’53 Pontiac Safari Station Wagon

Light up hood emblem and all

The “Chief” was my second high school car, purchased for $150 from a local farmer following the demise of the Morris Minor and the car I took to college.

What wasn’t to love? The flat head straight eight was big enough to anchor the Titanic, there was the spiffy exterior sun visor common to cars of the 50s, and then there was the Pontiac hood emblem—the Chief— that lit up at night. come on. You just had to love it!

Seriously, for Southern California in the mid-to-late 60s, the Safari was the kind of car to have. You could play surfer boy to the cows came home but what I ended up loving the Chief for was…camping. You could throw a whole campsite in the back and still have room for 6 people (front bench seat) and—like most old cars—the damn thing always started and never left you flat. The one in the picture is a dead ringer (sans the surfboard) of the car I owned, except for the lack of two-tone paint (the roof and visor on mine were painted dark green).

One of the most impressive things about the Pontiac was the engine. What a beast! If you’ve never seen a flathead straight eight up close and personal, they are simply, beasts. As it turned out, I bought the Pontiac on the cheap because it had a cracked cylinder head. Even though the Safari was only about 15 years old at the time, not replacement could be found (something I’m sure the farmer knew) so I decided to take it off and see if I could get it repaired. This was in the day before cylinder heads were commonly machined out of a block of billet aluminum so the Pontiac’s capper was a cast iron affair. Still, I found a welder capable and willing to do the work and, after parting with about $50 for the repair (that including magnafluxing the head following the repair) I picked it up and reinstalled it. It was still on the car the day I sold it.

I ended up parting with the Pontiac just before going in to the service after my freshman year at Cal Poly Pomona. I ended up selling it to a friend in hopes I might be able to buy it back when I returned. Alas, it was not to be. The ‘friend’ quickly turned the car after i departed the country.

I’m sure it still running somewhere. Those straight eights just don’t die.

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