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SBC in 1958 Safari/Chieftan

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I just bought a 1958 Custom Safari wagon with no motor or transmission but a very good original no bondo body.  I think the odds on finding a 370 motor to get it running stock are slim so...I am wondering what folks have done for motor and transmission mounts to install a SBC Chevy 350/350 combo in this vintage Pontiac.   If I am reading the history correctly, the Safari is built on the Chieftan chassis.   Also, (and I expect to get slammed by purists for this question, has anyone bolted a newer front end into this chassis?  It looks like the steering box may need to go outboard of the frame to accommodate the the 350 and at that point, a newer front end might make sense?

Thanks in advance for any info.



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HI Dan,

I think you'd be surprised about finding a 370 or similar motor. Granted, they are not as readily available as 389s and 400s and it will take some digging, but I think you can find one if you look hard enough -especially vintage junk yards. Assuming that is what you want in the first place. Also if you are considering a SBC 350 why not a new(er) Pontiac motor? Just curious.

Chevy motors have their starters located on the passenger versus Pontiacs that were on the driver side. . So that wiring needs to be changed.

Motor and transmission mounts from a Chevy Belair/Nomad/Brookwood should probably work with little trouble. Running a Chevy engine means using a transmission with a Chevy bolt pattern on the bellhousing and not the Buick-Olds-Pontiac (BOP) pattern.

I am not clear when you say you want to bolt a new front end onto the chassis. Can you elaborate on that please?

I've not honestly heard of anyone needing to re-locate the steering box on a Chieftain/Safari. Is it possible that a newer style (60s/70s/80s era) steering box could replace it and give you the clearance you need?

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Thanks for the reply.   I am thinking of the SBC because I have two of them in decent shape along with a pair of TH350s sitting in the shop from other projects so it would be a low cost option compared to finding a 370 and likely having to rebuild it.  Plus, I know Chevys pretty well but Pontiac motors----not so much.  I am not going to start on this until this Fall/Winter so have some time to look for a good 370 but not optimistic about the search.

The front end question was about putting a newer Camaro/Firebird or similar front end under the car to include power steering.  The existing front end seems tight but I am going to pull the front clip off to make the motor/transmission install easier so there would not be a better time to do it.  There are arguments to made for keeping this relatively rare car original but anymore, I am not sure it makes much difference in the end value or desirability.  I know they only made 2905 Star Chief Safaris in 1958 and I wonder how many are left?

Good news on the steering box.  Maybe with a set of Ram Horn exhaust manifolds it will not be an issue.  

Who is Mrs. Grundy?

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Mrs. Grundy is either the teacher from Riverdale High School in the old Archie's comics or Jim Grundy's wife (of Grundy Collector Car Insurance fame).

Okay, so you when you are saying a new front end, you actually mean cutting the front half of the original frame off and grafting/welding in a sub-frame from a 2nd-gen Firebird/Camaro/Nova. Obviously this will take a lot more time and money to cut, fabricate, and align correctly. However this is done primarily to take advantage of the performance and steering parts available for the 2nd-gen cars over the stock suspension of the Chieftain. I understand your desire to possibly go down this path.

Other things you have to consider are mounting points for the radiator core support, lower fenders mounts, and bumper bracket mounting points on the frame. All these will have to verified, and if they don't match up, then a solution will have to be fabricated. This is a task that will require a significant amount of time and money but would be worth it in the end.

However, before you go to this expense, be honest with yourself. What are your goals with the car? Are you looking for a resto-mod with street corning capabilities or a nice, reliable cruiser?

If you want a near-auto cross capable vehicle, then a new sub-frame or perhaps a totally new custom frame for TCI or Art Morrison would be a better choice. It is an expensive option, however you would get a completely engineered frame (front to back) to support your car for traction, steering, sway, performance braking, and you can get it with your choice of engine/transmission mounts. Given that your car is one of 2905, I'd prefer to not cut up the frame but rather sell it. Someone will buy it....assuming you go the new frame route.

If you want a nice cruiser, then repairing what you have is probably the best / cheaper route. This doesn't mean you can't do some upgrades. Replacing the stock body and suspension bushings, replacing the ball joints, springs, sway bar end links, and shocks will do a lot for that car. You may have to look around a bit, but I would not be surprised if there a front disc brake conversion kit available for these cars. The power steering box should be replaced or rebuilt. Getting one with a lower turning ratio (stock is probably 24:1 which equates to about 4.5 turns lock to lock) to (say) a 16:1 to 12:1 ration box (equates to 3-3.5 turns lock to lock) will help your improve your steering. You can lower the car's center of gravity an inch or two by buying shorter custom springs for it and matching shocks. Building a custom rear-sway bar will do wonders for handling on this car.

There maybe drop spindles available for it too but I am not certain about that since 1958 is typically a one-year only car for both Pontiac and Chevrolet - for some parts. So some research is warranted here. Typically parts exist for Chevrolets that don't exist for Pontiacs, so look at the Chevrolet parts and ask if they will fit your Pontiac, if you have to.

A couple of things to know about Pontiacs. The 50s-era V8s (including the 370) engines were available in late-50s Pontiacs and some GMC trucks. They had a reverse flow water pump and cooling flow. So coolant went into the heads first, then to the block. This means you'll need a matching reverse flow radiator (assuming you don't have one with the car). The 326/389 engine established the flow that all later Pontiacs motors enjoy. Another thing to note is distributor turns counter clockwise on a Pontiac engine. Chevys, Buicks, and Olds all spin clockwise. This is because the distributor hole is on the right hand side of the camshaft center line while the rest are on the left.

Lastly, Pontiac never had a big block vs. small block program. So their blocks are externally virtually identical in size with different bore and stroke combinations. So a 326 is the same (external) block size as a 455. This is what allowed Pontiac to create the GTO in 1964, by placing a 389 in place of a 326 in a Tempest/Lemans body. No additional engineering or parts were needed. 

While I am not going to discourage you from SBC direction since I understand saving money, finding a 389/400/455 Pontiac engine is relatively easy still today (I find a lot on Craigslist -for example) and might be another thought. Most Pontiac purists would not stick their nose up seeing a Pontiac in a Pontiac, even if it isn't the numbers matching drivetrain. Plus there is plenty of aftermarket support for these engines. However, Pontiac parts are not quite as cheap as Chevy parts.

Does this help?




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Thanks!  This helps a lot.   I'll ask around about some later Pontiac motors/transmissions and see if I can find a pair.   As I said, I don't plan on starting this for a few months so we will see what turns up.  Thanks again.

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Here are a couple of pictures.  I don't think it is missing any trim or anything else.  I found a Pontiac 350 tranny today at a transmission shop.  The guy thought he might have a line on a motor as well.  This might end up all Pontiac after all.



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WOW what a wagon! Welcome aboard, That's quite the project. Wagons of all years have really come full circle in the collectors world and are widely excepted now.

I think you'll be surprised on how somewhat easy it might be to locate a correct V8 power-train, but at the end of the day it's your to with as you wish.    

I myself would be more inclined to go the stock route something along the line like this FIuelie,


How cool would that be under the hood :D

Anyhow best of luck with her.


Edited by SPRINT 6
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