FEBRUARY 2020: ’52 PONTIAC CHIEFTAIN—IT’S HER CAR BUT NOBODY BELIEVES IT

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Female owners are a steadily growing demographic in the car hobby but they face similar questions at most car shows.

People want to know if it’s their husband’s car or if there are three guys around it and the female owner she’s the last person they identify as the owner.

Crystal Kelland is the proud owner of a 1952 Pontiac Chieftain and she’s faced those and many more questions like that—especially when she’s behind the wheel and her husband is in the passenger’s seat.

Crystal’s husband found the Pontiac on a buy and sell site about six years ago because she “always wanted a 50s car” and this Poncho definitely fits the bill. Crystal’s husband showed her some pictures of the car and he assured her it “runs and drives” so the deal was made.

The mechanical side of the equation was an easy consideration because he’s a mechanic so Crystal wasn’t worried about massive repair bills. They wanted to focus on safety and reliability so the brakes, suspension and engine all were inspected.

They found the brakes were in need of serious attention so the drums were replaced thanks to a donor car and the linings were also tossed in favor of new ones. The replacement linings were asbestos so they were held up in customs for a few months because of the label—it mentioned the asbestos. The master cylinder and seals were also replaced as part of the process because this car was built to haul Crystal and her kids so stopping power is a huge factor.

The differential had a leak so that was fixed and the engine was torn down and completely rebuilt. This is an American Pontiac so parts were on the high side but the donor car supplied a higher compression head that added about 18 horsepower to the equation.

Crystal’s father was a huge influence so she’s been immersed in the car hobby since she was a little girl. This ’52 Chieftain is a good fit but she did have to learn how to drive a three-on-the-tree manual car even though she’d grown up with manual transmissions. Crystal said it was a bit of learning curve but she loves how the column shift works so well.

Crystal’s husband owns a ’65 Plymouth so they go to shows in tandem. The kids love riding in both cars but Crystal believes they like riding in her Pontiac “just a little bit more”. She runs the car at a comfortable 60 miles per hour on the highway and the Pontiac handles it with ease but Crystal doesn’t push it past that limit. She also stays within a 50-mile limit for car shows because long road trips and 68-year-old cars running stock engine and transmission don’t mix.

She’s become accustomed to the car show scene—especially when guys ask her if her husband is around to answer questions—it’s become second nature for Crystal to set them straight on the ownership issue.

Crystal is six years in on ownership with this classic old Pontiac and with any luck people will recognize her as the owner in another six years.  


Jerry Sutherland

Jerry Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer with a primary focus on the collector car hobby. His work has been published in many outlets and publications, including the National Post, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post,  Vancouver Sun and The Truth About Cars. He is also a regular contributor to Auto Roundup Publications.

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