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Nomad Alternative: Rare 1956 Pontiac Safari

Based on a 1954 concept car with Corvette styling, General Motors introduced the “Sport Wagon” in 1955. It was a 2-door station wagon that had a separate body from the regular wagons from the cowl back. Chevrolet called theirs the Bel Air Nomad, while Pontiac’s version was the Star Chief Safari. Neither sold particularly well, so the body style (but not the names) was discontinued after 1957. This ’56 Safari has been sitting in a field since at least 2005 and may or may not be complete. But its rarity suggests that someone will restore it. Located in Westminster, Colorado, this Poncho is available here on eBay where bidding of $1,825 is below the seller’s reserve.

Both the Bel Air and the Safari were nifty-looking station wagons, so you have to wonder why they didn’t sell better (22,375 Nomads from 1955 to 1957 and just 9,094 Safaris during the same period). Perhaps it boiled down to practicality vs. style. Both GM divisions offered “standard” 2-door wagons, but they were utilitarian and made for hauling stuff over people. The Nomad and Safari had much higher trim levels and were better suited to people than cargo. So, maybe the buying public simply didn’t get “it” and after building the two wagons in the same Fisher Body plant in Ohio (sharing many parts), GM threw in the towel.

Just 4,042 Safaris were built in 1956 and the seller says that just 302 remain, including this one. But there’s no mention of the source that’s been keeping track of these stats. So regardless of its condition, it’s still a rare find and perhaps worthy of restoring, though the cost of doing so may or may not make sense. This one has (or should have) a 317 cubic inch V8, Hydra-Matic transmission, leather interior (what’s left of it), tinted glass, factory air conditioning (hardware MIA), and power seats. This was top-shelf stuff in 1956!

As the story goes, the seller found this wagon in North Dakota in 2005, probably in a similar shape to its condition today. The arid Colorado climate has perhaps been kinder to the vehicle over the past 18 years. There is some rust in terms of the rocker braces and front floors needing replacement (new rockers in the cargo area). The glass is cracked, so you’ll have your work cut out finding new stuff that is also tinted to match the rest. And some of the various trim pieces have probably also moved on.

The paint and colors are not original, so if you want to go back to those, the choices would be Sandalwood Tan and Sun Beige. The odometer last moved at 71,000 miles, but that may or may not be corrected according to the seller. The back of the wagon is loaded with stuff, so hopefully your missing parts search won’t be too exhaustive. Is this a wagon that you would save?


  1. Jerry Bramlett

    This is just sad. While I hope this Safari will be saved, I think it will probably become a parts car for its few factory a.c. dash pieces.

    Many of the exterior trim pieces are missing. The body looks beat-up with poor panel alignment. The interior is trashed and gutted too. The rusty rockers look almost un-fixable by a hobbyist. I’m surprised the bidding has gone over $1,000.

    Like 7
    • John

      One thing to remember with anything pre 70s. The body panels should NOT align perfect. If they do there’s LOTS of body work done. The fit and finish in the 50s wasn’t that good and the panels were not made perfectly.
      So anytime someone is selling an older “original” car with “perfect gaps and straight panels” … It is no way all original.

      Like 3
  2. geezerglide 85

    I think this one will be saved, there aren’t that many left to pick from. I always liked the Safari more than the Nomad. I even remember when I was a kid in the 60’s reading Hot Rod magazine, in the small ads in the back guys were looking to buy Safaris. There was no internet back then, so it was hard to search for a car beyond your local area. What always amazed me was that Pontiac tooled up to make these special rear quarters just for the Safari. All of their other wagons just used Chevy bodies.

    Like 4
    • Arfeeto

      Indeed, that special tooling was a “thing” with GM back and the day. Buick did it with its Skylark and Cadillac with its Eldorado. (Perhaps Ford and Chrysler did, too, but I was always focused on GM products). Apparently, bean counters in the 1950s wielded considerably less influence on the design engineers than the have ever since.

      Like 5
      • JustPassinThru

        I had to look on Bing Images to be sure…yes, correct. The non-Nomad Poncho wagons used the Bel Air rear quarters, with an adapted taillight assembly to plug into the Chevy fin housing.

        You’d think, since they DID spend the money to make a wagon with Pontiac rear quarters…they’d have used it in the non-sport wagons as well.

        Like 1
  3. Flguy

    I wonder how many of the 302 wagons left actually were equipped with factory AC.
    I surely hope that someone takes on this project and restores this beautiful Pontiac.

    Like 5
    • John

      Yes indeed and a proper restoration not a hotrod abomination. I don’t get the immediate “LS SWAP” and paint schemes that make you sea sick.
      The originality is the allure of these cars.

      Like 4
  4. Yblocker

    Never cared much for the front end of the 55-56 Pontiac, I prefer the 57 version, but I do like that crescent speedometer. Too bad this car got this point, it’s gonna take a lot of time and money to bring it back

    Like 3
  5. Jack Quantrill

    At least someone put in a windshield sun deflector to “ protect” the interior!

    Like 2
    • Greg Gustafson

      And not a minute too soon, I might add.

      Like 3
    • Big C

      At first glance, I thought all the airbags inflated.

      Like 0
  6. Doug M

    One would think that the safari and Nomad would have shared common things like floor pans. Noooo.

    Was peripherally involved in a safari resto, oh, 15 years ago. All unique panels on the Poncho, new floor pan had to be fabricated, Chev stuff wouldn’t work.

    Like 1

    I had two ’55s Nomads and a ’57 Safari 2 door. In ’57 Pontiac had a four door Safari which was nothing but their 4 door station wagon badged Safari with some puny chrome strips on the tail gate, no special roof, nothing carried over from the 2 door. I do miss the Nomads and I luckily I get to see one of them occasionally.

    Like 1
  8. Frank Sumatra

    Photoshop the pole barn out and you would have a nice print for an old car calendar.

    Like 0

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