Pontiac-Oakland Museum opens in Pontiac, Ill.

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An Oakland and Pontiac car show was held in front of the museum.

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By John Gunnell

“I guess it’s up to us,” Pontiac memorabilia collector Tim Dye told his wife, Penny, when the couple first heard that General Motors was dropping his favorite brand. Dye had long wanted to see a museum for Pontiac and Oakland automobiles established. He could envision such a place in his mind. But he really had no idea that it would happen and that he would be the director of it. And he had no inkling it would be in Pontiac, Ill., instead of Pontiac, Mich.

Last August, Dye traveled from his former home in Broken Arrow, Okla., to attend the GTO Association convention in Chicago. Driving towards home on Interstate 55, he noticed signs for the city of Pontiac and decided to stop. He marveled at a statue of Pontiac – the great Indian chief – in the town square and he stopped in at the International Walldog Mural and Sign Art Museum.

While he was there, he showed museum director Kristen Arbogast the book that he had written about his large collection of Pontiac-Oakland memorabilia. His collection had been exhibited at many Pontiac club conventions and at Greenfield Village’s Old Car Festival in 2008. But the idea of having a facility large enough to hold the entire collection was a dream. And the idea of a Pontiac Oakland museum seemed like pure fantasy.

Tim Dye is the curator of the new Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum.

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"If you ever think about a Pontiac car museum here in Pontiac, Ill., contact me,” Dye told Arbogast, who immediately talked to Pontiac’s Mayor Bob Russell. Before Dye left town, Russell called him to say he was interested in the idea of a Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum. By January 2011, the Pontiac City Council approved the concept and hired Dye to be the curator. A two-story downtown building was made available and it received a six-figure renovation to turn it into the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum, which held its grand opening on July 23.

“The City Council approved this because they wanted to increase tourism,” Dye said. “I pursued this because I wanted a nice home for my collection, but at the same time we are providing a resource for Pontiac hobbyists and historians. There are people following this and it’s becoming a huge event.”

This “True Blue” Oakland 6 is presented as a barn find car.

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Russell described Dye as a genius who knows a great amount about the Pontiac brand. The mayor noted that Dye gets treated as a celebrity at collector car events. “We have walked into rooms and people have given him a standing ovation or asked for autographs,” he said.

“He puts everything into everything he does,” added the city’s tourism director, Ellie Alexander.

An advance look at the museum was offered on July 22 and those who came included Marge Sawruk, the widow of John Sawruk, who was the company’s official historian. Pontiac collector Frank Kemp came from Pennsylvania and GTO creator Jim Wangers came from California. Denise Clumpner – known as “The High Priestess of Pontiac” – was on hand with her husband, Jesse. Pontiac drag racing legend Arnie Beswick posed next to a Pontiac buggy. Chuck Cochran, of Henderson, Nev., donated many items from his Grand Prix Museum and helped set up exhibits. Former Pontiac-Oakland Club International editor Ron Panzer played an old-time mechanic fixing a ’50 Pontiac.

Ron Panzer works below the hood of this ’50 Chieftain Deluxe sedan.

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The museum features 15 Oakland and Pontiac cars, the Pontiac buggy (one of two known to exist), more than 300 linear feet of literature and printed promotional items, thousands of “factory” publicity photos, a historical library, dealer sales training films, pamphlets and guides, 2,000-plus gas station road maps from the 1930s-1960s, Pontiac models and toys and more than 2,000 oil cans. Pontiac enthusists visiting the gift shop can purchase T-shirts and collectibles.

Collectors loaned five cars to the museum and 10 will be displayed permanently. Many in the latter group are set in historical dioramas. A 1924 Oakland Touring car – the first to use “True Blue” nitro-cellulose lacquer paint – is presented as a barn find car. Another features a 1964 Parisienne Safari station wagon in a camping scene. The ’50 Pontiac sedan that Panzer pretended to work on was displayed in a garage setting, complete with old oil cans.

A year after this ’31 Oakland Sport Coupe sold, Oakland became Pontiac.

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Other cars currently on exhibit include a 1934 Pontiac coupe, 1963 “Swiss-Cheese” Catalina, 1910 Oakland, 1968 Firebird, 1977 Can Am, 1968 GTO, 1931 Oakland Sport Coupe and the 1966 Pontiac GTO “Indian Tin” – a famous Bill Knafel Pontiac drag racing car. A Pontiac chassis with drive train also was included to show the general public what goes into a restoration.

Many community events were planned in conjunction with the museum’s opening and a car show featuring Oaklands and Pontiac was staged directly in front of the new museum. According to Dye, another large Pontiac event is scheduled for September, when Pontiac clubs will visit the museum.

Both the ’34 Coupe and the ’68 Firebird Ram Air II are Pontiac rarities.

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A massive collection of Pontiac memorabilia is on exhibition.

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The building is large and museum has second floor expansion space.

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