Safari was a name first applied to Pontiac's version of the 2-door Nomad station wagon. The body style, originally exhibited as a 1954 Chevrolet Corvette Motorama concept car, was shifted to Chevrolet and Pontiac full-size 1955 production vehicles because of the perceived greater sales potential.
After 1959, the name Safari was applied to Pontiac's full-size four-door station wagon vehicles in its Catalina, Executive and Bonneville ranges.
The 1955 Safari was built using shared body components with the Chevrolet Nomad station wagon, which would also allow both divisions to share in the tooling costs for the special bodied wagons. The Safari was fitted with Pontiac's unique front-end bumper/grille assembly and sheet metal and rear tail light design, both created by Pontiac stylist Paul Gillan. Gillan received a United States patent for the bumper/grille design.
The Safari featured sport-coupe front doors, extra chrome adorning the tailgate and interior, and sliding rear-seat windows. Like the Nomad, the "B" pillar of the station wagon was raked forward, a flourish not shared with other GM two-door station wagons from that era.
Interior trim, upholstery and bright work were equal to Pontiac's top line Star Chief range of models, however the Safari was actually the only model in the Star Chief Custom (Series 27). Production of the 1955 Safari stood at a model year production of 3,760, making it the lowest production Pontiac for 1955.
With its unique body style only a year old, Pontiac limited changes to the Safari to match those of the 1956 Star Chief. Again as in 1955, the Safari was the only model in the Star Chief Custom series (27). Sales of the Safari improved slightly for 1956, with 4,042 vehicles produced; still the lowest production Pontiac for 1956.
For 1957, Pontiac applied the Safari nameplate to all of its station wagons in all of its product lines (Chieftain, Super Chief and Star Chief Custom).
While the high-trim unique 2-door body style was still available, Pontiac added a four-door high-trim version to the Star Chief Custom series mid-year which was named Safari Transcontinental. This half year series featured special exterior trim to set it apart from other Pontiac station wagons. Despite only being on the market for the last half of the 1957 model year, the Safari Transcontinental outsold the special-bodied two-door Safari 1,894 to 1,292.
At the end of its three year run, the specially bodied two-door sport wagon sold only 9,094 vehicles compared to the Chevrolet Nomad which sold 20,092 copies in its three year run.
General Motors discontinued its unique sport wagon body at the end of the 1957 model year, and hence forth, all full-size station wagon models produced by Pontiac would be named for their series, and as Safaris. While a two-door Safari was fielded in 1958 in Pontiac's Chieftain range, it shared its body with Chevrolet's price leader Delray station wagon. Both models came with few features and were popular with tradespeople and small businesses.
From 1959 onward, all Safaris would come with four doors. Full-sized Catalina, Executive, Bonneville, and Grand Ville (Grand Safari) all had Pontiac Safari variants. The mid-sized Tempest, LeMans, and Grand LeMans series also fielded Safari wagons from 1967-1981.
During the lifetime of the Pontiac 6000 the wagon variant was called 6000 Safari, although this may have coincided with the discontinuation of the Safari. A citation is needed to determine which model years it was applied to. GM revived the Safari as a separate nameplate (formerly the Parisienne Safari) for the Pontiac brand at the start of the 1987 model year, shortly after GM decided to use the Safari nameplate on a GMC rear-wheel drive minivan.
1971–1978 Grand Safari
The Grand Safari was Pontiac's top-of-the-line full-size station wagon offered from 1971 to 1978. The Grand Safari used the grille and interior trim of the Bonneville and Grand Ville passenger car series, and most (but not all) examples were trimmed with woodgrain paneling on the sides and tailgate.
The 1971 to 1976 models were the largest Pontiac ever built. The 1971-76 GM full-size bodies, at 64.3" front shoulder room and 63.4" rear shoulder room set a record for interior width that would not be matched by any car until the full-size GM rear-wheel drive models of the early to mid 1990s. The Grand Safari wagons, as did other GM full-sized wagons during these years, used a unique rear suspension with multi-leaf springs instead of the coil springs used on other full-sized Pontiacs, and other full-sized GM cars. The Grand Safari wagons also featured a new 'Clamshell' tailgate design where the rear power-operated glass slid up into the roof as the tailgate (manually or with power assist), slid into a recess under the cargo floor. The power tailgate, the first in station wagon history, ultimately supplanted the manual tailgate, which required marked effort to lift from storage. It was operated by switches on the instrument panel or a key switch on the rear quarter panel. The Clamshell system, heavy and complex, made it easier to load and unload the extremely long wagons in tight spaces. But it remained un-adopted by any other manufacturer, and would be eliminated when GM reduced the length of their wagons by about a foot in 1977, and the overriding concern became increased fuel economy.
The 1971-76 Grand Safaris, shared their 127.0 in (3,226 mm) wheelbase with the Buick and Oldsmobile C-body cars. At 231.3 in (5,875 mm) in length the 1974-76 Grand Safaris are the longest Pontiacs ever built. And at 5,112 lb (2,319 kg) shipping weight, or about 5,300 lb (2,400 kg) curb weight, the three-seat 1974 Grand Safari wagons are easily the heaviest Pontiacs ever built.
These wagons ran with V8 engines of either 400 or 455 cubic inches.
The 1977 Grand Safari was downsized considerably, with wheelbase cut to 115.9 inches, length to less than 18 feet and weight to just over 4,000 pounds. These wagons thus could run with smaller engines, either a standard 301 or optional 403 V8; a 350 V8 was additionally offered on 1978 models. Replacing the Glide-Away Tailgate was a three-way tailgate not unlike that used on Ford station wagons. In 1979, the Grand Safari's name was changed to Bonneville Safari.
Discontinuation of the Safari
In 1989 the Safari was discontinued due to the decreasing popularity of full-size station wagons. Pontiac was rather delayed in this decision, as Chrysler produced its last full-size station wagon in 1977, Ford discontinued its Country Squire and Mercury Colony Park wagons in 1991. The other GM wagons were the last to go with the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser being discontinued after the 1992 model year, and finally the Chevrolet Caprice Wagon and the Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon were discontinued in 1996. The Safari name lived on with the GMC Safari minivan, which largely served the same demographic as the Pontiac Safari. In 1990, the passenger and cargo space of the Safari was replaced largely by the Pontiac Trans Sport, their first minivan.