My Car Quest

September 28, 2021

Memories: A Pontiac Show

by Wallace Wyss –

The venue was the Automobile Driving Museum, which is hidden away in an industrial building that is on Lairport (a pun?) as it’s hard by the LAX airport.

I surprised myself by wanting to go to it because I might be described, at least by the choice of cars I depict in my paintings, of being a Euro Snob, i.e. only liking cars made in Yurrip by Klaus or Gino. Cars with at least two camshafts and alloy blocks and high winding engines. And of course sensual bodywork that made American cars look oh-so-dowdy in the Sixties.

Pontiac Firebird

I thought they ruined the Firebird when they up-dated the nose. I’d pay good money to install the ’70 1/2 nose on a later model.

But at this Pontiac gathering they had maybe 40-50 cars and I was digging it. I found two or three that tickled my memories of high school nights spent on the 6-lane wide Woodward Avenue, a road made famous in Pontiac ads.

I remember driving Pontiac GTOs, I even remembered driving a Firebird Trans-Am, that one in 1971 a second gen car with a hood scoop, spoiler on the back and side vents and a whole row of gauges and a small diameter flat steering wheel in black.

Pontiac Firebird

The one I loved–lots of hand bodywork done including making fake side vents real.

That drive was actually in Malibu. I borrowed the car from the Motor Trend motor pool and used it to go on a Ferrari Owner’s Club rally. The Owner’s Club had some heavy hardware, like Daytonas and even a P250 racer that had raced at Le Mans. I kept up with them through the twisties but after 6 minutes the power steering stopped working–I had overheated the fluid. So much with trying to compete with Europe’s best.

But that was, egad, some 50 years ago! The Pontiacs I saw at the meet brought back memories of the models I liked including a black Trans-Am with t-tops, of the style made famous by Burt Reynolds, and a silver one with silver upholstery. But the car I liked the best was a first gen Firebird coupe which looked like it will always look unfinished. Like bare metal, still carrying the scars of metal finishing (no Bondo thank you…)

Pontiac Firebird

This second gen Firebird wasn’t as flashy as the Trans Am but had tasteful scoops.

My friend with me pointed out the engine had been moved–I’d say 4 in. back from stock, which did all kinds of good things to handling. The seats were Corbeau–real racing seats with racing harnesses. The engine was a decades newer Chevy V8 with alloy block and heads. The car had all sorts of mods on the brakes, suspension and tires. That was a car I suspect could have kicked the butts of the Ferraris I raced against that day in Malibu so long ago.

Pontiac Firebird

The engine turned dash in the Trans Am was a stroke of genius.

I had great conversations with the guys that owned the cars I liked. One question I repeatedly asked was “What does your wife say about it?” But their answer didn’t matter. The proof of the pudding was they still own the car. A story I like to hear…

I even liked a GTO convertible (and still admire the chutzpah of John Z. DeLorean who up and stole the name from Ferrari because they had never put the name on the production 250GTO. Another car I liked was a long convertible that had tail fins but the kind that are slanting inward.

There’s that play called “You can’t go home again” but I think you can, if you buy the right old car. Though my home up to the end of the ’60s was Michigan, where you drove a muscle car and only read about furrin”cars in Road and Track. Not that I’d move back there. Too muggy in summer. Too cold in winter.

At that Museum event, I discovered that getting the car you always loved is theoretically more possible with American cars, some of which have gone up mightily, but not like the foreign cars I coveted back then (I bought my first gullwing for $4000–don’t tell me what they’re worth now…!)

Pontiac Firebird

The screaming eagle was a high point of Trans Am graphics.

Will I paint portraits of American muscle cars? Ah, still a problem there, haven’t met muscle car owners with a taste for art–they’re more into movie posters or racing posters.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is co-host of Autotalk, broadcast from KUCR FM Riverside each week.

 
 
 

 

 

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Photos by Wallace Wyss.
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Memories: A Pontiac Show
Article Name
Memories: A Pontiac Show
Description
At this Pontiac gathering they had maybe 40-50 cars and I was digging it. I found two or three that tickled my memories of high school nights spent on the 6-lane wide Woodward Avenue.
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Comments

  1. I always loved these old Firebirds because they seem to be more rare than Camaros and Mustangs and looked great.

  2. Wes Stewart says

    I bought a new ’66 Pontiac Tempest Sprint when most were opting for GTOs. Six-cylinder, OHC, with a Quadrajet 4BBL. Quite innovative. Traded it in for a ’69 Roadrunner, but that’s another sad story. Now I have an ’09 G8 GT which I pictured in the “Wheels Gone Bad” discussion.

    One I don’t own, but wish I did, is pictured here:

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