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Archive for August 21st, 2013

sweet chariot

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Another unexpected encounter with a cool car.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perambulating along recently, one found himself at the corner of 31st street and 38th Avenue here at the border of hospitable Dutch Kills and raven haired Astoria. This is one of those posts where I show off my detective skills, as I did not recognize the model of this classic car. It is, and was, a Pontiac.

That’s all I had to go on.


A historical vehicle is a vehicle that is more than 25 years old. A vehicle qualifies for a historical registration when it begins the 26th model year. For example, a 1978 model vehicle qualifies for historical registration in 2004.

Some vehicles that are less than 25 years old and have unique characteristics can qualify for a historical registration. The DMV determines if the vehicle has historical, classic or exhibit value.

A vintage vehicle is a historical vehicle and receives a historical registration. The registrant of a vintage vehicle can put vintage plates on the vehicle. Vintage plates are authentic NYS vehicle plates that were issued during the model year of the vehicle. More information about vintage plates appears below.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The body styling suggests the 1950’s with its swept back fenders, excessive ornamentation of general “look and feel.” There are several body shops and auto detailers in the area between here and Astoria Blvd. and those of us lucky enough to live in Astoria have become blase about seeing manufactured items of enduring quality and esthetic achievement parked on the street, so even a late model Pontiac from the golden age of American auto manufacturing seldom catches the notice of jaded area wags.

from wikipedia

Pontiac was an automobile brand established in 1926 as a companion make for General Motors’ Oakland. Quickly overtaking its parent in popularity, it supplanted the Oakland brand entirely by 1933 and, for most of its life, became a companion make for Chevrolet. Pontiac was sold in the United States, Canada, and Mexico by General Motors (GM). Pontiac was marketed as the performance division of General Motors for many years, specializing in mainstream performance vehicles. Pontiac was relatively more popular in Canada, where for much of its history it was marketed as a low-priced vehicle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The major identifiers, there were two, are the star motif on the rear fenders and the shape of the dashboard. The fact that all the controls and indicators were contained in an oval marked this car’s model year, and the stars provided incontrovertible proof that this was a Pontiac Star Chief from 1957.

This car is 56 years old, and is considered to be highly collectible by auto enthusiasts.

from wikipedia

Between 1954 and 1957, the Star Chief was Pontiac’s prestige model; the car was easily identified by its chrome star trim along its sides. When the storyline of I Love Lucy pointed towards a Hollywood setting in the 1954-1955 season, the characters “drove” (in episode 110, “California Here We Come”) to the West Coast in a 1955 Star Chief convertible. In 1954, Pontiac also introduced air conditioning with all the components under the hood, a first for the price range. Seat belts were added as options in 1956.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Marketed as a sedan (4 doors), there were also coupe and station wagon versions of this model.

A true car fan will decry calling this a sedan and these is no post rising from the body, between the two door windows, to support the hard shell roof. Researching the vehicle, I came across a great site called pontiacsonline, which presents an enormous amount of period advertisements for the model and the one linked to below offers concrete proof that what we’re looking at is a Pontiac Star Chief.


– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ultimately, the whole reason that this cool car exists at all is due to the efforts of a fellow named Semon Emil “Bunkie” Knudsen, a mid 20th century auto executive at General Motors. Due to Knudsen’s influence, Pontiac became quite involved with a growing organization which called itself NASCAR, and Pontiacs served the race organization as their pace cars for many years.

from wikipedia

Knudsen began working for General Motors in 1939 with Pontiac Division and rose to management quickly, becoming general manager of the Detroit Diesel Division in 1955, a vice-president of the company and general manager of Pontiac Division in 1956.

When appointed head of Pontiac, he was given the mission to improve sales. At that time Pontiac had a reliable but stuffy image. Knudsen brought in Pete Estes from Oldsmobile as chief engineer and hired John DeLorean away from Packard to be his assistant, with the assignment to create high performance versions of their existing models. The Pontiac Bonneville and the “wide-track Pontiacs” came from this effort. Pontiac became heavily involved in NASCAR racing under Knudsen.

Want to see something cool? Summer 2013 Walking Tours-

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek – Saturday, August 24, 2013
Newtown Creek walking tour with Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura, tickets now on sale.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 21, 2013 at 7:30 am

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