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A Buyer's Guide to Getting a Used Pontiac Chieftain

The Pontiac Chieftain is a classic model that was sold during the late 1940s through the end of the 1950s. The model endured for three generations and there are still some good examples available for sale. If you're in the market for one of these treasures from yesteryear, there are a few things to consider before you buy. We've put together a short buyer's guide to help you know what to look for, and how to get the best deal on a quality Pontiac Chieftain.

Know the history

To get the best deal on a Chieftain, it's important to know your history on the model. Some dealers are disreputable and they may misrepresent a Chieftain that has been put together from a variety of different replacement parts. Get an idea of how many models were made, the specs, updates, and other particulars that will help you to spot a fake or contrived model that has not been properly restored.

Overview of the history of the Pontiac Chieftain

According to Wikipedia, The Chieftain was first released as a 1949 model year. This was a part of the first generation that was produced from 1949 through 1954. The 1949 edition featured an A-body styling. It was available in a choice of four models including a Sedan, a Sedan Coupe, a Deluxe Convertible Coupe, or a Business Coupe. The second year of its production saw the addition of a Catalina Coupe. Four engines were available including a 239.2 6-cylinder generating 90 horsepower, a more powerful 93 hp version, a 248.9 cu in 8-cylinder offering 103 horsepower, or a more powerful 106 power version of the engine.

The Chieftain was an affordable vehicle with competitive pricing. It came with a radio, heaters under the seats, a tissue dispenser, automatic interior lights, and a Remington Auto-Home shaver. In 1952, a new station wagon body style was added to the line. The first generation featured a range of gauges including temperature, oil pressure, ammeter, and gas. This is the year that the horsepower was increased in the 8-cylinder versions. For 1953 the body style was upgraded to a 122-inch wheelbase with more streamed lines, a 1-piece windshield front and back for all versions. Fins were added to the rear of the car. The Chieftain Special was also offered as a more stripped-down version with the Chieftain Deluxe as its best-equipped model. The Custom Catalina was offered in a hardtop coupe with two doors, and a hood ornament that lit up.

The final year of the first generation

In 1954, the Pontiac Chieftain Line took a back seat to the status of entry-level with the addition of the new Star Chief, but the engines were upgraded in the 8-cylinder models by 9 horsepower and it received an updated carburetor. Pontiac saw a reduction in sales of the V8 models by 30 percent for 1954. Air conditioning was added along with in-dash controls and adjustable front seats.

The second generation

The 1955 model kicked off the second generation with a new engine, body, and chassis. It was powered by a 4.7-liter engine with a choice of 173 or 180 horsepower. Only V8 engines were used. A new V8 engine was introduced in a 5.2-liter generating 192 and 205 horsepower along with a padded dashboard option. Sales continued to drop, however. By 1957 the shape of the side trim changed with longer rear finders with V tips, larger bumpers, and lower hoods. The engine size took another jump to 5.7-liters with 290 horsepower.

What to look for in a used Pontiac Chieftain

With your knowledge of the history of the vehicle, make sure that the car for sale has retained its original parts if it has been restored. Check to make sure that there are no rusty spots in the fenders, body, or floorboards. It's also wise to inspect the wiring and look for any signs of shorts or damage. A visual inspection can help you to find any concerns or areas that will need repair. This can give you a tool for negotiating the selling price. Hemmings is a great resource for estimating the cost of any necessary restoration or repair work.

Start the engine yourself. It's best to do so when the vehicle has set for a few hours. If there are any engine issues you will see signs of blue or black smoke from the tailpipe. It should turn over easily and have a smooth sound when idling. Listen for any unusual noises such as squeals indicating loose belts, or knocking. Make sure that the brakes and the lights are all in good working order. When you take it out for a test drive the acceleration should be smooth and even. Listen for any engine or transmission noises that are out of order. If it lacks power when you give it gas, there could be an issue. There should be no clunks or hesitations when shifting gears.

Know the values before you negotiate

Check out the current values for a Pontiac Chieftain in the model years you're considering. A good resource to do this is Hagerty's, providing estimates for these cars based on the model year and the condition that they're in at the time of the sale. Knowing the true market value of a vehicle gives you an edge that can help you get the best possible deal on a used Pontiac Chieftain.

Final thoughts

A thorough inspection of the exterior and the interior will help you to assess the overall condition of a used vehicle. Make notes of any repairs needed, know the value of the vehicle, and negotiate for a fair price. If the seller wants more than the car is worth, it's wise to walk away and continue looking. The Chieftain is an affordable collectible in most cases and it is a treasure from yesteryear that can still be enjoyed and driven when in good restored condition. Keep the tips in this buying guide in mind to make sure you buy a quality used vehicle at a reasonable price.

Benjamin Smith

Written by Benjamin Smith

Benjamin Smith is one of the managing editors of Moneyinc. Ben's been focusing on the auto and motorcycle sector since 2005. He's written over 1000 articles in the space and continues to learn about it each day. His favorite car is "any Bugatti" and he's a die hard Harley Davidson fan.

Read more posts by Benjamin Smith

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