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How I became a Pontiac fan

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By Bruce Nelson

Everyone who knows me knows that Iíve almost always had at least one Pontiac. I guess everyone; especially ďcar peopleĒ have their ďcar of choiceĒ. And I would imagine if they really thought about it, they could trace back their roots to find where that interest came from.

The first car I remember my parents owning was a 1949 Ford. I actually donít remember it very well as I was very young. The first car I remember well was their 1953 Studebaker coupe. Then in 1959 they bought a brand new 1960 Rambler sedan. At that point my parents, like most others of the time had only one car. I think that I can remember the first Pontiac my dad owned. It was a 1955 Star Chief that he had purchased used. This was the first time my parents had two cars at the same time. He only had it for a short period. I remember he hit a chunk of concrete on the road and the car was ruined. All I remember of that Pontiac was that it was fast.

After that, my folks always had two cars, and I donít know why, but they found some odd ones. I remember a 1959 Fiat sedan, a 1961 Volkswagen and when it was time for a new car, a 1965 Datsun wagon. That made the 1960 Rambler became the second car and it was getting worn out. My father was making a rather long commute from Bellingham to Blaine so it became time to get a better second car to replace the Rambler. I remember distinctly my dad bringing home a used 1963 Pontiac Lemans. It was a coupe, white with red interior, buckets and a floor shift. With it being only a two-year-old car I remember thinking how cool it was. This wasnít an ďold mansĒ car, this was sporty. This car had belonged to a state senator. It had the Ĺ of a 389 4-banger, but it had a 4-barrel carb. My brother, who is 6 years my elder, really liked this car. I can remember cruising into town with him in it and getting involved in some street racing. I think my brother kind-of knew who to approach, but we seldom lost a race. The only real problem with this car was the transmission case tended to crack. Iím sure it had to do with the number of times my brother sidestepped the clutch but my dad never figured that out. After about the third time my dad thought that must have been a weak point of that design and decided to trade it in.

My father worked very close to the local Pontiac dealer and knew him well enough that he was going to try to buy his next car from him. I recall that I had just gotten my learners permit in 1968 so my dad was interested in my opinion on his purchase. I remember him looking at used cars first. The one that I remember was a 1967 Corvair Corsa with the turbocharged flat 6 and a 4-speed. Although it was fast, the handling did not really impress me. The next car he brought home was a leftover 1967 Pontiac Tempest 4-door hardtop with the OHC-6 and an automatic. I had every picture of the new 1968 Pontiac line-up hanging on the walls of my room at this time, so this car also didnít impress me much. The 1968 tempest series looked so much better at the time. But, my father decided this was the car for us. He went to the dealer to sign the papers. Was I surprised when he came home with a new 1968 Tempest 2-door with a 350 V-8. This could almost be confused for a GTO if you were not up to speed on your cars. I loved that car. Even after the extreme abuse that I always gave it whenever I had the opportunity to use it. I was usually allowed to drive the Datsun. That was also one tough car. I believe that a large number of my friendís car buying choices went to Datsun after the experiences we had together in that car. But that Tempest. I honestly donít think I ever left a light without at least trying to spin the tires unless either a cop or my parents were in plain site. In 1972 my parents traded off the old Datsun for a new 1972 Datsun 510. Soundsí promising doesnít it? It was a 4-door with an automatic. Ho-Hum. Well after a few Junkers I bought when I was in high school, the first real car that I bought was a 1958 Chevy Biscayne 2-door. It had a 283 and a 3 on the tree when I got it, but it was transferred to the floor as soon as I got it home. It was a good car but it had its problems. As soon as I got a job after high school ended in 1972, I wanted a different car. I was sick of the cars that I was driving. I really wanted a car like my dadís Tempest. It just ran and ran with just routine maint. The cars that I had, I wouldnít trust to far.

My dad, how as long as I could remember had managed business colleges, had started to sell cars in 1972. The dealership he worked for at the time was in Ferndale and had been sold to a much larger operator from the Seattle area. They needed to move all the used car stock before the sale. I became involved in two cars that were sold. The first one was a 1967 GTO. This car I bought for myself. Now I know I may get some argument about this car, but I know that this was the way I bought this car. It was a black convertible with black interior and top. It had a 428, 4-speed, posi. As for options it had an AM-FM w/8-track, power windows, 6-way power seat on the drivers side, and recliner on the pass. Side, power ant, power trunk, A/C, rally 1ís and a factory burglar alarm with a key in the drivers side front fender just behind the headlight. It also had power steering and brakes, tilt wheel, wood wheel and a host of other odd options. The 2 that I believe might be argued about would be the 428, I know it had one, I donít know who put it in, the factory or someone else and the alarm, same thing. The car was 5 years old when I bought it in 1967 for $625.00. I drove it about 3 months and decided it got lousy gas mileage. I sold it for $750.00, Wow, a profit. Gee, I wonder what that would be worth today? The other car was sold to one of my best friends. It was a 1963 Grand Prix with a 389, 4-speed, a posi. And 8-lugs this was the car that we street raced. We would cruise to ďHerfyísĒ and look for kids with Mustangís and Camaroís. We would get them to believe it was my friendís momís car. Bet them $5 or $10.00 then go out to the edge of town and show them just how fast their car wasnít. We made our partying money with that car. Believe it or not, that car finished its life in a demolition derby that we entered it in. When we lost, mostly because of the 4-speed, we decided not to drag it home to part it out and just let them haul it to the crusher. Yikes.

