Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wednesday's Star: The tale of a '54 Pontiac

This is my favorite story from today's paper. It's a nice job by Bill Edwards, who last week wrote about getting out of his own car and walking around town. - Bob
Before Pontiac was a sports car, it helped raise families
By Bill Edwards
Staff Writer

One of the strong points of a 1954 Pontiac was the way it hauled children, assuming its owner was handy with tools.

That's one of the recollections retired Anniston physician Kirby Bryant had Tuesday about a favorite old car, as he and no doubt millions of other Pontiac owners pondered the sad news they had heard from General Motors: During 2010, Pontiac will become automotive history.

Like Plymouth and Oldsmobile of the recent past, the brand has fallen victim to cost-cutting. But also, like the passing of a popular celebrity, the passing of a popular car line evokes memories.

Former owners of Studebakers, Packards and DeSotos know what that's like.

Bryant got his Pontiac at the same time he married, in 1955 — that's because his bride, Shirley, had bought it new the previous year at a Tupelo, Miss., dealer.

"Our honeymoon was driving from Tupelo to Boston to go back to school," said Bryant, a graduate of Harvard Medical School.

Not long after, when their two children at the time were babies and Bryant was in the Air Force, numerous trips between Texas and Tupelo were necessary. To make the trip safer and more comfortable for the tired little ones, Bryant created a wooden frame that was just the right size to fit in the back seat of their Catalina coupe and hold a baby crib mattress.

In general practice at the time, Bryant made house calls in the car from 1959-65, then passed it along to a cousin to drive for a while; the couple brought it with them when they moved to Anniston in 1969.

Until the late 1990s, the car hung around their house like an old dog, sometimes out front, sometimes in the driveway in the back.

The last time Bryant fussed over it was when one of those aforementioned back-seat children, his daughter Kathy, got married in 1985. The vaguely light orange chariot was cleaned up enough to be presentable at a Country Club reception.

"It was in pretty good shape," he recalled.

Since, then, however, time has taken a toll. Sometime in the late '90s, Bryant said, the car was sent to a family member's house in Wellborn, and there it has remained. Restoration was anticipated, but the man who was going to do the work died.

When a good battery is under the hood, the old "Straight-8" still cranks and runs, but with flat tires it's not going anywhere fast.

People who still want to create their own Pontiac memories, or those who already own Pontiacs shouldn't notice any changes in the wake of GM's announcement, said Ken Wesenberg, owner of Classic Pontiac-Cadillac-GMC in Anniston.

"It's business as usual. No changes at all," he said Tuesday afternoon.

All warranty work will be honored, he said.

Additionally, not only does the dealership have a "sufficient" supply of Pontiacs on hand now, it has more cars on the way and "we are still able to order," he said.

"We're not seeing it going away in two weeks or two months or six months," Wesenberg said.

Pontiac has long been a familiar brand in Anniston. Fowler Motor Co. sold the cars in the late 1940s, then P. O. Wilson bought the dealership from Marvin Fowler in 1954 and continued to sell Pontiacs from the 600 block of Noble Street.

In 1978 Wilson Pontiac-Cadillac-GMC moved from Noble Street to the site where Classic Pontiac-Cadillac-GMC currently does business.