The other day, while sorting through
a shelf full of Pontiac press releases and press kits,
I found a number of packets released through the 1980s
and 1990s of Pontiacs more experimental vehicles.
Some of them were really off the wall, and others were
actually believable concept cars that might have been
planned for development down the road. Its always
fun to look at what was viewed as futuristic, now that
the future is actually here... still nobody is gliding
on a cushion of air, or flying to work in a winged car
though. This got me to thinking. These designs of recent
times were just part of a long line, an evolution, of
design for Pontiac. So, with that in mind, I went digging
even deeper into the photo archives.
The first Concept Cars I found were the
well known Club de Mer and Bonneville Special. We will
take a look at these cars, but first I wanted to look
at some of the not-so-well-known Pontiac cars. There
are three of particular interest from the early years:
the 1953 Parisienne, the 1954 Strato Streak, and the
1955 Strato Star. Lets take a look at them now.
Article continued below...
Click for description
Continued from above...
1953 Pontiac Parisienne
Out of the three Dream Cars we are studying
now, the Parisienne is the one that looks most like
an actual production Pontiac. It was initially built
for the 1953 GM Motorama and then updated for the 1954
Motorama, both at the New York City Waldorf-Astoria.
That is what some say, however John Gunnell reports
that there is no mention of the Parisienne at the 1954
Motorama, and suspects it was relegated to lesser shows
and even dealer displays around the country.
Click for larger view
At the 1953 NYC Motorama perhaps.
The car sat quite low...
It is reported that Paul W. Gillan,
a principle stylist at Pontiacs design studios
gave the Parisienne its final concept and design modifications.
There is nothing found on who gave it the first
design concept, but it might be that Harley Earl had
a hand in it... but we dont know that for sure.
From the looks of the drop down sill between the rear
of the doors and the fenders, it looks like Dutch
Darrin had a hand in the design too. It is more
likely a case of someone copying Dutchs
signature dip for a formal look. Henry Lauve,
head of the color and interior studios, is credited
with the exterior color and the interior design. He
is also the one who chose the French name because he
studied in Paris.
The Parisienne started its life as a regular production
convertible body. From there it was extensively restyled
with the fender dips, the openfront landau roof, and
a wraparound windshield. Beyond that, the exterior revisions
are rather cosmetic only, retaining most of the regular
53 trim and brightwork. However, there were definitely
additional modifications made to drop the car to only
seven inches off the ground, and with a height of only
56 inches. There has never been any reports of the body
being sectioned or channeled
over the frame, so until we know, it is assumed that
it was all just suspension lowering.
The interior, while beautiful, was not anything futuristic.
It was more or less what you could consider just customized.
The front had two bucket seats made of pink Roulette
leather, which also trimmed the roof lining. The rear
was a full seat, and the entire seating area was trimmed
in satin frieze with aluminum yarn.
The entire effect, while the car was supposed to look
futuristic, was actually a throwback to a much earlier
time when cars even buggies much earlier
had open air leather trimmed chauffeur areas in front,
and plush covered areas in the back for the well to
do owner. A plexiglas dome is reported as being able
to fit the open front area; but, no dome has been seen
in any of the photos, or with the car. Was one ever
made, or just talked about in the press statements?
Regardless, it is a sure bet this car never saw the
For its original debut, the Parisienne was painted a
jet black, and for its remake for 1954, it was changed
to a pearl light-blue some say gold (?). For 54
it was fitted with the new grille, but no other changes
are reported. What makes for intriguing conjecture is
how differently this car would have looked if it had
been updated into the stretched Star Chief configuration
for 1954. It would have been even more regal looking.
From a mechanical stand, the Parisienne was factory
all the way. It sat on the production 122-inch wheelbase
chassis and used the standard 122-horsepower, 268-cubic-inch
stratght-8 flathead engine coupled to the Dual-Range
Today the 1953/54 Parisienne is one of the lucky Dream
Cars that survived. Like all design and show concept
cars from GM, this one was most likely slated for the
crusher, or at best total dismantling. It is believed
that the legendary GM designer Harley Earl took a fancy
to the Parisienne and arranged for a relative to keep
the car after it was done on the show circuit. Sometime
later it ended up in the hands of a man in New Jersey
who planned to restore it. It was seen at shows periodically,
so it was obviously still in good, and operational condition
for some time. Eventually Joe Bortz of the Chicago area
purchased the Parisienne and gave it a full and accurate
1953 version restoration. It is now a part of the Bortz
Collection of Dream and Concept Cars and is seen periodically
at the more prestigious concours events around the country.
The Parisienne is a lucky car, and the hobbyists are
even more lucky that this history behind this Pontiac
Dream Car has been preserved for present
and future generations to enjoy.
