Monthly Archives: September 2018

Finding out the condition of the car.

With the Chieftain home, I started to dig into assessment of the condition of the body, mechanical and electrical parts.

First up, to determine what the car is fitted with. The Fisher body plate offers a small amount of insight:

body tag

Paint code 5128, Starmist Blue. Kinda close to what’s on the body right now. Trim code 71- the “deluxe” interior. A dark gray/light gray combination, with broadcloth seats and tufted buttons on the rear seats. Someone has had the car reupholstered, and it’s been done well; they’ve kept a lot of the features, just instead in shades of blue.
The VIN shows it was built in Atlanta, Georgia in 1951. It’s an 8-cylinder car and has Hydramatic gearbox. All pretty much what I found. That’s a good start.

Wires. Frayed.

The wiring is just plain fire hazard. It’s been chopped about, the insulation is all gone in places, it’s brittle and generally in poor shape, particularly as the car has been “converted” to 12V from 6V, badly.


The interior is in really quite nice shape, just grimy. None of the electrical systems worked. The clock was halfway falling out; I set it to 5 o’clock because, well, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.


There’s been a fair bit of new metal let into the body and it appears to have been done well.


There’also a few places where it’s gone quite bad- typical muddy and wet locations on the car.

rear lights

the back of the car is in moderately good shape- I applied a little heat to the light lenses, rubbed them down with fine grit paper and then polished them. That made an improvement as they were very hazy and heavily cracked before. PMMA (acrylic) is a thermoplastic, so some of the cracks and crazing will re-melt together with a little heat.

rear lights lit

A little messing about with wiring saw the rear lights illuminate.

chief mascot

The Chief head mascot on the hood is again sun-crazed (PMMA like the rear lights). With the addition of a fresh bulb he lights up.

rusty reflectors

The front park/turn light assemblies were not working. Cleaned them up but the reflectors are very, very bad. I think a rub-down with wet-n-dry and a polish then application of bright shiny “aluminum” finish paint may save them to a workable standard.

wash glass

The glass lenses cleaned up nicely.

parking lights

Between times, the lights do still come on and are visible. I’ve seen worse!

gearshift indicator

I took apart the gearshift indicator assembly on top of the steering column. It’s a cast metal fitting with a nice shiny aluminum insert, through which the position indicator labels fit. I saw on the circuit diagram that there is a light bulb inside, so went take a look see.


Sure enough there is. A little metal container with a light window on the front, which moves with the lever arm to shine light through the appropriate position window. There were some green circular pieces of plastic stuck in the mechanism, I found two and refitted them.


The N, Dr and Lo positions are now green, with the R in white. I am not sure if all the windows had the green filters and one of them has vanished, but that made sense. The solder joint had also come off the wire. That needs redoing.

illuminated position lights

With my flashlight behind the lenses, they glow nicely.

polished up

The bezel was polished up and refitted, looking nice. It needs to be clean, it’s right in the driver’s line of sight.

jukebox speedometer

I also managed to track down a bad connection and got the turn signals working. Fitting some new bulbs to the dash indicators saw them working also.


It’s all been a bit quiet here lately. There’s a good reason, though- with a small backstory.
An interesting car pops up in the Facebook classifieds locally. A 1965 Pontiac Catalina. Running condition with a little cosmetic work needed. Sadly due to circumstances I missed out on the sale. The car was well under list price and was snapped up. As such, I had a sulk and started looking for cars (not something I often do). There was very little both affordable and interesting locally and in New Orleans, so I expanded my search and centered on Baton Rouge instead.
A few more cars show up; Baton Rouge seems to have a better following of old cars, plus sadly many in New Orleans were destroyed or moved away after the flood following hurricane Katrina.

However, one interesting vehicle pops up. A 1951 Pontiac Chieftain. The pictures show it to be in cosmetically good condition for its age, looking like it had seen a restoration a number of years prior and was in need of another now. I convinced my wife to let me go see the car, to have a poke about and determine if it was a complete basket case or not.

Pontiac at the dealership lot

The gentleman at the lot grabbed the jump pack and started it up. It sat and idled happily for fifteen minutes. I had a poke around, found a little bit of rust but mostly solid metal and my suspicions that it had seen some restoration work were confirmed. Somebody had converted it (not well) to an alternator and 12 Volt electrics. Most of the electrical parts of the car did not work. The steering was a bit sloppy but the brakes were good, and the gearbox engaged gear without slipping in Dr and R. I thanked him and I went on my way. That, however, was it. I had decided at that point, if I could afford the car, I was going to buy it. Time passed, finally some money (kinda) cleared the bank and I called back to check the car was still on the lot. It sure was! I said that I could bring cash money the next day. Sold.

Collection day set- Labor day, 2018.

coffee brewing

I organized a car transport trailer via U-Haul for the following Saturday. The weather was forecast to be rather unpleasant, but becoming worse for the following week. First things first though. Put the coffee on.


Towing weapon of choice. Our trusty Silverado.

Change Oil Soon

Oh. Well, I do know that I need to change the oil, but that timer wasn’t reset last time the oil was changed. Let’s take a look…

Pull out dipstick

Dirty and dusty Vortec hiding under the hood.. GM really got their money’s worth out of that engine.

dirty oil

Err, well yeah. It does need to be changed then. But, there’s enough in there. Checked the ATF, that’s all still pleasantly clean and at the correct level.


Coffee and muffin consumed, and we are ready to go!


Out up on Interstate 10, north of New Orleans. Trailer was a one-way deal, collect near to the car and drop off near home. The weather was already beginning to turn intermittently rainy, though traffic was heavy through the city it was flowing well. Out the other side and it was nice light traffic all the way.

Loaded up on trailer

Paperwork done, all loaded up onto the trailer and ready to go! It was a long drive home, taking surface highways. I didn’t fancy driving the Interstate in Labor Day weekend traffic at 55mph. Plus, Interstate 12 was busy and I-55 from Hammond down to Laplace is 22 miles of raised concrete bridge which is bumpy and without trailer hitched up sets the truck into a pitching wobble over all the joints in the concrete.

finally home

Unloaded it in the twilight and rain- it didn’t want to jump start due to bad connections but finally I got it running and parked up. Returned the trailer and crashed out to sleep. The following day was heavy showers interspersed with sunshine, not ideal for poking and prodding at a new car, but that’s the way it goes. I took the battery out and put it on the bench- trickle charge on a dumb charger for a day or so saw it begin to take a charge, and it now has enough in it to reliably start the car. Go figure.

More to come!