Cool Pontiac cream of the crop

What was 1963’s best American car?

Although there were some great US cars that year, such as the Stingray and Buick Riviera, I reckon that none came close to the ’63 Pontiacs for influence, styling and value for money.

The Jack Humbert led design team excelled themselves that year.

Beginning in early 1961, they took the basic “B” body, which all GM divisions had to use, and created a distinctive shape that shouted out youth, luxury and performance.

It helped lift Pontiac to almost 600,000 sales, good for third place in the market — its highest ever.

And no wonder. 

For $100 more than a Chevrolet, Pontiac gave you 1 inch/25mm more wheelbase, a 389 cubic inch/6.4 litre V8 as standard (Chev made do with the 283/4.6 litre V8), special upholstery, curvaceous “coke bottle” side styling, the famed “wide-track” stance, a distinctive split grille and towering stacked headlights. 

One of the advertisements proclaimed that “here’s what the other ‘63s wish they look like.” 

How true. 

The four-door hardtop looked like a Buick Riviera, but cost 40 per cent less.

The ‘63’s styling influenced all major US car companies, and Ford Australia too.

By 1965 Plymouth, Ford, AMC, Cadillac and Mercury all emulated Pontiac’s sheet metal. 

The joke at GM was that the 1965 Ford Galaxie was the box the ’63 Pontiac came in, such were the similarities. 

Ford Australia ensured its ’69 Fairlane had the stacked lights look, too.

Then there was Pontiac’s Grand Prix.

What a stunner! 

It was aimed directly at Ford’s Thunderbird.

Devoid of chrome, this luxury coupe sold to 73,000 customers — 10,000 more than the T-Bird.

Pontiac was not the first to use stacked headlights, but they made it their trademark. 

The idea came from David North, who’d joined GM design staff in 1959.

The barrels of an over/under shotgun provided the inspiration. 

He sketched a proposal and Jack Humbert used it.

Such was the success of the ’63 (and ’64 Pontiacs) that GM design boss, Bill Mitchell, decided to break up the Pontiac design team, and distribute the talent into other design studios in the hope the magic would make its way on to other cars. 

David North moved to Oldsmobile and a sketch he did, known as the “flame red car”, became the ’66 Toronado.

The ‘63 Pontiac still turns heads today.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos


CHECKOUT: Bertone’s Mazda and Citroen look-a-likes

CHECKOUT: Mitsubishi Magna an unloved classic

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *