56Chief

1956 Pontiac Chieftain Garage Find

Recommended Posts

I am interested in feedback on what is best for a garage find regarding a 1956 Pontiac Chieftain Catalina. This particular car has sat in storage since 1974 and until August of 2016 was untouched.  It has slightly more than 35000 original miles and all original right down to the brakes and tires. The tires are in amazing condition as the original owner removed them and put them into his house under cover.  They look like new yet...unbelievable.  Bought new in Michigan and made in Pontiac, the original owner recently passed away and his surviving spouse sold me the car.  The interior is still in showroom condition (no mice).   It is a two door hardtop with the automatic transmission. The two tone paint has cracked as lacquer will do over time.  It was stored smartly by using jackstands on the frame, draining the radiator, fuel and brake lines.  the owner waxed the dash and chrome in the interior.  The wax still remains as I have not removed it yet.   The car is a unique piece of history in my evaluation.  Should I clean it up and leave the paint and chrome as is, work through brakes, fuel system and engine to make drivable or what?  The tires are made by Gulf and have no cracks.  I put air in them today and no leaks.  There are no cracks between the treads or on the sidewalls.  How long do tires last?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Pictures please -- this car sounds incredible!  If it were mine, I would "first, do no harm".  Go through a methodical recommissioning of the car's various systems (engine,brakes, cooling, steering/suspension,etc.) beginning with an inspection to identify the components which require replacement or rebuilding so that you can build a parts list.  Since this car appears to be so original and so loved by its original owner, do whatever you can to keep it that way.  Careful cleaning and restoration of the original finishes should yield terrific results.  Anyone can tear-down a car to its bones and refinish/restore to 'as-new', however, much rarer is a car such as yours which is really just as it was built -- because it hasn't been molested.  Paint cracks/checks. minor chrome pitting, rubber cracks, etc. only reinforce the honesty of the car.  This sounds like the type of vehicle that should be thoroughly photographed and inspected to document the way that these cars were built for reference by others whose cars are nice, but not nice enough to leave alone without some degree of restoration.  My dream would be to find such a car some day -- congratulations and enjoy this car for what it is!

 

Oh, and as nice as those tires look, I would not recommend driving on them given their age (not more than 30 mph)!  But -- I would definitely put them on the car once at the show/meet and use them for display purposes.

Edited by EmTee
addition (see edit history)
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you both for reaffirming what I believe is the right thing to do.  Here are some photos to give a sense of what condition this car is in.  The photo you see in a cement block garage is where it sat covered up since early 70's.  The photo of the car in the street is when it saw first daylight and going on to the flatbed.  Photos in the finished garage is my home where I keep it as I formulate a plan. The trunk photo is just how I found it when I opened it.   

IMG_2400.JPG

IMG_2408.JPG

IMG_2546.JPG

IMG_2549.JPG

IMG_2553.JPG

IMG_2554.JPG

IMG_2555.JPG

IMG_2556.JPG

IMG_2557.JPG

IMG_2558.JPG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That thing is a time machine!  The paint in the trunk and the interior (dash, wheel, headliner) are ridiculous!  What a gem!  Once it's all cleaned-up, this car will be killer!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am still in awe at the fact the so called "barn finds" do exist.  I've only seen examples on TV with American Pickers or occasionally on line.  Would you clean up the chrome with 000 steel wool? also, I know nothing about the transmissions in this vintage auto. I did bore scope the cylinders and there was no rust inside.  I have WD40 sprayed in each and letting them soak for a week or so before I hand turn the engine over.  I'll take some photo's of under the hood.  It too is amazing with the firewall being clean and having the factory crayon marks all over it. The only items missing are drivers mirror, wiper arms and the battery.  I spotted them all on a shelf in the former owners garage on Saturday when I went after the tires and rims.  His garage is a true case of hoarding with stuff stacked at least 4 feet hi.  When she starts cleaning out the garage in the coming weeks I will be able to obtain those items.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Looks like a nice car, however the seats are not original.  That black vinyl is not correct.  Also, Gulf tires were never original equipment tires.  Looks like a rare find, but not quite as original as it appears. Also, please look at the style number on the firewall and let us know if it is a 56-2737 or a 56-2737D.

Edited by Kornkurt (see edit history)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good information. thank you!  The style number on the firewall is 56-2737D.  The seat vinyl could they be covers?  Both front and back have the same color.  They have the cord edging that goes around it as if they are a production type of cover.  The carpet I'm guessing is original as it has the surging that is in tack and it matches what is in the trunk.  On the tires, that adds up with there being a lot of tread remaining.  What does the style number tell us?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You nailed it KornKurt. They are dark blue covers.  The original covers are underneath as I pulled back on the vinyl.  From what I see the originals look great.  I will pull the covers off completely to see what's underneath altogether. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you again for pointing out the seat covers were not original.  Here is what I have found after removing the front seat covers.

