In 1963, I was a junior in high school and I had just sold my first car. It was a '50 Chevy four-door (torpedo body) Deluxe. I now had $200 burning a hole in my pocket and my dad had a friend who was selling his car, a '55 Pontiac Chieftain, and he only wanted $200 for it.
What a deal! Sure, it was my life savings, but I didn't care. It was a two-door sedan with a V-8 engine that was less than 10 years old and had a mere 60,000 miles on the odometer. I was in heaven.
First impressions are lasting. I loved that car. It wasn't very fast, but it was a V-8 and it looked fairly good. The paint was faded and the interior was worn, but it was mine and having your own car was a big deal.
When the GTO first arrived in 1964, I wanted one bad, but all I could afford was a used Tri-Power setup from a '57 engine. It helped performance some, but the most bang for the buck came from its looks. Since then, I've been a Pontiac fan. I became intrigued with multiple carburetion, as it looks cool and has that great sound with all six barrels wide open.
I enlisted in the Navy in 1966 and had to sell my Chieftain. Though I didn't see it again after that, I never forgot it.
Then in 2002, I was sitting in my '65 GTO in the staging area of the local dragstrip waiting for my next run when a guy came up to me and struck up a conversation about GTOs and Pontiacs. When I told him about my '55 back in the day, he mentioned he had a friend nearby with one for sale. I hadn't seen a '55 Pontiac in ages, so I decided to take a look.
There it was, a '55 Pontiac Chieftain two-door sedan, just like the old days. I really didn't want another project at the time, but this car was talking to me. It was saying, "Come on, Mike, buy me. You won't be disappointed." So I did. The price was right and the car was driveable, except it wouldn't go backwards. So, I put it in Drive and drove forward all the way home.
The Chieftain sat for a year at the hobby shop that I share with my cousin, Ron. Finally, the time came for me to start this new project. The car told me, "Check the numbers," so I did. I about fell out of my shorts. This was the very same '55 Chieftain I had in high school. I thought my car was gone forever, but the numbers matched.
In high school, I wanted to build a hot rod, but I didn't have the resources--now I did. I decided to keep the Chieftain looking relativity stock, but upgrade it in ways that I could only dream of 40 years ago. The new build sports a bored 455ci traditional Pontiac engine with Tri-Power, and it's connected to a five-speed manual transmission from an '86 Firebird.
After lifting the body off the frame, I installed a Second-Gen Firebird subframe that supplied the power steering and front disc brakes. The ten-bolt rear and springs came from the same donor car. I also installed 3.73:1 gears with an Eaton posi and SSBC rear discs.
The air conditioning is a modified Vintage Air unit designed to fit a shoebox Chevy, and the front seat is from a '76 Cadillac. With a little help from my friends, the body, paint, and interior were completed.
I will probably keep my '55 since it's a part of my history. Like most projects, it'll never be finished. As I write this, I'm building another Pontiac 455 for it. This one will have a little higher compression and a roller cam. I'll probably add a heavy-duty clutch since the stock one in there now is starting to complain. I'm also working on a front cover to hide the unsightly radiator and A/C stuff when the hood is up for display.
I enjoy driving my '55 Chieftain to shows and drag-racing events. I get a lot of positive reactions from people when we're out on the streets. It's always fun to let the folks know it's not a stock ride.
Here's the Chieftain in 1965.
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