1953 Pontiac: Acquisition inspired by movie

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Motor Matters

It all started when Brandon Fried and his wife, Kim, saw a motion picture that featured a 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible.

What sealed his fate was seeing a neighbor drive by in a vintage Packard. That did it: He told his wife he was going to start shopping for a car from that era.

He promptly began searching and found, of all things, a black 1949 Buick Roadmaster for sale. He made what he thought was a realistic bid, but lost out at the last minute. His wife consoled him by urging him to continue the hunt.

Soon thereafter Fried found a 1953 Pontiac Chieftain two-door deluxe; the base price of the Pontiac when new was $2,031. He quickly contacted the owner and discovered the owner had owned the Pontiac for some time and recently had sent it off for restoration. Because the owner was retiring from his business, he had told an employee to sell the Pontiac. As anxious as Fried was to see the car, he didn’t want to fly to Nebraska with a mechanic in tow to check out the 1953 Chieftain.

Thanks to technology, a solution to the dilemma was found. Fried invited a trusted mechanic into his Washington D.C. office while the Pontiac owner’s representative was in the Nebraska garage with a camera, along with the man who had restored the car. The two parties conversed over the Internet, and as the pictures were transmitted, the two mechanics were able to show and see what work had been done.

Once everyone was satisfied, a deal was struck. Finding a trucker who could haul the car from Seward, Neb., to the East Coast took longer than buying the car. Six weeks later, the truck driver telephoned to say he would be arriving later in the day.

“It was like Christmas, the Fourth of July, and every other good day rolled into one,” Fried said. As the new owner, he was breathless as he drove the 3,546-pound Pontiac a block up the street to his mechanic’s garage for a thorough physical examination. The report came back that the handsome car needed a water pump, brake replacements, and a new starter.

Three rebuilt water pumps were exchanged before one was found that functioned properly. The Pontiac was in the shop for five weeks waiting for parts and then being returned to good mechanical health. In the meantime, Fried turned his attention to cosmetic matters.

The previous owner had already replated both bumpers and the grille. Fried found glass replacement lenses in Kentucky for the cracked original parking lights. A replacement radio antenna came from Florida, and a new plastic “Chief Pontiac” hood ornament was found in North Dakota. A rebuilt brake master cylinder came from Michigan. Wheel cylinders were found in Minnesota, and new wheel covers were located in Rhode Island.

Settling behind the three-spoke steering wheel with a full horn ring, Fried observes the 100-mph speedometer. “It’s done 70 mph,” he said. “After that, it sounds like parts are starting to fall off.”

Down the long engine hood and trunk lid run the stainless-steel stripes that identified Pontiacs during the late 1930s and 1940s and through 1956.

Because the shift pattern is different from those on modern cars, Fried calls this a “thinking man’s car.” From the left, the gears are neutral, drive 2, drive 1, low, and reverse. There is no designated parking gear. A 122-inch wheelbase gives a luxurious ride for occupants of the 1953 Pontiac as the 268-cubic-inch, 122-horsepower, straight-eight-cylinder engine provides smooth power.

As a finishing touch, Kim presented her husband with a spinner knob for the steering wheel to help him steer the car around corners. It’s a useful gadget for a heavy car that doesn’t have power steering.

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