Collectible minivans: Dream or nightmare?

1984 Ply Voyager frnt rt color 2

“Next across the block, ladies and gentlemen, is a pristine 1984 Plymouth Voyager, a rare SE model packed with all the options — full gauges, third-row seat, power-opening rear vent windows, wood-look exterior paneling, heavy-duty suspension, wire wheel covers and — taa daa — even a five-speed manual transmission.

“The five-speed was standard equipment, though very few customers did not opt for the three-speed automatic.

“Yes, this is the rarest of the rare first-year minivans, so let’s open the bidding at $50,000, shall we?”

Cough! Gasp! Even in the wildest moments of my imagination, I cannot bring myself to believe that the minivan ever will be considered a collectible classic car.

Well, I can see a couple of possible exceptions:

One would be the minivan, a Renault Espace, that the French automaker equipped in the mid-1990s with one of its 800-horsepower, V10 Formula One racing engines.

The other exception would be if the collector were the Smithsonian or some other museum committed to the display of the artifacts of American culture. (Or, in the case of the Renault Espace F1, in an auto museum in France, which is where that minivan is parked.)

Classic car collectors often start their collections with the car they wanted but didn’t get to drive back in high school. But who among those who grew up as part of the minivan generation even liked riding in one, let alone ever dreamed of driving one to the prom?

635779d1984_004Oh, the minivan was practical enough, especially if you had more than two children, but it also was pretty much a stage-of-life vehicle that you fled as soon as you didn’t need all that room for your children’s booster seats or for car-pooling to soccer practices.

Collectible or not, the minivan turns 30 this model year, and in some states that qualifies it to wear classic car license plates.

“… Sold! And for a world-record price! Don’t fret if you missed on that one, because here comes aPontiac Trans Sports, the famed dust-buster minivan…”

larry-sig

My Classic Car: Grandmother would like Gary Loar’s ’54 Pontiac

Photos courtesy of Gary Loar
Photos courtesy of Gary Loar

I have owned this car, a 1954 Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe, for 20 years. I got the car to save her from the previous owner, who could not afford to restore the car and it was just sitting and deteriorating more and more.

Why this car? Because my grandmother had a ’54 Star Chief convertible, so I wanted one for many years. This is the only ’54 I could find at the time, but then good luck finding a convertible.

It took about one year to complete the restoration, which was done with the help of friends in the Pontiac Oakland Club International, the Antique Automobile Club of America and other friends who own classic cars.

We took the car down to bare metal, rebuilt the engine and transmission. I don’t think there was a bolt or screw that wasn’t turned.

Now, this car is just wonderful to drive.

The car made its “debut” in June of 1994 at a national car meet in New Hope, Pa.

I drive it to and from local car shows, though lately I’ve been trailering it to long-distant shows, though I have driven the car as far west as Indianapolis and as far east at Cape Cod.

I think my grandmother would be pleased.

 

There aren’t a lot of Silver dollars in Arizona

The sell-through rate at Mitch Silver’s inaugural Arizona in the Fall auction was only 26 percent. Seems consignors valued their vehicles more than the snowbirds looking for something to drive during the winter months.

The sale was scheduled with an eye on offering cars that could serve as classy daily drivers for Arizona’s winter visitors, cars they might turn around and consign themselves next spring when Silver does a similar auction just before the ‘birds fly home for the summer.

But in many cases — too many cases — the bids offered fell just short of the owners’ reserve prices.

The high-dollar sale of the weekend was $55,000 for a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible. A 1968 Camaro RS/SS convertible brought $32,500, a 2008 BMW 550Li went for $29,600, a 1961 Pontiac Catalina convertible $29,000 and a 1957 Pontiac Star Chief hardtop traded ownership for $28,000.

Silver is back in Arizona in January for its big annual sale, and returns for its spring event in March. Silver also is working on a possible sale in the Phoenix area during the summer, though that one would be in an air-conditioned building, not outdoors in a tent.

