Cheap Project: 1953 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe Tin Woody

Just how desirable is a 1953 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe Tin Woody? While many people would plump for the 2-Door Convertible to be the pick of the litter in 1953, the Tin Woody now commands prices around 40% higher than a similarly equipped Convertible. As for the 2-Door and 4-Door sedans, they just aren’t in the race. That’s a pretty staggering statistic, and it makes this particular example, which is located in Hudson, Wisconsin, a very interesting proposition. The Woody is listed for sale here on Craigslist and comes with an asking price of $2,800. I really have to thank Barn Finder Ikey H for referring this great Pontiac classic through to us.

When you are talking about a project car with an asking price of $2,800, you can be pretty sure that the Continental Maroon paint is going to require a bit more than a dose of polish to return it to its best. That’s the case with this Pontiac. It has been parked in a shed since the early 1960s, and a broken windshield has allowed moisture to enter the car. As you can see, this has taken a toll on the front floors, and these will require replacement. Thankfully, it looks like the frame has survived okay, and the only other rust of any note is some small spots in the bottoms of the doors and the very bottom edge of the tailgate. There is also some external trim and chrome that is either missing or damaged, while the windshield looks like it might be the only piece of glass that will require replacement.

The interior of the Chieftain is an area that might provide the next owner with one or two anxious moments along the restoration pathway. The radio is missing from the dash, so a replacement will need to be sourced. All of the upholstered surfaces have deteriorated badly and will require full restoration as well. For those of you who are fixated on originality, we now get to the part that has the potential to cause problems. The headliner in the Chieftain Deluxe is a pretty special item, being made from vinyl that features a woodgrain effect. This material is no longer in production, so it might be a case of obtaining some standard vinyl and finding an upholsterer who can reproduce the effect for you. The same is true of the thick vinyl in the cargo area. Once again, it might take a bit of standard vinyl and some ingenuity to reproduce something that is close to the mark.

Powering the Pontiac is the 268.4ci flathead straight-eight engine, producing 122hp. This is hooked to a 4-speed Hydramatic transmission, while the car also features power steering. It isn’t clear what sort of condition the drive-train is in, but hopefully, that wonderful engine isn’t locked. If it is able to turn freely, then after more than 50-years of inactivity, it will probably require a rebuild. These engines are not the most powerful items on the planet, but the low-down torque does make for a relatively effortless driving experience.

Those who follow the fortunes of classic cars will be aware of how classic wagons have grown in both popularity and value in recent years. The Chieftain Tin Woody is no exception to this trend, but as is always the case, originality is the key to high vehicle values. It is possible to find a pretty decent example with some non-original features such as different upholstery material for around the $35,000 mark. However, find yourself with a pristine example where such features are either original, or close to it, and now you could be looking at a value of $60,000 or more. At the asking price, this particular Tin Woody shows a lot of promise.


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WANTED 1970 Dodge Super Bee 4 speed, coupe preferred but nego., 383 or 440. Willing to pick up in lower 48. Contact

WANTED 1964 Pontiac GTO Looking for rust free post GTO. running gear optional. For resto mod Contact

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  1. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Great find Ikey! This seems like a smoking deal. Is that hubcap on the dash a speaker grille? A great looking girl, I wish fun to new owner.

    Like 10
  2. Al Todd

    I have a 1953 Chev 210 Tin Woody. I sometimes wonder how many families owned it and where it’s travelled on vacations.

    Like 7
  3. local_sheriff

    Once again a bulgeous bomb coming from Ikey! This one seems to be a more comprehensive one. I observe radiator is missing, does that mean engine coolant passages have been exposed to humid air for close to 60 years…? That I-8 is a highlight for Ponchos of this vintage – ancient yes but also unique indeed.
    Best of luck to the next owner! 👍

    Like 4
    • Miguel

      Sheriff, I doubt it has been close to 60 years. The car had to be running for at least a couple of years prior to being parked.

      Like 1
  4. Ron

    seems like a deal. that car is neat just the way it sits (other than needing floors, some upholstery, and a 389. :) It will be a lot of fun for someone.

    Like 1
  5. Gaspumpchas

    Yea ron 389 would make a cool sixties hot rod! and Al, as I see all of these cool wagons with a history of the Picnic cooler, Plaid drink cooler and a carful of kids. We loved traveling in our wagons as a family, and when I grew up I did the same with my young family. Nice retro project for someone, have a friend with one of these and it still has the old color decals on the window for each state!!!
    Good stuff. Nice project , good luck!!

    Like 1
  6. Tom Bell

    How can you throw away a straight eight?? Restore to its true self and leave its heart in place. Find a Taurus to play with.