1954 Pontiac Strato Streak
The year 1954 saw Pontiac with two new Dream Cars
on the show circuit at least the major circuitas
the 1954 Motorama introduced the public to the Strato
Streak and the Bonneville Special. Perhaps the introduction
of the Strato Streak at the Motorama is further evidence
to John Gunnells claim that the 1954 version of
the Parisienne did not make the 54 Motorama as
some believe. It certainly wouldnt have served
any purpose to have an updated (outdated?)
last-years-car showing next to the all new Starto
Click for larger view
A clean design that still
looks modern today
Unique pillarless hardtop of the Strato
Streak and the swivel front bucket seat
It is obvious from first glance, this
new concept car was something like never seen before
from the design studios of Pontiac. It was a large four-place
sedan of totally unfamiliar styling. Some say it was
European in design, and while there is a
hint of Ghia styling in the front treatment, that is
where the European theme ends. The overall look seems
to hint more to an advancement of the Hudson look from
years before with the addition of yet-to-be-seen Cadillac
Eldorado sloping rear fenders and a 58 GM slanted
rear roof pillar design. And, whats with the 57
Oldsmobile rear quarter windows? Obviously, this Strato
Streak was the amalgamation of a lot of design ideas
of what the most futuristic car, viewed in 1954, would
Most striking of all, however, were the pillarless doors
with the rear ones opening in suicide fashion.
This was a throwback to at least 1940 with sedan rear
opening doors, but updated with the now popular hardtop
style. The structural support required by the elimination
of the center pillar was made up by frame reinforcement.
Weight was reduced by using fiberglass for the body,
something still pretty new at this time, only recently
gaining fame with the Corvette. This new medium sure
sped up the body creation process for the design studios
who used to have to hammer metal for entire new concept
bodies. This new body stood only 54.5-inches tall and
was slightly longer than the new 54 Star Chief
The outside treatments were rather stark with limited
use of chrome and ornamentation, although what there
was reflected the 50s rocket ship
era of design with louvers on the side and jet exhaust
looking taillight housings. All considered, it was a
clean design though that still looks modern today.
The interior of the Strato Streak was further characterized
by the jet age look with a center console running from
front to rear and housing many of the accessory controls
and front and rear glove compartments. The front and
rear seats were bucket style with the fronts swiveling
for exit, and all trimmed in black patent leather and
fabric. Similar four-bucket design would be seen in
the 58 Bonnevilles still in the future. It is
obvious that these Dream Cars were truly
the things of new ideas and future production.
Engine choice for the 54 Strato Streak was again
the venerable 268 cubic inch flat head straight eight.
While the new V-8s were available at the time of the
Strato Streaks construction, and most likely undergoing
the publicized 3,000,000 mile testing, it was not chosen
for this concept car as it more than likely would have
distracted new 1954 Pontiac shoppers from purchasing
a soon-to-be obsolete engine, opting instead to wait
for the 55s to come out. Not a good sales and
marketing plan for sure.
Now, lets take a look at the press release from
Pontiac, and how they described the 1954 Strato Streak.
A four-passenger, four-door hardtop, this exclusive
show car incorporates many features which some day may
be standard in the motor car of the future. Long and
low, the Strato Streaks aerodynamic lines are
emphasized by windsplits which start on the roof and
carry down the rear deck and are flanked by vertical
twin taillights in each rear fender to give a jet exhaust
effect. The car is 54.5 inches high, 214.3 inches long
and 74.5 inches wide on a wheelbase of 124 inches. Modifications
in the chassis and body design give passengers ample
head and legroom, although the car is considerably lower
than a 1954 production Pontiac.
The body of the car is of fiberglass, finished in metallic
green. Beginning with the panoramic, vertical-pillar
windshield, the passenger compartment is virtually surrounded
with glass. There is no center pillar between the doors,
windshield and backlight pillars are as narrow as possible
consistent with required strength, and the wide rear
window is supplemented by quadrant-shaped rear sidelights.
The four seats in the car are bucket-type, upholstered
in beige-colored top grain leather and beige nylon cloth
intertwined with gold metallic threads. The two front
seats swivel 90 degrees for ease of entry and exit.
The passenger compartment is ventilated through twin
cowl air intakes and elliptical air outlets above the
Instruments are recessed in nacelles on the panel below
a built-in safety cushion, while the windshield wiper
and washer controls, cigar lighter and ashtray are located
in the tunnel between the front seats. Pontiacs
famous Silver Streak is carried along the crown of each
front fender and the same motif if followed in the chrome-ribbed
side vents in each front fender, which are functional
in providing extra engine ventilation.
As with so many reports over the years, sometimes there
is misinformation. In one report the above mentioned
side vents are described as simulated, which may be
true. Often times these press releases were put out
before the actual car was completed (so things changed,
or didnt happen as planned), or they were written
by people not completely knowledgable of the actual
Interestingly, the name Strato Streak did
in fact become related to the new OHV V-8 as that became
the engines name with its introduction in 1955
and for some years to come. The Strato Streak that began
life as a metallic green was later painted iridescent
metallic red and renamed the Strato Streak II.
The Strato Streaks most distinctive styling feature,
the pillarless doors, was not new at GM. The 1953 Cadillac
Orleans show car had center opening four-door
styling. However, what might be extra unique to the
Strato Streak is that there were no latching mechanisms
at all protruding from the floor. It appears that the
Strato Streaks doors latched at the bottom in
the rocker panel area, and in some fashion at the top
below the drip rail. While we do not know how the Orleans
was configured, it is a pretty safe bet, based on the
photo here of the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, that
there was a cumbersome structure sticking up from the
floor... not to cool looking. You can chrome plate it,
but it still looks like a piece of an old iron bridge.
