The Canadian Connection

Old Cars Weekly archive – January 10, 2008 issue

old-cars-weekly-flashback

Story and photos by Geoff Stunkard

GM of Canada’s hottest muscle car was the Beaumont SD-396

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Bill Wertheim, son of owner Henry Wertheim, takes the rare 1968 SD-396 Beaumont convertible out for a Sunday stroll; it is one of two known to exist in the United States.

General Motors has had a presence in Canada since its earliest days. Because Chevrolet was, by far, the largest vehicle line the corporation offered, those models became the cars assembled in Canada; other GM models were built across the river (the Detroit River, of course) and were subject to tariffs that the Canadian government imposed to keep workers north of the border working. GM has also built trucks and railroad locomotives in Canada during the last 75 years.

Tail lamp design is unique to the Beaumont.

Tail lamp design is unique to the Beaumont.

In the 1930s, with the Depression affecting the world’s economy, the powers that be at General Motors of Canada decided that one way they could increase their market share would be to create a Pontiac of Canada line using the existing GM (read Chevrolet) assembly lines in Oshawa, Ontario, and St. Terese, Quebec. These cars would use Chevrolet chassis and engines, but make use of Pontiac’s styling and detailing for a more upscale car without the tariff. Through the middle of the 1950s, these cars were nearly identical to Chevrolets, except for the grilles and trim. Starting in 1955, Pontiac of Canada made greater use of the American Pontiac sheetmetal clues; these cars were called “Acadians.”

The interior on this Sport Deluxe includes carpeting and a Tempest/Lemans dash layout. The steering wheel is similar to those found in Chevelles.

The interior on this Sport Deluxe includes carpeting and a Tempest/Lemans dash layout. The steering wheel is similar to those found in Chevelles.

The Beaumont started out as the top-of-the-line Acadian; it was spun-off from that brand and came to designate its own special marque in 1966, based on the mid-size A-body (which was the Chevelle/LeMans/Tempest platform) introduced in 1964. Many parts on Beaumont models, especially the performance SD examples, are unique to the Canadian breed. The car here has been correctly termed as a combination of 1968 Chevelle and 1967 Tempest/LeMans styling cues. In 1969, the laws on automobile importation were relaxed by the Canadian government, so the purpose of the special Canada-only build-ups ended; the Beaumont nameplate disappeared at the end of the 1969 model year.

Styling-wise, the Beaumont shares many characteristics with the Chevelle, but is actually quite different when side-by-side comparisons are made. It took several years for the Wertheims to gather the parts needed for the restoration.

Styling-wise, the Beaumont shares many characteristics with the Chevelle, but is actually quite different when side-by-side comparisons are made. It took several years for the Wertheims to gather the parts needed for the restoration.

Styling-wise, Beaumonts made use of a combination of off-the-shelf GM parts and unique equipment. While the front fenders may look identical to those off a Chevelle, they have their own design lines and different side-marker lens mounts. The split grille is certainly different when compared to its all-American kin, as are the trim pieces (including the Pontiac emblem with the maple leaf motif in the grille center panel) and tail lamps. Interior features include the Tempest dash layout with a Chevrolet-type steering wheel. The 396-cid engine is the corporate Chevrolet version, but with a unique air cleaner and decal. For the street savvy, SD-396 models in 1968 were optioned with side stripes that announced engine call-out numbers.

Beaumont performance models used special call-outs on the side stripes to denote the SD-396 package. The 325-horse 396-cid V-8 was the largest engine available. “SD” stood for Sport Deluxe, as opposed to Super Duty.

Beaumont performance models used special call-outs on the side stripes to denote the SD-396 package. The 325-horse 396-cid V-8 was the largest engine available. “SD” stood for Sport Deluxe, as opposed to Super Duty.

This Beaumont is a 1968 SD-396 convertible, one of seven in existence and one of only two in the United States. Owned and restored by Henry Werthiem of Clarence Center, N.Y., it is also one of the top awards winners of any GM muscle car on the concours show circuit: 399.5 out of 400 points from the Pontiac Owners Club International for Platinum Award status, Best of Show by the American Chevelle Enthusiasts Society, AACA Grand National Winner, the Meadowbrook Concours DeElegance Blue Ribbon and more.

The inscription on the air cleaner states the Econo-Jet 325-hp 396-cid V-8 displacement information; the chrome pieces were standard equipment. The unique chrome air cleaner and special non-Chevrolet decals were part of the Beaumont engine package. The 325-horse 396, built in Tonowanda, was the largest mill available in the line; this one is backed by a TH400 transmission and highway 3.08 gearing.

The inscription on the air cleaner states the Econo-Jet 325-hp 396-cid V-8 displacement information; the chrome pieces were standard equipment. The unique chrome air cleaner and special non-Chevrolet decals were part of the Beaumont engine package. The 325-horse 396, built in Tonowanda, was the largest mill available in the line; this one is backed by a TH400 transmission and highway 3.08 gearing.

Ordered through the Calgary Region office, this convertible was powered by the 325-hp 396-cid engine; this was the highest horsepower mill available in the Beaumont line. Created on the Oshawa, Ontario, assembly line, only 66 SD-396 drop-tops were built during 1968, making it a very scarce car today. It was built for the company’s Calgary Region GM representative and never formally went through the sales pool of a dealership. For the next two decades, it never left the Calgary/Edmonton region of Alberta.

A single Rochester carburetor was atop the engine.

A single Rochester carburetor was atop the engine.

Up on the market in 1986, Henry Wertheim enters the picture. Henry is a long-time car collector whose other classics include early 1950s-era Kaisers, a Studebaker, an Australian-built Holden and a ’57 Chevy convertible. The Beaumont was a car that Henry’s son Bill, whose background was in the muscle field, thought would be a great project. At the time, Bill had thought it would be a fairly easy machine to restore: after all, it’s just like a Chevelle, right?

“I really wanted to make this car right for my dad,” he recalls now. “I mean, we knew how unique it was when we bought it, but I had really underestimated how difficult it would be to complete it. We began hunting for the parts to restore it; we scoured Canada and bought whatever NOS stuff that we could find; what was no longer available we either restored or built from scratch.”

The grille is separated by a center divider with a Pontiac of Canada crest mounted to it. The trim was also unique to the brand, featuring maple leafs in the Pontiac-like emblem, special lettering, mild hood blisters and tail lamps that were special to the brand. These parts are extremely hard to come by today.

The grille is separated by a center divider with a Pontiac of Canada crest mounted to it. The trim was also unique to the brand, featuring maple leafs in the Pontiac-like emblem, special lettering, mild hood blisters and tail lamps that were special to the brand. These parts are extremely hard to come by today.

The car went to Camaro Specialties for a concours makeover. Everything on the driveline is original to the car, with all replacement parts used being properly date-coded. The result has been a string of high-point wins, blue ribbons and first-place honors. We had a chance to shoot it at the Forge Invitational Musclecar Show, where other enthusiasts were amazed at this great piece of muscle car era history.

The question “what is that?” has been one that the Werthiems have enjoyed as the car has been shown. Bill has actually pursued other SD Beaumonts to add to this one, including a red ’67 convertible that he debuted in 2006. While other American muscle cars were imported into Canada during this time period, the SD-396 remains a special package that came from the era, and was built north of the border.   

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