Over the past 30 years or so, Chuck Cochran has created a shrine to his favorite car — the sporty Pontiac Grand Prix. It was in the mid-‘70s that we first met Chuck at a Pontiac Oakland Club International convention in Ohio. At that time he was driving an almost-new, dressed-up Grand Prix and lived in Portland, Oregon. Today, Chuck still drives a dressed-up ’77 Grand Prix and calls his three-decades-plus collection of automobilia the Grand Prix Museum. The museum is located in his garage in Henderson, Nev., and Chuck is its curator.
Virtually every square inch of wall space and ceiling space in Cochran’s two-car garage is covered with automobilia. The majority of the items are Grand Prixe related, but he sometimes gets side-tracked and also has other Pontiac goodies, some Tucker items and even an M & Ms toy collection. His Tucker interest evolved from the “Tucker” movie and grew after the marque club had a very successful convention at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas. As for the M & M toys, there’s an auto-racing link.
Since his garage is so heavily loaded with collectibles, Chuck’s Grand Prix — as well as his ’72 LeMans — are sometimes forced to sit outside. Luckily, this is not a big problem in Nevada. On the other side of the garage door is a space containing thousands — if not tens of thousands — of all sorts of interesting items that Chuck enjoys showing to visitors.
Cochran’s passion for Grand Prixs is amazing. After visting the Grand prix Museum, it is a good bet that no one else in the world has as many Grand Prix collectibles as Chuck. His collection includes almost every piece of sales literature and technical literature ever issued. It includes many dealer-only items like Merchandising Books and Showroom Albums. He has factory-issued Grand Prix postcards, matchbooks, key chains and pins. Check even produces his own customized Grand Prix Christmas card each year.
No item seems to small or too big for Cochran’s collection. It includes old hood mascots and pieces of trim. On the rarer side, he has the General Manager Awards that John Delorean and “Pete” Estes gave out in the ‘70s. He even has a giant showroom banner that states “The Legend Lives On: 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix.” And then there’s the even more gigantic billboard art for the ’77 Grand Prixe “Excitement” machine. It takes up almost one entire wall.
Chuck wrote letters to each state to try to get license plates that say “77 GP.” Several sent him the plates. Also in the collection are dealer promotional models and models of Richard “The King” Petty’s No. 43 Grand Prix stock car.
Several of Chuck’s most interesting items play off the Grand Prix name or racing terminology, rather than anything Pontiac related. On one wall he has a plastic sign that came from the Grand Prix Diner. Chuck happened to be passing the eatery one day when the owner was throwing the sign away. He asked permission to take it home and then cut off the word “Diner.”
Chuck buys some Grand Prix items. Others are simply cast offs anhd still others are donated by friends all over the country. He finds some items on eBay, but often the bidding gets out of hand. He avoided paying big bucks for a Grand Prix juke box in one online auction. Later, he found a non-working example for a lot less. Though it doesn’t play music, it serves as an interesting place to store other collectibles.
Chuck has been an active member of the Pontiac Oakland Club International (POCI) for over 30 years and the club’s Smoke Signals magazine probably helped him find more Grand Prix items than any other source. “Whether you collect real Pontiacs or Pontiac memorabilia, you need to read Smoke Signals,” he says. (For the address of the POCI, please visit Old Cars Weekly’s Website. www.oldcarsweekly.com).
Gunner’s Garage with John Gunnell
"Gunner" is one of of the most prolific authors and most visible characters in the old car hobby. He has written dozens of books about old cars for Krause Publications and is the former editor and publisher of Old Cars Weekly. His collecting pursuits range from old Pontiacs, to MGs, to retired police cruisers, to Indian motorcycles. He remains a frequent contributor to Old Cars Weekly and owns and operates Gunner’s Great Garage, a classic car restoration and gift shop in Manawa, Wis.
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