'51 Pontiac Chieftain

A guy with an obsession for auctions finds a ’51 Pontiac Chieftain during one of his junk-car buying trips. And he is lucky enough to find a Pontiac with an Under The Hood Secret.

1951 Pontiac Chieftain – Diesel Chief

Fast Facts

Year/Make/Model: 1951 Pontiac Chieftain

Owner: Steve Newsome

Hometown: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Odometer: 34,000 miles

Engine: 6BT Cummins

Aspiration: 50mm Holset HC1

Fueling: Factory Bosch VE injection pump and original gas tank now full of diesel

Horsepower at rpm: 160 hp at 2,500 rpm

Torque at rpm: 400 lb-ft at 1,700 rpm

Transmission: TF727

Suspension (f/r): Original A-arm with new shocks and springs/Ford 9-inch leaf springs

Tires: General Altima RT

Wheels: Original Pontiac hubcaps

Fun Fact: It has a satin clearcoat.

Steve Newsome is from Winston-Salem, North Carolina and he has been collecting military vehicles which he keep on his property for a couple of years. Sometime during his junk-car buying trips, he bought a number of various antique cars from an estate auction located a few miles away from his house. And this is how he discovered this ’51 Pontiac Chieftain.

The previous owner bought it brand new in Thomasville, North Carolina. The car had the dealership paperwork in the glovebox from the previous owner. “It sat in some guy’s garage for 25 years,” said Steve. It seemed that the car was not used for many years. If not for the worn paint, the car was perfect. Because of the minimal rust holes or damage, this vehicle was decided to go through an engine swap.

1951 Pontiac Chieftain engine

Steve called his friend Joe Kiser of Joe’s Garage (also in Winston-Salem) since he was having a problem in the motor that was locked up. Steve asked Joe if he could fit a 6BT Cummins in the Pontiac and he said that he could do it. The Cummins came from a short-wheelbase military vehicle called ‘Tug.’ This Tug was also part of Steve’s car collection. The engine was a bone-stock 6BT Cummins, just similar to that from a commercial truck.

To save money as much as possible, Joe set out to get the diesel into the patina’d Pontiac. In the build process, they had to face a mismatched junkyard and leftover garage parts.

Joe normally builds street rods and he proposed a perfect solution. The original idea was to replace the front suspension with a Mustang-II-style setup. After the car was torn down, he then found out that the stock kingpin A-arm-style suspension looked new. That is why they ended up keeping the original suspension and rebuilding the kingpins and bushings.

Fitting the engine was quite easy. To clear the front pulley, the front crossmember was notched ½ inch before it was boxed. Yet, fitting the transmission was actually the harder part. Joe produced a custom transmission mount, and the snout of the transmission slid inside the stock frame cross bracing. To form a crossmember, he produced engine mounts that connected to each other. Afterwards, he formed a sound mounting place for the rear steer steering rack. To make sure of the strength, the frame was boxed to the stock bracing that meets the crossmember. Also, two roll bars were bolted from the front of the frame to the firewall. After the process, the engine became located very close to the location of the original straight-six. The outcome therefore, required little more changes to things such as the transmission linkages and radiator placement.

A rack-and-pinion system from an early ’90s Cadillac was used to replace the stock rear steer.

Joe mounted the steering to the new crossmember he built for the engine mounts. From here, Joe needed the help of Clemmons Machine Shop in Clemmons, North Carolina. He called them up so that they could machine adjustable tie-rod bushing adapters. This would make Mustang Fox Body tie rods work in conjunction with the rack.

1951 Pontiac Chieftain

A 9-inch rear axle from a junkyard ’70 Torino was also used for this build. “It dropped in like it was made for it,” said Joe. Although the rear end’s pinion angle and size matched, it was a little too narrow compared to what Steve desired. Joe chose a fast yet affordable solution and that is to utilize Ford-to-Ford wheel adapters to provide just an ample amount of spacing. He took out the rear springs then cleaned and re-arched it.

Although Steve opted to be quiet about the overall costs that he spent in the car, still we could say that it is built on the cheap.

There were still other parts that Steve has used for the car. These include the GMC truck tilt steering column and steel Ford wheels. The folks at Creative Upholstery in Winston-Salem were responsible in the interior work of the car.

In wiring for the 6BT Cummins, Joe made use of a Painless Wiring universal wiring kit to update to a modern fuse box. The Pontiac had a Gen-IV Magnum A/C system from Vintage Air, a universal kit marketed for street rods.

When Steve picked up the completed car from Joe, he immediately hit the road for a 200-mile trip—that’s faith.

Steve drove the car and cruised the road for a 200-mile trip just after he got his car. “It’s been trouble free. Only had to replace the alternator,” said Joe. “I knew I had to fabricate a lot of stuff before I started. It wasn’t a weekend job. You’ll need mechanical ability and things like a drill press, and a good welder.”

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