Pontiac “Surfin’ Safari” Wagon

In 1950’s Southern California, something big was emerging.  A combination of fast cars, slick-haired hot rodders, youthful spirit, and a new sound called “rock & roll” came together to create an entire lifestyle that spread around the world.  This “Something Big” is now a car culture that permeates the entire world, inducting more and more car nuts to our way of life every year.

Although that new sound is much different today, it was those original classics that helped to forge the lifestyle that many of us are a part of.  However, one band known simply as The Beach Boys, went the extra mile to weld a connection between  the hot rodding community and the “devil’s music” that blared from AM transistor radios back in the day.

This definitely isn’t The Beach Boys-it’s The Matadors, a rockabilly band that’s embraced the term “Devil’s Music” as a theme in their stage show

In 1963, the Beach Boys had gone into the studio and laid tracks on two new songs–“Shut Down” and “409,” both hot-rod themed songs.  Somebody at Capitol Records had heard the tracks, and promptly had them added to a compilation record, without the permission of the band.  In order to prevent the label from stealing their music, lead singer Brian Wilson dragged The ‘Boys into the studio and rushed the production of “Little Deuce Coupe,” their fourth album.  Recording and production happened so quickly, the record was in stores less than a month after their previous album, “Surfer Girl” had been released.

Although going from start to finish in less than a month is pretty impressive on its own, the biggest impact “Little Deuce Coupe” made was on the music world.  Because all the songs were directly or indirectly related to cars or car culture, it became the world’s first concept album.  The idea of having an entire album dedicated to a single theme is still popular in every genre, such as Corb Lund’s recent Civil War-themed album, “Horse! Soldier, Horse!”  Even songs about cars are still incredibly popular, such as “Jesus Built My Hot Rod” by Ministry, or Van Halen’s “Panama” (which is actually about a car David Lee Roth saw in Las Vegas).  Even the signature “surf rock” sound pioneered by the Beach Boys and others is still being cranked out today by bands such as The Aqua Velvets, The Tormentos, and Dick Dale & The Del-Tones.

* * *

Fifty years later, Daral Travis of Thunder Bay, ON, was up to his elbows restoring a 1970 Pontiac Bonneville Safari Wagon when he ran into a dilemma.  He had just stripped everything off the car to make room for a dark green paint job when he realized that he had removed the one thing that separates the “Safari” model from just another station wagon-namely, the fake wood panelling.

The rest of the car was done to the nines;  the stock 350 received a performance intake manifold and some chrome dress-up bits, the new chrome wheels had received a set of fake knock-offs, and the back windows had all been tinted a near-opaque shade of dark.

The car was certainly ready to drive, too.  Daral didn’t say how many miles it sees every year, but it’s at least been to the 2008 Car Craft Nationals in St. Paul, Minnesota.  There’s a good chance the Pontiac sees a lot more miles than that; this photo session took place at a strip mall in Winnipeg, roughly 700 kilometres from its home.

But back to the original dillema-what to do with a Safari wagon when it isn’t a Safari wagon anymore?  That’s when Daral looked to The Beach Boys’ first album for inspiration.  He collected the emblems off several 1970 Pontiacs until he could spell out “Surfin” by cutting and re-gluing them back together.  This was attached next to the original “Safari” emblem on the rear quarter-panel, creating the world’s only Pontiac Surfin’ Safari Wagon.

Daral and his friends have had a lot of fun with this family hauler, and not just driving and showing it.  Apparently, their favourite prank is telling people that GM built it this way.  “The scary part,” Daral said, “is how many people walk away believing it.”

That’s it for this week, but don’t forget to come back next week for more great cars, and more great stories.  And don’t forget that all pictures on this site are available as prints-Click here to find out more!

Required Reading:

The story of ’32 Ford “Little Deuce Coupe” from the Beach Boys album cover

Official Beach Boys website

Required Listening:

“409” by the Beach Boys

“Surfing Safari” by the Beach Boys

“Panama” by Van Halen

“Spanish Blue” by the Aqua Velvets

“Drag Strip Night” by The Tormentos

“Misrilou” by Dick Dale & The Del-Tones

“Nitro” by Dick Dale & The Del-Tones


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