Canadians also earned approximately $2,000 per year less than American workers, so there wasn't as much to spend on automobiles and manufacturers strived to offer attractive models with modest pricing. With our unique economic considerations and smaller market size -- roughly 10 per cent of U.S. sales -- many Canadian-built cars differ from their American counterparts. Often the difference is subtle, but in the case of the Canadian Pontiac there isn't one body panel that will interchange with the American-built model. While a quick glance may only catch the different trim and model names, our Pontiac was both shorter and not as wide. Built on the Chevrolet frame it also used Chevrolet engines and running gear to keep costs low.
While their closest competitor was really the Chevrolet that they were based on, the Canadian Pontiac enjoyed steady annual production and was a familiar sight on Canadian roads. Today, the Canadian-built Pontiacs that were produced until 1973 are a rare breed in comparison to the American models. Their unique styling features and Chevrolet mechanicals, coupled with fairly low-production numbers, will ensure their place in the Canadian highway hall of fame.
For Ron Paterson of Winnipeg, the 1960 Pontiac Laurentian Sport Coupe he bought in 1984 was his first car. Actually it was two first cars. After purchasing one from a cousin in Headingley and a second in Canora, Sask., he made one car out of the two. "I swapped some trim pieces from one car to the other, painted it and drove it year-round all through my high school years," says Paterson. When 1989 rolled around it was time for something new, but instead of trading off the Pontiac, Paterson put the car into indoor storage where it remained for the next 10 years.
"In 1998 I saw a black Buick at Back to the Fifties in Minneapolis," says Paterson. "It was lowered and had the big wheels and that gave me the motivation to get the Pontiac out and start working on it." After dismantling the car and having it media blasted to remove the old paint, Paterson turned it over to Dan Johnson at MC Painting where it received its final body preparation and was shot with a new base/clear coat of black paint. The front and rear bumpers were rechromed and The House of Silver plated and polished the balance of the car's trim and stainless steel mouldings.
The car's frame was completely rebuilt with new steering components, two-inch dropped front spindles and front disc brakes. To give the car that pavement-scraping stance when parked yet the ability to return to its correct ride height on the road, Paterson had River City Performance supply the Pontiac with an air bag suspension from Air Ride Technologies. An electric compressor and trunk-mounted air storage tank allow the air coils to be adjusted for varying loads and road conditions, while maintaining correct suspension geometry. Rolling stock features a set of B.F. Goodrich T/A radial tires mounted on highly polished 18-inch aluminum wheels from Billet Specialties. Mid-Canada Classic Auto supplied many restoration parts and Jerry Barker and Jack Eyers performed a good deal of the restoration work.
The original six-cylinder engine was replaced with a 409 cubic inch Strato-Fire V8 fully rebuilt by Nick Powell. It features an Edelbrock 650 c.f.m. four-barrel carburetor and Minute Muffler custom dual exhaust system. The engine is backed by a Turbo 350 automatic transmission, custom length driveshaft and factory rear axle.
Harvick's Auto Upholstering had recovered the interior during the mid-1980s and it still appeared new, so other than repainting the dashboard, installing a set of AutoMeter gauges, a Pioneer compact disc player and Lokar floor shift, it was ready for the road.
Since the restoration, Paterson has enjoyed taking his Canadian Pontiac to shows south of the border. "I removed all of the Pontiac script and emblems, so it's fun to see people's reaction to the car," says Paterson. "Even classic Pontiac owners scratch their heads trying to figure out if it's really a Pontiac or a Chevy."
You can also find Paterson taking in the weekly Fabulous 50's City Lights Cruise at the downtown Pony Corral Restaurant located at 444 St. Mary Ave. Each Wednesday evening from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. the Fabulous 50's Ford Club of Manitoba and Downtown Winnipeg Biz close the street to traffic and showcase some of Winnipeg's finest classic, antique and special interest vehicles.
Do you have a classic car story to tell? E-mail us, we may choose it for an upcoming feature.
PHOTOS RUTH BONNEVILLE/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS