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New Project: 54 Pontiac Chieftain, "Viola"

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by Skankin' Rat Fink, Jul 6, 2010.

  1. Put the floor panel back in place ... looks good with 3 pedals. Then, on to wiring. I've never wired a complete car before. It was a little daunting at the start, but every wire was put in its place, one at a time. I used a Rebel Wire harness, with the fuse block tucked up inside the AM radio where the tubes used to live. Any wires that are visible in the engine compartment are spliced to cloth-covered wire from the Hot Rod Company. I used asphalt wire loom and friction tape to keep them together.

    There is still some finishing work to do in the engine compartment. I installed an electric fan for now, until I can get/make a longer shroud. The headlight wiring is also not finalized, as I will be installing relays hidden inside an Autronic Eye control box.






    Column-shift automatic to a floor-shift 3-speed -- what a difference. I definitely need to change up the stick on this Ansen shifter. Since my car was a straight 8 car, and the V8 sits several inches forward, the shifter has lots of room in front of the bench seat. But the stick is short and curved forward to clear the bench in a stock 55-56 Pontiac. I plan to adapt a different stick to it --- something like a Jeep CJ2 stick, round rod, single bend, 2ft long. These shifters are so hard to come by, I hate to cut the stick off, but the way it is, it's a big reach down to shift. If anyone out there has an Ansen shifter stick that's been cut off, and wants to work out a swap for this one, send me a message.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2021
  2. Also got this old water-slide decal ... :D

  3. The nose went back on, and I made quick work of the last BS details that make a car driveable and legal. Test drives around town felt pretty good. I hate the 3.08 rear now, it's a real slug at launch. I'm looking to change out to a 3.64. I also found that the generator wasn't charging at all. So the car went on the battery charger overnight before the maiden voyage.


    My big goal for the summer was to drive the car across Long Island to the annual car club party. I made it, but not without problems.

    The day of the party it was about 95 degrees. But even the outside temperature can't explain how the temperature behaved. On the highway, moving nicely at 50-60 MPH, the temperature crept up and up ... and up ... and I boiled over when I reached my destination.


    I know there isn't any shortage of airflow at that speed, so it's gotta be something going on inside the water jacket. I still have work to do if I want to drive more this season. But I made it ...


    razoo lew, Stogy and michael knight like this.
  4. EW_
    Joined: Apr 10, 2008
    Posts: 82

    from DFW

    If I am wrong, please disregard the following:
    If the white fuse holder looking thing is one of those plastic twist together fuse holders with a spring inside, I would replace it with a fuse holder that does not have pressure on it from a spring. Many 12V electronics come with that type of fuse holder. We have seen so many fail that they are banned from being installed where I work. Usually, they are intended for interior use. I would think their life would be shorter under the hood. Maybe that style is intended for that car. IDK.
  5. That is exactly what that is. If you look at the clip the fuse holder is in, there were originally 2 fuse holders of this type clipped to the firewall.
  6. junkyardjeff
    Joined: Jul 23, 2005
    Posts: 7,987


    I am glad to see its moving on its own power now,I would look into the radiator for the overheating issue.
  7. So the generator is now working beautifully, after I swapped in an NOS Delco-Remy armature.

    With an overheating problem this severe, I knew the engine needed a serious flush. I knocked out all 4 core plugs in the engine block, got in there with the garden hose and the air compressor blowgun, and removed a lot of rusty solids from the bottoms of the water jackets. I also installed another new thermostat, and pulled the water pump to inspect the impeller again.



    The stuff I got out of here was pretty impressive. I had a good feeling I was going to see some improvement. I popped in 4 new plugs, put everything back together, filled it up .... no more issues! Temperature stays nice and happy at the center of the gauge range.


    That was done this weekend. I've spent this week driving the car to work, and across Long Island, including to the Yaphank cruise night.




    treb11, Stogy and pontiac like this.
  8. Obviously I'm still in the shakedown stage ...

    Should have shortened the driveshaft when I switched from the Hydramatic to 3 speed. I thought the length was close enough. The rough part of the yoke was contacting the transmission rear seal, and tore it up. Leaked a bunch of gear oil out. You're drunk, Pontiac. Let's get you home.

  9. So the problem goes just a little deeper than driveshaft length.

    The driveshaft shop shortened the shaft 1" at my request. I got under the car, ready to fit the driveshaft back in, and I noticed some endplay on the transmission output shaft. Like a lot of endplay, around 1/4". I know better now than to leave that alone.

