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AUTO BIOGRAPHYH

1954 Star Chief put Pontiac in the luxury car market

By John Gunnell

Pontiac presented two lines of cars for 1954. The Chieftain series was continued from previous years, but the Star Chief series was Pontiac's new luxury line. "With the introduction of a new line of automobiles-the Star Chief Series-Pontiac brings the dramatic size, sweeping style and luxurious elegance of America's most expensive automobiles to the Pontiac price range," stated the 1954 Pontiac Facts Book.

Bruce Sutherland's 1954 Pontiac Star Chief sedan is a Deluxe Star Chief model with two-tone paint. The lower body is Linden Green and the roof is Spruce Green Metallic. (Christa Haley photo)

Bruce Sutherland's 1954 Pontiac Star Chief sedan is a Deluxe Star Chief model with two-tone paint. The lower body is Linden Green and the roof is Spruce Green Metallic. (Christa Haley photo)


Star Chief models were just short of 18-ft. long in overall size. A smartly extended rear deck gave Star Chief models a longer sweep of line. To emphasize the added length, three stylized stars of silver color formed a horizontal line along the rear fender fin. These were underscored by a slim, horizontal molding that traveled back to join the visored Star Chief taillights.

The Star Chief models had special taillight doors that were visored on top with chrome moldings running forward below the three stylized silver stars on the fender fin. Dual back-up lamps were an accessory. This car has them, but there is no mention of adding this accessory on the bill of sale. The 'bumps' on the rear fenders were a sign of the mid- '50s movement towards tailfins. In 1954, the towering tailfins of 1957 had not yet been envisioned. (Christa Haley photo)

The Star Chief models featured special taillights that were visored on top with chrome moldings running forward below the three stylized silver stars on the fender fin. Dual back-up lamps were an accessory. This car has them, but there is no mention of adding this accessory on the bill of sale. The "bumps" on the rear fenders were a sign of the mid- '50s movement towards tailfins. In 1954, the towering tailfins of 1957 had not yet been envisioned. (Christa Haley photo)


The grille design and front-end ornamentation were new for 1954. Turn signals were an option. This car does not have an illuminated hood ornament, a grille guard or bumper wing guards. (Christa Haley photo)

The grille design and front-end ornamentation were new for 1954. Turn signals were an option. This car does not have an illuminated hood ornament, a grille guard or bumper wing guards. (Christa Haley photo)


There were four Star Chief models in 1954. The Deluxe four-door sedan was the lowest priced one. It came in 17 solid colors or two-toned combinations with color-keyed interiors of green, blue or gray. Depending on body color. The Star Chief convertible came in 10 colors and offered five Morrokide vinyl upholstery choices and four convertible top colors. The Custom Catalina was the two-door hardtop model. There was also a Star Chief Custom Sedan that had a narrow chrome molding above the side windows and a chrome plaque filling the area behind the rear vent windows. Custom models came in six exclusive color schemes and had top-grain leather interiors.

Star Chief models had a 124-inch wheelbase, two inches longer than a Chieftain. This chassis could only be had with a straight eight. You could get a Chieftain with a six, but not a Star Chief. The Star Chief body (with bumpers) was 213.7 in. long compared to 202.7 in. for a Chieftain. Less bumpers and aprons, the lengths were 203.4 in. for a Star Chief and 192.6 in. for a Chieftain. Apparently, the body aprons had a small difference in size. Star Chiefs had five silver streaks on the deck lid and the trunk lock was built into the circular rear medallion, which also had two gold stars on either side.

There were five Silver Streaks on the rear of Star Chief models. Also, the trunk lock emblem was different with the locking ledge higher on the deck lid and two gold stars on either lower side of the emblem. (Christa Haley photo)

There were five Silver Streaks on the rear of Star Chief models. Also, the trunk lock emblem was different with the locking ledge higher on the deck lid and two gold stars on either lower side of the emblem. (Christa Haley photo)


Bruce Sutherland of Broadhead, Wis., is the owner of a 1954 Star Chief Deluxe Sedan finished with a Linden Green lower body and a Spruce Green Metallic roof. This car originally came from Strike Pontiac in LaCrosse. Wis. Sutherland has the original bill of sale which indicates that William Talley purchased it on May 7, 1964 for a base price of $2,383, plus the cost of four options: Hydra-Matic Drive ($178.45); heater and defroster ($80.82); signal lights ($16.90) and non-glare mirror ($3.95). The total was $2,663.12 and there was a $300 allowance for a 1938 Dodge four-door. So, Talley paid $2.363.12.

