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Written By: Greg Karpe
How many car projects start out with a great plan, only to make a left turn and go a different direction? Sometimes they change out of necessity; if your floor pan turns out to be more holes than steel, you might go the pro street route with massive wheel tubs and a tin interior. Suppose your numbers matching short block is cracked, might as well order that 572 crate motor and live it up, or, say your '52 Pontiac drop-top is destined to be a TV star, then too you'd adjust your plan and seize the moment.
Don and Jackie Heidt are long-time car people – buying, selling and building a variety of cars over the years, usually of the GM persuasion, but Pontiacs are their true passion. Around the turn of the century, Don stumbled across a 1952 Pontiac Chieftan convertible from Canada and took a leap. He snatched the Poncho from the second owner, wooed by its fresh convertible top and upholstery as well as its overall originality, plus 1952 is Don's birth year. The car was complete and clean; Don felt justified in the purchase because he didn't have a convertible in the stable and he'd always loved the class and style of the early-'50s cars. After getting the car home, the story takes an all-too-typical turn; the '52 was put in the corner of Don's shop and remained there for over a decade. As time ticked by for the Pontiac, a '56 GMC Suburban and a '60 Corvette got makeovers; Don hadn't forgotten about the Chieftan, in fact he was slowly gathering parts and formulating his plan of attack.
Having a hot rod vein running deep through his body, Don envisioned the '52 with a stout Poncho under the hood with a traditional hot rod look overall. A 1960 Super Duty 389 was located and added to the corner, waiting for the day it could rip up the boulevard once again.
Ten years into the Chieftan's hibernation, the story makes another turn, this one not as common. While showing his Corvette at the GoodGuys show in Loveland, Colorado, Don was introduced to a charismatic young builder named Dave Kindig. Dave’s shop in Salt Lake City brought a new customer car to Loveland every year; Dave and Don met up over brewskis and hot rods as their friendship grew through the years. Don's wife, Jackie, put pen to paper and reasoned that Don's age multiplied by a frame-off rebuild of the Pontiac just did not compute; she suggested Don hand the '52 over to Dave to let his team whip it into shape so the couple could get to enjoying the ride. The guys thought this over; Don enjoys building his own cars, but Jackie had a point. Mutual friend Ron Meis warned Don that a new TV show was on the horizon, and if he wanted a Kindig-It Designs-build Pontiac, he'd better get a move on! Dave was all for the project and submitted the Pontiac to the production company for approval, and much to Don's surprise, they jumped at the chance to feature the rebirth of the Chieftan on Bitchin' Rides.
Dave asked Don what he ultimately wanted out of the car. “650 horsepower,” Don blurted out. This new benchmark favored an LS3 topped by a Magnuson supercharger and the 389 was left in the corner of the shop. From there, Don stepped up his plan for the car to make it better overall, and be a little more flashy for the sake of the TV show. Upon delivering the car to Salt Lake City in late 2014, Don laid eyes on the in-progress Copper Caddy and Ron's '59 Invicta. Talk about inspiration! A 1952 Pontiac is a bit of a blank slate; it’s not a plug-and-play affair like a '55 Chevy, so the parts list was thoroughly reworked. An Art Morrison chassis was spec'd to replace the original rails, and doing so crossed off much of the to-do list in one shot. The stance was nailed, extra low with good rake for that hot rod feel, but new chassis also afforded incredible handling and compliant ride quality, not to mention it made the LS3 and 4L80E more or less a bolt-in. The wheels were custom machined by EVOD and are much larger than you think! The whitewalls are actually part of the wheel, which gives the vintage look while allowing modern high-performance tires plus making room for huge brakes! You have to see them (and sneak a touch) to believe them.
The exterior of the '52 was pretty much left alone; the surprise rust was eradicated and the sheet metal smoothed to perfection, including the entire undercarriage, but all of the trademark Pontiac trim was retained. Even the translucent amber chief's head on the hood was restored. Aside from the bitchin' stance and big wheels, you'd be hard pressed to call this anything but a restoration. Conversely, a few liberties were taken with the interior; '64 T-Bird seats were reworked by JS Custom Interiors for an updated look with vintage flair, then covered with Mercedes leather. Controls for the Vintage Air system are just above the ididit steering column along with the push-to-start button. Just above those is the stock instrument cluster, which has been reworked by the Dakota Digital custom shop with a one-off VHX analog instrument system.
It took the Kindig-It team 13 months to get things in order; pushing for the 2016 Grand National Roadster Show made time their biggest enemy, and don't forget the Caddy and Buick were Sacramento-bound as well. The trio of cars were the talk of Sac-Town, with the Pontiac taking home 1st place in the Custom Convertible class, as well as outstanding paint and interior picks, plus outstanding individual display! The GNRS awards were the tip of the iceberg for the Chifetan, at the Salt Lake City Autorama, Don won first in class, while the Portland Roadster Show yielded four picks. Later he won first place at the Toppers Rod and Custom Show, and up in Regina Canada, the car's original home, it took five top awards. Back to where the story really got started, the Pontiac won the Goodguys Gary Meador award and a few top picks in Loveland. Later, Reno for Hot August Nights, and finally a stint in Borla's booth at the 2016 SEMA show.
The Heidts would like to thank Dave and the whole Kindig-It team for making their dream (and then some) come true. Don and Jackie couldn't be more pleased with the outcome of the Chieftain and, aside from driving it, they absolutely love taking it to shows, meeting like-minded car people and bench racing. This is a good lesson in going with the flow. Don't be too set on your path because you never know what the future may hold for you; just around the bend could be a whole world of opportunity. Perhaps the next automotive adventure for the Heidts will be a new project that goes a new direction, and with any luck it will involve that 389, originally destined for the '52.