- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

More than 40 years ago Leo Cummings purchased a brand-new 1966 Pontiac Ventura. He had looked at the 9-inch-longer Bonneville model but decided that a young man would be more comfortable in a Ventura.

By the time the 20th century had run its course, Mr. Cummings had changed his opinion. While attending the annual antique car extravaganza in Hershey, Pa., in the autumn of 2000, he saw a wide-track 1968 Pontiac Bonneville two-door hardtop with a beige vinyl top and a gold-colored interior. The rest of the car was painted what General Motors designers called Primaver beige.

“I knew in seconds that car was for me,” Mr. Cummings says. “I think it was the color combination.”

He spent hours examining the pristine car in hopes of finding a flaw that would prevent him from buying it because he had not come prepared to make the purchase. “I kept walking away,” he says. “It was the luxury of a Bonneville that sucked me in.” The car had been driven only 34,220 miles.

Try has he might, he could find nothing to prevent him from becoming the next owner. “This is a ‘got to have car,’ ” he convinced himself.

The next week was spent gathering money for the Pontiac and arranging transportation to Strausburg, Pa., where the seller kept the car. The following Saturday Mr. Cummings was in Strausburg to retrieve his car. “Getting that car was like getting a brand-new car,” he says enthusiastically. “I was as happy as a pig in mud.”

The 124-inch wheelbase in the Bonneville, which measures 18 feet, 7.5 inches nose to tail, delivered a boulevard ride for Mr. Cummings all the way home to Springfield. “Every time I get in that car, I feel good,” Mr. Cummings says.

Papers that came with the car indicate that the first owner bought the 4,054-pound Pontiac in Lenoir, N.C., and took it home to Hickory, N.C. Years later the car ended up with an antique car broker in Annville, Pa., before the man in Strausburg acquired it and sold it to Mr. Cummings. Records show the car, one of 29,598 such models built, has always been well maintained. The base price of the Pontiac when new was $3,592.

Mr. Cummings says certain features on the car brought back memories he had forgotten, such as the seat locks that were on all two-door cars to keep the seatback in position during an accident. On the back of the front seat was a release lever to permit the seat to swivel forward for access to the back seat. Those levers, Mr. Cummings recalls, were called “Nader knobs,” named for the safety advocate of the era.

Virtually every aspect of the interior Mr. Cummings calls gold, from the headliner on down to the carpeting.

As a Bonneville, the car was loaded with convenience features and accessories including:

• AM/FM radio.

• Power brakes.

• Cruise control.

• Power antenna.

• Power steering.

• Power windows.

• Air conditioning.

• Day/night mirror.

• Wire wheel covers.

• Rocker panel molding.

• Deluxe steering wheel.

• Rear window defogger.

• Remote-control mirrors.

• Automatic transmission.

• Color-matching floor mats.

• Reverberator rear speaker.

While seated behind that deluxe three-spoke steering wheel on an energy-absorbing steering column, Mr. Cummings has a commanding view of all the instrumentation as well as the long engine hood. The speedometer stops counting at 120 mph but Mr. Cummings confidently reports, “It will do 100.”

Beneath that engine hood is a 400-cubic-inch V-8 that produces a very healthy 340 horsepower. He says the car is capable of delivering gas mileage similar to that of smaller cars if he should care to try. In 2002 Mr. Cummings drove to a Pontiac convention in Charlestown, W.Va. On that trip, he says, “I got 19 miles per gallon if I kept my speed under 65 mph.”

The odometer has only recently counted the 45,000th mile the Pontiac has been driven.

In lieu of the boat that he has always wanted, Mr. Cummings says, “This is my land yacht.”

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