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1951 Pontiac Chieftain


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Yup, this engine is rather thick-walled, rather like my lawnmower's sand-cast block and represents casting technology pre-war.


Chevrolet's V8 represented the era of a compact, strong, lightweight engine in comparison to most other offerings, even from their stable. I believe at the time, Buick's overhead sixes and eights were considered the pinnacle of automotive propulsion.


Please feel free to correct me, this is from memory, late in the evening.



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No, you are correct!


Before the SBC, that '53 launched Nailhead Buick V8, which replaced their own OHV straight eight, which was miles ahead of the Pontiac by default, was deemed state of the art. I can tell you from personal experience what a fucking boat anchor that was, if you were into anything other than torque. My first car was a '60 LeSabre with the 364 after all.


Enter Mopar and you might begin to understand why 50s automotive America was what it was.

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Very much so. However this engine rather represents the end of an era- I think it was the last production L-head straight eight (possibly Packard dragged it on a little longer). It's got a very flat torque curve but has a limited rev range and is quite thirsty for the amount of power it produces, mainly down to siamesed intake ports and overall head breathing (something Austin pioneered in the OHV world with the A series).

The intake manifold is so bloody long you can't keep the mixture right at high RPM across all bores and the exhaust manifold suffers similar problems with pulsing, though that does lead to the wonderful noise they produce.


It's lazy, slow and effortless. If this series of characteristics didn't exist however, I doubt we would have seen the hotrod scene quite as we did, when we did.



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The auto industry went through a major change in the USA in the late fifties- affluent thirty-somethings not long out of the military getting a taste of freedom in the form of Formica and household appliances.


Living the dream (heavily subsidized by the government in the form of bonds). Then the next generation came along and started to become interested in it all in the sixties and it took off again, and looped in their thirties with the beginning of the muscle car era.


Then Cuba. Nixon. Big bumpers, expensive fuel, recession, smog and the responsibility of late middle age...



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Well, some jerk* decided to wreck into a major part of the power grid around here.



So, out to the garage to fire up the kerosene lantern and continue work on the cylinder head.


It's not bad. Not great but not bad. The front end of it appears to have been leaking past the gasket slightly. I'm going to see if it actually needs a skim or not once it's all thoroughly clean.





*Edit: It was a police car that wrecked into the pole.

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Hooo boy.



There's 30 bolts holding the torus on. That there is called "Being sure the gearbox isn't going to fall off the engine".


Helpfully though you can see there The usefully provided drain plug for it, which is a feature missed on most torque converters.



Made a pass over the block deck with my razor blade. Everything looks good, no signs of visible cracks. Again trying to be thorough, the previous fitter wasn't and there's signs of blow-by between the bores on the flywheel end of the head.


I'll chase the head bolt threads out with a tap, give everything a thorough clean and oil then it's all ready to go together again after that.



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A fresh set of blades tonight saw the deck fully cleaned.



A bit of brass brush action saw the engine/chassis number easily visible, cleaning the paint out of the stamps.



The deck, now fully cleaned, with the areas around the valves decoked and the piston crowns clean.



Cranks over nicely now. Covered it back up in storage oil. Last thing to do on the top is chase the head bolt threads out.



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Continuing on the video theme, I found a film of one of these (well, nearly one of these but it's the same engine and box) being driven from cold. That's kinda how it should sound- his is a bit lumpy from cold- and shift gears, at least.



Mine will be more quiet, but that's what I'm aiming for, particularly with the gearbox.



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Started chasing the threads through tonight. Slow going but worth it. Angle tightening has its' place. These unfortunately get done to 60 lb/ft.








One of my friends sent me this picture today, also.




I started thinking about fuel injection. Mustn't get carried away!

Made a shopping list of parts- the head bolts are less bad than initially thought (was dirt, not rust) so $123 of engine bits should see it back together. I'm going to have to wait to order the gearbox rebuild kit ($304), and the alternator ($180).

Still have things to get on with though.



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  • PhilA changed the title to 1951 Pontiac Chieftain - Twin Points
  • PhilA changed the title to 1951 Pontiac Chieftain

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