Flashback Friday – Adam Woodhams’s 1951 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe 2-Door Sedan
Flashback Friday – Adam Woodhams’s 1951 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe 2-Door Sedan
The year is 1951 - one in an era often glorified with the image of the American Dream. CBS has just introduced color television, Sugar Ray Robinson takes the middleweight boxing championship title, and Audrey Hepburn earns her first starring role - the lead in the Broadway play Gigi. The American economy is back in a steady climb, and the American automotive market is at the cutting edge of style and technology. It is the golden age of the United States and seemingly nothing can interfere with the powerhouse that is the USA.
Pontiac has welcomed the Chieftain into its third year of production - one of the first new car designs for the marque since the war had ended. Built to replace the outgoing Pontiac Torpedo, the Chieftain was offered as a mid-range coupe and sedan. However, the line between mid-range and top-of-the-line was blurred, as for the first time since the 1930s, both the Chieftain and the Streamliner, Pontiac's top-tier model, shared the same wheelbase, engines, trim levels, and options. The Remington "Auto-Home" Shaver, tissue dispensers, window shades, seat heaters, electric clocks, and a seven-tube vacuum radio more were just some of the options offered for outfitting the Chieftain, bringing the mid-level sedan up to pseudo-futuristic levels of comfort and convenience.
Under the hood, Pontiac's revered inline-six and inline-eight were offered, producing 93 and 116 horsepower, respectively. The Chieftain would be the last car to utilize the famous flathead engines, with Pontiac introducing an overhead-valve counterpart at the end of production. However, the cast-iron lumps did their job, powering the immense sedan down the road with famed reliability and prowess, utilizing their excellently engineered lubrication and cooling systems to ensure that the powertrain met the standards the exterior and interior had set.
But despite the quality of such a car, 60 years will thin the fleet of any breed, and the Chieftain now stands as a rarity in desirable condition. As fate would have it, love and lust for the illuminated amber Lucite chief head and extravagant stainless trim from head to toe would overcome Adam Woodhams (of Adam's Rotors), and the search for the perfect Deluxe Sedan began.
Adam Woodhams is a man of varied tastes. He's owned everything imaginable, from cluttered German engineering to clunky American iron, making his way from the tuner community down the path of a lone-wolf kustom. His 1957 Chevy pickup hit the StanceWorks homepage exactly a year ago, showing what his talent could produce in the realm of an all-American truck. However, his heart didn't stay with the stepside; instead, his attention was caught and his heartstrings were pulled - away from the Chevrolet and to the illustrious details 1951 had to offer. Without hesitation, the Chevrolet went up for sale and all efforts went towards tracking down the perfect car.
"When I first saw one of these Pontiacs, at first glance from a distance, it looked like a Chevy, as GM cars of that era all shared a similar body styles and shapes, but then upon further inspection the trim took my heart. That thick stainless "band" down the hood & trunk... fluted into the nose & handle grab, it's just perfect. They call it the Silver Streak... and it adds to the class that no Chevy has. And then the hood ornament to end all hood ornaments! An amber Lucite chief head that, on the deluxe models, lights up when the headlight switch is on... I had to have one."
Despite his immediate lust for the Chieftain, Adam knew that he wanted a car of a certain caliber. A project, a rust bucket, a rat: none of those would do. Instead, he wanted a car that had been taken care of - a rarity for any vehicle after 60 years of ownership. Everything had to work, from the gauges and radio to the lights and accessories. Dead gauges and half-assed maintenance couldn't be settled for. He had to find the right car. His four-month search began with a soft blue sedan, which found its home at a classic car dealer 3000 miles away in Florida. The car was gorgeous, but as Adam admits, blue was his least favorite color, and fittingly, he moved on to find something that fit his tastes.
After some time of searching, he found himself with two final choices; with cash in hand and a desire to make a deal, he booked a flight to purchase the first car, but lady luck had other plans - the buyer backed out the day before the flight. Surely his second option would pull through? A second flight was booked, and Adam was ready to buy the car, sight unseen. But his love affair with the Pontiac was off to a terrible start as the second buyer backed out as well. With only so many Chieftains up for sale at any given moment, Adams hopes began to sink. He thought back to the soft blue sedan he had passed up proir: "it was by far the cleanest all original example I had come by the in the 4 months of searching." In an internal fight between "don't settle" and "this car might be it," he bit the bullet & paid in full. The car was loaded on to a trailer and the wait began.
