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1931 Pontiac continues to captivate after 74 years

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Stephen Patrick wasn't looking for a vintage car this spring when he first saw a sable-brown-and-black 1931 Pontiac displayed on a gas-station parking lot in Bowie.

Mr. Patrick, City of Bowie museums director, was dropping off his lawn mower at a repair shop that Wednesday morning. But the 14-foot-long Pontiac across the street beckoned to him. A few years earlier he had bought a house in Arlington that was built in the 1930s and he had thought a car of a similar vintage would complete the package.

He was immediately and hopelessly smitten and was ready to buy the car on the spot but the seller convinced him to at least drive it around the block first.

The 1931 Pontiac was offered in seven models ranging in price from $665 to $845. Each of the 84,708 Pontiacs built that year had a 'Big Six' 200-cubic-inch L-head engine that cranked out 60 horsepower.

The Pontiac marque came into being in 1926, when General Motors determined that the price gap between its Chevrolet and Oakland cars was too wide. The Pontiac was created to fill that space.

By 1931 the new Pontiac was so popular that the decision was made to drop the Oakland.

Records indicate that a 1931 standard four-door sedan base priced at $745 was purchased new in Cambridge, Mass. A few miles and years later, it was sold to a second owner, also in Cambridge. From there it went to a collector in Maine. That collector restored the car inside and out. This year the broker in Bowie got the car and put it up for sale, where Mr. Patrick spotted it and was smitten.

One quick test-drive later, Mr. Patrick wrote a check and said he would be back Sunday morning, when traffic would not be so hectic, to retrieve his treasure.

The Pontiac was waiting for him Sunday and immediately sprang to life when he stepped on the starter. He drove the 2,845-pound sedan home on 5.50x18-inch tires wrapped around 40-spoke cream-colored wheels, the 110-inch wheelbase providing a smooth ride.

'Double clutching helps,' Mr. Patrick says as he avoids gnashing teeth in the transmission.

Six quarts of oil keep the engine lubricated and 13 quarts of coolant keep the engine temperature under control. A two-blade fan pulls air through what is described as 'a deep V radiator.' A 13-gallon gasoline tank is at the rear of the Pontiac.

A six-volt electrical system operates the 9-inch double filament headlights that throw out an amazing 21 candlepower.

On the left rear fender is the Dualite stop/taillight. When the brakes are applied, the illuminated lens shines the message: 'S T O P.'

Instruments on the dashboard are not illuminated individually. Instead, a single hooded light protrudes from the dashboard, projecting light onto the gauges.

While comfortably seated behind the three-spoke steering wheel, Mr. Patrick gazes at the Indian-head ornament on the radiator cap through the nonglare vision/ventilation windshield. A single vacuum-operated wiper is suspended from above the windshield to clear the glass in front of the driver.

Turning a hand crank raises the windshield a couple of inches, permitting fresh air to flow into the cabin, not to mention a few insects as well.

During the winter months a hot-air manifold heater captures and redirects heat from the engine into the passenger compartment.

The reupholstered cabin features a convenient storage pocket in each door as well as three window shades for privacy. The rear window and the two quarter windows are the ones that can be shuttered from view.

Mr. Patrick shows no sign of buyer's remorse and is thoroughly enjoying his newfound toy. Every time he climbs up into his Pontiac he is amused, thinking of Pontiac ads from 1931 claiming the car is 'Built low to the ground.'

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