1951 Pontiac Chieftain

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PhilA
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1951 Pontiac Chieftain

Post by PhilA » Wed Jun 05, 2019 2:37 pm

This vehicle is documented elsewhere, but here's the run-down:

Back in September of 2018 my wife noticed a 1965 Pontiac Catalina coupe for sale fairly locally. It ran, drove, stopped and steered, wasn't overly rusty and most of it was in moderate shape. I called the guy up because it was a good price but ended up missing out on it. As a result, I started to have a sulk and began looking at cars on Craigslist, not something I regularly do. There was very little to be had locally, or in New Orleans. I broadened the scope of my search a little to include Baton Rouge and its' environs.
Car at lot
Car at lot
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Up popped a blue Chieftain sitting on a car lot in a little place called Lacombe. It was priced at $12,500 and nobody had bitten, so the price had been dropped to $11,500 then $10,200 over a couple weeks. I asked the wife if I was allowed to have it and she didn't say no.
I kept watching the advert and the price kept going down. After a week it was advertised at $8,500 which was getting to be in the ball-park I was willing to pay. So, that weekend I went took a drive up to check it out and see that it wasn't a complete basket case. Overall I was impressed with the vehicle. It had been cared for at some point in fairly recent history but was showing signs of neglect and malaise. The A pillars were a bit crispy at the bottom, but the doors were still supported well and the sills were holier than the pope but that was on the "expected faults" list and also probably why nobody wanted to buy it. The radiator leaked, but it started and ran and idled and engaged forward and reverse and the brakes worked really quite well. I told the guy I would be back (how many times he had heard that I will never know) and left feeling positive.
The following Tuesday I saw that the price had dropped to $7,000 so I gave the guy a call and offered that tomorrow, I'll bring cash and a trailer and take it away. That gave me a bit of room to work, haggling the price down to $5,300.
The deal was struck, I hired a trailer and went collected it on an all-day jaunt- the weight of the trailer and car being close to the maximum for my truck I didn't fancy an Interstate run, particularly not I-55 which is 22 miles of elevated concrete causeway bridge which has a habit of setting up a bouncing oscillation in my truck, let alone it plus a trailer. Hit up the back roads and took the long way home. 300+ miles round-trip, the return on the most direct route the backwoods roads would bring me.
Arrived home in the rain, fought with jump leads off the Renault to get it started, backed it down off the trailer and dumped it on the driveway, soaking went and left out to go return the trailer a further 40 miles away at the nearest depot.