    I took the tailshaft off the transmission and looked at the rear bearing in the main case. The clip that fits around the outer diameter of the bearing was MISSING. I have no idea how that even happened. The clip might have popped and skittered across my shop floor when I pulled the tailshaft for gaskets. With the tailshaft off, I installed the proper clip, and changed out the tailshaft bushing for an NOS replacement.

    Photos won't upload today. Use your imagination!
  10. 67poncho
    Joined: Dec 21, 2016
    Posts: 11

    from Middlesex

    Any new updates? Very cool project.
  11. jimmy six
    Joined: Mar 21, 2006
    Posts: 9,469

    jimmy six

    I like your V8 installation. The stocker it looks the better I like it.
    treb11 and Skankin' Rat Fink like this.
  12. Thank you! I am still working on eliminating the electric fan. Then I will be happy with my engine compartment.
  13. More summer & fall photos coming soon. Since then I've really just been driving & enjoying it.
  14. 67poncho
    Joined: Dec 21, 2016
    Posts: 11

    from Middlesex

    I hear ya! It's a beautiful car for sure.
    Skankin' Rat Fink likes this.
  15. Retrying photos ... please read driveshaft update above


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    chryslerfan55 likes this.
  16. Most excellent! You said you're unhappy with the 3.08 rear gear because the car is a slug off the line. Well, that old select-a-shift 3 speed trans was a carry-over from the 30s and GM never changed to a better 1st gear ratio when they put it in 50s cars. The old 30s roads called for 50-55 mph driving as so GM put in rear gears in the optional 3.90 gear was called the "economy" gear. These low rear gears worked ok with that high geared 1st gear but when GM began using 3.00s gears in the 50s, that trans was obsolete with it's high 1st gear. No wonder you're having problems with slipping the clutch in 1st gear to get going. I found all this stuff out when I had my 57 Pontiac with factory 3 speed, last year for that selector trans. I fought mine through 4 busted transmissions and 4 smoked clutches [3.63 rear gear] until I finally admitted defeat! I couldn't fight that super high 1st gear and bought a muncie wide ratio 4 speed. Smartest thing I ever did! This swap made my car a completely different car...was easy to drive in town with the transmission's 2.64 1st gear.
    I know you are trying to keep all the parts original looking but if you use an early looking shift handle, nobody but you would know you had a newer trans. All it takes is a 58-60 bell housing [photo] and you can even reuse your rear motor mounts. Keep your present flywheel/clutch/starter and mounts. They all switch over.
    Hell, you could even bolt a T-5 to the 58-60 bell housing for overdrive if you wanted to but with your 3.08 rear gear a cheap saginaw 4 speed would work perfectly...I'd even consider a 3 ring saginaw 4 speed....commonly known as the vega trans as it has a 3.50 first gear! These are strong enough for your 55 pontiac motor and the 1st gear will make you smile...and it'll bolt up to your new 58-60 bell housing with zero hassle.
    Think about it. You should be able to sell the 6 bolt selector trans and shifter for enough to buy a vega trans and Hurst shifter [bolt-on handle] off craigs list.
    I've even used a hurst 3 speed shifter on the saginaw 4 speed when I didn't have the scratch to buy a 4 speed shifter...hooked reverse lever up to a separate handle. This worked as a great theft deterent when I'd engage 3rd and reverse at the same time, locking the trans so the car wouldn't move.
    60pontbellhousing1.jpg 60pontbellhousing.jpg
  17. Believe me, the 58-60 bellhousing was my first choice. More transmission options can never be a bad thing. But I haven't seen them for sale under $1200. I can buy 6 of these three-speeds for that.
    chryslerfan55 likes this.
  18. Love your '54! I tried to buy a '51 Catalina hdtp when I was 13 from a mechanic who had it in his "junkyard" out back. He refused to sell me a non-operative car (think my father) so he sold me a '53 BelAir for $15! It had bearings like a blacksmith living inside the engine beating on horseshoes. I was allowed that til I got it running good (you can do bearings while engine is in the car--helps if your still agile)and while I was in school Daddy had it towed away. A letter to Pontiac back there in 1961 resulted in Pontiac sending me the owners manual for the '51 Catalina for free! Have always had a soft spot for those '49-'54 Pontiacs!! Reading your thread is a great experience, brings back a lot of similar memories at your age. You've done a great job with Viola and I thought using a 287 was a stroke of genius. Hang in there and keep her going! (I haven't left the Pontiac family, just that a youthful love was realized when several years ago I bought my '68 GTO which is becoming a "day 2" car (Resto-mod) Hard to believe this one is almost 50 years old.)