Vehicle Profile: Pontiac GTO

The First true “Muscle Car”? Many will argue it to be the 1964 Pontiac Tempest LeMans “GTO” (the 2nd generation Tempest, 1964 thru 1967 models)! Even Pontiac itself warned: “To be perfectly honest, the Tempest “GTO” is not everyone’s cup of tea. … It’s suspension is firm, tuned more to the open road than to wafting gently over bumpy city streets. It’s dual exhausts won’t win any prizes for whispering. And, unless you order it with our lazy 3.08 low-ratio rear axle, its gas economy won’t be anything to write home about.” Well, apparently, one man’s warning is another’s ringing endorsement. Pontiac had hoped to sell approximately 5,000 of the 1964 Tempest GTO’s and was overwhelmed when they actually sold 32,450 of them! 18,422 2-Door Hardtops (no pillar), 7,384 Sport Coupes (had a pillar to divide front/rear windows) and 6,644 Convertibles were produced in 1964. The “GOAT”, as it was affectionately referred to, generated a cult following and surprised all of it’s competition!

The design of this second generation Pontiac Tempest LeMans “GTO”, was made possible only by ignoring a General Motors’ mandate that all intermediate-sized cars would not have engines larger than 330 c.i V-8’s. In a grand scheme, which circumvented GM’s “parental approval”, Pontiac’s top-brass made its 389 c.i. V-8, part of a special package only for the new Pontiac Tempest LeMans “GTO”. The name, “GTO” (short for Gran Turismo Omologato) which was begged, borrowed or possibly even stolen from Ferrari, became a special performance model for the new 2nd generation Tempest LeMans line-up.

This new intermediate-sized vehicle from GM was designated the “A” body platform and had a 115″ wheelbase, was 203″ in length, was 73.3″ wide and had a front and rear track of 58″.

To create an engine to power this original “musclecar”, Pontiac built the 389 c.i. V-8 with a special high-lift cam, borrowed the 421 c.i. V-8’s high-output heads and were able to produce 325 hp with the standard Carter four-barrel. The optional “Tri-Power” (three Rochester two-barrel carburetors in a row) with progressive linkage was ordered in 8,250 of the GTO’s (for a small up charge) and were rated at 348 hp. Both versions had 10.75:1 compression ratio and 428 lb-ft of torque. Chrome valve covers, oil filler cap and air cleaners were standard as well as declutching fan, high-capacity radiator and battery. Transmissions offered, were the standard three-speed manual, optional four-speed, both of which used Hurst shift linkages and all came with heavy-duty clutches. A two-speed automatic transmission was also available.

A thicker front sway bar, heavy-duty shocks, stiffer springs all the way around and high-speed 14-inch Red-Line tires were included as standard equipment and 15 body colors were available. An optional “Roadability Group” added sintered-metallic brake linings and a limited-slip differential. All GTO’s came standard with bucket seats and an engine-turned aluminum instrument surround, non-functional hood “scoops” and dual exhaust.

A woodgrain steering wheel, a locking center console and simulated wire wheel covers were among the GTO’s factory options.

Only slight cosmetic changes were made over the next few years (thru 1967), most notably for 1965 and on, the front grille area was changed and “split” to emulate the full-sized Pontiacs and the headlights were changed to an over/under configuration. The rear tail lights also underwent a facelift along with a more slanted rear deck area.

Oh, and the four-barrel GTO’s typically ran from 0-60 mph in about 7.5 seconds and the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds at 92 mph, while the “Tri-Power” GTO’s were consistently quicker and added a ton of mystique to the car’s overall street-cred! What a great time to be alive and grab ahold of that wheel and stuff your foot into that quick lil’ Goat!!! HOOOOOOHAAAAAAA!!!

Vehicle Profile: Pontiac Firebird

1967PontiacFirebird

The first generation Pontiac Firebird (1967 to 1969) offered two different design options to consumers: a 2-door hardtop coupe and a convertible model. This new vehicle made by Pontiac, shared the new General Motors “F-Body” chassis with its also new for 1967 sibling, the Chevrolet Camaro. The debut of the Firebird marked Pontiac’s entry into the popular Pony Car arena.

The new Pontiac Firebird had a 108.1-inch wheelbase, weighed in the area of 3,000 pounds and showed up on the scene some five months after the Camaro made its debut. This short delay helped John DeLorean (who was, at the time, the youngest head of a division in GM’s long history) and his team of Pontiac designers and engineers, put some distinguishing touches on a vehicle who’s design closely mirrored that of the Chevrolet Camaro.

Apparently, John DeLorean was somewhat annoyed that the Camaro was released first, because the new Firebird was one of his pet projects that he hoped would be as popular as the 1964 Pontiac GTO that he also engineered, which is often referred to as the first Muscle Car.

