The Silver Anniversary Pontiacs
Pontiac celebrated its Silver Anniversary in 1951; it had been 25 years since the first car rolled out of the Oakland factory in Pontiac Michigan. The Chieftain line essentially carried over from 1950, although the Catalina was now available in “Deluxe” trim as well as the exclusive “Super Deluxe” package. The Streamliner line was reduced to the Sedan Coupe and two station wagons, either the standard or deluxe trim models. The four door Streamliner sedan had been cut from the line-up. Clearly, the Chieftain styling reflected the modern trend in post-war automobiles; the Streamliner also suffered from less rear seat headroom and awkward trunk space. This would be the final year for Streamliner production, the station wagons and Sedan Delivery would become Chieftain models for 1952.
The predominantly horizontal grille-work of ’49 and ’50 was pleasantly updated with a gull-wing motif for ’51. An Indian head medallion featured prominently in the center of the grille opening, while the Pontiac name-plate was incorporated into the top arched grille bar attached to the hood. Pontiac’s famous Silver Streaks still adorned the center of the hood, rising from the front name-plate, up and back to the base of the windshield and then continuing on the deck lid to meet the rear name-plate and trunk handle. The standard hood ornament was a chrome-plated Indian brave; the deluxe ornament was fitted with a translucent amber Indian head insert and illuminated whenever the parking or headlamps were lit.
There were 8 distinct body styles available in 1951. The Chieftain line got the Business / Sedan coupe; 2 and 4 door sedans; the hardtop coupe and the convertible. The remaining Sedan coupe, sedan delivery and station wagon were all Streamliners. The business coupe was only available in standard trim, including painted headlamp rings, black rubber gravel guards, straight belt molding and hub caps. The Chieftain Sedan Coupe shard this body, but offered a rear seat and the option of deluxe trim. On the other hand, the hardtop coupe and convertible were only available in deluxe trim; all other models could be trimmed standard or deluxe as the owner desired.
The Super Deluxe Catalina was done entirely in two colors: Malibu Ivory and Sapphire Blue. The exterior could be solid in either color or two-toned light over dark or dark over light. The interior used the same color combination but the colors remained fixed; the top of the dashboard, steering wheel, lower door panels and carpet were Sapphire Blue, while the bottom of the dash, steering column and top of the door panels was Malibu Ivory.
The body side molding for the deluxe models ran from behind the front wheel to the back of the rear fender, and was quite literally styled as an Indian spear, the head of which featured 3 stars. All deluxe models carried the Pontiac name in chrome script on the front doors just above the sweep-spear, and those with 8 cylinder engines included script lettering Eight as well. The standard models also used these scripts, but they were mounted higher on the front doors in the absence of the side moldings. All models had Indian head medallions on either rear fender at the upper back corner; these were new for ’51. As with past practice, the deluxe models also had chrome headlamp trim rings, bright gravel guards, full wheel covers and belt moldings that dipped down just ahead of the “C” pillar on either side. The deluxe station wagon and sedan delivery got all of the bright trim and gravel guards, but were fitted with hub caps instead of wheel covers. I’m confident this was done to improve brake cooling, even if the optional bright trim rings were installed, the slots in the wheels remained uncovered and open for air circulation. The full wheel covers featured an Indian head silhouette in red, similar to the rear fender medallions; while the standard hub caps spelled out “Pontiac” in red script.
The standard model interior was done in shades of gray; the upholstery was two-tone checked cloth. The door panels were light gray, with a darker gray band running straight across from front to back. The deluxe models used two-tone gray, striped broadcloth upholstery with stitched bolsters and tufted buttons on the seat backs. The deluxe door panels were dark gray on top, with a stainless molding of increasing width slashing across the panel from front to back. Light gray fabric was placed below the molding, but the lowest portion of the door panels were an even darker gray material.
The standard and deluxe models shared the same dark gray over pastel gray dashboard, with a black steering wheel and column, except convertibles which used body color for the top of the dashboard, just as they had in previous years. The deluxe Catalina interior was offered in 5 shades of genuine leather combined with gray Bedford Cord cloth; red, green, blue, brown or black. These colors could be chosen to harmonize or contrast with the exterior color of choice. Unlike the standard and deluxe models, the steering column was light gray to match the lower dashboard, paired with a black deluxe wheel.
