Dollar for dollar, you can’t beat a Pontiac!” proclaimed many of the magazine advertisements; “Built to Last 100,000 Miles!” was the slogan on the cover of Pontiac Service Craftsman News featuring the ’52 new model information. Neither of these tag lines was new, although the first debuted in 1950 and was relatively fresh. Pontiac for 1952 was strikingly similar in appearance to 1951; the most notable change was the secondary sweep spear that adorned the doors of the deluxe models. The standard models bore an even closer resemblance, since they lacked the side moldings.
Pontiac decreased the models they offered for 1952 by eliminating the Streamliner series completely, and by dropping both the business and the sedan coupe from the Chieftain series. The available station wagon was produced on the A-body; it was previously built on the B-body. The entire Chieftain series consisted of 6 body styles; a two door sedan, a two door hard top, a two door convertible, a two door sedan delivery, a four door sedan and a four door station wagon. This represented the fewest number of Pontiac styles available since 1929, but it must be remembered that automobile production was being curtailed by the Korean War effort.
The Chieftain line was split in the traditional Pontiac manner; the 25 series, equipped with the six cylinder engine; and the 27 series fitted with the straight eight. Every model was available in either series. The level of trim and interior appointments followed established precedent as well. The two and four door sedans, plus the station wagon, were available in standard or deluxe trim. The convertible models featured deluxe trim only; while the two door hardtops offered deluxe trim at the base price and could be upgraded to Super Deluxe trim with exclusive colors and upholstery options. The sedan delivery trim was unique and combined standard and deluxe features. Standard exterior trim typically consisted of painted headlamp beauty rings as opposed to chrome, hub caps instead of wheel covers, black rubber rear fender gravel guards and no stainless steel body side moldings.
The styling changed very little from the previous year. The deluxe trimmed 1951 models had featured a prominent single “spear” running from just behind the front wheel opening to a point just ahead of the tail lamp on the rear fender. The ’52 models featured a secondary short “spear” above the larger and longer primary “spear”, which ended on the front door several inches short of its rear edge. The grille was also similar to that used previously, except for dropped section of the upper bar that coincided with the Pontiac nameplate on the hood. The section featured four horizontal “dashes” in black that underscored the red name badge above. The rear fenders continued to carry the Indianhead medallion at the upper end above the sweep spear.
The interiors changed very little, the dashboard and instrument panel retained the same basic layout as the previous year. One new option for ’52 was a red warning lamp, which was wired to flash with the brake set and the ignition switched on, to remind the driver to release the parking brake. The heater and defroster controls were clustered on the dash around the steering column; the radio was centrally located and low on the dashboard while the electric clock occupied the center of the speaker grille, if so ordered. The starter continued to be push-button operated, the button remained on the far outboard end of the dash.
Standard sedan interiors featured dark gray check pattern cloth trim and upholstery. The standard station wagon was upholstered with Rust colored imitation leather; the sedan delivery got brown imitation leather. The deluxe sedan interior was color-keyed to the paint color, 3 color combinations were offered; light blue check / solid dark blue; light green check / solid dark green; and light grey pattern / solid dark grey. All of these were light color cushion and lower seat back with dark solid upper seat backs, except for the light / dark blue which was offered in the reverse color scheme, as well. The convertible, along with the Deluxe and Super Deluxe Catalina models, offered a staggering choice of 14 cloth and leather interior combinations, plus 6 full leather interiors! There were also 3 convertible top colors to choose from.
The array of available colors was equally staggering for 1952. There were 12 solid colors and 6 two-tone combinations spread across the model line; some colors / combinations were only available on select models; most notably the Super Deluxe Catalina.
All Chieftains rode on a chassis featuring a 120” wheelbase and fitted with 7.10 x 15 tires as standard equipment. The optional tire size was 7.60 x 15 for all models except the station wagons and sedan delivery. The 25 series Synchromesh cars were fitted with a 4.10 axle ratio, the 27 series with a 3.90 ratio; the “mountain” ratios were 4.30 and 4.10 respectively and the “plains” ratios were 3.90 and 3.63 respectively. The braking system featured 11” drums at all 4 corners, the front brake shoes were 2 ¼ inches wide while the rear shoes measured 1 ¾ inches. The last time Pontiac offered the same wheelbase for its entire model line was in 1934.
The six and eight cylinder engines essentially carried over from 1951, although both the standard and optional compression ratios were increased. The standard ratio became 6.8:1 and this raised the horsepower of the 239 cubic inch six to 100 @ 3,400rpm and 102 at the same rpm when fitted with the 7.7:1 high compression head. The standard straight eight was rated for 118 @ 3,600 and122 horsepower with the “high” head. The torque output also changed due to the compression increase. The standard six was 189 pound feet @ 1,400 and 194 pound feet @ 1,400 for the 7.7 head. The standard eight produced 222 pound feet at 2,200rpm and the high compression engine developed 227 lb ft at the same speed.
The high compression cylinder head was standard equipment when Hydra-Matic was specified on either the six or eight cylinder automobile; this had not been the case in previous years. The standard head could be ordered on Hydra-Matic vehicles and was suitable for regular grade fuel, but the high compression head definitely required the use of premium fuel.
