By on January 7, 2019

1953 Pontiac in Colorado wrecking yard, LH front view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsMore 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.

1953 Pontiac in Colorado wrecking yard, registration sticker - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThere’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.

1953 Pontiac in Colorado wrecking yard, 1960 Phillips 66 oil change sticker - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe door frame has several service-station oil-change stickers, two of which show 1960 dates. Check the gallery for shots of the others.

1953 Pontiac in Colorado wrecking yard, 239 flathead six engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsNearly 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 Pontiac in Colorado wrecking yard, AM radio - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars1953 was the first model year for CONELRAD-marked radios, and this car still has its original racketblaster.

1953 Pontiac in Colorado wrecking yard, engine - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI took a few shots of this car with a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes-branded cereal-prize film camera, of course.

1953 Pontiac in Colorado wrecking yard, LH rear view - ©2019 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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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39 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1953 Pontiac Chieftain sedan...”

  • avatar

    I wonder what every happened to my 55 Century,(that’s it in the picture) while living with my brother and his wife, after coming home from high school one day it was gone! sister in law said she had junked it and handed me $35 which she claimed was what the junk yard gave her for it! it had sat in their driveway for a couple of months with a rear brake issue and I was having too much fun riding my new 67 Honda 305 scrambler. about a month later I saw some long hair hippy looking guy driving it! ;-(

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Hood trim probably sold for more than the rest of the car scrapped for if it was decent.

  • avatar

    Early- and mid-’50s cars are what I Lorenz-imprinted upon and I always swooned most over Buicks and Oldsmobiles.

    Nowadays 4-doors die; 2-doors live. That’s prejudiced.

  • avatar

    Awesome! I bet the Stright Six would fire and run!

  • avatar

    Solid car, shame to see it go this route. I like the wing glass on the back door. That second generation Camaro in the few shots I could see looked remarkably sound, what’s left of it anyway.

  • avatar

    What was the price difference between the Chieftain and DeLuxe 88 back in 1953?

  • avatar

    I hope someone rescues this one. What about the Mercury with Breezeway styling that’s parked next to it?

  • avatar

    +1 sad to see such a solid example go.

    As I always say, the real problem with the old car hobby isn’t unreachable pricing on real Cobras and Hemi Cudas, it’s a lack of people willing to take on a garden variety non-top drawer old car.

    Speaking of which, what ever happened to to Murilee 1941 Plymouth autocross car project??

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Will this go to the crusher or is there a ‘special section’ for ‘rare’ or ‘old’ vehicles due to the value/scarcity of their parts?

    Hate to see ‘survivors’ particularly of ‘run of the mill’ vehicles meet their demise. As mentioned the muscle and luxury vehicles that are restored do not represent what the majority of people drove/rode in. We need more respect for the lowly, base model 4 door sedan.

  • avatar

    Straight 8 would be a little cooler, especially since Pontiac held onto their Straight 8 one year after the Chevy V8 debuted.

    • 0 avatar

      Not sure of that. Pontiac and Chevrolet both came out with their V8’s in 1955.

      My grandparents had a 53 4dr Pontiac two tone green. I barely remember riding in it. They traded it on a new 58 Pontiac. Cars didn’t last very long back then.

      This example must have been well cared for. It was unusual to have a car with 99,000 miles as the 1960 oil change sticker indicates.

  • avatar

    I’ve seen what happens when someone tries to rescue a used up six-cylinder, four-door mass-market GM car from this era. It costs at least as much to do well as it costs to restore a two-door with a V8. Those cars often have parts support, whereas locating parts for a four door sedan can be a quest. The guy I knew had the ‘good fortune’ of finding a ton of NOS stuff for his ’53 Chevrolet. Mind you it all went to the dump when his former landlord threw it out because the project stalled before the car was painted and he’d already wrecked his finances beyond the point of having a way to store all of the trim he’d left when he moved. That car was never completed, although it pulled several grand out of my misguided friend at a time when he didn’t have it to waste. Something tells me that anyone who wants to restore a car like this will be making a similar mistake.

    At the point where someone does manage to restore a car with 80 net hp that weighs 3,300 lbs and has no power steering, they will discover that they don’t want to be bothered driving it more than once. Suddenly the wisdom of putting their restoration efforts into that ‘boring’ two door, V8 with four on the floor will make sense even to them, when they realize there is practically no market for the car they toiled over for two years.

    • 0 avatar

      Which is a shame, because these were the cars that people actually drove back then. Unfortunately it’s gotten to the point where, at a Cars and Coffee this past summer, I had to explain to a 12-or-so year old kid that Pontiac did make cars other than the GTO and the Firebird.

      • 0 avatar

        In 1953 about 90% of production was for the I8, and about 75% of production was an I8 with an automatic.

        So this specific example is a little more hairshirt than the “common” Pontiac of its day.

        • 0 avatar

          Fun fact: some late 1953 Pontiacs were made with Chevrolet Powerglide transmissions, as a fire destroyed the Hydramatic plant in Livonia in August 1953. GM got set up again as quickly as they could by acquiring the Willow Run plant that Ford had originally built to make B-24s during the war from Kaiser, but until they did they were severely short of Hydramatics. Some Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs were built with Buick Dynaflow transmissions for the same reason.

