The 1949–54 Pontiac Chieftain is an accessible gem of post-war style

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1952 Pontiac Chieftain Eight Two-Door Sedan RM Sotheby's

The 1949–54 Pontiac Chieftain is one of the few cars from its era that’s bucking the trend of waning interest in cars from the late 1940s and early ‘50s. Why are these Pontiacs among the only such American cars that have held collectors’ attention?

Short answer: it remains an attainable classic for fans of its art deco details and straight-eight engine. According to Hagerty valuation analyst James Hewitt the data shows people are, relatively speaking, gravitating toward the Chieftain. “The 12-month change in the number of these Chieftains quoted was up over 35 percent and, along with November of 2019, is the highest mark since 2015,” he said. Despite all of the insurance quoting interest, the average value of cars that Hagerty insures has dropped five percent over the past year, even though the number of new policies grew by 30 percent within the same time period It seems that buyers are going after clean, driver-quality cars rather than the #1-condition (Concours) show cars.

Compared to its GM stablemates, the Pontiac has standout design and offers up a ton of style for the price. While its contemporary Chevy rival offers subtle lines with restrained chrome, Buick offers a more elegant take with longer wheelbase options, and Oldsmobile brings a level of understated sportiness thanks to its early adoption of the overhead-valve V-8. Some would even argue that the Olds 88 was a pioneering prototype for the muscle car.

1953 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe Eight Custom Catalina front
1953 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe Eight Custom Catalina RM Sotheby's / Darin Schnabel
1953 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe Eight Custom Catalina rear 3/4
1953 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe Eight Custom Catalina RM Sotheby's / Darin Schnabel

1953 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe Eight Custom Catalina
1953 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe Eight Custom Catalina RM Sotheby's / Darin Schnabel

The Chieftain may be a bit more difficult to restore and maintain than a shoebox Ford or Bel Air, with their easier-to-find parts, but I’m an unabashed Pontiac fan. Aside from the aforementioned 88, I’d say the Pontiac has the rest of its GM brethren beat by a mile. The Ford? Well, it has a flathead V-8, so it gets bonus points there, but the Pontiac’s looks are in a league of their own.

With this car, Pontiac delivered bold style that borders on brash. Proud hood ornaments, full-length chrome hood trim, and fantastic two-tones—the style and design of these Chieftains have aged incredibly well, and they’re different enough to turn heads when the most common cars of the era can get lost in a car-show crowd.

High insurance quoting activity tells us people are still interested in the Chieftain, but that hasn’t translated into higher values, which remain low. A 1954 Pontiac Chieftain Special in #3 (Good) condition is valued at $10,500, considerably less than a comparable 1954 Chevy Bel Air ($15,300). The stunning 1954 Chieftain Deluxe Catalina, with its hardtop roofline, is an even more attractive proposition. It comes in with a #3 value of $11,800, a 40 percent discount compared to its Chevrolet counterpart.

With an abundance of charisma, this generation of Chieftain remains a great entry point to post-war American classics for a lot less than you might think.

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