    Like 11
  7. Stevieg

    I wish (as always) I have more time, space & money. I am working on a 1951 Pontiac convertible. This could be a nice stable mate. But with a probable move across country in the near future, I will probably have to unload all toys in the near future. Buying another one would make no sense now lol.

    Like 2
    • Miguel

      Not unload, transport.

      Like 3
      • PatrickM

        Sell, trade or donate. But, never unload. LOL However, there is a serious note to that…..

  8. Comet

    I never thought I’d drink the LS cool-aid, but what a perfect candidate.

    Like 2
  9. Glen Riddle

    I grew up riding in a ’49 Pontiac tin woody and a ’55 Pontiac wagon was my first car at 16, so this brings back good memories. Hope someone will restore this diamond in the rough.

    Like 2
  10. Stilbo

    My ‘first car’ was Dad’s ‘49 Silver Streak fast back with the straight eight. Albeit, I was three years old when Dad traded it in for a new ‘57 Buick Special. Word has it that I cried for a whole day when it became clear to me that ‘My Pontiac’ was gone forever.
    The speaker grille (Not a hubcap) was my pretend steering wheel as I sat next to Dad while on the road. With no child seats and seat belts in those days parents had to keep the kiddies close by in order to grab them during emergency stops and turns… Its amazing that so many baby boomers are alive today…
    The straight eight was noted for being extremely silent and vibration free. Dad told me that when the ‘49 was new he could stand a half dollar on end on the head while it was idling…
    More often than not I think LS, Coyote 5.0 or EcoBoost fours for power train upgrades but if this straight eight could be revived it’d be a sweet engine. And the four speed Power Glide returns pretty good fuel mileage…
    This is a steal at the asking price but at 65 years of age I can’t justify another project of this scope…

    Like 4
    • Robert L Roberge

      Hydramatic, not PG! Blasphemy.

      Like 2
  11. Doug

    After my Southeast Asia graduation tour, I bought a 1951 Pontiac 4dr sedan from a former neighbor -straight 8, 3 on the tree. It had some overheating issues- I had the radiator flushed, replaced the thermostat, but nothing helped for long, and I was seeing rust again in the water. I found this stuff in a can about 4 oz for $ 4.79, that promised to fix the problem. When Dad got home that evening I showed him the unopened can and asked his opinion ( he was a chemist .) He laughed and told me to take the can back for a refund, and go to the grocery store and buy a box of Arm & Hammer WASHING soda ( laundry dept.), because it was the same stuff. Paid .39 cents for the box, which held about a pound. I poured 4 oz of the stuff into the radiator with the engine running, and let it run for about 20 minutes, then opened the petcock and let it drain while having the garden hose keep the radiator full. After a few minutes, all the water was coming out clear, so I closed the petcock and turned off the hose.
    I never had another issue with overheating, and the car gave me 22mpg on Simas Brothers cheapest regular while commuting to college daily, from Walnut Creek to Hayward, CA. Back then hardly anyone used coolant in the SF Bay Area – we just thought of it as “antifreeze,” and it never got cold enough to worry about.

    Several years later, long after that car was gone, I bought a 1952 2 dr for $50, just to have a backup while I was doing some work on my daily driver. It was an automatic, straight 8, and I was lucky to get 12-13 mpg with mostly freeway driving. After having it downshift from 4th to 3rd without warning at steady speed on the freeway several times ( fluid level where it was supposed to be, good color, no leaks,)
    I traded the car for a 10 speed bike.

    Like 1
  12. TimM

    Great find!! The dash is awesome!!! The diffuser on the dash for the heat I presume is cool as heck!!! The minivan of its day!! It would be cool to see this grocery getter back on the road!!

    Like 2
  13. Richard Gugenberger

    I like the auto light , my fathers friend had a 53 Olds that had that same feature , Now many years later my 2019 Ford Edge has auto eye lights , go figure lol. Neat wagon hope it gets saved !!

    Like 1
  14. Bob McK Member

    Can you imagine it restored correctly? WOW

    Like 2
  15. Butchb

    I think that’s considered rust free for Wisconsin.
    My neighbor back in the 1970’s had the Hearse version of one of these in his barn but being a high school kid I couldn’t afford it, but I wanted it soooo bad.
    I still do.

    Like 2
  16. That Guy

    Rusty floors aren’t terrible to repair. The rest of the car looks pretty darn solid. I’d say this is a deal and a half. I can see something like this fetching mid-five figures in top condition, so there’s plenty of room here before getting underwater.

    Like 2

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