From 1935 to 1956, the bold Silver Streak trim was a Pontiac trademark. Here’s the story behind the signature styling feature.

The original 1926 Pontiac, brilliantly conceived by General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan as a “six-cylinder Chevrolet,” in his words, was a big seller and a major money maker for the auto maker. Sloan and his staff accurately predicted that American car buyers were heading upmarket, and they were shifting from open to closed body styles.

The Pontiac met those desires perfectly, and since it was based on low-cost Chevrolet components, it sold at a very profitable markup.

In 1929, however, Chevrolet was upgraded from a four-cylinder engine to a six, eliminating the chief product differentiator between Chevy and Pontiac.

And when the Great Depression arrived, sales volume collapsed across all the GM divisions.

Pontiac sales cratered, falling from a quarter-million units in 1928 to 51,000 in 1932. As a cost-saving measure, the Chevrolet and Pontiac operations were combined for 18 months, and GM executives seriously studied killing the Pontiac brand altogether.

To the rescue came Frank Hershey, chief of the Pontiac design studio under GM styling czar Harley Earl. The son of a well-to-do Detroit family, Hershey worked for Pasadena coachbuilder Walter M. Murphy and spent a brief time at Hudson before he came to GM. Hershey enjoyed a long, distinguished career in the Motor CIty, lending his considerable talents to the 1948 Cadillac tail fin and the 1955 Ford Thunderbird.

With the Silver Streak styling theme, a wide band of bright metal that ran straight down the centerline of the hood and deck, Hershey accomplished two feats: He cleverly disguised the Chevrolet-based sheetmetal, and he gave Pontiac something it badly needed: a visual brand identity. The distinctive look would continue for another two decades. Here’s a look at the Silver Streak through the years.

Introduced on the 1935 models, the Silver Streak theme proved to be a hit. Sales leaped to nearly 179,000 units, launching Pontiac briefly into fourth place, trailing only Ford, Chevy, and Plymouth that year. Also note the all-steel Turret Top, a new GM feature for 1935.

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