Islander trades Chevy pickup for roomier and rare sedan
About two years ago, Mike Ruiz’s tricked-out 1947 Chevy pickup began to feel a little cramped.
“There was only enough room in it for me and my wife,” Ruiz, of Galveston, said. “I wanted something bigger, roomier, different, so I went looking for a sedan.”
What he found on the classified advertising Internet site Craigslist fit the entire bill. It was bigger and roomier; it was a sedan and it was definitely different.
“I saw a lot of Chevys; you know ’55, ’56 Bel Airs,” Ruiz said. “Then I saw this and thought ‘that’s the one.’”
What Ruiz found was a 1955 Pontiac Star Chief, a close neighbor of the Bel Air in General Motor’s stable of mid-50s sedans, but hardly as ubiquitous. The car is probably less common, in fact, even than Ford’s Crown Victoria, Dodge’s Royal and Oldsmobile’s 88.
Part of the rarity, especially compared to the Bel Air, was original price. The Star Chiefs started at more than $2,300 back in the day, while you could drive off in a top-end Bel Air sedan for a little more than $1,900, according to Hagerty Valuation Tools.
Ruiz didn’t pay any amount of money for his Star Chief.
“I got in touch with the guy on Craigslist and we started talking and worked out an even swap,” he said.
The deal went down in a mainland parking lot.
Pontiac built the Star Chiefs from 1954 to 1966 at places such as Flint, Pontiac and Ypsilanti, Mich. In the early model years, the cars were Pontiac’s “prestige” offerings and designers took great care with the value-adding details.
They came with eight-cylinder engines — 287 cubic inches in 1955, and burly 347s by 1957 — and under-hood air-conditioning, both still rare at the time. The small details — highly stylized V8 badges, a winged Indian hood ornament incorporating amber plastic or resin that glows when the headlights are on, stainless steel door handles, elaborate grill work, including “eyebrows” over the headlights, ridged trim bands on the hood and three, little four-point stars in rows on each front quarter panel and door — also make the design stand out among contemporary models.
You know you’re looking at something special when you look at a Star Chief.
“It was sort of a poor man’s Cadillac,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz considers his Star Chief to be about 80 percent restored. He wants to get close to 100, first by getting rid of a DIY paint job that’s serviceable but a little rough and running in spots.
“I need to replace some window seals and eventually install power-steering … and maybe disc brakes … power-steering and disc brakes would be great,” he said.
It’s a little tricky finding parts for the Star Chief, but it’s not impossible, Ruiz said.
“It would be a lot easier if it was a Chevy, but I’ve gotten really good at Googling,” he said.
Ruiz plans to keep the Star Chief for awhile and drives it pretty often.
“I like to drive them,” he said. “I don’t like to let them sit, so I drive it whenever the weather is nice. I don’t like to drive it in the rain, though; cleaning these whitewall tires is just too much work.”