Pontiac had big news for ’54, for the first time since 1948 they had a second model line of automobiles in addition to the standard and Deluxe Chieftain line. The Star Chief line was very reminiscent of the Torpedo Eight released in 1940, a luxury eight cylinder automobile available at a very low price. The Star Chiefs rode on a 124” wheelbase and featured an overall length of 213.7 inches, the additional 11 inches of length was all at the back and the trunk capacity was enormous. They were only available with Pontiac’s venerable straight eight engines, further improved for its final appearance with an increase in horsepower. The rear leaf springs were fully 5 feet long and had 6 leaves to carry the additional weight, another change standard on the Hydra-Matic equipped models was a 3.23 axle ratio to retain good performance. The Chieftain models carried over from 1953 with the exception of the convertible, which was only available in the Star Chief line, and the sedan delivery which was phased out of production.
The Star Chief line consisted of 3 body styles, a convertible, a 2-door hardtop and a 4- door sedan split into Deluxe and Custom trim levels. Visual clues to identify these models are the 3 “stars” on each rear fender “fin”, 5 slender “Silver Streaks” on the deck lid, and bright visors over the tail lamps that sweep forward along the rear fenders.
The Star Chief Custom Catalina hardtop was the top of the line model available in 6 exclusive color schemes, solid colors of Biloxi Beige, Coral Red or Maize Yellow, or two-tone combination of those colors with Winter White for the upper body color. The Catalina interiors were color-keyed to the exterior paint scheme and available as all-leather or a leather and nylon fabric combination. The Customs also featured deep pile carpeting front and rear plus molded armrests integral with the door panels. The new Star Chief Custom Sedan was a 4 door sedan version of the luxurious Catalina hardtop. It was offered in the same 6 exclusive color schemes and matching top quality interiors, even the doors offered the sleek molded armrests of the Catalina. The Custom sedan was distinguished from the Star Chief Deluxe sedan visually by the addition bright trim on the C-pillar just behind the rear quarter window.
The remaining 2 Star Chief models were the Deluxe convertible and Deluxe 4 door sedan. The convertible was available in 10 body colors, 4 different top colors and 4 two-tone interior combinations. New for ’54 was the use of Morrokide upholstery in place of leather, this material proved to be eminently durable and remained in use for years to come. The Deluxe sedan came in 17 body color combinations paired with 3 interior colors of patterned nylon upholstery. The rear floors featured deep pile carpet while the front floors were fitted with molded synthetic rubber “carpet”, the upholstery and floor coverings were color-keyed as you would expect. Full wheel covers were standard equipment, the Pontiac name appearing twice surrounded by a white band.
The Chieftain line was built on 4 body styles, 2 door versions of hardtop and sedan, a 4 door sedan and a station wagon. There were 3 trim levels, Special, Deluxe and Custom. The Special trim level was available on the 2 and 4 door sedans and as either a 2 or 3 seat station wagon. The Deluxe trim option could be applied to the hardtop, 2 and 4 door sedans and a 2 seat station wagon, while the Custom trim level was exclusive to the Custom Catalina 2 door hardtop. The Deluxe Chieftain trim basically carried over from 1953 with restyled emblems on the hood and deck lid, new rear fender medallions and a winged hood ornament. The full disc wheel covers also featured a white band as opposed to the red band of the previous model year. The Special trim was upgraded with stainless steel gravel guards on the rear fenders instead of the previously used black rubber. There was a staggering array of colors and interior upholstery options within the Chieftain line, depending upon the trim level and body style that you selected. New this year was the color-keyed steering wheels used in all Custom and Deluxe interiors, previously only the Super Deluxe or Custom Catalina models featured a color matched steering wheel.
Pontiac was known for having an extensive list of optional equipment to choose from and several important new options were added for 1954. Power brakes, electric front window lifts, a “Comfort-Control” front seat and air conditioning topped the list; minor new options included the “Safety-Cushion” instrument panel pad, courtesy lamps at both ends of the dashboard and a wide, brake pedal extension on Hydra-Matic cars without power brakes to comfortably permit left foot braking. Power steering was introduced the year before and the system was improved by a reduction in the steering gear ratio and the decision to use the quieter vane type hydraulic pump exclusively. A new horn button proclaiming Power Steering was installed on all Deluxe and Custom models so equipped.
Pontiac engineers could claim another first with the “packaging” of their air conditioning system. Prior to the availability of air conditioning on a Pontiac, the evaporator unit was housed in the trunk over the axle and ducted up through the parcel shelf to the interior. Pontiac engineers placed their evaporator on the engine side of the cowl and ducted the cool air through dashboard vents. This established a precedent that was copied by every other manufacturer within a few years and is still used today.
Optional equipment often requires specific additional equipment to function as it was intended, there can also be “packaging” issues that govern what is available. The air conditioning option was only available when paired with an eight cylinder engine and Hydra-Matic transmission; it also required the installation larger 7.60 x 15 tires and a host of other changes including a 3.42 axle ratio. Autronic Eye was not available on cars equipped with air conditioning and the padded instrument panel pad was not available with either air conditioning or Autronic Eye. Wire spoke wheel covers were available on Deluxe and Custom models except with fender skirts.
This would be the final year for both of the Pontiac “flathead” engines. The six had been extensively upgraded for 1953, but it was further improved with a new distributor and engine valves treated to the new Aldip process. This involved dipping the valves in a bath of molten aluminum; the thin coating was expected to double the life of the valves. The power output for the six remained the as it had been in 1953. The straight eights were fitted with a larger carburetor and matching intake manifold which resulted in a 5 horsepower increase, power output was now 127 @ 3,800 rpm and developed torque was 234 ft. lbs. @ 2,200 rpm. The noticeable change to the eight was the new upright spark plug wire bracket that “fanned” the wires out toward their respective cylinders. The increased distance between each of the cables meant it was far less likely to have electrical current loss before reaching the spark plug, more available voltage means longer plug life and increased resistance to carbon build-up. All 1954 models were fitted with the compound fuel / vacuum pump to insure satisfactory windshield wiper operation.
The most popular model remained the Chieftain Deluxe 4 door sedan, the vast majority of these were equipped with the straight eight and Hydra-Matic transmission. Pontiac had dominated the mid-priced family sedan market since the late 40’s by offering an eight cylinder sedan combined with an extensive list of options and accessories. Sales slipped from the previous year, most attribute this to the fact that Pontiac was still using inline flathead engines. While this is certainly true, road test data from ’53 and ’54 was very favorable for Pontiac with regard to overall performance, fuel economy and of course, durability. Excepting other General Motors’ products, Pontiac offered optional equipment unavailable by any of its competitors in the low mid-priced field. 1954 model year production tallied 287,744 automobiles. The Star Chief line was very successful with 115,088 cars sold, of these only 571 were Synchro-Mesh models. Chieftain Eights accounted for 149,986 units, of which 29,906 were manual transmission models. The Chieftain Six total was 22,670, with 19,666 manual shift cars. Pontiac sold 265,074 eight cylinder 1954 models and 234,597 of them were equipped with Hydra-Matic, right to the end of production, the straight eight with Hydra-Matic was a winner!