- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

Ed Saulnier's first new car was a sporty 1966 Pontiac Tempest. He concedes that it was noisy, which was part of its charm and appeal at least to him.

However, the car was not air conditioned, which meant that during the warmer months the windows were down and the decibel level was up.

Whenever his mother would ride in the car she would complain about how loud it was. Wasn't it about time he got an adult car?

Mothers rarely steer their sons wrong, so in November 1969 Mr. Saulnier went to Brown Pontiac on Wilson Boulevard in Arlington and special-ordered a 1970 Pontiac Catalina, a two-door, pillarless hardtop coupe.

The power plant selected was a 400-cubic-inch, 290-horsepower V-8 fed by a single two-barrel carburetor.

"It was the first car I owned with an air conditioner and an automatic transmission," Mr. Saulnier said. And the car was mother-recommended.

The pepper green metallic Pontiac arrived at the dealership and was ready for delivery on Dec. 9, 1969.

He drove his 1966 Tempest to the dealership and was generously allowed $800 as a trade for his new adult Catalina.

The base price of the wide-track Pontiac was only $3,028, but he opted for another $1,290.77 in extra-cost options including:

•Air conditioning……..$421.28.

•Turbo 400 Hydramatic…227.04.

•AM/FM stereo radio…..147.45.

•Power steering……….115.85.

•Decor group………….100.05.

•Power front disc brakes…71.62.

•2BBL 400 V-8 engine……52.66.

•Tinted glass……………44.23.

•Vinyl trim…………….28.44.

•H78x15 whitewall tires…33.70.

•Rear speaker…………..15.80.

•Special springs, shocks…..9.48.

•Underhood reel out lamp…7.37.

Added to the total were freight charges of $166.47, EOH (and no one is quite sure what that means) of $171 and, of course, the dealer's friend, $35 for undercoating.

When the dust had settled, Mr. Saulnier owed $4,691.24. "That was a lot of money back then," he says.

In that time frame, many people would buy a new car every three to five years. However, if that $4,691.24 is amortized over the 33 years that he has owned the car, it works out to be about $142 a year.

The first few years were spent commuting to work and towing a sailboat, when not courting his wife. Right after their wedding in 1972, Mr. Saulnier's bride went to Oregon for a stint as a teacher to deaf children. When her duty was concluded, he drove his Pontiac to Oregon to retrieve her.

Later, they transported their children to all the usual childhood activities, including family vacations to Florida, Quebec and Chicago.

As the children reached their teen years, Mr. Saulnier said they learned to drive on the trustworthy Pontiac.

His big Catalina was popular with his fellow car poolers at the Department of Agriculture. He was the king of the HOV lane. With the front split bench seat, the car comfortably seats six. "In its best years," Mr. Saulnier said, "it got 18½ miles per gallon during highway driving and 10 or 11 around town."

Even with that gas mileage he muddled through the 1973 gasoline crisis with the help of the portable gas tank from his boat. He repeated the exercise during the 1979 gas shortage.

His Catalina weighs in just shy of 2 tons and cruises comfortably on a 122-inch wheelbase.

The beautiful paint color that initially attracted him did not hold up well and he gave it a cheap paint job, which wasn't very satisfactory. That was followed a few years later by a slightly better grade of cheap repainting.

Finally, when the car was about 20 years old, he had it stripped at a good paint shop and properly repainted. At the same time a new cream-colored vinyl roof covering was installed along with new stock front and rear bumpers. The weather-worn old ones are stored in his attic.

Mr. Saulnier, seated behind the three-spoke steering wheel, says the interior is all original. He has now owned the big Pontiac Catalina exactly one-half of his life, proving that mother knows best.

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