The following morning's weather was abysmal, heavy rain and overcast. I pulled the battery out of the car and stuck it on charge, stealing the battery from the Renault for the Chieftain. It fired up straight away which was pleasing. The weather cleared up enough o have a bit of a better poke around the car in the daylight. I re-confirmed my suspicions- the wiring was completely shot, with the original gutta-percha/cotton insulation in a lot of places all crumbled and falling apart, exposed conductors and such. The fuel pump was disconnected, with an electric pump further back in the circuit. There was a mystery yellow cannister wedged into a bracket on the firewall that wasn't connected to anything. More pipes missing, the original fan was gone, the original gauges did not work, the original radio was gone but the interior was in pretty good shape apart from the driver's door which looks like the door card had absorbed quite a lot of water and had warped badly out of shape. The engine however ran well albeit very noisy with valve-train clatter from the tappets and held good oil pressure even at idle when warm. The gearbox left a little to be desired, a 4-speed automatic unit, which would select only 2 gears and only under sufferance. Unassisted drum brakes all round need adjustment but brake evenly and really very well for their age. Going backwards they need a significantly larger shove on the pedal because the self-servo effect is lost... that was an experience the first time round.
So, par for the course and what I had expected.
Bad wiring
Bad wiring
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I began work on a few things, mostly trying to figure out the electrical system, which had been "converted" to 12V from 6V (thankfully negative ground) badly. The light bulbs had been switched out for 12V items, the starter motor had been changed for a 12V item and an alternator from an unknown source had been very badly butchered into place and was held on at a bad angle by two badly-fitting bolts. That made the fan-belt, also the wrong item, squeal a lot. I had a poke about and managed to get the indicators working (loose connector) and found that I had no brake lights. At least the chief mascot on the hood worked after I replaced the bulb.
Chief lights up
Chief lights up
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I began on a few cosmetic items first, cleaning up and attempting to see what I could improve without having to replace. I bought some clear red lacquer and redid the faded red paint on the hubcap emblems. That came up nicely, so I did the badges on the rear flanks and touched up the hood and trunk badges also. I gave the paint a bit of a polish and it came up reasonable, being a respray that I'm guessing isn't more than a decade old. Admittedly it's the wrong color, but it's fairly close to the original shade of blue.
Hubcap
Hubcap
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I pulled the dashboard out and discovered that the 12V conversion did not fully extend to it; the 6V electrical gauges had been connected to the 12V and had consequently burned out the coils. I bought some new coil wire after having spoken to some people and done some research on how to wind the coils for 12V. I redid the temperature gauge, winding it also to match a replacement sender from a later Chevy engine (physically the same dimensions but a different resistance curve) as the original senders have a very low resistance and were unreliable when new, and as such are now all but impossible to source. The later model mid-50's Chevy truck senders are still available as those vehicles are popular still today.
Gauge wiring
Gauge wiring
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The fuel gauge sender is also a similar story, the sender is 0-30 Ohm range and difficult to rewind for 12V. I decided after having trouble getting the coils not to run warmer than I would like to re-wind it for 6V and use a converter for it. The ammeter still worked as did the oil pressure gauge so cleaning up the dash, painting the insides of the gauge holders white again and polishing the plastic and metal along with re-painting the black left it looking smart again. Along with this I tried my hand at electro-plating metal and re-silvered the front indicator reflector which was rusty and had been painted black (don't ask, I don't know).
Reflector
Reflector
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I tore the old wiring, silly after-market gauges and horrible (but surprisingly expensive cassette/radio from up under the dash, liberated a brown widow spider that was hiding up in the wires and with better access removed the vacuum motor for the wipers. This had never worked, but taking it apart and re-greasing it saw it wobble side to side when connected to the vacuum on the Renault. The wiper arms however were very stiff to move. I took the linkages apart and removed everything from the car. After some messing about with various oils I discovered that the mounting hole was drilled through to the center where the spigot went through and was the same size and pitch as a grease nipple from the suspension. The bearings were duly pressure-greased and became free to move once again. Reassembled with new wiper blades, adjusted arms and greased springs the wipers do move but reluctantly. I think the motor needs a re-seal kit. I then trawled eBay for a replacement washer bottle as the car was fitted with the optional screen-wash kit from Trico. I found a decent bottle with a good pump. It was cleaned up and sits nicely in the holder that came with the car.
Trico bottle
Trico bottle
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I also purchased a replacement air filter assembly for the car as the original air filter was missing. The original unit was a small oil-bath that sat directly on top of the carburetor. I did a little research and found that there was a dealer option for an air filter with a muffler section to quieten the engine compartment down. It arrived and was rusty and full of mouse nest and detritus. I cleaned it all up and made a new bracket for it to be supported at the front of the engine as per photographs I found of cars fitted with them.
Air filter assembly
Air filter assembly
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I bought a radio off eBay and started converting it natively to 12V, along with a full rebuild of the internals.
Radio
Radio
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I bought a new trolley jack that was low enough but had enough support capacity and lift to raise the car up, along with an engine crane. I removed the engine and gearbox, took the head off the engine to inspect and clean- it's had new pistons, rings, a rebore, new valves and I'm guessing new bearing shells. It needs new gaskets on the manifolds, the water pump is a rebuilt item, the fuel and vacuum pumps both work (but need new gasket) and I started to clean it up to paint it green instead of black (originally it was green).
Green engine
Green engine
20190310_144624.jpg (2.61 MiB) Viewed 2010 times
I took the steering box apart to inspect it for wear- the bushings have seen better days and need replacement but for now it's going to get new grease and will be adjusted up as well as it can be.

I need to split the gearbox off the engine, get the rebuild kit and fix it up so it shifts properly, refit it all, clean and paint the engine bay, check the heaters and reassemble the engine and gearbox back into the car, rewire, get a new alternator that actually fits and have the radiator recored.

Then on to other smaller items like a new lock set, some new glass to replace the side windows that are cracked, tidy things up a little and hopefully get it on the road for Cruisin' The Coast in October.

