Top Of The Line: 1954 Pontiac Star Chief

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When I see old Pontiacs like this one, I find myself wondering why it was necessary for General Motors to discontinue two of its iconic marques, first Oldsmobile in 2004 and then Pontiac in 2010. Even though I know these were business decisions that were based on profit and loss, GM’s decisions on these brands still seem ill considered and ultimately short sighted (and I’m sure that BF readers have lots of strong opinions about GM and its management over the years).

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But back in the early 1950s, General Motors was the largest company in America, and a highly profitable one as well. In 1953, its then president, Charles Erwin Wilson, was named by President Eisenhower to be Secretary of Defense. He was asked during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee if as secretary of defense he would be able to make a decision contrary to the interests of General Motors, his former employer. Wilson affirmed that he could indeed make an honest and fair decision, but he added that he could not imagine a situation of conflict arising “because for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa”.

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In fact this statement has so often been misquoted, now most people think he actually said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”

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During the decade of the fifties, GM was one of the largest employers in the world and in 1955, General Motors was profitable enough to become the first American corporation to pay an annual tax bill of more than $1 billion. Its dream cars captivated Americans, and it seemed then that there was nothing the General could not do, and do well.

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GM’s Pontiac division was doing very good business in 1954 when they built this top of the line Star Chief two door hardtop that is now for sale in Wallingford, Connecticut here on craigslist. Pontiac offered 22 different models that year, including the newly added Star Chief, in hardtop, convertible and sedan form. These new more expensive models were popular with Pontiac buyers, accounting for 115,088 units out of the total annual production of 287,744 cars.

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The Star Chief Custom Catalina hardtop was available in six exclusive color schemes, solid colors of Biloxi Beige, Coral Red or Maize Yellow, or two-tone combinations of those colors with Winter White for the upper body color. The Catalina interiors were keyed to the exterior paint scheme and available as all-leather or as a leather and nylon fabric combination. 1954 was the last year for the venerable Pontiac 268 cubic inch straight eight engine, and just about all of the Star Chiefs were ordered with the excellent Hydra-matic automatic transmissions.

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Star Chiefs can be identified by the three “stars” on each rear fender “fin” and five slender “Silver Streaks” on the deck lid, as well as the unique “visors” over the tail lamps.

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The car for sale here looks very solid indeed, and those Texas license plates indicate why this car is not the typical rust bucket fifties era car so often seen in my home state. The interior is pretty far gone; perhaps this was one of the fabric and leather interiors and it’s original pile carpeting seems to be missing as well.

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The worst rust appears to be on the rear bumper area.

In this ad, the seller says literally nothing about the car, but the photos suggest that it is highly restorable, and certainly worth saving. I am not so sure about the seller’s asking price of $7550. Hagerty indicates that one of these in “fair” condition should be around $9,200 and a car in “excellent” shape would be roughly $23,100. While this car is restorable, you have to expect a pretty hefty amount of work and cost to restore it. Still, this car is complete and not a rust bucket, and there are not many of these around, so maybe this car will find a buyer at something close to the seller’s ask. What do you think of this old beauty?

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Comments

  1. Dave Wright

    That is a magnificent car. I owned a convertible like it 30 years ago. Last of the Pontiac straight 8’s, leather interior, fine chrome……..simply magnificent.

  2. Luke Fitzgerald

    Yeah – why they axed PMD and Olds is just commercial practice. GMs cynicism is best displayed by its propagation of Buick for the eastern market – who cares – they’re all rubbish now as far as I’m concerned.

    • Texas Tea

      Beautiful car!
      I agree Luke. I could not have said it better.

      I worked as a shop foreman for Pontiac, Chevrolet, and GMC from the late 70’s through the late 80s. I was very disappointed that GM could not, or would not make changes (quality control) necessary to keep up with the imports.

      I was also a shop foreman for Toyota (now retired) and have been owning Toyotas and driving them since 1985.

      Having said that. I believe GM makes much better vehicles than they use to. I really want American made cars to be the best in the world.

  3. Mark

    My grandfather purchased one new, in this same color scheme. It was his 1950’s “success” car. My uncle, who drove it later, said you had to whip it to get it past a gas station.
    Mark

    • Woodie Man

      Now THATS funny. Thanks for th chuckle. beautiful car. But a full resto!

  4. Roselandpete

    I also don’t understand why GM killed Olds and Pontiac–especially Pontiac. In the Chicago market, I used to see Pontiacs all over the place.

  5. Luke Fitzgerald

    Thanx TT – I didn’t think much of Toyotas myself until I bought a TA 22 – looked to me that the Japs bought every US make, tore ’em apart and pinched all their ideas. Bought a 69 Mercury from Tarrant County – you a Dallas man?