It is interesting to note that the torque ratings for the 1951 six cylinder were 191 lb ft @ 1,200 for the 6.5 compression ratio and 195 lb ft @ 1,200 for the “high head” engine. I can find no reason for the fact that the torque output dropped, when it should have increased; especially since the displacement, carburetion and camshaft specifications were unchanged. If anyone has any information regarding this anomaly, I would be very eager to hear it and be able to pass it along to our readers.
AC spark plugs were standard equipment on Pontiac engines; new for 1952 was plug number 44-5 in both the six and eight cylinder jobs. The plug boots were also revised to fit the new slimmer porcelain insulators. The distributor advance curve was revised on the eight cylinder only, and as a running production change, new pistons with cir-clip wrist-pin retainers were introduced. Dealers were advised not to mix old and new pistons, as there was a difference in weight that would upset the engine balance; but whole sets could be installed without any concerns.
The really big news from Pontiac for 1952 was the introduction of the Dual Range Hydra-Matic transmission. There were now 2 distinct “drive” ranges for the driver to use, as shown by an “arrow” on either side of the “Dr” marking on the quadrant indicator. The left “arrow” was the conventional drive range and operated in the same manner as previous Hydra-Matic transmissions, starting off in first gear and shifting through second, third, and into fourth automatically. The right “arrow” selected the new drive range that started off in first and shifted through second and into third gear only; by keeping the transmission in “third” the car would accelerate more quickly when required. Third gear also provided much more effective engine “braking” than fourth gear; the overall effect was a more responsive automobile in heavy traffic conditions; the car would accelerate and decelerate more quickly for the driver.
Additionally, the transmission could be manually shifted from fourth to third whenever the vehicle speed was less than 60mph, allowing for extra power to maintain speed when climbing a hill, for instance. In the past, the driver could force a downshift by “flooring” the accelerator, but this would result in the car gain more speed than necessary; and the transmission would shift back into 4th as soon as the accelerator was released. Shifting back to third on steep downgrades allowed the engine to slow the car’s decent without excessive use of the brakes, while still maintaining highway speeds. This too, had not been practical with previous Hydra-Matic transmission, since “Lo” range was intended as a “pulling” gear and only good for about 30 -35mph, which was really too slow for safe highway travel.
The Hydra-Matic engineers made another change to the Dual Range transmission that is less well known. When Lo range is selected, the transmission will start off in second gear unless the driver “floors” the accelerator. A second gear start is very desirable on slippery roads as there is much less of a tendency for the tires to spin. Lo range kept the transmission from shifting up regardless of the engine / vehicle speed. This was not true of the right arrow “traffic” range, once the car attained enough speed, the transmission governor would cause the shift into fourth gear and prevent engine damage from “over-speeding”. It would, of course, shift back to third as soon as the accelerator was released even a slight amount. Pontiac engineers took full advantage of the new Dual Range Hydra-Matic by utilizing a 3.08:1 axle ratio as standard equipment. This dropped the engine speed in fourth gear by more than 15% over the 3.63 ratio used with Hydra-Matic in previous years. This decrease in engine speed resulted in better fuel economy and a reduction in engine noise at highway speeds.
Motor Trend, Speed Age and Consumer Reports all road tested the 1952 Pontiac with Dual Range Hydra-Matic. The automobile magazines were favorably impressed with the unit and their testing bore out Pontiac’s claims of better fuel economy and driving ease. Speed Age ran their high compression Chieftain on regular grade fuel without complaint; Motor Trend used premium Mobil gasoline for the duration of their testing, also with a 4 door sedan. Consumer Reports had a 2 door sedan and complained that even with premium fuel; they experienced spark knock. They didn’t report actual fuel economy numbers, as was the case with the “car” magazines, but stated their Pontiac didn’t get any better gas mileage than the 1951 Cadillac they had recently tested. Since a ’51 Caddy has a higher compression, overhead valve, short-stroke V-8, this is hardly a valid; (or fair) comparison. Motor Trend instrumented their car with an electric 5th wheel, a fuel consumption meter and a gradient indicator for testing. They achieved 25.4mpg at a steady 30mph in “cruising” range, 19.6mpg at the same speed in “traffic” range. The mileage at a steady 45mph was 19.8mpg in “cruise” and 15.9 in “traffic”. Finally, at 60mph in “cruise” range, the reading was 17.1mpg. Overall, the magazines were favorable with their comments and fair with their criticisms. Of course, their opinions were supported by the fact that Pontiac was the top selling brand in the medium-low priced field.
The ’52 Pontiac was introduced on December 3rd 1951 and produced 271,373 vehicles for the model year. There were 19,809 series 25 cars built, 15,582 with Hydra-Matic and 4,227 Synchromesh. The series 27 total was 251,564 with 218,602 Hydra-Matic units and 32,962 Synchromesh transmission models. Pontiac accounted for 6.4% of automobile sales in 1952, down over 19% from 1951; but all brands suffered a similar fate due to the Korean War effort.