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Pontiac Memories: 1956 Pontiac Chieftain 870

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Memories.. something something something of my mind.. misty water color memories, of the Pontiac that we used to have.. This 1956 Pontiac Chieftain is exactly like the one that my parents had when my brother and I were kids back in the early-mid-1960s; what a car! It’s listed on eBay for $8,990; what a price, what a memory!

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I didn’t know it back in the mid-1960s, but this was the second-generation Chieftain, made from 1955 to 1957. For me, the ’56 is the sweet spot for this generation of Chieftain, probably because of the memories, but I also think that it’s by far the best-looking of the three years. Whereas, for Chevrolet’s offerings for the same three years I like the 1955 the best.

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This car is painful to look at, it’s so nice and it brings back so many memories, both good and bad. Our ’56 Chieftain was great up until the point where my dad got both a company car and also a set of oxy-acetylene torches; a lethal combo if there ever was one. Since he now had a company car, the Pontiac was no longer the only vehicle in the household so he could experiment with his new toys; the torches. He started cutting off sections of the formerly-95%-mint-condition Pontiac, and I mean big sections! Within a few days it was down to just the two front doors, the windshield, and the top over the front seat; the rest of the body was gone, right down to the exposed chassis, complete with dual wheels on the rear! Then he put on a rear section, made out of wood, if I remember right, behind the driver’s seat so my mom wouldn’t be quite as cold driving it to her job, at a bank, in downtown Duluth, MN! I kid you not. And, since we lived where it was snowy out for six months out of every year, of course the dual rear wheels had to have chains on them! Wow, the more I think about that.. whew.

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But, back to this car. the exterior had to have been repainted, it’s far too shiny and nice to be sixty years old. The only word on it’s former life is that it was “garage kept by the previous owner since 1995.” The interior looks great other than the wear spot on the driver’s seat. That can be fixed, of course. The trunk looks great, too. They do mention that “There is no rust through. There were a couple holes in the drivers side floor but they have been fixed.” That’s good, but I’d want to check it out in person if possible. The headliner looks perfect but I can see that the windlace may need to be replaced and you’ll probably find a few other things to do. Our car had a power seat, which had to be somewhat unusual.

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This is Pontiac’s 5.2L V8 with a little over 200 hp. I don’t remember our car being super fast, but of course I was under ten years old at the time and speed wasn’t my top priority, other than maybe when I was riding my bike. I think that this may be an 870 model, the 870 models had a little more pizzazz compared to the 860 models: two-tone paint, fancier interiors, etc. I really miss that lighted hood ornament on our 870! The first thing I would do is change out those yellow plug wires, but other than that the engine looks great. Overall, I absolutely love this car! I take the middle of the road when it comes to Pontiac’s tri-fives, preferring the 1956 model the best. Which of them do you prefer? Or do you only think of Chevy when someone mentions tri-five?


  1. Dave Wright

    I am looking for a 55 star chief to replace the one I drove in Highschool. What a magnificent car. The Chieftan was the same body and wheelbase as the Chevies but about 200% better quality. My Star Chief Catalina 2 door hardtop was 4 inches (I think) longer. It had leather interior, hydromatic trans and a small V8 that became the basis for Pontiac’s great 389, chrome and stainless everywhere. I also had a 57 Chevrolet and there was no comparison.

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  2. Rando

    It’s beautiful! FOUR DOORS and all. Yeah, I’d take it in a heartbeat!

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  3. fordfan

    That headliner looks like it absorbed 60 years of cigerette smoke . My dad smoked and the inside of the window glass ,the chrome horn ring and window cranks were yellow ,still nice car

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  4. JW454

    I’m not a 4 door guy but… I’d replace the goofy yellow spark plug wires, repair the front seat and wind laces, and drive it as much as possible.

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  5. Woodie Man

    About your Dad………….

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  6. Tracy

    Do you have any pictures of the monster your dad created?

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  7. redwagon

    scotty g, i live in northern minnesota and all i can say is that your mom is a saint. last friday it was 85 degrees. today it’s blustery and i have seen snow flakes flying past my window!

    brrrr. walleye opener tomorrow!

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  8. DrinkinGasoline

    What a pretty car and if it didn’t have four doors and nicotine with a full ashtray, I wouldn’t know what to do !

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  9. Glen

    I’m more interested in your Dads’ car, any pictures?

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  10. Fred

    RE: your dad and the torches, don’t feel too bad, my dad made a “beach buggy” out of a ’40 Ford convertible by cutting the doors away, hacking away other parts of the body and painting it with a brush and a can of Rustoleum “aluminum” color. This is the same guy, an engineer with several patents, who designed his own rotary engine. Wish he were still around to give me pointers while restoring my T-Bird.

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  11. Scotty G Staff

    The old man graduated, or went back a few grades, depending on how you look at it, and started doing the same thing to VW Beetles after practicing on the Pontiac. We do have some old Kodachrome slides somewhere, I’ll see if I can track them down!

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    • Dennis

      Very nice! I’m probably your age Scotty. My parents had a 56 I believe Star Chief. It had the lighted jet on the hood and I could always spot it coming down the road at night. My parents bought it new in Milwaukee. I can remember the dealer adding dual exhausts. Light green/white 4 door.

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    • DrinkinGasoline

      Let’s talk Beetles…

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  12. Ken

    5.2L V-8? You mean a 316, right? Follower of the 287 of ’55?

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    • Scotty G Staff

      Yes, sir, you are correct, the 316. It’s a 5.2L but 316 makes more sense.

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  13. Mike

    My Dad always told me that Mom and His first car was a 56 Chieftain, it seems Dad was driving a 50 Ford Pickup that actually belonged to Grandpa and Grandma when he decided to get married in 1959. Well Grandpa wanted the truck back to use on the farm so he went out and bought Mom and Dad the Chieftain from a family friend. He went to the bank took out a loan on it made 3 payments and handed it over to Mom and Dad on their wedding day. I remember him showing me the payment book and the car payment for a 3 year old car with 28000 miles on it was like 45.00 a month, of course back them days that was a lot of money for a couple of new Graduated School teachers who together only made like 600.00 a month. Yes Dad was a School teacher for 18 years before he went into doing auto body work for the rest of his life. Mom was also a teacher before she went back to school and became a Nurse. Anyway I remember Dad always wanted to get another Chieftain but never did.

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