The combination of upright...
The combination of upright bodylines, a tall stance, and Cragar SS rims give Brian Diffenbaugh's '57 Chieftain Safari a definite early-'70s Junior Stocker look. The restoration was challenging, but the results are more than worth the effort.
To car buffs who grew up before the dawn of minivans, the sight of a vintage station wagon will almost always bring a smile of reminiscence to their faces. Though nearly unseen in new car showrooms today, they were once a staple of postwar Americana. Many summer vacations were spent on trips to campgrounds and exotic locales, such as Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone National Park. With woodgrain vinyl appliques and bumper stickers that proclaimed, "This Car Climbed Mt. Washington," station wagons took Americans from Point A to Point B and won our hearts in the process.
Being utilitarian, station wagons weren't often thought of as sporty or particularly fast, yet drag racers found they had a better front-to-rear weight bias than a corresponding two-door coupe. This allowed the heavier "longroofs" to hook up better at a dragstrip, giving an advantage at the starting line. Many Pontiac wagons were competitive during the '60s and '70s, such as Jack Mullins' '63 Catalina and Gary Wood's "Tons a Fun" T-41-equipped LeMans.
When it came to building wagons, Pontiac actually did have a pair of sporty station wagons during the '50s, the most famous being the Motorama-inspired Star Chief Custom Safari, which shared its sleek ribbed roofline with the Chevy Nomad. There was another one as well, though it was somewhat lost in the shuffle: the entry-level Chieftain Safari two-door wagon. This bodystyle was particularly attractive from a performance standpoint, as it offered the same traction advantage as other wagons, but was 150 pounds lighter than its top-of-the-line sibling.
Brian Diffenbaugh, a 46-year-old state trooper from Howard, Pennsylvania, is the proud owner of this particular '57 Chieftain Safari, and with a look as unique as this one has, you know that there is a great story behind it. It is also a very rare bodystyle, with just 2,934 built.
You just don't see tails like...
You just don't see tails like this in showrooms today. After more than half a century, the space-age Harley Earl styling still looks great.
Brian's Chieftain really shows...
Brian's Chieftain really shows its vintage drag-racing roots. The classic Cal Custom valve covers and aluminum 389 Super-Duty Tri-Power system harken back to the '60s. What you can't see are the big ports and valves, and the 4.00-inch stroker crank. This 389's now a healthy 428, courtesy of Spott's Performance.
The super-rare '61 389 Super-Duty...
The super-rare '61 389 Super-Duty intake is topped with the '59 389's original Tri-Power carbs and reproduction air cleaners.
The Chieftain has been in the family since the Fall of 1979, when Brian's older brother Mitchel found it advertised in the local Auto Locator. Mitchel was 20 at the time and Brian was just 16. The brothers drove out to New Oxford to check out their find. Even though Mitchel wanted a Nomad, he was intrigued at the idea of a two-door Pontiac wagon.
What they found was a running, driveable car in which a previous owner had already swapped a '59 389 Tri-Power, four-speed, and 4.56:1 gears. Aside from some missing grille trim and sporting a '56 Pontiac front bumper, the car was complete, solid, and definitely worth the $1,000 that both parties settled on. The asking price was $1,100.
Originally painted Starlight Yellow and Sheffield Gray, the wagon sported a metallic brown body and gold roof-very '70s and according to Brian, more attractive than it sounded. Inside the Chieftain retained its original bench seat.