Canada’s Unique Autoscape, Part 1
Back at GM, Pontiac followed Ford’s and Dodge’s lead and introduced the Canada-only Pontiac Pathfinder in 1953. It’s no secret that GM has long been an expert at badge engineering, with Chevrolets, Pontiac, Buicks, Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs all sharing bits and pieces, to some degree. The Pathfinder was GM’s way to provide a less-expensive Pontiac to bridge the price gap between the Chevrolet and Pontiac tiers, since—similar to its competitors—smaller towns usually didn’t have dealerships for all of the GM brands. Pontiac dealerships wanted a low priced model for those who may not be interested in the rest of the Pontiac line which was positioned above Chevrolet at the time.
The 1953 Pathfinder was basically a Chevrolet, with the only differences being unique trim treatments (including Pontiac’s metal strips on the hood) to appear in line with the Pontiacs of the day. Chevrolet engines and drivetrains were also used to keep costs down. This mishmash of design and engineering brought about the nickname “Cheviac”. The Pathfinder was made until 1958.
Following the success of the Pathfinder, Pontiac of Canada applied the same basic principle to its intermediate and full size models, beginning in 1955. Where Pontiac in the US had the Catalina, Star Chief, Executive and Bonneville lineups, Canadians could buy a Strato Chief, Laurentian and Parisienne. The latter two had very Canadian sounding names to appeal to their market. Pontiac in Canada began to slowly creep down-market as a low-priced brand similar to Chevrolet, where in the US the brand was slotted above Chevrolet as a mid-priced brand.
These new models all bear similarities with the Pathfinder in that they looked very similar to their US counterparts, yet all were based off shorter (and cheaper) Chevrolet chassis’, with Chevrolet engines and drivetrains. Bodies began to look less like their Chevrolet siblings, and it became harder to identify Canadian cars by looks alone. In fact, none of the body pieces were interchangeable between American Pontiacs and their Canadian counterparts. The Laurentian may look like a Catalina, but it actually has more in common with the Chevrolet Bel Air, of the same year. These Canadian cars also saw production overseas, where their smaller size made them easier to navigate tighter European streets. Pontiac introduced its “Wide Track” line of cars for 1959, something that didn’t make it to Canada due to the 1959 Pontiacs again being based off Chevrolets.
Continue this story on page 8.