    • Dave Wright

      I am not an oriental car guy. Not that they are nessisarley poor quality, in general…..I don’t fit at 6’2″ and they don’t support there cars with parts and service long. I can get parts from the Mercedes factory for my 1958 220S today. I had a girl friend with a 2 year old Accura that was hit in the front end. There were several parts that were not available for the repair. Even an A/C hard line. Being in the aircraft world, I told them (the national parts rep) OK, get me the drawings and I will have one made…….they refused that. Those have always been my experiance with oriental makes…….they don’t want to fix anything…….they want to sell you a new one.

      • BMW/Tundra Guy

        I disagree. I was a Toyota guy until I started working for a company that had Fords for all their Fleet vehicles. Got talked into buying one. Spent a year in and out of the shop getting all the bugs worked out of it. Once I got it close to right, for some stupid reason, I decided to “upgrade”! Got a higher end Ford, that one spent basically a year IN the shop. They could not fix it!! SIX rearends, four tear downs on the engine, two new engines, and still would not do what it was supposed to do. Ford actually called the dealership, when my attorney contacted them, told them to put it back together as is, pull it out of the shop, and NOT do anymore warranty work on it. Finally after a year, they had to buy it back!! The Manager, as I was turning it back in and picking up my check, had the audacity to try and get me to buy another one!!! I left there and went down about two blocks to the Toyota dealership and now have four of them!! Love each one for its intended use. Trouble free! Sad sad sad sad. I used to feel unpatriotic prior to the “Dust up”with Ford. NO MORE!

      • Dave Wright

        I do not disagree with you at all………if you study Henry Ford, his quest in life was to sell cheep cars often, or as I say…….he was the first Japanese car maker. He was run out of Cadaliac ( where he was one of the founders) because he wanted to produce cheep junk instead of quality cars. Off course, other American makers are not immune to the Oriental busisness plan either but there are many holdouts. IE, in the marine world Yanmar products have become very popular and they do work well. If there is a warranty problem, the seller will tell you “OK bring the engine in and we will replace it” well……the problem is the engine is 3 decks down and you have to cut a hole in the hull to get it out. If the engine is a Cummins, you call the dealer and they send a tech down to fix it……….that is the basic difference in the Oriental marketing design. It does make more money for the corporate machine but is really tough on the customer. So…….if you buy a new car every few years, the Oriental cars will serve you well, but if you want to drive it for a few decades……buy a Mercedes.

      • BMW/Tundra Guy

        Well………….. I buy for longevity. I have personally had Toyota’s that have run 400K plus and another that ran 300K plus. The only reason the latter one didn’t continue on, was due to an idiot driver pulling out in front of me at 65MPH. I walked away with a bruised knee and tears in my eyes due to my knowledge that it was a total loss. Every Toyota I currently own, minus one, is 10+ years old with over 100K on them. Nothing other than normal maintanance! The only deviation from the owners manual is that I do oil changes every 3K, period. Everyone tells me I am wasting my money but I don’t care. Change ALL the fluids regularly and you will virtually insure longevity, trouble free.
        I also own a BMW – absolute maintanance HOG!! At 90K, it tried to see if it could cost me a % of that number in repairs! Only reason I keep it is the “Fun Factor”!!!!! Freeking BLAST to drive!!!
        As for buying a Mercedes, yeah well, I am not in the affordability league and based upon friends who do own them, I am not in the “Big Fan” league either. (sorry, I know from reading your posts, that you are a die hard fan) I guess it’s one of those “agree to disagree” but with a tremendous amount of respect for you, on my part!!

  6. Mark S Member

    It made no sense to me either what GM did olds and Pontiac but they were not actually the only ones Saturn and hummer got it too. From what I understand Pontiac and Saturn were making money hummer I don’t know about, where as cadilac was losing money. So I think that they decided to drop Pontiac Saturn and hummer to save their marquis flag ship even though cadilac was losing money. Personally I thought that if anything should have gone it was Buick why do you need two luxury car lineups. As for hummer it was getting bad press as a gas gusseler, when it wasn’t any worse than the trucks GM was putting on the road at that time IMHO of course. As usual it all comes down to money and status.

  7. Barry T

    Growing up in the 1950’s my Uncle had a Star Chief and I loved that car. Being a kid I never got to drive it (darn the luck) so I have a soft spot for Pontiacs. His looked a lot like this one. I hated it when GM dropped the brand and kept Buick instead.

  8. Lion

    I learned to drive in dad’s 54 Pontiac but it looked nothing like this. Well, it was a Canadian 4door but only the front clip looked like the pic here. Back fenders were Chev style, no hint of a fin or bump up, and Chev taillights.
    Powered by a flathead 6 but it was comfortable, reliable and served my folks for many years.

  9. Brad

    Responding to the rhetorical wondering of the author… in my opinion, GM didn’t kill off THIS brand. They killed the Pontiac that built the awful Aztek and confusing Solstice. The two brands had nothing in common except for their name, sadly (and that’s coming from someone who in his 20s adored his Firebird Formula).

    For my taste, Cadillac is one of the few auto manufacturers producing modern designs as daring as their mid-century counterparts.

  10. Dennis Kimbrell

    my father had the 4 door until my older brother rear ended a car on snow covered street…. Dang….

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