Car of the Week: 1956 Pontiac Chieftain & Star Chief


1956 Star Chief Convertible

With a new engineering group headed by E.M. “Pete” Estes and John Z. Delorian, a new line of cars with true performance potential was developed for Pontiac in 1956. To highlight a move into a competition and factory acing program, and “extra horsepower” engine option with dual four-barrel carburetors, dual exhausts and a full-race camshaft rated at 285 hp was crafted by staff motor engineer Malcom R. “Mac” McKellar. It was released in mid-1956 and became the first in a series of so-called NASCAR and Super-Duty Pontiac V-8s.

New Pontiac styling for 1956 featured combination bumper grilles with enclosed circular parking lights and round, bomb-type bumper guards. All models had reversed, vertically radiused slash accent moldings and “sweepspear” body rub trim. On Chieftains, the slash accents had a constant width. There were reflectorized oval embossments on the rear fenders with gull-wing and circle medallions on the deck lid.

Special level Chieftain 860s lacked upper left moldings, wore small hubcaps and had plain taillight rings. Delux level Chieftain 870 models — except station wagons — had visored taillight rings, full wheel discs and upper beltline trim. The two-door Custom Safari was continued as a Star Chief on the Chieftain chassis, now with the base four-barrel Star Chief engine. An 860 Catalina two-door was new, as were 860 and 870 models except that a slight taper gave thise a fuller appearance. Catalinas and convertibles had wide fluted lower rear fender extensions. The Custom Catalina sedan had stainless steel windo surround moldings and all Custom Star Chiefs used hooded taillight rings.

1956 Star Chief Convertible

Work on a V-8 engine for Pontiac had beun as early as 1949, when Sister marques Oldsmobile and Cadillac dropped their high-compression overhead valve V-8 blockbusters on the automotive world. But it was 1955, in the thick of the V-8 wars, before the new Pontiac engine hit the market and, when it di, sales took an immediate jump to 554,000 vehicles in the model year.

A new era started for Pontiac when Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudson took over the reins as general manager. He proceeded, without fanfair, to make over the rather staid Pontiac image.

1956 Chieftain Wagon

Production of 1956 models started o Oct. 3, 1955 and the cars were introduced on Oct. 21. Calendar year output was 332,268 cars. Model year production totaled 405,730 cars as Pontiac remained the sixth-largest American automaker. On Aug. 3, 1956, the 6 millionth Pontiac was built. The 1956 Star Chief Custom Safari two-door station is recognized as a “Milestone Car” by the Milestone Car Society. The 227-hp 1956 Star Chief four-door sedan was good for 0 to 6-0 mph in 11.4 seconds and 18.1-second quarter-miles.

Both the Star Chiefs and Chieftains came with 316-cid V-8s. The Chieftain carried a Rochester two-barrel carburetor and made 205 hp with the Hydra-Matic transmission. The Star Chiefs had a four-barrel carburetor an made 227 hp with the Hydra-Matic attached. Dual exhausts were standard on everything except the Chieftain 860 wagons.

1956 Star Chief Catalina two-door hardtop

In March 1956, an "extra horsepower" V-8 was released. It also displaced 317 cid, but came with 10.0:1 compression heads, dual four-barrel Rochester carburetors (part no. 7009820) and additional high-performance components. The output of this engine was rated 285 hp at 5100 rpm.

Production figures

Production notes
— 184,232 Chieftain 860s were built.
— 24,117 Chieftain 860s had synchromesh and 160,115 had Hydra-Matic.
— 93,872 Chieftain 870s (or Super Chiefs) were built.
— 3,289 Chieftain 870s had synchromesh and 90,583 had Hydra-Matic.
—10 Custom Safaris had synchromesh and 4,032 had Hydra-Matic.
— 123,584 Series 28 Star Chiefs were built.
— 440 had synchromesh and 123,144 had Hydra-Matic.
— 301 vehicles converted into professional vehicles.


