The Pontiac Chieftain was an automobile produced by the Pontiac Motors Division of General Motors from 1949 to 1958. Chieftains were one of the first all new car designs to come to Pontiac in the post World War II years. Previous cars had been 1942 models with minor revisions.
First Generation (1949-1954)
In 1949 the A-body Chieftain replaced the Pontiac Torpedo as Pontiac's smaller and lower priced model. However, the newly redesigned B-bodied Pontiac Streamliner was now very similar (if not exact) in dimensions, engines, trim levels and options. This was the first time since 1934 that all Pontiacs had the same wheelbase. They had standard automatic interior lighting.
The Chieftain was initially introduced with four models: Sedan, Sedan Coupe, Business Coupe and Deluxe Convertible Coupe. In 1950, a Catalina Coupe was added to the range while a station wagon was added in 1952, with the demise of the top of the line Streamliner wagon.
First generation Chieftains came with a choice of four engines:
- a 239.2 in³ L-head 6-cylinder engine making 90 horsepower (67 kW) at 3400 rpm
- a 239.2 in³ L-head 6-cylinder engine making 93 horsepower (69 kW) at 3400 rpm
- a 268.2 in³ L-head 8-cylinder making 103 horsepower (77 kW) at 3800 rpm
- a 268.2 in³ L-head 8-cylinder making 106 horsepower (79 kW) at 3800 rpm
The horsepower differences between each of the 6- and 8-cylinder engines were due to changes in compression ratios.
Some of the more interesting optional items available for the first generation Chieftain included a radio with seven vacuum tubes, tissue dispenser, under seat heaters, and a Remington Auto-Home shaver. In 1951, the horsepower on the 8-cylinder rose to 116. The Chieftain came with a gas gauge, ammeter, oil pressure gauge, and temp. gauge(which had marks for 160, 180, and 220 degrees Fahrenheit).
For the 1952 model year, Pontiac discontinued the Streamliner leaving the Chieftain as their only offering. The Chieftain moved to the new 122 wheelbase. Engine offerings were basically the same except for the 8-cylinder which got a .2 cubic inch enlargement. Horsepower did increase by 10 on the 6-cylinder and by 15 on the 8-cylinder. Also, a red light to remind the driver that the parking brake was on was new. In the May of 1952 issue of Popular Mechanics, the Chieftain was rated 14.9 seconds for a 0-60mph time. Front head room was 36 inches, while rear head room was 35.75 inches.
The 1953 Chieftains were largely unchanged from 1952. The six-cylinder was standard.
The Star Chief joined the Pontiac line in 1954, bumping the Chieftain down to entry level status. Both cars were built on the A-body shell but the new Star Chief had an 11-inch (280 mm) extension added to its frame. Also in 1954, 8-cylinder engines increased by about nine horsepower due to carburetor changes. The 6-cylinder engines remained unchanged.
Also in 1954, power brakes and air-conditioning were offered as extra cost options for the first time. Also a power front seat was added.
Second Generation (1955–1957)
The 1955 model Chieftains featured completely new chassis, body and engine. The engine was the biggest news as this was Pontiac's first V8. The 287.2 in³ engine made 173 or 180 horsepower (130 kW) at 4400 rpm depending on which version was ordered (again, the difference was due to changes in compression ratios). A 6-cylinder engine was no longer offered. The original five-chrome strips running down the hood and trunk where dropped, with a twin-stripe design used.
The biggest change for 1956 was again in the engine. The new for 1955 V8 was drastically enlarged to 316.6 in³. Horsepower made a considerable increase, jumping to 192 and 205 respectively. Otherwise, the 1956 model Chieftains received only minor updates. A padded safety dashboard was added as an option.
New "Star Flight" styling graced the 1957 Chieftains. This new theme included missile shaped side trim, extended rear fenders with V-shaped tips, lower hoods and massive bumpers. A new Super Chief sub-series debuted within the Chieftain line. These were the meant to be the top of the line Chieftain models. Sales were 58.02% of all Pontiac's in 1957. The first "Tri-Power" Pontiac engines were offered.
Once again the Pontiac V8 was enlarged. The 1957 model year say the engine increase to 347 in³ with horsepower increasing to 290 for the Chieftain models.
The 1957 Pontiac, badged as the Pontiac Super Chief, was also assembled in Australia, by General Motors-Holden's.
Third Generation (1958)
Chieftains went through another major styling change in 1958. All models were give honeycomb grilles, quad head and tail lamps, concave rear fenders, and longer, lower lines. The Super Chief sub-series was promoted to full model status leaving just the standard array of Chieftains as the entry level Pontiac. The "Sportable" transistor radio became an option, along with air-suspension.
As in years past, the V8 engine was enlarged. For 1958 it grew to 370 in³ and made 240 and 270 horsepower (200 kW) depending on version.
The 1958 models were the last Chieftains to be produced. It was replaced with the all-new Catalina in 1959.