There were five different engines available (engine displacement also identified each model) for 1967 Firebirds, which Pontiac referred to as their “Magnificent 5″.  You could start with the base model which had an innovative “overhead cam” (or “OHC”) 230-cid, in-line 6-cylinder, with a 1-barrel carburetor that produced about 165 hp.  The next step up was the “Sprint” model that offered a 230-cid, in-line 6-cylinder, with a 4-barrel carburetor that produced about 215 hp. Both 6-cylinder models were available with a 3 or 4-speed manual transmission or a 2-speed, automatic transmission.

The 326-cid V8 model with a two-barrel carburetor capable of producing about 250 hp, was also an option. Next in line was the Firebird V8-H.O. (High Output) model which also featured a 326-cid V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor rated at 285 hp.  At the top of the heap was the 400-cid V8 (borrowed from the GTO) with a 4-barrel carburetor that was capable of producing at least 325 hp.  Another option was the 400-cid, “Ram Air” engine which contained a tuned camshaft with heavier valve springs, making the otherwise non-functional hood scoops, functional. This engine design modification was not reflective of any additional horsepower output in any of the marketing brochures for the Firebird at the time. Subsequently, this option was rarely ordered, also making it an ultra rare option to find in today’s classic car buyer’s market. Ultimately, all V8’s came standard with the heavy-duty 3-speed manual transmission, with an optional 4-speed manual transmission and 2 or 3-speed automatic transmission.

The unique and definitive Pontiac styling on the Pontiac Firebird included a split chrome grille with embedded quad-headlamps, “beaked” hood, rear quarter panel “split-gills” and slotted , “slit-style” tail lights (also borrowed from the GTO). All of these details made the Firebird stand-out in a crowd of new Pony Cars. Many performance options and creature comforts were also available including several different rear axle ratios, front disc brakes, power steering, full gages, floor consoles and the first-ever, hood-mounted tachometer.

The 1968 Pontiac Firebirds saw little change from the 1967 models. Some noticeable differences were the loss of door vent-windows and some minor interior revisions that were made. Pontiac “Arrowhead” side-marker lights were added to the rear 1/4 panels and the front turn signal/parking lamps were revised to curve around to the sides of the vehicle for the 1968 Pontiac Firebird, new federal vehicle laws that were implemented in 1968.  The rear shocks were also staggered  on the 1968 Pontiac Firebird, with one mounted to the front side of the axle and the other to the rear side of the axle, in an effort to increase ride quality.  The rear leaf-springs were also changed to the “multi-leaf” design, in order to reduce annoying “wheel-hop” upon quick acceleration. Most of the other changes, were in the available drivetrains, such as the “OHC” 6-cylinder, that grew from 230 to 250-cid and the 326-cid V8 that grew to 350-cid, both producing increases in horsepower production.

The Pontiac Firebird had a major facelift in 1969 (similar to the new GTO), with a new front end design. The rear-end area was changed slightly, while the interior was again revised and an exciting new Trans Am performance and appearance package was introduced in March of 1969. The Trans Am name, which was borrowed from the SCCA racing series, also meant that Pontiac had to pay the SCCA a license fee of $5.00 for every car sold, in order to use the Trans Am name. All the Trans Am optioned vehicles produced in 1969 (only some 689 coupes and only 8 convertibles, again super rare) were polar white with blue racing stripes. A 5 foot long trunk-lid mounted low-profile spoiler, special decals and the exclusive hood with driver operated, functional intake scoops, were included in the package. Also exclusive to the Trans Am, were the front fender scoops or vents, which were intended to help evacuate captured, engine-bay air.

Vehicle Profile: 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix

1969 Pontiac Grand Prix

The 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix was a totally re-designed version based on the new mid-sized 118-inch wheelbase (some 3 inches shorter than the 1968 model and exclusive only to the Grand Prix for 1969) “G” body platform from General Motors. John DeLorean, then general manager for GM’s Pontiac Division (who would later become infamous for other reasons), instructed his designers and engineers to build a fresh new vehicle for the 1969 model year release. They started development in April of 1967 and ended up with what many believe to be a perfect combination of great looks, high-performance and good handling (for a car of its size), all wrapped up in a luxurious package.

The new Grand Prix would only be offered in a 2-door, semi-fastback, hardtop coupe (no convertible) and would have the longest hood (approximately 6 feet long) to appear on a Pontiac to date. The hood had a large, pointed “beak” at the front and finished off the protruding, “V” shaped grille which split the dual, same-sized, side-by-side, square trimmed, round headlamps. In fact, Pontiac claimed, in its sales brochures, its new Grand Prix had the “longest hood in the industry”. The taillights were two long, horizontal, rectangular units, set into the chrome rear bumper.

