Junkyard Find: 1953 Pontiac Chieftain Sedan

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1953 pontiac chieftain sedan

More pre-1960 vehicles than one might think show up in the big U-Wrench wrecking yards; you won’t find a ’55 Chevy coupe, but I’ve seen Nash Metropolitans, a ’55 Buick, a ’49 Dodge, a ’58 Edsel, a ’53 Willys, and a ’50 Studebaker in recent years, and that’s just a small sampling. Today’s Junkyard Treasure is a ’53 Pontiac Chieftain sedan in very solid condition, photographed in a Denver-area self-service yard last week.

There’s a temporary registration sticker from 1980 taped to the windshield, which suggests that the car spent 38 years stored in a garage somewhere before coming to this place. So few people with the time, space, skills, inclination, and money to fix up a car like this, and a non-hardtop/non-V8 sedan doesn’t score high on the Cool-O-Meter for most of them.

The door frame has several service-station oil-change stickers, two of which show 1960 dates. Check the gallery for shots of the others.

Nearly all non-luxury Detroit sedans of this era came with straight-six engines — mostly flatheads — and three-on-the-tree manual transmissions. This is the 239-cubic-inch Pontiac flathead six, rated at 115 horsepower. This would be a really cool engine to install in a fenderless 1913 Oakland Model 42 street rod and drive every day… but we all know that anyone making a ratty old Oakland into a street rod would install a small-block Chevy engine, or maybe (if feeling radical) a Pontiac 455. This engine has a 99.99 percent chance of going to The Crusher along with this car, unfortunately, because there’s a dearth of love for the flathead sixes. I didn’t try to turn it, but I’ll bet it’s not seized.

1953 was the first model year for CONELRAD-marked radios, and this car still has its original racketblaster.

I took a few shots of this car with a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes-branded cereal-prize film camera, of course.

The lesson here is clear: if you ever wanted to get a 1950s Detroit sedan and make it into a driver, there are plenty of nice ones still sitting in yards, driveways, and garages right now. Rescue yours before it meets the same fate as this Chieftain!

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  • Dabear Dabear on Jan 18, 2019

    I would like to find this car and buy it. I have all the missing parts. my car has a lot of rust work to be done and this car would be perfect. anyone know where this car is?

  • Stereorobb Stereorobb on Feb 08, 2019

    My first car was a 1955 pontiac Starchief. got it back in 1999 when i was 16 so it was already a classic then. i chose the starchief because i wanted a classic and i wanted something different that nobody really ever heard of that was my age at the time. it was a totally original survivor car unrestored. i used it as my daily for almost a year till i wrecked it :( surprisingly fast car for what it was. had the 287ci V8 and the hydramatic transmission. it had no problem at all keeping up with what was then (circa 2000) modern traffic and could do 100 on the highway all day long. i learned to basically drive in that car. took my road test in it, made the 3 point turn and parallel parked it, w/o power steering, power brakes, or anything else really that modern cars have. i learned very quickly what it was like to live with a 1950s car as my sole mode of transportation, which is a very unique experience. by far the coolest car ive ever had, and id kill to have one today.

  • EBFlex Such insane demand for government cars yet companies are laying people off and others are losing billions upon billions. Crazy Oh and the garbage fake lightning? Yep price increases again. Now up over 50% from the initial starting price. Government cars are such a joke.
  • Chuck Norton I don't see anything wrong with the name. It's an impressive little motor-and despite the fact that it has been hammered on every vehicle forum-including this one it seems to be gaining market acceptance.
  • Spookiness Other non-US markets get the Forte5 "liftback" version of this. That would be a perfect size for me and I'd consider it if it were available. I think they're good looking and good value.
  • 28-Cars-Later We have arrived.
  • MrIcky Unimogs