I was in the market for a classic car to restore in 2011. I am handy with tools but had never done much in the way of restoring a car. I just figured I can learn whatever I put my mind to. Since my early 20's I pictured myself in a classic car like a '68 Camaro at some point in my life. My old car interest was reignited when my future wife and I were traveling out West on a 10 week road trip going from Atlanta to Southern California, up through the Rockies, farther north and so on. We were both rock climbers so our focus was on National Parks so we could combine hiking and rock climbing in some really beautiful settings. I might mention we traveled in my 1975 Dodge Xplorer camper van that I thought was the coolest thing at the time with the sink, bench seat table that dropped in to the bed and 3 burner stove. It just had a tough look to it with the fat wrap around mustard yellow and brown stripes. Anyway, during a stop in a small community in Colorado, we drove by a classic car event and stopped. Now this was back in 1994 but I recall a mid '50's Olds Holiday- white on white that just struck me as such a beautiful car. After our trip was completed life took over with getting married and having 3 wonderful children and later a small business to manage. I was nowhere in a position to even think about buying a classic car for years to come.
So now in 2011, I had been saving up money for a while and starting checking Craigslist ads for something not too far away. I came across a 'barn find' '48 Chevy Aerosedan (I love the restored look of these). It needed work, didn't run, had a wheel seized up and some rust. Oh, and the interior was shot. The asking price seemed reasonable to me so I put down a small deposit after looking at it. After taking advice from the seller on expected costs for restoration, I decided it would be in my interest to do further research on what the 'real costs' would be. After doing further research and totaling costs, I decided to up my looking price and expand my search area before settling on the Chevy. I might love old cars but I am pretty practical and knew my wife would not let me live it down if I dumped way more money into a car than it would end up being worth. Am I ever glad that side of me won out. I backed out of the deal on the Chevy.
We were living just north of Atlanta, GA. I came across an ad in the Asheville, NC area for a 1956 Pontiac Fire Chief (the ad did say Fire Chief...) The only good picture showed the front end only because the rest of the car was in a garage and shaded. I requested more pictures from the seller and what he send were beautifully clear pictures of a largely pristine car that he thought had original 32k miles. Of couse, when I googled a Pontiac Fire Chief it came back with the Star Chief. I could see it was the same car. I had never heard of a Fire Chief or Star Chief but I thought it was gorgeous. TI later found out that the car had belonged to his father-in-law who had recently passed away. I was thrilled at the condition and the look of the car. Now picture that I had not been going to car shows or had opportunities to look at classics first hand in a long time, only the pictures in ads. I showed my wife the pictures and I she said I should go get the car. She was almost as excited as me and her not being a car buff. I had enough money for the asking price in case he didn't budge on it so I emailed him back that evening and said I would like to come see it the next day. I didn't hear back but didn't want to lose the opportunity. For the price this was the nicest classic I had seen in the 6 months of casual shopping around. And the timing was perfect. I work in the field of construction on communication towers and the beginning of this particular week was a little slow. So I had the money and the opportunity to get the car if I could get there before anyone else. I left early the next morning with my work trailer and still had not heard back. I figured it was worth the risk. I didn't even know where the car was exactly so I just headed towards Asheville. Shortly before getting there I got an email back from the owner. I found out that the seller lived about 20 minutes from MY Home. Luckily, it turned out that there was a neighbor friend was nearby who could let me see the car. He was about my age but would help out the elderly owners on occasion.
Being the classic car amateur that I was, a lot of questions were going through my head as I looked at the car. This was potentially a really big moment for me. The car had sat covered in a garage for a long time. It barely ran and the driveway was up a mountainside so I could not test drive it. Could it really have such low miles? Did the transmission even shift? There could potentially be huge repair costs to get it back on the road.
And now I couldn't buy it on the spot because the seller was not there. I drove back towards Atlanta with a lot on my mind. I was up half the night worried that someone else would buy it out from under me. I wanted that car. After a sleepless night, I met with the owner and did the deal. The next morning I drove back up to NC and picked up the car. I was barely able to drive it up on the trailer but managed with the help of the neighbor friend.
After I acquired the car, I learned more about it. And the more I learned about it, the more I liked it. Before the demise of Pontiac, my personal impression of their last 20 years of models was not very good (with the exception of the Solstice which I always liked). I am not a Pontiac guy or Chevy guy or Ford guy. I just like old cars. My appreciation for Pontiac grew exponentially as I learned that in the 1950's, Pontiac was GM's performance division. And that the Star Chief was their top of the line for 1956. A few months later, after new brake lines, fuel lines, wheel cylinders, a rebuilt carb and a lot of elbow grease - I was rewarded with a nice running beautiful classic car. I believe the miles are really that low. This car is a time capsule with 34k miles now. The car has the original upholstery cloth and leather with no tears, original headliner, radio, clock, original carpet and even trunk mat. It's not perfect but it shows very well, especially with the original stainless steel wire rims and S/S fender skirts that shine like a mirror. Even the horn button with the gold Pontiac chief and stars is clean and clear with no crazing or fade. Though the paint looks pretty fresh, it is said to have had a repaint about 30 years ago. The interior shows that the only sun this car saw was when it was being driven. The previous owner had the car for 28 years and took special care of it. For whatever reason, he didn't drive it much. The whitewalls on the car were 28 year old bias ply tires with no cracking and 90% tread left. I ended up replacing them with original spec whitewall radials because the old ones rode pretty stiff. As the expression goes, "It's only 'Original" once". It even comes with that 'old car smell'.
The longer I have the car, the more I enjoy taking it out. I will mention it is a 4 door hardtop sedan but that's perfect for our family. I have a wife and 3 young children who love riding in the car. It has the factory 317 V8 with the 4 barrel carb and dual exhaust with those gorgeous exhaust tips on the rear bumper. The Hydra-matic trannie shifts as smooth as can be. We love that there is no post between the doors so when you roll the windows down nothing blocks your view out. Our favorite events have been father / daughter dances and my son's Pinewood Derby. Or just running up to the grocery or home fixit store. My kids love that there are no seat belts (it was the 2nd year that GM offered seatbelts). They love the lighted jet hood ornament and the Silver Streaks on the hood (the last year for those). My 2 youngest almost always fall asleep on the back seat on a trip of any distance.(it's like a sofa back there). After growing up on shows like Leave it to Beaver and Father knows best, I find it hard to picture a family cruiser like this rolling down the street with it's big V8 4 barrel and dual exhaust. It sounds like a hot rod when you give it the gas. I don't recall any cars like this on Andy Griffith or any of the black and white sitcoms we watched. It looks like a big creampuff but runs and sounds great on the side streets or highways. I can't say enough about it. We always get thumbs up and waves and hoots from passersby when we go out. You just don't see these models out there anymore in our area. I don't see them on Mecum's or Barret Jackson or in the classic car mags. My greatest enjoyment is seeing my kids enjoyment when riding in it. They just don't make them like this anymore.