IMG_2566.JPG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In 1956 Pontiac made the Star Chief which was the top of the line, then they made the Chieftain 860 and the Chieftain 870.  The 860 was pretty bare bones and the 870 which yours is had more chrome and deluxe features like the Deluxe steering wheel and the hooded tail light bezels the same as the Star Chief. The D after the style number means it is an 870.  You should rebuild the fuel pump with today's materials that are not affected by ethanol.  I have these kits available for $69.50.  Also, I would recommend joining POCI, the national Pontiac club.  They have a great monthly magazine, many local chapters, tech advisors etc.  Bring this car back to life and you can drive it anywhere with no problem keeping up with the traffic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was hoping those dark covers were just seat covers.  That's perfectly in-line with the original owner's MO!  People with similar cars would love to see those factory assembly line chalk marks and over/under spray captured in photos.  I concur with Kornkurt -- POCI is a wealth of information and it sounds like in your case this will be a two-way exchange for sure!  :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You are a real winner with that find. as for the chrome I use 0000 steel wool with liquid polish.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you gentlemen for your knowledge and suggestions.  I will join the POCI to continue this journey unfolding. Kornkurt your 56 Pontiac is absolutely beautiful.  Thank you for sharing that photo!  Regarding the fuel pump, I would like to purchase the kit from you. Just let me know how to do that.  Also, is there a carburetor kit out there that you recommend?    I purchased 0000 steel wool and plan to start working on the bumpers tomorrow.   

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 9/4/2016 at 9:43 PM, 56Chief said:

... His garage is a true case of hoarding with stuff stacked at least 4 feet hi.  When she starts cleaning out the garage in the coming weeks I will be able to obtain those items.

 

When you go back to collect the remaining pieces be sure to comb through the garage to the best of your ability.  Better to find the original pieces (that you've already bought) than to have to find them elsewhere later.  Also, ask about any documentation that may be available (e.g.. service records, receipts, registration papers, etc.), including those oil change stickers in the door jamb.  If the family has any old photos of the car they'd be willing to give you (or allow to have scanned) that would be great -- anything that helps 'tell the story' of the car.  My '64 GP was bought new by a shoemaker in NYC.  In addition to the folder of stuff I got from the 2nd owner is what appears to be a wooden pattern heel for a shoe that is in the console storage compartment.  The 2nd owner that I bought the car from found it there and told me that "it belongs with the car" and I agree -- it's going to remain there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What you describe as the known history of a car is exciting to myself.  Those personal effects like the wooden pattern heel kept as a personal effect of the owner gives your car that much more character or the fact you can trace it back to the original owner.  I like your idea of asking the surviving wife for any documentation.  I'd guess somewhere in this overpacked garage there is a box or folder with all those receipts and possibly manuals. What is even more ironic, my uncle who is a retired state farm agent insured the car up to the day it was parked. The certificate is in the glove box and when I brought it up to his wife, she said they started their policies with him in the early 1950's. I too am a SF agent and put antique coverage on the car.  My family insured the car since day one and continues to do so today.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree, the car's history is really part of the car.  I have a letter in the glove box of my Riviera that the person I bought the car from says was there when he bought it, purportedly written by the wife of the original owner.  Its going to stay with that car as well, even though I haven't gone back to trace the line of ownership (yet, anyway).  Since you can still talk to the surviving spouse, it certainly can't hurt to ask and I would think it would reinforce the feeling that the car has gone to a good home!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As a new 1950s Pontiac owner you are fortunate to so quickly meet Kornkurt who is one of the most experienced parts people in the Pontiac world (Hi Kurt!)  You should immediately go to www.pontiacsafari.com for a gold mine of manuals, articles, and photos all generously posted for free(!) by a friend of mine who is the POCI 1956 Technical Advisor.

 

I second EmTee's credo to "do no harm" and proceed carefully without damaging anything while you clean and preserve the car.  The brown pattern rugs are not original but if there is carpet or a mat underneath it may be, post a good photo.  The reddish-brown trunk mat IS original, carefully preserve it.  ESPECIALLY BE VERY CAREFUL with the blue plastic shrouds on the sides of the drivers seat.  They are very thin and fragile, impossible to find and yours are as good as originals get, it might be worth removing them for safekeeping while you work on the car.

 

The old Gulf tires are not original or valuable except as a display curiosity, as EmTee said they are OK to drive around the block but should be replaced before driving at speed.  Your originals were 7.10 x 15 in black or with about a 2 1/2" whitewall, probably BF Goodrich or US Royal.  You can buy authentic reproduction bias ply tires or new wide whitewall radials from www.cokertire.com .  The jack in the trunk appears original (also hard to find) and hopefully you found the jack base and spare tire too.  Your wheel covers are also original.  The automatic transmission was robust (you can use Dextron III fluid) and parts are easily available by mail, although a local rebuilder will likely be hard to find if needed.  Get an owners manual and factory service manual, both readily available as reproductions at www.amesperf.com and www.pontiacparts.net and other sources.  Good luck and post any questions here, we are always happy to help,  

 

Todd Crews

POCI 1957 Technical Advisor  

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll betcha that like the seat covers, that brown, patterned rug is covering the original carpet!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, EmTee said:

I'll betcha that like the seat covers, that brown, patterned rug is covering the original carpet!

 

I bet it is too and if it is in good shape that is a real rarity.  As are those seat skirts

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The carpet is indeed covering the original flooring type mat.  it is like new front and back.  I took a few photos as I removed the covers off the back seats.

IMG_2568.JPG

IMG_2569.JPG

IMG_2570.JPG

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Outstanding looking seat.  Show us the flooring too when possible, thanks.  

 

Ps--be careful working around those plastic seat skirts, taking them off may be a good idea 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now