The automakers had a lot of catch up to do after the end of World War Two and the Pontiac Chieftain was a good representation of this. The war years acted as a design void and when the new designs were introduced in 1946 they were quite different from before. The Chieftains were built on an A-Body frame and during the first years, four different models were introduced. These were the Business Coupe, Deluxe Convertible Coupe, Sedan and Sedan Coupe.
The Pontiac Chieftain debuted as a totally new design for the General Motors Pontiac Division. The place that the Chieftain held on the Pontiac ladder of models was above the Streamliner which moved down to replace the Torpedo which had come out in 1940. The Torpedoes built after the war were fairly similar to the one's produced before. Eventually the Streamliner was discontinued in 1952 and that left the Chieftain standing alone. That lasted until 1954 when the Star Chief was introduced above the Chieftain.
In fact, in the 1954 model year both power steering and air conditioning were offered for the first time. The V-8's in 1954 were juiced up a bit in horsepower therefore the 1953 model as the one shown here was not the end of a generation but somewhat the end of a series.
The first series, 1949 to 1954, Pontiac Chieftains came on the market with a choice of four engines. Two six cylinders with 90 to 93 HP. Also, two eight cylinders at 103 to 106 HP.
The 1953 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe Convertible shown in this article originally came with a Pontiac flathead engine, either six or eight cylinder however the six was standard.. The overhead valve V-8 wouldn't come on the market until the 1955 Pontiac models. In 1953, the six cylinder engine used new aluminum pistons and the eight cylinder's continued with iron pistons.
The overall design for the 1953 model year wasn't all too different from 1952. One distinction is the chrome strip that extends over the top of the hood and trunk. One feature the first series models did have was standard interior lighting. Two other new features in the first generation were under seat heaters and a six vacuum tube radio. The Chieftains were known to be solid and very reliable cars. Pontiac was popular as a family car for those who were able to pay a few more bucks than for a Ford or Chevrolet. For your money back in the early 50's you would get a few more accessories, a bit more power and some more comfort than with some of the competitive brands.
Also, see our photos and article on the 1947 Pontiac Streamliner.
"Chief Pontiac" Hood Ornament
One of the most unique features on the Pontiac Chieftain was it's hood ornament. This was not just any hood ornament but one designed as an Indian chief and in addition to that it lit up when the headlights were turned on. The ornament was designed to represent Chief Pontiac, an Ottawa leader. Chief Pontiac was involved in a rebellion against the British that occurred in the late 1700's. The 1947 Pontiac Torpedoes were the first models to sport the Chief Pontiac hood ornament. Both hood ornaments and car grilles served as strong elements in car designs in both the 1940's and 1950's. This was a time when hood ornaments were meant to be more than just an insignia of an automaker. They were designed to make a statement of sorts.
1953 Pontiac Chieftain Specs
Specifications included a wheelbase of 120.0 inches...a 202.5 inch length (station wagons were 203.9 inches long)...and the standard tire measured 7.10 x 15 inches. The fuel tanks in 1952 held 17.5 gallons but in 1953 the tank's capacity was increased to 20 gallons which is about the standard capacity you see on most cars today. Vehicle weight averaged between 3,345 and 3,670 lbs. Pontiac came out with a new suspension system on the 1953 model. The "Curve Control" system utilized A bars and coil springs for the front suspension.
The last model year for the popular Chieftains was 1958. The model was replaced in 1959 with the Pontiac Catalina.
Pontiac Chieftains rank pretty high among car collectors. Prices for restored 1953 model year Chieftains vary widely depending on the degree of restoration but asking prices for superbly restored models can be found in the $25,000 to $45,000 range. Mechanical parts are easily available for those wishing to restore an early 1950's Pontiac Chieftain.
(Photos from author's private collection)