    • 0 avatar

      This. Every time one of these old cars comes up, there are always a number of commenters who decry that such a specimen is going to be shredded. All I can say is that if you think this is a tragedy, go out and buy one of these old cars and preserve it. You may find that when you’re done, you don’t much want the finished project.

      There are a number of reasons that someone wants a particular classic car. It may be that they like this particular design, or that it’s one of the great classics, but in many cases it’s nostalgia. Realistically, the men who would be nostalgic over an early 50’s car are for the most part at least in their mid 70’s, and are at an age when spending hours in the shop bending over an old car is going to be problematic. It’s just so much easier to find a nice example in good condition, and quite often at a modest price, since the men who wanted one of these as a collector car are aging out of the hobby.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Which is why many realize that our defense of ICE is a rear guard action and the inflated rates being paid for 1960’s/70’s American ‘muscle cars’ while subside when those of us who grew up admiring them become too old to drive or wrench.

        Nostalgia and the prices associated with collecting are market driven and the market changes with demographics.

        As ‘difficult’ as cars like this may be to drive, so are most muscle cars.

        But as historical documents the everyday, daily driver is perhaps more important as a historical record.

        Just like in museums and history lessons we may see/hear how the 1% of their time lived, but have much less visible reminders or records of how the majority lived.

        Being ‘common’ or ‘base’ does not mean being less important.

  • avatar

    The way the intake and exhaust manifolds on that engine are intertwined looks odd and a bit risky. The heat from the exhaust pre-heats the air going into the engine. I wonder if it was prone to vaporlocking.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      Indeed that design has its compromises. Cross flow designs are more expensive produce, so this design is VERY common. All the majors did it.

      My Dodge pick up with 225 Tower of Power slant six suffered significant carburetor heat soak that I was never able to remedy–having tried insulator gaskets and a few hood louvers. I think the California emissions control carburetor was just unable to cope.

      Cold start was great, but after being warmed up, then shut off, the heat from the exhaust manifold would cause the fuel in the carburetor float bowl to boil. Hot restart always required a bit of extra cranking to clear the flood of fuel in the intake runners.

      I lost that truck to an engine fire…resulting from a hot restarted attempt. Pity, I really liked the smoothness of that engine…and it sounded as if it was never working hard. Lovely running engines those slant sixes……

  • avatar

    Love the CONELRAD radio markings.
    Still remember 640 and 1240 on your AM dial

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve got an operating AM 7-transistor radio about five years newer vintage. Every baseball season, it’s out on the patio with me in the evening, listening to Richmond Flying Squirrels (AA Eastern League) games on the nights that I’m not at the ballpark.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    As is the case with almost any elderly 4-door sedan, consider any money spent to resurrect it to be lost. These have very limited resale value, even in great shape. The only reason to spend money on one is because it has personal sentimental value.

  • avatar

    It used to be a good thing to have manifold heat. Gasoline used to be more dense & had to be atomized a bit more after a whirl through the carb.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    As Leno would say this is “a good old girl” which is the term he uses for ordinary everyday cars that survive. Maybe it is expensive to restore them and they don’t have the value of the more glitzy sportier cars from the past had but they were the cars many of us grew up with and that most people could afford to drive. From a historical standpoint these cars are much more significant than the rarer car because each one of the these “good old girls” if they could speak would tell you about their owners and what life was like in the post World War II Cold War Era.

    I enjoy Leno’s videos more about these types of cars than the exotics because he tells you the history of the car and the owner.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I have an old transistor radio from 1964 that I bought when I was a kid (even has a leather case and an ear plug). Still works great and I hold onto it for nostalgia.

  • avatar

    The neighbor’s dad had a ’54 Chevy 210 similar to this and I remember it fondly. The rope on the back of the front seat. The “tick-tick” of the lifters. Three-on-the-tree tranny. Loads of room inside. My dad had a two door ’53 Chevy Bel Air with a Powerglide – no “tick-tick” in that one. Both were green with white tops. This generation of Pontiac’s/Chevy’s/Old’s, especially the wagons, were usually the winners in the demo derby events into the ’70s – the rear end was usually lifted sky high on broken leaf springs from the ferocious impacts but they were still running to the end. Great cars (I’d really like to drive one around for a couple hours for old time’s sake)but, sadly, way out of place today much as an old DC-3 versus the modern 737’s.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I wouldn’t mind having a GM car from this era but as some have said I would not want to have it as a daily driver. I learned to drive on my brother 55 Buick Special 2 door hardtop which was a blast to drive except it did not have power steering or power breaks. It did have a V-8 but it also had the dynaflow transmission. If I were to choose between it and this Pontiac I would choose the Buick because it was a 2 door hardtop with a V-8 with nice lines and it would be worth more. Still would not want the Buick as a daily driver. Leno has a 55 Roadmaster 2 door hardtop.

  • avatar

    A trivia question: Cast iron is usually worth more than steel on the scrap market. Does anyone take the time to remove iron from these old cars? The brake drums, engine block and head, and maybe the crank are iron and probably make up 30% or more of the total weight.
    Or is it not cost effective?
    Most of the scrap steel is made into re-bar AFAIK.

  • avatar

    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?

  • avatar

    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.

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