1952 Pontiac Chieftan Catalina
Fabulous two door coupe; straight-8 power; matching numbers; auto; electric power steering; disc brake upgrade; original paintwork; the perfect cruiser
There was no finer time to be an American than in the 1950s. Riding high on the spoils of a war that had made them the richest nation on earth, they were also sending rockets into space and would soon put a man on the moon.
Reflecting this new wave of optimism, car designers abandoned the black-painted hulks of the ‘40s and poured all their energies into creating a new wave of brightly painted land yachts, dripping with chrome and rocket-age details. Propelled by advertising and drunk on conspicuous consumption, Americans took to their new toys with glee, heading out on their vast highway network in droves of increasingly baroque machines, living the dream in dazzling style.
GM’s Pontiac division got in on the act with their full-size Catalina range, a large sedan that was cunningly styled to embody all the youthful freedom of an open car but with the practicality of a fixed steel roof. Marketed as a ‘hard-top convertible’, the Catalina used two-tone paint and a pillarless door and window design to create this airy illusion and the public loved it, sales soaring to make 1950 their best year yet.
Adorned with the trademark ‘flying Indian’ amber bonnet mascot, the Catalina was powered by either a 90bhp 239ci straight-six or a 1118bhp 248ci straight-eight. In 1952 a more powerful 122bhp high-compression straight-eight was made available with an optional Dual-Range Hydra-Matic four-speed auto ‘box which maximised performance depending on road conditions and could launch the big car to 60mph in 14.9 seconds, Motor Trend recording 25.4mpg at a steady 30mph and 17.1mpg at a steady 60mph.
This wonderful 1952 two-door hardtop Chieftain DeLuxe has the range-topping 122bhp straight-eight coupled to the desirable Dual-Range Hydra-Matic transmission. Looking every inch as if it has come straight from the streets of Cuba, you can almost hear the samba beat pumping from its pillarless windows.
At the risk of puncturing this exotic daydream, it actually came in from the American Midwest, the US Certificate of Title showing that it belonged to a Mr H Smith of Lecompton, Kansas, from whom the previous owner acquired it in 2014. There is also an original brochure for the model on file.
We are told that on arrival in the UK it was treated to a light mechanical recommissioning to bring it up to roadworthy condition at a cost of some £1,500 (although there are no bills for this work). It was subsequently sold through Brightwells in 2017, coming into the hands of our vendor through a subsequent private sale.
Just prior to his purchase, it had been treated to a full gearbox rebuild and since acquisition, much additional work has been carried out to make it a reliable and easy-to-drive proposition.
Now an instant starter (two recent batteries wired in series), much time and effort have been lavished, thankfully retaining the Catalina’s wonderful exterior patina that has taken over 65 years to evolve.
The seats however were rather too tired and so have been retrimmed and a fresh headlining fitted, while a peak under the dash sees a neat installation of an electrically assisted power steering system – a real boon. The vendor also didn’t like the way it stopped, so fitted a set of four-pot discs up front – an upgrade which necessitated wheels with extra clearance so a set of modern BBS rims were added. The front tyres are new.
Unrestored gems like this are few and far between: indeed some people spend vast amounts of time and money to artificially create this shabby chic ‘rat rod’ look whereas here all that hard work has already been done for you by Father Time himself – alongside the hard work the vendor has added bringing the car up to full ‘cruisin’ spec...
Documents: V5C (2nd page only), Brochure, copy of US Certificate of Title, few Invoices.
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Reg No: YXG832
Chassis Number: P8WH56645
Engine Size: 4400
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