The late 1950s saw Pontiac reinvent itself as a sporty marque with low-slung styling and hot V8 engine options, resulting in many stock-car race wins in 1959. The totally redesigned 1959 Pontiacs marked a new era in Pontiac history, introducing the distinctive split-grille front styling, an even larger 389 cubic inch displacement V8 engine, and a new "Wide-Track" stance.
Combined with the new GM corporate styling theme, the look was a total departure from any previous Pontiac. Topping off the changes was a new series, the Catalina, which replaced the Chieftain line. Styling was the most obvious new feature in Pontiac showrooms. Designed around the GM corporate bodies, it featured a thin roofline and greatly increased glass area that set these cars apart from other manufacturers. What further distinguished Pontiac was its new frontal styling. A split mesh grille theme was a new design, not previously seen on any car. The flat front fender and hood line turned downward as it approached the center of the front end and then turned back to follow the bumper line back around the front fender to the wheel well opening. The hood curved over the front and down between the two grille sections, where it met a body-colored lower pan that came upwards between the grilles. Pontiac's arrowhead-shaped "V" insignia was introduced as the new hood emblem, and chrome fender ornaments were also seen this year.
The lower portion of the front bumper angled backwards with large end caps acting as fender guards. This design was repeated at the back end, with the lower portion becoming rear bumper guards. Oval taillamps were inset within a full-width cove with "Pontiac" in block letters between the lights. Wagons and Catalina models used smaller lamps than did the Bonneville and Star Chief. The rear quarter panel had a new twin-tailfin design that began aft of the front door and culminated in a V-shaped fin, housing a round backup lamp on cars so equipped. The taillamp and cove area also marked the starting point of a small rounded jet shaped section running forward on the rear quarter panel to a point just below the starting point of the tailfin. On this area Star Chiefs were adorned with four small star emblems, and the Bonneville carried four horizontally mounted chrome hash marks. Trunk lids were large and flat, matching the hood and roof designs. Greenhouse areas were common with all GM cars for 1959, with the "flat-top" 4-Door Hardtop models being the most distinctive of the new cars.
Pontiac interiors were spruced up, with the Bonneville receiving the most colorful interiors of any car make. All models had tri-tone upholstery, with seats generally designed around an assumed four-seating position layout. Each seating position started in a lighter color at left and right, then changed a mid-range color at the center. It was a highly luxurious look that Pontiac would use in its top line models for several years to come. All other models used a variation of the 1958 "off-the-shoulder" look. For 1959, it was a "V" pattern laid on its side. In the front seat the "V" began on the driver's side and opened toward the passenger seat, with a Pontiac crest inset on the passenger seat back within the "V" opening. The rear seat was done similarly but in the opposite direction. The new interiors also had a new instrument panel that again was horizontal in design. This year a raised pod area in front of the driver contained three large round gauges that housed a round speedometer in the center, flanked by a clock on one side and other instruments on the opposite side.
Powertrains were upgraded for the fifth season in a row, and the engine was now at 389 cubic inches. This must have suited engineering as the perfect balance of power and economy, as the 389 would be the mainstay of the Pontiac line for the next eight years. While the troublesome fuel-injection system was discontinued, the popular "Tri-Power" intake system continued on as the powerhouse engine. Missing from the initial new car announcements was any significant hype around the new "Wide-Track" marketing theme. Though it was mentioned from the beginning within sales literature and advertising, the initial strategy was centered on the new powertrain and styling before shifting to emphasize "Wide-Track." "Wide-Track" was an actual product improvement, providing a 5 inch greater distance between wheels on each axle, providing for greater stability on the road, but the reality of its effect was sometimes a minuscule difference. However, it gave the buying public something specific to compare to other products, and that in turn gave Pontiac a competitive edge.
As mentioned previously, the Catalina, whose name had been used in prior years as a hardtop body style designation, was now a new series, replacing the Chieftain. This year the 2-Door Hardtops were known as Sport Coupes and the 4-Door Hardtops as Vista Sedans. The short-lived Super Chief series (1957-1958 only) was dropped and its place taken by the Star Chief, which was bumped down in status by the expanded Bonneville series. The newly positioned Star Chief dropped the Super Chief 's slowest selling model, the 2-Door Hardtop, and replaced it with a 2-Door Sedan. The expanded Bonneville line took the place of the former Star Chief series, and brought along its sporty Convertible for the ride.