By massaging the current “A” body platform to create the new “G” body, they shaved off critical development time and major costs for most of the expense on the chassis, but the body and interior was entirely brand new. New and stylish, exterior “lift-to-open” door handles replaced the old, standard grab handle with push-button door handles. The base price for a new 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix started out at around $3,866 and went to over $6,000 fully optioned.

Of the nearly 112,500 Pontiac Grand Prixs built for 1969, the bulk of them, almost 99 percent, were ordered with the 3-speed, Turbo-Hydramatic, automatic transmission (a $227 option). The heavy-duty 3-speed manual transmission came standard (only approximately 338 were produced) and the optional 4-speed, wide or close ratio, manual transmission was only a $185 option (approximately 676 were produced), after all, this was mostly a luxury/performance vehicle, so why would you want to waste effort on all that shifting of gears?

Only two engine sizes and four powertrain choices were available for the 1969 Grand Prix. The base 400-cid V8 with 2-barrel carburetor, producing approx. 265 hp, the optional 400-cid V8 with 4-barrel carburetor, producing approximately 350 hp, the optional 428-cid V8 with 4-barrel carburetor, producing approx. 370 hp and the optional big, bad, “high-output” 428-cid V8 with 4-barrel carburetor, producing approximately 390 hp.

The Grand Prix “J” models were considered the base models and the “SJ” models were the top-of-the-line only using the 428-cid power plants. The “J” and “SJ” model designations were rumored to have been borrowed, by DeLorean, from Duesenbergs of the past, as well as, the long hood and short rear deck areas. However, the “S” did not stand for Supercharger as it had with Duesenberg.  The “SJ” (identified by the special badging located on each front fender) also came standard with high-performance suspension components and rear axle, 8.25×14 inch wide-oval, low-profile tires on “Rallye II” styled rims, dual-exhaust, automatic leveling-control with dual-stage, vacuum activated compressor, power-brakes with front disc/rear drum, chromed valve covers, air cleaner and oil filler cap. Other options were air-conditioning and power steering of course.

On the interior of the, new for ’69 Pontiac Grand Prix, you were surrounded by an aircraft, cockpit-style cluster of “Rallye” style gauges. Once in the drivers or “Command” seat, you were enveloped with all sorts of switches and controls, conveniently located within easy reach. The “Strato-Style” bucket seats were comfortably wrapped in fully expanded “Morrokide” vinyl, fine leather upholstery or vinyl/fabric combinations with “Morrokide” were options. Also an option, at no extra charge, was a split-bench seat with center armrest. A vinyl “Carpathian Elm” burlwood appliqué was used on the dashboard keeping with the luxury “look and feel.”  All cars had a floor console, slanted towards the driver, which also contained the shifter, ashtray and a storage compartment. An integral “anti-theft” steering/ignition lock was now used on the tilt-wheel column and “pulse-action” intermittent dual-speed windshield wipers with the arms/blades “hidden” from sight (which they promoted as an industry first, which is arguable) by the back edge of that extra-long hood. Another “first” was the nearly-invisible, “hidden” antenna, which was embedded in the center of the front windshield (which frustrated owners due to poor radio reception), power windows were optional, as was a sporty, hood-mounted tachometer. A vinyl “Cordova” style roof was an available option as well as an embedded wire, electrical rear window defroster.

This Poncho “gunboat” of a luxury/performance car was no slouch, just because it weighed in at about 3,900 pounds, it handled well even in corners and best of all . . . it would still go from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds or run the 1/4 mile in about 14.1 seconds at around 97 mph. (Estimated with the 390 hp, 428-cid V8). “Car Life Magazine” actually awarded the new for 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix the prestigious “Engineering Excellence Award”.  The new Grand Prix also helped Pontiac hold onto third place in the industry for model-year production, which it had held since 1962.

Find a classic Pontiac Grand Prix that you love!

Vehicle Profile: 1964-1967 Pontiac Catalina 2+2

1964 Pontiac Catalina 2+2

For 1964, in keeping with their quest to remain a major force in the performance genre, Pontiac introduced a Catalina based, 2+2 (taken from the European style, sport touring models with seating for 4, even though you could easily seat 5 or more in the Pontiac 2+2 version) optioned, full-sized, performance, driving machine for the family. While Pontiac held onto the number 3 position in the USA for vehicle sales from 1962 through 1969, nobody could dispute the dominance of the Pontiac brand for performance.

