Story and photos by John Gunnell
Activity in the Pontiac Oakland Club International (www.poci.org) has been up and down over the past 40 years, but the end of the club’s fourth decade brought back a pattern of growth following the demise of the Pontiac brand. The latest POCI Convention— held July 17-23 in St. Charles, Ill. — attracted 1,100 enthusiasts and 901 Pontiacs. Compare that to 20 cars and maybe 50 people at the first convention at Don Barlup’s pizza restaurant in 1972.
Alan Mayes, the new POCI president, has set the organization on a path of positive change, giving the club founders “director emeritus” status and working with the board of directors to set up a lottery system for indoor parking at future shows.
“The idea is to eliminate some roadblocks to growth,” he said, and the 2012 convention was a sign that the club is working to grow and unite Pontiac fans. The Road Warriors, a group that believes in driving collector cars, had a separate car display, and owners of Oaklands — Pontiac’s parent make in the brand’s early years — took their cars on a breakfast tour on Friday morning. The convention included a judged car show and a people’s choice car show. There was also a big, all-Pontiac swap meet.
Oaklands at the meet included a car that curator Tim Dye brought from the Pontiac-Oakland Museum in Pontiac, Ill. For fans of later-model Pontiac performance, personalities such as Jim Wangers of early GTO fame and drag racer Arnie “Farmer” Beswick were on hand to sell merchandise and sign autographs. Dream car collector Joe Bortz presented a round table-style seminar with guests including former Pontiac engineer Bill Collins and Virgil Exner, Jr., the son of the famous car designer.
A full schedule of other seminars covered topics from early Pontiac history to restoration advice. Regarding early Pontiac history, the club’s Early Times Chapter (www.earlytimeschapter.org), which covers 1926-1954 models, was busy promoting its own Flathead Reunion show in Dayton, Ohio, in September.
In the Pontiac car shows, the number of pre-1955 cars on display was notably small, but there were a number of impressive restorations plus an attention-grabbing, unrestored 1931 Pontiac convertible cabriolet that arrived under its own power. There were strong turnouts of 1957-1958 Bonnevilles, 1959 and 1960 Wide-Track Pontiacs and mid-1960s Catalina 2+2 models. Jack Anderson of the 2+2 Registry (www.Pontiac2plustwoRegistry.com) brought his Fontaine Blue ’65 edition and displayed it across from Gary Kittle’s red ’66 hardtop.
GTOs and Firebirds dominated the ranks of the Pontiac show cars, and there were special turnouts of 75-year-old 1938 models and 50-year-old 1962 Pontiacs to mark the two milestone anniversaries. Club President Mayes said that the club plans to continue this 50- and 75-year-old model theme at future national conventions.
Daily tours took POCI members to car attractions and other sites in the Chicagoland area, such as the Volo Auto Museum, and there was a longer trip to the Pontiac Oakland Museum south of the Windy City. Social events included the POCI Chapter Dinner and the Saturday evening awards banquet. Don Anderson, a 78-year-old Chicagoan who recently purchased a ’66 Catalina 2+2 as his first vintage American car, was on his way out the door when he stopped to talk to someone and noticed his name for a Silver Award projected on a screen.
“This is just a great club with down-to-earth members and I’m so glad I bought the Pontiac and came to the show,” he said. “These are my kind of people.”
Not all attendees were from the Chicago area. Lou Calasibetta of the Old Stillwater Garage (www.oldstillwatergarage.com) drove from New Jersey with his unique “Golden Indian,” a 1960 Ventura custom that was built in the “lead sled” era by Detroit’s Alexander Brothers. Jack Buck of Greenville, Pa., brought his custom-built “El Poncho,” a 1960 Pontiac converted into an El Camino-style pickup. It was reminiscent of a similar car, also from Pennsylvania, seen at early POCI conventions. Awards announcer Rick Gonzer was one of a number of people attending from California.
Marge Sawruk of Michigan was selling toys from the collection of her late husband John, who had served as Pontiac Motor Division’s official historian.
“I know it looks like we’re big time toy dealers,” she said. “But this is just the first batch of his toys that we took out of the attic, and it’s only a small part of what he had.” Another attendee involved with Pontiac history was Jim Mattison of Pontiac Historic Services (www.phs-online.com), which documents cars for collectors.
Alan Mayes announced that the next POCI gathering will be a “co-vention” in Dayton, Ohio, where POCI will join forces with the GTO Association of America on July 9-13, 2013. A printable registration form will be available on the www.poci.org website in early August 2012.
Check out Standard Catalog of Pontiac 1926-2002, a great reference on Pontiacs of all vintages.