<The Pontiac's rear seat looks pretty much like it has never been sat on, the four-door sedan had cloth upholstery, while the hardtop and convertible had leather seats. (Christa Haley photo)

The Pontiac's rear seat looks pretty much like it has never been sat on, the four-door sedan had cloth upholstery, while the hardtop and convertible had leather seats. (Christa Haley photo)


<This photo shows the door panel treatment for the Star Chief sedan. Crank-up windows were the norm in 1954. It was the first year for Pontiac power windows, but this car does not have that option. (Christa Haley photo)

This photo shows the door panel treatment for the Star Chief sedan. Crank-up windows were the norm in 1954. It was the first year for Pontiac power windows, but this car does not have that option. (Christa Haley photo)


"I knew about the car for years," Sutherland explained. "The kid that had it lived in Janesville, but he inherited his father's farm south of Broadhead and the car was parked out there in his machine shed for five or six years. He said he would never sell it to me. Then, I happened to see him one day and he asked me if I was still interested in buying it. He said he was never going to do anything with it. We made a deal and I ended up towing it two or three miles to my house."

Sutherland got the Pontiac running. "There were some mouse nests under the seats," he recalled. "But they didn't hurt the upholstery at all. I had to clean that all out and it's quite a job to get the smell all out of there. Then, I got her on the road and she ran good and drove good." Sutherland said he got 17-mpg fuel economy on the last long trip he took with the car. "That isn't bad for a straight eight," he opined. "I was going about 60 mph, too."

The car has several accessories that aren't noted on the bill of sale such as a Chieftain 7-tube radio and antenna, an electric clock, dual back-up lamps and stainless steel full wheel discs. Sutherland said that he put radial tires on the Pontiac, even though he runs bias-ply tires on his '40 Lincoln and '51 Ford Victoria and those cars drive "pretty darn nice" with bias-ply tires.

<Bruce Sutherland's 1954 Pontiac Star Chief also has the Chieftain 7-tube radio. Although this accessory isn't called out on the original bill of sale. (Christa Haley photo)

Bruce Sutherland's 1954 Pontiac Star Chief also has the Chieftain 7-tube radio. Although this accessory isn't called out on the original bill of sale. (Christa Haley photo)


Sutherland said he bought the Pontiac because he's an "addictive old car nut." He noted that the odometer also shows just 16,000 original miles. "I can't prove or verify that," he stated. "I went down to Beloit and talked to the nephew of man who bought it new; his Uncle had passed on. The nephew said they were original miles since his Uncle never drove the car. He said he drove it two or three times a year and never in winter. There's not one speck of rust on it, so it's possible it has 16.000 actual miles. But what people did back in those years was unhook the speedometer. So, I'm thinking its got 40,000 or 50,000 miles."

All Star Chiefs had the 268.4-cid L-head in-line straight eight with a new 1954 wire support and ignition coil bracket. This engine was rated at 122 hp with Synchromesh and 127 hp with Hydra-Matic. If the higher 7.7:1 compression head was ordered with Synchromesh you also got 127 hp.  (Christa Haley photo)

All Star Chiefs had the 268.4-cid L-head in-line straight eight with a new 1954 wire support and ignition coil bracket. This engine was rated at 122 hp with Synchromesh and 127 hp with Hydra-Matic. If the higher 7.7:1 compression head was ordered with Synchromesh you also got 127 hp. (Christa Haley photo)


Sutherland gave the car a compression test. It had 135 lbs. all down the line. "So, the engine is pretty good," he said. "It's got 40 lbs of oil pressure all the time. I picked up a '51 engine in Sterling, Ill., long before I bought this car, but this one runs so good, I was going to put the '51 straight eight in a Ford pickup I have. It would fit and I thought it would be cool, but then I got a flathead V-8."

This Barn Find condition 1954 Star Chief Custom Catalina hardtop with practically no floor was sold in the W. Yoder Auction Company's Jack Slattery auction in 2016. It brought $4,000. (Christa Haley photo)

This Barn Find condition 1954 Star Chief Custom Catalina hardtop with practically no floor was sold in the W. Yoder Auction Company's Jack Slattery auction in 2016. It brought $4,000. (Christa Haley photo)


Sutherland joined the Pontiac Oakland Club International (www.poci.org) when he bought the car. He also joined the club's Early Times Chapter for flathead Pontiacs. "I just kind of like this car," said Sutherland. "It goes down the road really nice. We drove it 65 mph all the way up to the POCI Badger Chapter show in Oshkosh. That was 132 miles and we got 18 mpg."

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