1956 Chieftain 870 Catalina

Popular options
Power brakes ($38). Power windows ($97). Power steering ($108). Six-Way power seat ($93). Radios ($90 or $118). Seat belts ($11 per passenger). Air-conditioning ($431). Hydra-Matic attachments were now considered "standard," but cost extra. The D-56 Dual-Range type ($188) was used in Chieftains in both the 860 and 870 sub-series. A new Strato-Flight Hydra-Matic ($205) was employed in two-door Star Chief Custom Safaris and all Series 28 models. A three-speed synchromesh gearbox with column-mounted shift was the base price transmission. Standard rear axle gear ratios were as follows: (synchromesh) 3.64:1; (Hydra-Matic) 3.23:1. Additional ratios were also available. Dual exhausts were optional on all Pontiacs except the Chieftain 860 three-seat station wagon (not available) and cars with "extra hp" V-8s (standard). Four-barrel carburetion was optional for Chieftain 860 and 870 models

Engines
Chieftain synchromesh: V-8: Overhead valves. Cast-iron block. Displacement: 316.6 cid. Bore & stroke: 3.94 x 3.25 in. Compression Ratio: 7.9:1. Brake horsepower: 192 at 4400 rpm. Five main bearings. Hydraulic valve lifters. Carburetor: Rochester 2GC two-barrel with black tag number 8696. The two-door Custom Safari came standard with a Star Chief four-barrel V-8.

Chieftain Hydra-Matic: V-8: Overhead valves. Cast-iron block. Displacement: 316.6 cid. Bore & stroke: 3.94 x 3.25 in. Compression Ratio: 8.9:1. Brake horsepower: 205 at 4800 rpm. Five main bearings. Hydraulic valve lifters. Carburetor: Rochester 2GC two-barrel with brass tag number 8695. The two-door Custom Safari came standard with a Star Chief four-barrel V-8.

Star Chief synchromesh: V-8: Overhead valve. Cast-iron block. Displacement: 316.6 cid. Bore & stroke: 3.94 x 3.25 in. Compression ratio: 7.9:1. Brake horsepower: 216 at 4800 rpm. Five main bearings. Hydraulic valve lifters. Carburetor: Rochester 4GC four-barrel with black tag number 7900. Some cars were also equipped with Carter WCFB model 2364S four-barrels.

Star Chief: Hydra-Matic V-8. Overhead valve. Cast-iron block. Displacement: 316.6 cid. Bore & stroke: 3.94 x 3.25 in. Compression ratio: 8.9:1. Brake horsepower: 227 at 4800 rpm. Five main bearings. Hydraulic valve lifters. Carburetor: Rochester 4GC four-barrel with brass tag number 8697. Some cars were also equipped with Carter WCFB model 2364S four-barrels.

Collector values

1956 Chieftain 860
Four-door sedan

No. 1 condition 16,000
No. 2 11,200
No. 3 7,200
No. 4 3,200

Four-door hardtop
No. 1 condition: 17,000
No. 2: 11,900
No. 3: 7,650
No. 4: 3,400

Two-door sedan
No. 1 condition: 16,100
No. 2 11,270
No. 3:  7,250
No. 4: 3,220

Two-door hardtop
No. 1 condition: 26,000
No. 2: 18,200
No. 3: 11,700
No. 4: 5,200

Two-door station wagon
No. 1 condition: 20,000
No. 2: 14,000
No. 3: 9,000
No. 4: 4,000

Four-door station wagon
No. 1 condition: 19,500
No. 2: 13,650
No. 3: 8,780
No. 4: 3,900

1956 Chieftain 870

Four-door sedan
No. 1 condition: 16,300
No. 2: 11,410
No. 3: 7,340
No. 4: 3,260

Four-door hardtop

No. 1 condition: 18,000
No. 2: 12,600
No. 3: 8,100
No. 4: 3,600

Two-door hardtop
No. 1 condition: 27,000
No. 2: 18,900
No. 3: 12,150
No. 4: 5,400

Four-door station wagon
No. 1 condition: 28,000
No. 2: 19,600
No. 3: 12,600
No. 4: 5,600

Star Chief Custom Safari
Two-door station wagon
No. 1 condition: 58,000
No. 2: 40,600
No. 3: 26,100
No. 4: 11,600

Star Chief
Four-door sedan
No. 1 condition: 17,000
No. 2: 11,900
No. 3: 7,650
No. 4: 3,400

Two-door convertible
No. 1 condition:  72,500
No. 2: 50,750
No. 3 32,630
No. 4: 14,500

Star Chief Custom Catalina
Four-door hardtop
No. 1 condition: 20,000
No. 2: 14,000
No. 3: 9,000
No. 4: 4,000

Two-door hardtop
No. 1 condition: 30,000
No. 2: 21,000
No. 3: 13,500
No. 4: 6,000

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