- - Thursday, July 7, 2011

Remembering the good times he had going to high school in an antique Chevrolet that he and his father had rebuilt gave Dr. John Mitchell an idea.

The 1938 Chevrolet is still in his garage, too ancient to confront modern-day traffic near a high school. Therefore, Dr. Mitchell and his son, Thomas, began searching for a newer old car for high school duty. The search for a late 1950s car was not geographically restricted so the hunt took father and son coast to coast and border to border.

The search boiled down to a 1958 Pontiac Star Chief four-door sedan that wasn’t the top-of-the-line Pontiac in 1958 but it was still loaded with chrome trim and was the same size as the more expensive Bonneville model. Besides, the Bonneville model was new in 1958 and many, if not most, Pontiac customers were familiar with the tried-and-true Star Chief model.

One such turquoise-and-white Star Chief four-door sedan was purchased new in Colorado in 1958. Beneath the expansive hood was a 370-cubic-inch V-8 engine crowned by a four-barrel carburetor. The engine develops 285 horsepower, the power of which is transferred to the rear drive wheels via a three-speed Hydramatic transmission.

In 1958 Pontiac, for the first time, offered four headlights, as did the rest of the General Motors lineup. At the other end of the car are mounted a matching set of four taillights.

After more than a decade of service as the family bus, the car gravitated to the son of the original owner as a nine-year-old Christmas gift in 1967. As teenage sons usually do, he quickly ran the legs off the car.

Against all odds, the Pontiac survived and in 1976 the original owner opted to have a frame-off restoration performed on the then 18-year-old Star Chief four-door-sedan. The restoration was completed in 1990.

The powerful 370-cubic-inch V-8 engine was rebuilt, along with the four-barrel carburetor and the three-speed hydramatic transmission. The Pontiac left the factory in 1958 equipped with power brakes as well as power steering.

For some reason, the original owner decided to sell the car to a broker, who in turn sold it to a broker in St. Louis and that is where Dr. Mitchell and his son found the car - on the Internet in the autumn of 2003.

For two or three months, Dr. Mitchell recalls, photo documentation was sent along with answers to myriad questions about the car. Finally he decided to ignore the first rule of buying an antique car (always check the car out in person before buying it) and bought the 3,825-pound Pontiac sight unseen. It was one of 10,547 such models manufactured and sold new for a base price of $3,071. The well-appointed car was equipped with power brakes and power steering.

Arrangements were made for transportation and then all that was involved was waiting and worrying.

The truck arrived three weeks later on a September afternoon and the car was better than anticipated.

“It’s a very nice restoration.” Dr. Mitchell says. “The turquoise-and-white color scheme is compelling.”

“I wasn’t disappointed,” Dr. Mitchell says, regarding the appearance of the 19-foot-long Pontiac resting on a 124-inch wheelbase.

“The chrome plating is lush,” he says. “I thought it was gorgeous.”

— Now came the down side.

“The restoration was too good,” Dr. Mitchell discovered and his son agreed. Consequently, a more modern used car was purchased to fill the need so the 1958 Pontiac Star Chief was spared the daily demolition derby in the high school parking lot.

Both father and son agreed that the Pontiac was best suited as a special-occasion vehicle, perhaps for use on a date for homecoming or maybe the senior prom.

Son Thomas is now off to college but the Pontiac remains safely ensconced in the garage at home.

Perhaps upon graduation he will take claim to the 1958 Pontiac Star Chief.

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