It was an impressive run for Pontiac, a company that helped launch the Musclecar Era. The Pontiac 2+2 model was a performance upgrade option to the full-size Catalina for 1964 and 1965, a stand-alone model for 1966 and again, an option to the 1967 Catalina. Unfortunately, due to lackluster sales, 1967 was the last year it would be available. Production numbers for the 2+2 were small (less than 3 percent of total production for 1964) in comparison to Pontiac’s total unit production . . . 1964 = 7,998, 1965 = 11,519, 1966 = 6,383, 1967 = 1,768.

The 1964 Pontiac Catalina 2+2 was only available in a 2-door hardtop-coupe or convertible configuration and had a 119-inch wheelbase. They were all front engine and rear wheel drive vehicles. The standard engine was the 389-cid V8, with 2-barrel carburetor producing some 283 hp and a manual 3-speed transmission with a floor shifter mounted in the center console. The optional engines were the 389-cid V8 with 3-2barrel carburetors (Pontiac’s infamous Tri-Power setup) producing some 330 hp and the 421-cid V8 with 4-barrel carburetor producing some 320 hp (plus a few specially tuned 421’s with up to 370 hp were rumored to be produced as well) and an optional Hydramatic, automatic transmission or 4-speed manual transmission were available. Since 1964 was the first year, the 2+2 was basically a trim option with special badging including “2+2″ on the front fenders, hood and interior. Also some interior upgrades like special door panels, Morrokide bucket seats up front and center floor console with vacuum gauge were standard or available options.

For 1965, the Pontiac Catalina 2+2 had a facelift and its wheelbase increased to 121 inches, which improved handling characteristics. It would also become the most popular and sought after version of all the 2+2’s made. The front fenders capped and were cut-back just below the upper headlamp and now contained vertical louvers or “gills” situated behind the front wheel openings. The interior upgrades for the 2+2 again included the bucket seats, full carpeting, floor console and special badging.  Outside had custom pinstriping and special hood and rear deck “2+2″ badging and under the hood they had chromed valve covers and air-filter housing.

The chassis still came standard with the heavy-duty suspension components like shocks, springs, performance geared rear axle, anti-sway bars and dual-exhaust. To put all that power, from the now standard 421-cid V8 with 4-barrel carburetor (producing some 338 hp), to the ground, a new 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmission was optional. Still standard was the heavy-duty, full synchro-mesh; 3-speed manual transmission with Hurst shifter and the option of a 4-speed manual transmission with Hurst shifter was also available. A Safe-T-Track limited-slip differential was an option, as well as two other versions of yet, even more powerful 421-cid V8’s, with 356 hp or 376 hp depending on your desire. The latter was stated to achieve 0-60 mph in just 3.9 seconds (however, rumor has it that, this Poncho was specially tuned when tested).

For 1966 the Pontiac 2+2 (which was its own model for this year only and dropped the Catalina badging altogether) was not much different than the 1965 . The easily identified, 2+2 only, louvers or “gills” were now located in the rear quarter panels near the door’s trailing edge, the “2+2″ badging on the rear decklid and quarter panels, “421” badging on the front fenders and the dual-lens rear taillights were also an easy way to identify the 2+2. Still standard were chrome valve covers and air-filter housing, heavy-duty suspension components and a new bucket seat design. Engine and transmission choices remained the same as 1965 models, but a new-fangled, two-stage, low restriction exhaust system was standard, which used dual mufflers with dual resonators (which were located at the rear of the vehicle). Some of the other available options were front seat headrests, tachometer, Superlift air shocks and transistorized electronic ignition.

For 1967, the last year of the Pontiac Catalina 2+2, the vehicle received yet another, more significant facelift and body enhancements and was now only available with the 428-cid V8, with 4-barrel carburetor, producing some 360 hp as standard or a factory tuned 428-cid, Hi-Output V8 with Quadra-Power 4-barrel carburetor and tuned to produce about 376 hp. Some of the new body features were outboard; wedge shaped front fender tips and integral bumper and grille area, hidden wiper blades, a protruding beltline or mid-body crease running the length of the vehicle and dual lens, rear tail lights that curved downwards at each outer corner to meet the bumper. Unfortunately, due to lackluster sales, the 2+2 would become a dinosaur and not return after 1967, but would be a fabulous memory of the days when the largest, most behemoth Musclecars, roamed freely about and tore-up the pavements of the world.

Find a classic Pontiac Catalina that you love!