--Phil
Last edited by PhilA on Wed Jun 05, 2019 4:49 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: 1951 Pontiac Chieftain

Post by panhard65 » Wed Jun 05, 2019 4:16 pm

Nice to see the Pontiac over here Phil as it was one of my favourite threads over on the beige. The effort you put in for just the dash lights puts my work on the Thunderturd to shame. It will be better than new by the time you have finished
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Re: 1951 Pontiac Chieftain

Post by PhilA » Wed Jun 05, 2019 5:30 pm

Progress has been slow due to life, family, work, wasps and general lack of funds.

I'm going to try and pick up the pace a little bit but right now everything I need to do in order to get the car roadworthy has a dollar amount attached to it.

Phil
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Re: 1951 Pontiac Chieftain

Post by CLINT » Wed Jun 05, 2019 7:52 pm

That is a proper car. Mild jealousy here.
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Re: 1951 Pontiac Chieftain

Post by Junkman » Wed Jun 05, 2019 8:56 pm

PhilA wrote:
Wed Jun 05, 2019 2:37 pm
It was priced at $12,500 and nobody had bitten, so the price had been dropped to $11,500 then $10,200 over a couple weeks. I asked the wife if I was allowed to have it and she didn't say no.
I kept watching the advert and the price kept going down. After a week it was advertised at $8,500 which was getting to be in the ball-park I was willing to pay.

[...]

The following Tuesday I saw that the price had dropped to $7,000 so I gave the guy a call and offered that tomorrow, I'll bring cash and a trailer and take it away. That gave me a bit of room to work, haggling the price down to $5,300.
How utterly Unbritish. Here they rather let their children chew on bark than getting off their asking prices straight out of Lalaland.
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Re: 1951 Pontiac Chieftain

Post by MRustbucket » Wed Jun 05, 2019 9:02 pm

These are beautiful cars.
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Re: 1951 Pontiac Chieftain

Post by PhilA » Wed Jun 05, 2019 10:38 pm

Junkman wrote:
Wed Jun 05, 2019 8:56 pm
How utterly Unbritish. Here they rather let their children chew on bark than getting off their asking prices straight out of Lalaland.
Quite often that occurs here too; the price quoted is the price firm. In this case the guy needed to liquidate some assets and I think he was fed up seeing the car sitting out up front.

Anyhow, I am now officially an American citizen so I am allowed to be sensible with money. Doesn't mean I actually am, but in principle I can.

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Re: 1951 Pontiac Chieftain

Post by 8BAK465 » Fri Jun 07, 2019 11:07 am

Glad your posting the big cheiftan here :)

On a seperate note we went to a local meet last night and look what turned up :o

Image

Image

Pictures were terrible because of the sun but you get the idea ;)

Not sure if its same engine as yours I took the first pic and guy who owned it was nowhere around :(

Sam took the other as it was leaving.

Dont know much about it other than its a 53?
Im quite nice really :mrgreen: Why is Claire such a tosser :roll:

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Re: 1951 Pontiac Chieftain

Post by PhilA » Fri Jun 07, 2019 12:28 pm

Yup, that's a convertible deluxe 8.

(Number 8 craftily hidden between the "streamliner" stripes, just above the latch on the trunk)

Very nice car, worth a decent coin, too. Quiet, aren't they? Underneath that's identical to mine, '55 they completely revamped the entire car.

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Re: 1951 Pontiac Chieftain

Post by 8BAK465 » Fri Jun 07, 2019 1:15 pm

PhilA wrote:
Fri Jun 07, 2019 12:28 pm
Yup, that's a convertible deluxe 8.

(Number 8 craftily hidden between the "streamliner" stripes, just above the latch on the trunk)

Very nice car, worth a decent coin, too. Quiet, aren't they? Underneath that's identical to mine, '55 they completely revamped the entire car.

Phil
It was too late to speak to the owner but it did sound nice pulling away :mrgreen:

Hopefully it will turn up again and I can catch up with the owner.

I did note that the rear fenders are heading towards fins by 53,basically look like yours with extra bits ;)

Carpark at the meet is huge I think I saw it come in away in the distance I saw the illuminated Cheif and thought,I wonder?

And it was :mrgreen:
Im quite nice really :mrgreen: Why is Claire such a tosser :roll:

No Im not a Bloke!
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