1955 Pontiac Strato Star
As everyone knows, 1955 was a milestone for Pontiac
as it launched itself into an entirely new era of design
and performance. Gone were the rounded bodies of the
past, replaced by more angular shapes although
still considered to be quite bulbus by our standards
today. But, nonetheless, the new Strato Star was a reflection
of the new body designs introduced in 1955, and carried
many similar features, especially in the front.
Click for larger view
new Strato Star was a reflection of the new body
designs introduced in 1955
The front did, of course, have one
very different feature than the production Pontiac for
55 the headlights, which were set in pod-like
nacelles running the length of the hood. But, the wraparound
bumper sections defiantly smacked of 55 design,
as well as the small eyebrow vents above the headlights.
The Strato Star grille looks pretty 1956 Chevy-like,
but we wont go there.
The rest of this fiberglass bodied Dream Car
had little in common with the production 55 Pontiac;
as a matter of fact, it had no resemblance to anything
Pontiac at all unless of course you count the
Silver Streaks on the hood which Pontiac
just could not seem to part with. Most striking design-wise
would undoubtedly be the huge carved out fender sides
reminiscent of LeMans racing cars. And, as if that didnt
stand out enough, this silver bodied car had the carved
out fender inner liners painted a bright red. Other
stand out features included the generous use of glass
all around offering nearly unobstructed 360-degree views,
and the addition of vertical fins on the rear fenders
which blended into taillight housings with fins on the
bottom. It was still the era of rocket ship looking
Inside the Strato Star, although a two-door, there was
room for six comfortably. It was trimmed in red vinyl
and utilized fiberglass panels for the insides of the
doorsshades of things to come many years later
on our cars of today with the stamped plastic door panels..?
To ease the entry into this lowonly 53-inches
hightwo-door, the front seat had three sections.
The center was fixed allowing the two sides to be folded
simultaneously for passengers to enter from both sides
at the same time. And for added head clearance, six-inch
panels in the roof raised up when the doors were opened.
The Strato Star was the first Pontiac concept car to
finally get the all new OHV V-8 engine, which with tweaks
like a 4-barrel, produced 235 horsepower. The production
V-8 was only rated at 200 horsepower.
While the 1955 Strato Star was certainly a step above
the Strato Streak and the Parisienne in the engine department,
it is still easy to recognize its early 1950s heritage.
All three would become an end of an era as the later
50s took off into even more radical styling trends.
Where are they Today?
As mentioned earlier, the 1953 Parisienne was lucky
to have survived so well once its show circuit life
was over. The 1954 Strato Streak and 1955 Strato Star
were not so lucky. After their stint on the show trails,
they were shuffled around in warehouses until, it is
believed, new GM styling VP William Mitchell (succeeding
the famous Harley Earl) had them destroyed. There is
hope among many that these two Pontiac Dream Cars
will surface one day, as others have, squirreled away
in some Detroit garage or salvage yard. The time for
their rediscovery is running out, but we can hope.
THE AUTHOR: Larry E. Kummer
raised in a diehard Ford family, that all
changed when Larry Kummer and his young
family were vacationing in rural Kentucky
in 1979. While searching the hillsides for
an old Ford to restore, he stumbled across
a car he had never seen before... a 1940
Pontiac Model 2519 in a farmer's yard. And
so his love affair with Pontiacs began.
A trip back to Kentucky from his home at
the time outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
with a friend's car and a tow bar, began
the Pontiac adventure. That 1940 Pontiac
received a pretty good first-time restoration
(featured on left), and became the
car of choice for a young families' fun
and vacation car traveling many miles to
shows and conventions.
In the early '80s, after moving to Bradenton,
Florida on the Gulf Coast, Larry's Pontiac
connection grew as his new graphic arts
and printing company took over the editorship
of the small newsletter/magazine of the
Pontiac-Oakland Club. Over the next 23+
years he took this piece up to a full-color
72-page glossy magazine and built the club
to nearly 12,000 members. He had also taken
on the task as the organization's club office
manager and web master.
After deciding to sell his business and
"retire" Larry continued his Pontiac
hobby work by creating PontiacRegistry.com,
an Internet based ALL Pontiac Club. There
he continues to do what he enjoys most,
researching and editing Pontiac articles,
and helping the Pontiac hobbyplace in every
way he can.
The web site continues to grow every day.
One feature that he is most proud of took
over six months to negotiate. But after
all the hard work, PontiacRegistry.com was
granted permission from General Motors to
reproduce and post on-line every Pontiac
Service Manual from 1926 through 1981. One
day he hopes to have the largest (and probably
only) on-line Pontiac Reference Library
in the world.
PontiacRegistry.com is a work of love and
commitment. If you are a Pontiac lover you
will be overwhelmed by Larry's attention
to detail and accuracy, and the sheer volume
of information he has put together for just
about everything on the make.