After the short time with the GTO, and that expensive $.25 per gallon gas. I bought a Triumph Spitfire. And I wanted a reliable car. It was fun to drive and economical, but was always breaking down. I was back in the same boat wanting a car like my dadís Tempest. I sold the Spitfire, and moved with a friend to Santa Cruz California. My brother was selling Chevroletís there. When I got there I didnít have a car, but my brother brought home a trade-in I could get cheap. It was a 1968 Pontiac wagon. It was either a Ventura or Executive, I donít recall other than it wasnít a Catalina or Bonneville and I bought a 5-year-old car with 86.000 miís for $325.00. I drove that car for about a year then sold it when I went into the electronics repair business and needed a van.

That was in 1974. I didnít have another Pontiac until about 13 years later. In 1986 I moved to Carmel California. In looking for a house to rent I was driving around a neighborhood south of Carmel and saw a beat-up 1966 Catalina convertible. I said to my wife ďI like this neighborhood, someone has taste in carsĒ. I rented the house in that neighborhood that day. We moved into the house the next week. The first weekend that I lived there I woke up to the sound of helicopters flying around. When I looked out at the ocean, I noticed that these helicopters were picking up water from the ocean and putting it on a forest fire right behind my house. The next day, I went next door to the volunteer fire department and joined. The captain of the department was a character, he could have been a double for Nick Nolte and drove that beat-up Catalina. When he decided he needed a different car, I made sure to buy that Catalina from him. It was green with a white top. One side was caved in, the transmission had no third or reverse, and almost no exhaust. It was a 389 2-barrel that was tired but ran. Had a bench seat and about the only option was A/C. I pulled the car into the garage and pulled it all apart.

I spent my spare time that entire fall and winter working on that car. I purchased two parts cars for this project, a í66 wagon that had no compression in one cylinder but a new transmission, and a í66 Gran Prix that had motor and rust problems but a perfect interior. After repairing the body and painting the car myself (I had it painted better about a year later) I put together all the parts I had gathered and had a car that I still have and is still my pride and joy. Over the next 5 years or so, I used this car as my main source of transportation. I put the better part of 20,000 miles on the car. I did have to change the motor after about a year. I have continuously improved on the car, but it is basically the same as when it was restored fifteen years ago.

In 1990, I moved to Utah, and then I became even more interested in finding the best Pontiacs for me to own. The first was a 1070 455 GTO. It was a nice car but I ran into title problems and ended up selling it cheap to someone who was more willing than I to fight that battle. That was followed up by a 1978 Trans-Am. This was a limited series that was gold with gold tinted T-Tops. This was a nice car to drive but I was looking for something a little more current and requiring less work. So I parted with it and bought a 3-year-old Sable (should have kept the Trans-Am).

I owned some other Pontiacs over the time I lived there including a 1969 Judge that I bought from a friend of a friend. This was an interesting case for me. The guy had bought a 1969 GTO years ago while he was in college. The car was a 400 cid 4-speed posi. Car that was green with a green interior. The car had been used pretty hard, and was tired when he wrapped it around a tree. About 8 years before I found the car the owner had decided to restore it. In his search for parts, he stumbled upon a 1969 Judge parts car. The car was a rare white judge with no engine or trans but even though the body was rough it was an original car. So this guy decided to transfer all the pertinent parts from the parts Judge to the GTO and paint the car white. He then lost interest in the car and it sat protected in his garage as a rolling body shell for those 8 years. The paint was beautiful, the engine was carefully stored in the garage (I was told) and everything needed to put the car together was in boxes. I bought the car and trailered it home. I spent a few months reassembling the body and interior. It is amazing how much more difficult that is to do when you didnít take it apart.

It was now time to put in the motor and start the car. As I said I was assured that the motor was in good shape. It was very complete with everything mounted on it, so in it went so I could drive my new prize. Imagine my disappointment when it would not even turn over. We even tried to tow start it with no luck. So back to the garage to yank the motor back out. I put the motor on a stand and pulled the intake off to find so much rust in the intake runners of the heads that I could not even push a screwdriver in far enough to hit a valve stem. As soon as I saw this I called the former owner of the car and confronted him about these findings. He couldnít figure how it got that bad, but offered the services of a friend of his that could do the bottom end if I could get someone to do the heads. I found a guy who was a member of the Salt Lake chapter of POCI and had the equipment to grind valves. He did a great job of restoring the heads. I wish the guy who did the bottom end did as well. There was so much rust in the cylinders that we had to pound out 3 of the pistons. This required the block to be bored out 60 thousandths over. The same person who did the heads sold me some very nice 60 over TRW pistons that were used but very nice. I gave these to the bottom end guy who proceeded to ruin them. I then stupidly installed the heads, installed the motor and tried again to make it run. The problem was that when he bored out the cylinders to fit the pistons and rings they didnít do it right and the motor was so tight it was hard to start, overheated and had way less power than it should. I got frustrated and tried to sell the car. I finally sold it for $5000.00. What a disappointment.

During this time I also had a 1976 Trams-Am, a 1964 Bonneville and a 1964 Gran Prix. But I was still looking for a good older Pontiac for a daily driver. One day while returning from lunch I spotted a 1971 LeMans Sport for sale. After a quick negotiation with his dad I bought the car. Like my old convertible, I made this car into what I wanted. I installed a 400 motor to replace the 350. I changed the 350 turbo to a 400. Added dual exhaust added disc brakes and fitted 15Ē rally II wheels with Radial T/As. I also removed the vinyl top and had it painted red. This car I also still have and drive although it needs a good paint job.

When my wife needed a car, it was an easy choice. We got a í94 Pontiac Sunbird convertible. Not all the cars I own or desire are Pontiacs, but that has always been my interest. I think it is interesting that your interest so much later may be traced back to the cars that shaped your youth.

By Bruce Nelson

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