The Chief 17 and 15 presses were a subject of my obsession when I started out as a printer. While working for a printing temp agency I met a couple Chief loyalists on my different jobs. They spoke highly of the versatility and reliability of the machines, bragged about the heroic acts of printing that they performed using Chiefs: CMYK printing one pass at a time and an additional spot color with hairline trap, varnish overlay for a total of six runs, etc.
These guys loved that the inking units could be changed easily during a run without washing up; they liked the adjustable headstop bar that allowed one to adjust the angle of approach of the sheet rather than skewing the plate for registration purposes. They talked about ways people had hot-rodded Chiefs by adding a third form rollers to them. And as a bonus, San Diego Printing Parts manufactured aftermarket parts for Chiefs, so there were still plenty of parts to keep these presses going, even well after the graphic equipment division of ATF stopped producing them.
However, even the fans did seem to offer some kind of caveat when talking Chief, along the lines of "finicky, but great" or "if you can get to know the personality of the machine, you'll never want to go back to another press."
One of my printer friends had based a small job shop operation on a Chief 17, and ran his shop successfully for many years with just the one press. I was surprised upon entering the production area of another commercial print shop to discover four Chiefs there, the primary presses of the operation. The production manager there simply said as explanation, "we're a Chief shop."
So when it came time to start a print shop, the first press we bought was a green body Chief 17. Already 30+ years old the press was well used but the price was right, and it served us well for many years. I'd have to say, however, that running that Chief reminded me a little of driving the air-cooled 1969 VW bug I once owned for a short while. You'd have to carry a tool box with you and expect surprises along the way. I was always adjusting the timing, delivery bar gripper fingers, suction feet, and making similar adjustments for each job and type of paper stock, but once that was done and it was set up, it was good to go. Some of my printing mentors achieved a real level of finesse as Chief operators and mechanics. I learned what I could from them, if nothing else a love of that machine.