Two-Tone Beauty: 1955 Pontiac Chieftain

I’m biased, like the vast majority of us are – I openly admit it. I like all vehicles, from the Cugnot Steam Trolley of 1769 to the current (no pun intended) Chevy Bolt, and literally everything in-between. Whether it’s gas-powered, runs on diesel fuel, batteries, chipmunk power, it doesn’t matter, if it’s a personal transportation device, I like it. But, having grown up with my parents having a ’56 Pontiac Chieftain in black and white, I have always had a soft spot for these cars. This 1955 Pontiac Chieftain is on eBay with an unmet buy-it-now price of $4,500, or you can make an offer. It’s located in Des Plaines, Illinois. This brings up an important question: why is Des Plaines pronounced Des Plaines when Des Moines is pronounced Da-Moyne? Hmm..

I think that these second-generation Chieftains are the best of the series for Pontiac and they are personally my favorite Pontiac out of any of their models. The Chieftain only ran for three generations, from 1949 to 1958. The 1958 cars, being a one-year only model, may be the most unique and valuable. But, as I said, I’m biased towards the middle-generation cars: the tri-five for Pontiac. This was such an elegant design, and it still is. This is really a two-tone beauty. Or, I guess with the rust maybe it’s a three-tone beauty?

This was exactly like the car that my parents had, I wrote about it here a little over a year ago. What a beauty. This two-tone blue 1955 Pontiac Chieftain looks like a good starting point for a nice driver, but being a four-door sedan it’ll most likely never see a full restoration. I can’t imagine that most teenagers today are interested in vehicles at all other than to be driven around in mom’s minivan for the rest of their lives. Maybe some of you have kids (i.e., younger than 30!) who love cars, but would they care about a 62-year old four-door sedan?

Ahhh.. that interior! And there’s that crazy sideways “Blower off/on” switch over the steering column, weird. This car has some bright blue paint on the pillar as you can see, I’m not sure what that’s about, that does not look factory-original to me. And, even on the rear seat photo (kudos to the seller for providing a variety of photos, by the way!), the bright blue looks sprayed-on? Maybe I’m mistaken, the seller says that this is an all-original car from Mississippi, with solid floors and rockers.

This was the biggest news for Pontiac in the post-WWII era, a brand new V8 engine. This one is a 287 cubic-inch Strato-Streak overhead-valve V8 that would have had around 175-180 hp. There was no six-cylinder option for these cars. The seller is light on words but they say that this car runs and drives. Is this a good project or does it suffer from the affliction known as “too many doors” syndrome? I prefer a four-door in these cars, but maybe it’s just for the great memories in my case.

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. Jose Cantu

    Because the folks in “Des Plaines” don’t know any better. (smile)

  2. Bob

    Well actually, there was a 55 Pontiac built with a 6 cylinder engine, but it was built in Canada. The Pontiac brand in Canada was built on the Chevy frame, and the engine options were a 261ci, and the 265-283 V8, and powerglide rather than the hydromatic. Pontiac continued with this policy until 1970 at least.
    The 55 GMC Trucks were a different story. They used the same engines as they used in the US.
    I have a particular fondness for this year, because we had a lot of great times back in the 50s, cruising in the 6 banger 4dr version of this car. It had a 3 on the tree, and gave the small block guys heartaches.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontiac_Pathfinder

    • Dave Wright

      All the 55 Pontiacs were built on Chevy frames. The Star Chiefs have a stretched wheelbase but Chevrolet none the less…………many body panels and all glass are interchangeable.

      • George

        Not true, having owned many tri-five Chevys and two ’55 Pontiacs I can tell you there are surprisingly few similarities between Chevys and Pontiacs of this era, starting with the frame & suspension. This Pontiac for instance has no ball joints in the front suspension and the nose of all American Pontiacs are stretched longer than a Chevy…Despite outward appearances, Pontiacs are a completely different animal than a Chevy in this period.

      • Pete

        American Pontiacs had kingpin front ends while the Chevrolets had ball joints.

      • Dave Wright

        I too have owned many of both…….off course, there are many differences including suspension…..but the frames are the same. My Star Chief has a longer wheelbase but the Chieftan is the same as the Chev. The Pontiac is a much more sophisticated car built with more care and better parts but never the less the same underpinning. Link at the restoration catalogs, many parts are totally interchangeable…….doors, quarter panels, glass, floor pans, roofs,

    • Marshall

      I read your Wikipedia link regarding those 1950s Chevrolet-Pontiac hybrids made for the Canadian market. They were nicknamed “Cheviaks”. LOL

  3. Brian Gould

    I love these old Chieftains. Or any of the mid fifties offerings for that matter. They were all so stylistically distinctive and the colour palettes were beautiful. When did two tones so completely fall out of favour?

    I challenge anyone to stand beside a highway today and identify year, make and model of the passing cavalcade like we used to do. That was one of the perks of working at a gas station for car crazy teens. Nowadays that exercise, with not many exceptions, is limited to ” a gray one, a silver one, a white one, a black one, two more gray ones” and so on.

    And as I get older the advantages of a four door for cruising with friends becomes more and more apparent, Including the ropes on the back of the front seat and the grab straps on the “b” pillars.
    With a little creativity, modern conveniences and safety upgrades can be made to these cars without being visually obvious in many cases.

