Indeed, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I won’t spend time explaining why I prefer the Chieftain over the Bel Air, but let’s just say that I have a thing for Pontiac’s “silver streak” trim design from the era. Thanks to the five chrome strips running across the center of the hood and trunk lid, the Chieftain looked unique among other American cars at the time.
Adorning the Chieftain since day one, the “silver streak” also made it onto the second-generation model as a twin stripe flanking the winged emblem on the engine hood. And needless to say, it was a nice addition to the car’s chrome-laden front fascia. And that’s why I get excited when a 1950s Chieftain gets saved after being abandoned for decades.
This rusty old gal appears to be a 1953 model, the next-to-last year for the first-generation Chieftain. And it sat for a whopping 51 years as of 2022, having been taken off the road back in 1971. It’s unclear whether it spend all those decades outside or in a barn, but given that it’s still in one piece, I’m tempted to believe it had a roof over its head.
Why was it abandoned? Well, we will never know, but the papers that the folks over at Budget Buildz found with the car suggest the owner purchased some engine parts in the early 1970s. Maybe the mill gave up and he didn’t get around to fixing it? Was it rebuilt but for some reason the car never made it back on the road? These questions will remain unanswered, but that doesn’t matter now. What matters is that the Poncho is now in good hands and it’s getting a second chance at life.
As it usually happens, an abandoned car’s new journey begins with a “will it run?” video. And that’s cool because unlike the second-generation Chieftain, which came with V8 engines, the first-gen full-size was equipped with inline units. Pontiac offered both six- and eight-cylinder mills and this Chieftain is fitted with the latter.
The engine in question is a 268-cubic-inch (4.4-liter) version of Pontiac’s L-head straight-eight. It’s part of the Silver Streak series that the company introduced in 1933 and kept in production until 1954. This Chieftain features one of the last Silver Streaks ever built and it was likely rated at 122 horsepower and 222 pound-feet (301 Nm) of torque when new.
And here’s a fun fact: this engine was used as a base for the Special-8 that Pontiac made for the Bonneville Special, a Corvette-inspired concept car designed for the 1954 GM Motorama.
Back to the car in question, the engine wasn’t running when the car was rescued. Far from surprising after so many decades without a sip of gasoline. But it came back to life without a rebuild, which is proof that these mills were pretty solid and reliable. What’s more, they also managed to get the Pontiac driving, albeit only for a short trip around the block.
Given that it’s not in terrible shape and that it could be brought back to life without a major overhaul, I’m hoping this Chieftain will eventually find its way back on public roads. Or at least find a new owner willing to get it road-worthy again. Even as a patina survivor.