Old Cars Weekly archive - January 10, 2008 issue
Story and photos by Geoff Stunkard
GM of Canada’s hottest muscle car was the Beaumont SD-396
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.
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 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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.