The instrument cluster was similar to previous years, although the ancillary gauges were horizontal as opposed to the round gauges used in ’49 and ’50. The heater controls were grouped directly in front of the driver around the column and particularly easy to use. The radio speaker grille remained in the center of the dash, and if equipped, housed the electric clock at its center.
All 1951 Pontiacs rode on a 120” wheelbase chassis with 7.10x15 tires standard; larger 7.60x15 tires were available at extra cost on all except the station wagon and sedan delivery. The standard axle ratio on all Hydra-Matic models was 3.63:1 while the Synchro-Mesh models utilized a 4.10:1 axle. The available “mountain” and “economy” axle ratios were 4.30:1 and 3.90:1, respectively.
Pontiac had increased the displacement of their venerable straight eight to 268 cid in 1950 and carried it over for ’51 unchanged. The six cylinder engine received a noticeable change this year, its Carter WA-1 carburetor was replaced with a Rochester BC unit. This same carburetor was used on both the Hydra-Matic and Synchro-mesh applications; the only required change was to relocate the throttle rod to the appropriate hole in the carburetor throttle arm.
The standard compression ratio for either engine remained at 6.5:1, as did the optional 7.5:1 “high-head” compression ratio. What I do not know at this time is why the rated horsepower increased for all engines. The standard eight was rated 116@3,600 and the “high-head” was 120@3,600; the standard six was 96@3,400 and the high compression six was rated 100@3,400. My only thought is that Pontiac changed the method used to rate the horsepower of their engines, although traditionally Pontiac ratings were very conservative through the end of the ETC era. If you read the road test articles from this period you find that most of them commented on the available power and ease of acceleration up to and beyond highway speeds.
Pontiac had a long standing reputation for offering a wide array of accessories, and this practice continued for 1951. Another Pontiac tradition was the packaging of the accessories into groups. The Basic Group included the Venti-Heat underseat heater and defroster, the Chieftain 7-tube radio, back-up lights, turn signals and a non-glare rear view mirror. The Comfort Group came with the exterior visor, traffic light viewer, latex foam seat cushions and windshield washers. The Convenience Group offered the electric clock, outside rear view mirror, visor vanity mirror, glove compartment light, trunk light, the combination ashtray / map reading light, and the combination underhood / trouble light. The Appearance Group consisted of fender “skirts”, the lighted hood ornament, exhaust deflector, No-Mar fuel door guard, and if ordered for a standard model Pontiac, the deluxe steering wheel and wheel trim rings. The Protection Group bought the grille guard, rear bumper guard, plus front and rear bumper “wing” guards. The options listed in any of these various groups were also available individually, as the owner desired.
In addition to the group packages, Pontiac offered a host of other accessories. Among the most popular were a variety of slip covers that could be fitted to protect the original upholstery.
Bumper mounted fog lights and single or dual spotlights were also quite popular. The remaining list of options were mainly comfort and convenience items like Venti-shades installed over the side windows; a rear window wiper for the outside and a Venetian Blind for the inside; rear seat radio speaker; clear plastic scuff guards for the door panels; an illuminated compass; license plate frames and a zippered utility “pocket” mounted on the passenger side kick panel.
Among the more practical items was complete tool kit contained in an imitation leather roll; the Safti-Jack, that lifted either side of the car by the frame rail; and No-Rol for the Synchro-Mesh cars, which prevented them from rolling while stopped on a hill.
Sales of the 1951 models fell short of the record set in 1950; Pontiac produced 370,159 automobiles for this model year. Production began in late November of 1950 and the cars were introduced in early December to the public. Despite sales being down 26% from the previous year, it was the second best year in company history and Pontiac remained America’s 5th largest automobile company. The 4,000,000th Pontiac, a Catalina, was produced on August 11, 1951.
Pontiac buyers preferred the straight eight over the six by a wide margin; 316,411 as compared to 53,748. The same is true for the Hydra-Matic transmission versus Synchro-Mesh, although to a lesser degree; 262,182 automatics were sold as compared to 107,977 stick cars.
The Streamliner sedan coupe was not the only model to be discontinued in 1951; the short-roof business / Chieftain sedan coupe models were also phased out this year. I believe the cause was that more and more American families were looking to Pontiac for their family sedan; and these 3 models didn’t offer the interior or trunk space that these families felt they needed in their cars.
Thank you to Charlie Bolten, Bob Graves, and Ronn Pittman for their contributions to this article.