Adam was truck-less, riding his Harley to-and-from work while his unseen Pontiac's shipping was delayed by hurricanes and tropical weather. Though once the '51 arrived, everything changed. "I now am head over heels with the colorway. The blue is just so unique... pale & powdery... it's super different, and in no way a baby blue. Even after a full day of roaming a huge car show, every color under the sun, coming back to mine, its always hands down my favorite. It just works with the overall build... And a navy top instead of mono-tone or a traditional white, I wouldn't have it any other way."
The build began immediately after acquiring the car just one year ago, with most of the odds and ends tidied up just days before the shoot. The slow and steady progress from bone-stock to complete kustom has one of scrutinizing details and following his heart - the final product demonstrates an unparalleled attention to detail and an execution of thought that leaves anyone with their jaw on the floor, given they're willing to give the car the undivided attention it deserves. After all, Adam's best work is in the details - the tidbits you may not notice, executed with such consideration that they blend seamlessly with the trimmings Pontiac deemed the car should have from the factory.
As was the case with Adam, the car's exterior is where the initial impression lies. The car's factory Silver Streak cladding was the focal point, and Adam's efforts only served to enhance and build upon the one-of-a-kind aesthetic and style the Pontiac offered. Protruding from the nose with a likeness of chrome-dripping canines is the 5-toothed front bumper, built by relocating the two rear bumper guards to sit with the font two, and sourcing a 5th, followed by smoothing and finishing to give a factory look to an entirely custom piece. Rudeboy pinstriping and headlight visors accentuate the nose of the Pontiac, adding hints of style to body lines that already speak to their own. Chrome steelies and lake pipes trace the lower lines of the car, glowing against the shadow the grand sedan casts against the ground.
An original steel visor cuts across the top of the unchopped roof - a detail Adam wishes he could change, but cutting apart such a clean car seemed like a sin. To counter the visor, factory option deluxe skirts were installed, as well as all of the extra stainless and chrome tidbits, such as peep mirrors and handle guards, that Adam could get his hands on.
The chrome 15x6 steelies are set off with 3.5" Wheel Vintiques bullet caps in the front and smooth dog dish caps in the rear. The Coker L78 front and 670 rear classic wide whites stand out; the perfect alternative to wire wheels and skinnies that are much more popular. "The custom skirt, trim, & tires were tough. The skirts are trimmed down heavily on the inside in order to still run a wide white, but I had to down size from G78 Coker's to 670's out back to clear the skirts and the custom Bel-Air bloomers to make it work on my Pontiac. I also swapped the front G78's for even bigger L78 whites...biggest they come." An immense amount of work went in to fine-tuning the perfect aesthetic, created by details perhaps only Adam himself would notice - yet details anyone can appreciate.
To snug the massive whitewalls into the arches, a totally-custom suspension system was built. With a desire to keep the car somewhat period correct, a manual air system was built for the front of the car. The 6-volt power system was retained, which presented Adam with the interesting problem of solving how to power an air compressor for the suspension system. Modern compressors are all 12-volt, and frankly, too modern and tactless for the Pontiac of his dreams. Instead, he mounted an old York AC compressor to the engine block, driven off of the accessory belt with a custom mount, pulley, and lines, to feed the 5-gallon tank in the trunk. "It fills at double the speed those annoying new compressors do, and it's smooth & quiet as can be." The factory-esque solution to an aftermarket problem fits in perfectly with every aspect of the build. "The bags are front only, so I drive around ass slammed, giving that old school traditional tail dragger look sleds & rods of the 50's had, but can still level it out low when parked." The tail-down nose-up style is Adam's homage to the cars of the day; a period correct stance that screams style and class. A 200lb blow-off valve caps off the air system, preventing over-filling and providing a good scare upon blowoff to any unsuspecting bystanders.
