illusion of difference.

To justify its higher price, the Pontiac rolled on a seven inch/178mm longer wheelbase.

Some of this additional length was ahead of the firewall to accommodate Pontiac’s straight eight engine. 

Back seat passengers also enjoyed extra leg room over those who travelled in a Chevrolet. 

Chevrolet’s advertisements extolled its “Fashion First” styling, whatever that means.

The brakes were hailed as “velvet-pressure jumbo drums.” 

As if.

At Pontiac, its advertisements reinforced the brand’s staid image and trademark chrome streaks.

Potential buyers were reassured that “dollar for dollar you can’t beat a 1953 dual-streak Pontiac.” 

Makes you want to run right out and buy one, doesn’t it?

If the lines on the supposedly all-new duo looked familiar, then you only had to glance at a two-year-old Oldsmobile 98 Holiday sedan to see where the shape came from. 

This was part of the design strategy favoured by GM’s design boss, Harley Earl.

He insisted that new design ideas must be first seen on GM’s most expensive brands, then he would apply them to Pontiac and Chevrolet a year or two later. 

Maybe the Chevrolet and Pontiac advertisements should have proclaimed “Suddenly, it’s 1951!” 

There is no doubt that the 1953 and 1954 Chevrolet and Pontiac models are totally overshadowed by the famed 1955-57 models.

But, if you can find a 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air two door hardtop or a same year Pontiac Custom Catalina hardtop with the straight eight engine, you will have very rare and collectible automobiles. 

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos


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  1. We in Australia were even more hard done by – GMH offered us the 4-door One-Ten series. No chrome except around the window line. Nicely trimmed inside, but very plain on the outside. Ford Australia gave us the Customline, which now in its second year had the right combination of chrome and the appearance of a car belonging to someone who was successful. The fact that it had a V8 was also a big help.

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