    Enjoy your '54 and keep us posted. Thanks.
    Skankin' Rat Fink likes this.
  19. We last left off in August 2016. The driveshaft & rear seal repair went very well, and the car was driving flawlessly. So I took the plunge and drove to Mahwah, NJ for Dead Man's Curve. What an amazing show. Gorgeous day, lots to see, lots to do, surrounded by good people. When it got dark and it was time to head home, things got interesting! I didn't make it out of town before blowing 2 headlight fuses. I crawled all over the passenger compartment, engine compartment, and trunk, trying to identify a pinched wire. I was convinced the back seat must have been crushing the tail light wires. No such luck, I found nothing. I did find that if I just disconnected the tail lights and dash lights, I could at least keep my headlights on. Aside from losing the muffler entirely on the George Washington bridge, and finding a flat tire the following morning ... the ride home was uneventful! Totally worth it ...

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    Last edited: Feb 26, 2021
    chryslerfan55 likes this.
  20. old1946truck
    Joined: Apr 9, 2008
    Posts: 685


    I'm thinking about painting the roof of my 51 Chieftain white. The previous owner kept a rubber truck tarp on it and it melted to the roof. It looks like pure crap and maybe the white roof will help keep the inside of the car alittle cooler in the summer.
    chryslerfan55 likes this.
  21. Rand Man
    Joined: Aug 23, 2004
    Posts: 3,965

    Rand Man

    Great thread. I like what you're doing here. I have my eye on a '53. It has a 347 V8 swap from way back. Apparently it's pretty much a bolt in swap from a donor car.

    Sent from my iPhone using The H.A.M.B. mobile app
    Skankin' Rat Fink likes this.
  22. I spent 3 summers with a bright white roof on this car. I'm not sure it really helped. Maybe it's because of the black paint everywhere else, but the car still got baking hot.
  23. In the following couple weeks I got the wiring issue sorted and put a proper muffler on the car. Just in time for my sister's wedding. A great time was had by all, and I got to drive the old car there. My cousin got an awesome picture of my car after the sun went down. Warts and all.

    chryslerfan55 likes this.
  24. In the fall, after engine and transmission issues were sorted out, I turned my attention to the rear gear. I searched for quite a while trying to find a 3.64 axle pumpkin to swap into the car. 3.64 is the standard ratio for a '56 Pontiac with this same transmission. It also seemed like it would be more highway-friendly than 3.90 or 4.10. I had a real rough time finding a 3.64 for sale for a good price. I blame the huge number of Hydramatics sold in 50s Pontiac & Olds cars.

    A neighbor of mine up the street with a very cool '50 coupe had a small collection of axle pumpkins from his own experimentation with axle ratios. He generously offered to lend me his until I could get my hands on my own. I owe him a big debt of gratitude, as it turned out to be a nice "try before you buy" arrangement. I switched the pumpkin out with a few hours work, and popped in some new axle seals. The 3.64 drives so much more nicely. Saves me a ton of clutch slipping. Shift speeds make sense. Highway RPMs are still reasonable, and the car will still hit 90 if I want it to. Since the fall, I've now got my hands on another axle pumpkin to trade, and settle up the account. I also changed out the speedometer gear for the correct one -- nice older steel gear -- and the car is much sweeter for it.

    Everything in my rear was still in great shape. Impressive how some stuff just lasts forever. My 3.08 pumpkin could be for sale soon.

    Fall was a very good driving season. The photo ops were certainly good.

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  25. 67poncho
    Joined: Dec 21, 2016
    Posts: 11

    from Middlesex

    Viola is very photogenic, very cool pictures. I've got some good pictures of my old Pontiac but she's not HAMB approved.
    Skankin' Rat Fink likes this.
  26. GulleyGulley
    Joined: Oct 3, 2016
    Posts: 5


    Dibs on the red, white & blue round Pontiac hood & trunk emblems if you decide go for the stripped down custom look.
  27. The chrome emblems are staying. The medallions are painted over with black. They were pretty rough anyway.
  28. 67poncho
    Joined: Dec 21, 2016
    Posts: 11

    from Middlesex

  29. No big changes since the re-gearing ... just been driving, and planning my next work. I have some big stuff in the pipeline, but for right now, I'm just going to post my winter pictures.



    2017-12-14 19.15.08.jpg


    chop job, chriseakin and pontiac like this.
  30. Falcon H
    Joined: Mar 11, 2015
    Posts: 142

    Falcon H
    from Waco Texas

    Awesome! Viola has a genuineness that's really cool.
    Skankin' Rat Fink likes this.

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