    Added bonus: You never lose your car in a busy parking lot. They most definitely do NOT blend in. Unless you find yourself on Woodward Ave or in Frankenmuth on certain summer days. (Or any number of other big classic car events across North America.)

    • Marshall

      Me, I think 4-doors are underrated. Through the years, I have found that many four-door variations look at least as good, if not better, than their 2-door counterparts.

      And I agree with you about readily being able to tell the make and year of cars yesteryear, but not with cars nowadays. One would have to pay close attention to minute differences in trim packages, minor facelifts, etc., to notice the difference in modern car makes and models anymore.

      If they had continued to change the body style every year like they used to, production costs would be much higher, And subsequently, so would prices for new cars. With all the foreign competition, and the making of many different models within each make, it just simply would not make sense to continue to change the body style every year. Back in the 50s, there was hardly any foreign competition, and no multiple different car models requiring entirely different bodies,unlike today’s cars.

      In 1959 for example, there were no Mustangs, no Falcons, no Fairlanes, no Torinos, Etc., all of which, require a whole different body, then your basic full size “Ford” (Galaxy). 10 years later, all that changed!

      During the 50s, there were different car models, but they all basically shared the same body shell. Therefore it was easy to identify a “1957 Ford” from a distance (though one would have to look closer to identify the exact model and trim package). Whereas today, one might easily identify a Ford Fusion (Or should that be “Confusion”?), or a Ford Focus (Or maybe “OutofFocus”), but telling what year it is, is a different matter. The Mustang lives on, but there are no more Fairlanes, Galaxies, Falcons, etc. There is no more “basic (no model specified) Ford”. The same goes for other makes.

      I believe the modern-day habit for carmakers to not change the body style every year was inspired by the early 1960s Volkswagen advertising on TV (and especially in magazines) that would matter-of-factly declare “we do not change our cars just to make them look better. We only change our cars to make them (functionally) better”.

      • Brian Gould

        All true and eminently sensible. The improvement in build quality alone speaks to the wisdom of not rushing the design process.

        But to this day you can still pick a Beetle out of the herd at distance. Same with the Camaro, Corvette and Challenger. They have kept the essence while making improvements. But once you are into the SUV area they are indistinguishable, even by colour in most cases. Hell, GM was even running advertisements where, after they took the badging off their car no one knew what it was. That’s too much brand androgeny for me.

  4. Bruce Fischer

    Whats with the big wet spot under the car or did they just wash it?Bruce.

  5. Mitchell Gildea Member

    It’s Steam Dray, not Steam Trolley. I dig this Pontiac tho this would be a cool cruiser

  6. DJS

    Two to many doors but still might be a good starter fixer

  7. DJS

    Two to many doors but a fun starter fixer

  8. Brian Gould

    Just the right amount of doors if you are transporting a bride and bridesmaids. Or cruising with another couple or three pals.

  9. Bob

    In all my years of being around cars, I never heard of Canadian Pontiacs being called Cheviacs. I and all my gearhead friends knew there was a difference between the Canadian and the American Pontiac. The most common slang we used for the Pontiac in Western Canada, was “Poncho”.
    I had a Buick powered 47 Chev Coupe at the time, and used the complete front rolling assembly, except for spindles, off an American Pontiac to convert my front wheels to accept the Buick bolt pattern. I did this for two reasons, bigger brakes, and matching front and rear bolt patterns so I could use chrome reversed Buick rims on all 4 corners. I truly regret selling that car,

  10. Ken Kittleson

    I bought one just like this for $35 in 1967 when I was 14 and thrashed it on racetracks fashioned from Iowa farm field roads. Had a great AM radio and I remember cranking Eric Burdon and the Animals singing, “We gotta get outta Des Plaines…if it’s the last thing we ever do…”!

  11. C. R. Chinoy

    What are the odds? I saw this car on the Chicago Craigslist a month ago and I still have the listing open on my phone. Got real confused for a second when Google suggested this article for me and I saw the same exact photos again. Beautiful patina…

    Oh, and for your information… I’m a 19 year old college student and I’d love nothing more than to get to drive and restore a gorgeous 50s sedan like this. (Yes, I actually like the four-doors, some of us have friends to transport) Don’t go assuming that all of us millennials have given up on the automobile!

    • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

      That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout, C.R.! I’m very glad to hear that you’re carrying the torch for your generation. I know that there are probably millions of folks your age who love old vehicles but all we hear is that the hobby is dying out. I sure hope that it isn’t, I still have a few decades left in me…

    • Bob

      I am happy to know that you have caught the bug. I was successful at turning my son into a gearhead, and he has never regretted the skills he acquired from working on old iron. Keep at it, it is a great hobby.

  12. Ben T. Spanner

    Didn’t the contemporary GMC’s use a 347 version of the Pontiac block? This V8 came in many sizes for many years and even was chopped in have for the original Tempest

    • Bob

      Yes the engine in the GMC trucks from that era, was the same block as the Pontiac engine. This was true for the GMC in both the US and Canada.

  13. Graywolf

    We need to start saving these 4-door cars! 2-door cars are either out of reach price wise, or leaving the country. These cars are parted out and junked, thus these will also disappear! Think about it, get them will they are affordable!

  14. Leon

    I remember a ’55 Pontiac I had. Two tone black and red. 6 volt system. Use any kind of gas and smoke the tires every time. I remember that “park” on the selector was “reverse”. All the way down on the lever. Great car. Give every one a good run. Leon

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