Fall 2016; I was really big into the Automation community. Some of you remember probably remember (>.> if cars had honest advertising). And then I was silent after Christmas. Life got kind of weird after that.
Well to be fair, the weirdness dates back several years but it escalated and reached a climax in February. Long story short, I got diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder and everything except school and personal well-being took a back seat. That along with the US presidential and congressional elections meant I was avoiding the Internet anyways… whatever. That’s not what I am here for.
You all here are fellow car nuts so I figured you might like to hear the story of my “other” car:
That’s right! A bonafide 1967 American steel land yacht, specifically a Pontiac Bonneville. Its not just any random '60s steel land yacht though, hence the story.
First off, for the benefit of those of you outside the US who probably don’t even know what a Pontiac is (unless you’re Canadian), it was an upmarket sporty / youthful brand produced by GM before they canned it in during their bankruptcy in 2009 - something along the lines of a modern Mazda or Subaru. Not what you would call “luxury” but better than your run-of-the-mill Chevy, Vauxhall, or Toyota.
Anyways the story! Five years ago in 2012, my grandmother died at age 93. This came at an inopportune time as we were still sorting out a different crisis from a few years earlier. Consequently we didn’t start seriously sorting out her estate until a full two years later in 2014, part of which was a beach house on the Pacific coast in Oregon. And part of that was a all-original, second owner 1967 Pontiac Bonneville. My grandmother had originally bought the car second hand in the early 80s as a way to avoid being trapped when my grandfather went golfing in the car they drove to the beach. Thus it wasn’t driven much. And when she started slowing down in her latter years she made less and less frequent visits to her beach getaway finally stopping altogether in '05 or '06. As a result, although I had been to my grandma’s beach house before for holidays and summer vacations and had seen the car, I had no idea the gem she was sitting on. The last I remembered until recently was that my grandma had a big red car at her beach house and that was it. That memory was from sometime around 2002; I was in first grade.
Fast forward to fall 2015. I’m away at a college in Michigan by this time and my grandma’s main estate was taken care of out but the beach place wasn’t. My mother and my aunt took a trip down to the beach place from our residence in Washington to start sorting the place out. My mom snapped this photo and a few others of the car sitting in the garage:
Now my grandma had a policy: “When I die, all of you get whatever you want.” She left a will because of the obvious legal necessity but she knew we (her family) weren’t going to fight over things and so she was always keen to remind us all of this. Thus, in keeping with her wishes, my mother sent the photos out the rest of the family. “Does anyone want Grandma’s old Bonneville?” she asked. And of course, me being a car nut, couldn’t believe my eyes; I became instantly enamored.
A few weeks after that I decided I had to have the car. My siblings and extended family don’t care so much about cars and my dad, despite his interest, doesn’t have the time for them. I just couldn’t let a family relic that I felt so passionately about slip away. But, this being no mere trinket, felt extremely greedy to ask for in spite of my grandma’s policy. So I was extremely uneasy asking but regardless I did. I plucked up the courage and gave my dad a call. “Dad. Can I have Grandma’s Bonneville.” The answer astounded me. Without missing a beat: “Sure. Lets get it ship shape and cleaned up. When you have a place to put it, its yours.” I was speechless. I later found out my dad was secretly wishing someone would ask because he wanted the Pontiac to stay in the family but realistically, he knew he would never have the time to do this car justice. His plan before I asked was to sell the car to a carefully picked collector.
So in summer 2016, my dad and I took a trip down of our own down to the beach house and revived the beast:
We were expecting a basket case, but turns out because the car was garage stored, it was in amazingly good shape. I mean the paint and trim was oxidized, the battery was dead, and some of the gaskets looked they could use work. But everything that mattered was fine. After getting the motor spinning again and sorting out some electrical gremlins, we had it running again the morning after arrival. 6 July 2016 at 07:30, my grandma’s Bonneville drove its first mile in somewhere between 10 and 17 years:
Unregistered and uninsured at the time though so we trailered it to storage back home in Washington. And due to some goofy regulations and bureaucratic mumbo jumbo on historical vehicle registration (because by any reasonable definition that is what this thing is), it took us three tries and six months to get the paperwork right and get it registered. I missed my chance to finally drive it at Christmas 2016.
Summer this year (2017) though, I finally got my chance. Of course the first place my dad and I took it was a car show:
The keen-eyed among you might notice the white bucket under the firewall. Funny bit about that. After the first ten miles I drove I thought I had overheated the poor thing bad after pulling a long hill and saw steam start coming out of the cowl vents. Nope! Turns out the heater core is rusted out and leaks pretty badly. And the cabin drain just happens to be right above the exhaust. Not fast enough to be a problem though so I got a few jugs of water at a gas station and kept driving. And boy it drives like a cloud. The rebound from a bump can be timed in seconds, the seats are like couches, 1 finger power steering and no I am not exaggerating. Also, 6.6L (400 cubic inch) V8 and 4 barrel - despite being a land yacht, the Bonneville scoots if you floor it.
The keen-eyed might also notice the car next the Bonneville. Yes, that is a GT40. According to the owner, its not an original but it is made from authentic GT40 parts. We traded notes all day. As luck would have it, he was a Pontiac nut.
This remains to be one of my favorite pictures. It has a surreal quality to it. Pastel. Dreamy even:
And thus concludes my story. Keeping a family legacy alive and fulfilling a dream while I’m at it. I love this car and I don’t think any new car is ever going to captivate me quite the way this one has.
-1967 Pontiac Bonneville, 2 door, black hardtop (NOT convertible mind you).
-White leather interior
-Pontiac 400 (6.6L) V8 - Carter AFB carburetor - 325 crank HP when new
-GM Turbo 400 3-speed automatic
-Not an AC car unforunately
-Running / driving
-Polish trim and paint
-HEATER CORE! By the way, would anyone happen to know anything about swapping a heater core on a '67 Pontiac or hell even a '67 GM B-Body, something like a Chevy Impala or Oldsmobile 88?
-Repaint (going to keep the color as best we can)
-Cylinder heads / head gaskets (we are doubtful this car was ever updated to run properly on unleaded fuel)
-Gauges - it has no tach or temp gauge. butwhy.jpg
Anything else at this point is a matter of when it breaks, fix it. As far as we can tell, the car is virtually all original apart from some paint touch up in the front; we can tell because there is overspray you wouldn’t see on a factory job. It was probably in an accident sometime back in the 1970s before my grandma even owned it.
Oh and FYI, I am doing fine. Life is back on track. I graduate in a few months and have a job lined up with a software firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan.