Junkyard Find: 1953 Pontiac Chieftain Sedan

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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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Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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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.

  • Stephen My "mid-level" limited edition Tonino Lambo Ferraccio Junior watch has performed flawlessly with attractive understated style for nearly 20 years. Their cars are not so much to my taste-- my Acura NSX is just fine. Not sure why you have such condescension towards these excellent timepieces. They are attractive without unnecessary flamboyance, keep perfect time and are extremely reliable. They are also very reasonably priced.
  • Dana You don’t need park, you set auto hold (button on the console). Every BMW answers to ‘Hey, BMW’, but you can set your own personal wake word in iDrive. It takes less than 5 minutes to figure that that out, btw. The audio stays on which is handy for Teams meetings. Once your phone is out of range, the audio is stopped on the car. You can always press down on the audio volume wheel which will mute it, if it bothers you. I found all the controls very intuitive.
  • ToolGuy Not sure if I've ever said this, or if you were listening:• Learn to drive, people.Also, learn which vehicles to take home with you and which ones to walk away from. You are an adult now, think for yourself. (Those ads are lying to you. Your friendly neighborhood automotive dealer, also lying to you. Politicians? Lying to you. Oh yeah, learn how to vote lol.)Addendum for the weak-minded who think I am advocating some 'driver training' program: Learning is not something you do in school once for all time. Learning how to drive is not something that someone does for you. It is a continuous process driven by YOU. Learn how to learn how to drive, and learn to drive. Keep on learning how to drive. (You -- over there -- especially you, you kind of suck at driving. LOL.)Example: Do you know where your tires are? When you are 4 hours into a 6 hour interstate journey and change lanes, do you run over the raised center line retroreflective bumpers, or do you steer between them?
  • Mike Bradley Advertising, movies and TV, manufacturing, and car culture have all made speeding and crashing the ultimate tests of manhood. Throw in the political craziness and you've got a perfect soup of destruction and costs.
  • Lou_BC Jay Leno had said that EV's would be good since they could allow the continued existence of ICE cars for enthusiasts. That sentiment makes sense. Many buyers see vehicles as a necessary appliance.
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