Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Al and Janet Zander’s 1952 Pontiac is one of those nice, familiar-looking hobby cars that you might smile at and then walk right by at a car show.
And then when you take a second glance back over shoulder at the car, you do a double-take and think to yourself, “Hold on, something is different about this car.”
For those familiar with Canadian Pontiacs, the “Fleetleader” script on the front fender is a dead giveaway. Old-timers often call them “Cheviacs” — Chevrolets dressed up as Pontiacs and sold north of the border in the 1950s and ’60s.
Zander wasn’t looking for one of those “asterisk” Pontiacs when he began poking around for a hobby car a few years back, but when he stumbled upon the handsome sedan for sale only about 30 minutes from his Rosholt, Wis., home, Zander knew he had to check it out.
“I was looking for a '53 Pontiac Chieftain like my grandparents had, and I really couldn’t find anything I could afford or liked,” Zander recalled. “So I expanded my search and I found this ’52 Pontiac online down in Waupaca (Wis.). So I went and took a look at it. The body was in great shape. The interior was in great shape. The engine wasn’t running real well, so I made a deal with the guy and took it home, spent an afternoon working on the [electrical system] and got it running and it’s been running great for me the last two years.”
Ideally, Zander would like to have had a chance to buy his grandparents’ car. That didn’t work out, however. “They kept the car at their house in a garage and me and my brothers used to go in there and play in it all the time, and then they sold it before I was old enough to drive!” he laughs. “But I always loved that car and thought I’d try to find something similar to it.”
The Fleetleader sedan was very complete and had very few problems, Zander said. It had been partially restored at some point it its past. The moss green paint had been redone once, but the interior was original and the car looked great. It ran great, too, after Zander replaced the distributor coil, condenser, cables and a few other minor things. “And we did some carburetor work,” he said.
According to the story Zander got, the car had been purchased originally from Dickson Motors in Winnepeg by a veterinarian from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The man used it to make his rounds for work, even installing a pair of spotlights to help light up the countryside during his travels.
The car was loaded with lots of other options and amenities, too: windshield and window sun shields, fender skirts, dual outside rearview mirrors, headlight prisms and AM radio among them. The Deluxe trim package included copious amounts of chrome and stainless, with the familiar Pontiac hood trim and stone guards on all four fenders. Likewise, the grille was from the Pontiac parts bin. The dashboard and grille were nearly identical to their American Pontiac counterparts, but tweaked a bit to fit the smaller Fleetleader. The steering column and shift lever are from Chevrolet.
On the outside, Zander’s sedan shouts Pontiac.
At the time, General Motors used rebadged Chevrolet Stylelines as their Canadian Pontiacs. The cars had Chevrolet sheet metal, used Pontiac's flathead six-cylinder and 115-inch wheelbase chassis. American Pontiacs for 1952 were equipped with the 268.4-cid L-head eight, but they were not a good fit for the Styleline’s dimensions.
Zander didn’t really care what GM brand name the car carried, or where it was sold. He just loved the fact that it was a solid, original car that didn’t need any major work and would make for a bargain hobby machine. The fact that it was a sedan with a nice-sized trunk was a plus. The three-speed manual with a column shift is trouble-free and easy to drive, and so far the car has been very reliable. The seat upholstery and headliner are original and in fantastic shape. Ditto the dash and gauges.
“I wasn’t looking for anything painted up or modified or anything like that. I wanted something pretty standard,” he said. “We’ve taken it on trips around Wisconsin. We’ve been around the state and up north with it, and just enjoy driving it on the weekends. It’s got plenty of room, so it’s great for going to shows and doing stuff on weekends.
“The only thing is it has the original-type bias-ply type tires on it, so when you’re going down the highway it does tend to wander a little bit. When you get on that new groove pavement it kind of has a mind of its own, but if you watch it, it’s a good ride…We enjoy it and we can take people with us. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have seat belts in it so we can’t take the grandkids in it yet, but we may add seat belts to the back seat sometime soon.”
Unlike his grandparents’ Pontiac, which got away before Zander could get his hands on it, he expects to keep his Canadian steed in the family permanently. And he’s still keeping his eyes open for a match to his grandparents’ car.
“I just want to keep this one as original as possible. I won’t modify it or anything," he said. "We’ll keep using it as our weekend touring car, and hopefully pass it down to one of our kids someday… And if something else comes down the road — if I can find a ’53 Chieftain — I may just jump on that, too.”
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