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‘56 Star Chief: Dramatically styled, dynamically powered!

‘56 Star Chief: Dramatically styled, dynamically powered!

Nearly camouflaged by its earth tone surroundings, this once-proud Pontiac, dressed out in Sun Beige over Sandalwood Tan, made a near picture perfect image, suitable for a calendar page.

Nearly camouflaged by its earth tone surroundings, this once-proud Pontiac, dressed out in Sun Beige over Sandalwood Tan, made a near picture perfect image, suitable for a calendar page. Photo provided by Bruce Kunz

Pontiac’s crafty ad writers used the phrase “dramatically styled,” but it’s a good thing they didn’t use “restyled,” for the 1956 models were a spittin’ image of the truly “restyled” 1955 models. Every body panel was identical, right on down to the ‘eyebrows’ over the headlamps.

I didn’t need my ‘OCR’ (old car radar) to spot this once-pristine Pontiac as it was parked just a few yards from the street. Although the car is no ‘20-footer’ (not even a good 50-footer) it still has some notable redeeming qualities.

One is that “Star Chief” script on the front doors. The Star Chief had been the flagship Pontiac model since its introduction in 1954. Designers added 11 inches to the lesser Chieftain frame, and elongated the body accordingly to allow more room in the cabin as well as increased trunk space. The resulting longer body didn’t hurt the looks either, as American cars were entering the longer, lower, wider phase of the evolution of American automobile styling.

There is one more thing that sets this particular example apart from the run- of-the-mill Pontiacs. It has the sub-model name ‘Catalina,’ which designates the pillar-less “hardtop” body style (two or four doors) – à la ‘Bel Air’ to Chevys, ‘Holiday’ to Oldsmobiles and ‘Riviera’ to Buicks. On both Chieftains and Star Chiefs, the ‘Catalina’ moniker was used to designate two- and four-door “pillar-less hardtops.” When all windows were down, there was no post or ‘B’ pillar between the front doors and back. The open-air design was touted quite heavily in the days before air conditioning became common. That A/C would have cost the buyer an extra $431 in 1956, equaling $4,146 in 2020 money – a hefty price to keep your cool!

The factory-suggested base price of this Star Chief Catalina four-door was just $2,731 when it rolled off the dealer’s lot. Forty-eight thousand, thirty-five examples were built. Popular options included, power brakes ($38); power steering ($108); power windows ($97); 6-way power seat ($93) and radios from $90 to $118. Seat belts were priced at $11 per passenger. Apparently some buyers didn’t want the mother-in-law’s seat to have safety belts.

While this car needs a total restoration inside and out, and I’m sure mechanicals as well, most all parts appear to be in place, such as all the bright metal trim including the sweep spears, the V-8 medallions on the front fenders and more. That said, it would take a substantial bank balance to have it all done.

The bottom line is, when finished restoring this four-door Star Chief Catalina hardtop to show condition, you would have a car worth about $28,000, according to the 2020 Collector Car Price Guide. If it were a two-door hardtop, the value would be nearly double – approximately $42,000. And if a convertible, roughly $73,000.

Unfortunately, I was unable to hook up with the owner of this car, so I don’t know anything about the car’s history, or what his intentions are for the future of the car, if any. 


This content was produced by Brand Ave. Studios. The news and editorial departments of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had no role in its creation or display. For more information about Brand Ave. Studios, contact tgriffin@brandavestudios.com.
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Bruce Kunz is a freelance automotive writer. He is a regular contributor for Brand Ave. Studios.

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