Be that as it may, the suspension at the stern of the boat is no less complex. The rear end is slammed thanks to a unique rubber spring setup. With about an inch-and-a-half between the frame and rear axle, it didn't leave room for much else. Semi-truck rubber springs and custom bump stops on a fabricated crossmember give support and a low height to the tail - and does so without butchering the original frame - not an easy task. The challenge didn't stop there. Getting the tail end to hunker down require re-working of the driveline angle, a shortened driveshaft, tunnel work, and ensuring everything was rigid and solid. Custom fabrication to the rear control arms, track rods, leaf springs, blocks, and trunk clearance were all required to nail the look he set out to achieve.
The suspension as a whole is intended to stay subtle and classy. No leveling legs, electronics, or gauges - just one 3-poisiton toggle switch is hidden beneath the cigarette bezel to control the front ride height. Although, such interior detail only starts a seemingly endless list of perfect interior touches. The car's perfect factory interior was ripped out in the name of going kustom. In period correct style, the car received a full kustom pleated interior and trunk. Champagne and Blood Red Kodiak sparkle vinyl hugs the seats, door panels, firewall, rear decklid, and trunk walls, giving a serious color pop to contrast the blues of the exterior. Crushed red velvet carpet and floor mats, piped in champagne vinyl, complete the interior colorway.
Pontiac vanity mirrors, Venitian blinds, a pinstriped dash and door panels, a hat holder, suicide knob, and 6" dash fan are just some of the accessories put in place to complete it. On the other hand, perhaps my favorite detail of all goes to the yellow-sapphire-accents placed thoughtfully throughout. Based on the jewel of his wife's wedding ring and anniversary band, the yellow sapphires placed throughout have more meaning than just an ode to his partner in crime. "Well, she's not used to having to manually lock the door when she exits, as the truck had shaved handles, so there was no need, and all of my other cars have had a key fob," Adam tells me. "When she get's out now, she can't really help but see the big yellow crystal door locks, as a reminder for her to pop it down, hold the outside door knob, and close the door. I then saw how nicely it paired up with the amber hood ornament, so I added it to a few dash knobs, bag switch, and valve stem caps, for example." When details of a build receive such thought, it takes the build above and beyond a mere assembly of parts. Instead, the car is entirely an extension of Adam and who he is.
For now, the original straight-eight rests under the hood. One of the final steps for the car is a late 50s Pontiac V8, but for now, the old lump motors on. However, the envied reliability of the old 8 wasn't extended to Adam's fortune. After cracking the head, Adam was forced to track down a new one - a serious challenge in comparison to the abundance of vintage Ford flathead parts. Adam's diligence in hunting for the correct parts led him to a closed Pontiac dealership in the midwest. The dealership had a single NOS head left, remaining from a showroom motor was that there to display alongside Pontiac's new straight 8 - a very lucky find. To pair with the refreshed engine, Adam had the '51 hydra-matic transmission rebuilt with the guts of a '53, and added a passing gear, all thanks to the clever work of a man Adam praises as the "Transmission King of San Jose," Ken Colby. "It's a 4-speed tranny, but now I can down shift into 3rd when I want to climb a hill, get on the freeway, pass, or even downshift to stop...it's really sweet."
Such simple luxuries are needed when a '51 Chieftain is your only car - but Adam wouldn't have it any other way. The Pontiac represents a build from his heart. "It really shows me and my style. It's my first ever true, ground-up passion project." Adam dubs his '51 a Kustom Bomb, infusing a multitude of style to create something one-of-a-kind and all his own, straight from his mind and executed in a way that is impossible to ignore. Influenced by the chopped, shaved, smoothed, and glossed bodies of the Kustom style movement from the 30s through the 60s, as well the Bomb ideology of the lowrider community and their focus on comfort and style with their trim, chrome, and accessories. Adam's car is a blend of both styles and history, steering clear of modern street rodding with a true purpose. Adam's '51 Chieftain Deluxe 2-door Sedan is truly special, and it's arguably my favorite car to ever grace the pages of StanceWorks. Here's to Adam and his build, giving StanceWorks the chance to share something that deserves every ounce of respect it will undoubtedly receive.