The Hands of Pontiac

Jim Hand and his family's years in the Pontiac hobby

By Jim Hand

 

I purchased my first Pontiac in 1951 after I got out of high school.  It was a 1941 6 cylinder Streamliner two door.  Needless to say, it wasn't a hot rod, but that didn't keep me from adding the pieces of the time such as headlight shades, blue dot in the tail lights, and an attempt to split the exhaust manifold and add duals. As I had very little money, I used the cheapest pieces I could hang on it. I Used flexible pipe for the dual pipe, and had a local welder weld on the dual adapter I bought from J. C. Whitney. 

 

 

 

 

We also put a divider in the manifold between the 3rd and 4th cylinders. Unfortunately, the welder was not very familiar with cast iron and high temperatures, and the divider blew out and into the muffler in about two days. That ruined the motorboat sound of the split 6 cylinder manifold, but I left the dual pipe on for awhile. I drove this car for several years and had it when Mary and I were married in 1953.  

 

 

 

I was drafted into the Army two months after our marriage, so she kept the car while I was in basic training in Ft Bliss, Texas. After basic, I could move offsite so she and the Pontiac came to El Paso where we got a small apartment off base.

 

After a year or so, it began to get some funny noises from  the rear, so I traded it in on a 1950 Studebaker Commander. I drove the Stude until early 1955, and bought a new 1955 Pontiac 870 Catalina with the 4 bbl Power Pack. It did not have duals as holes had to be cut in the X frame for the dual pipe. Shortly  after buying it, I was transferred to a Nike Missile site in Pittsburgh, PA as a Warrant Officer in charge of maintenance of the three radars, analog computer, and power generators. I had a little more money after we got settled so was able to have holes cut in the frame and added real dual exhausts.

 

 

 

I drove that car until we left the Army in 1958 and through into 1960. I Went to work for Bendix Aviation in Kansas City, MO after leaving the service, so I had a few extra dollars to spend.  Bought a new 1957 Tri Power intake and adapted three Ford 2 bbl carbs to it.  Also installed what turned out to be an early version of the 066 cam, which was considerably bigger then the 55 stocker.  Not sure it ran any better but looked and sounded good.

 

I fell in love with the new 1960 Pontiacs, but by then had a family of four kids, so had to have hauling room. Ended up buying a Catalina four door sedan with the 425A 348 HP engine and the standard 3.23 rear gears.  Kept it stock other then louder mufflers and a lot of tuning. That allowed me to run in the Pure Stock drags held regularly at the Kansas City drag strip. I won a lot of weekly races along with the 1961 Kansas State 1/8th mile championship, and the 1961 American Hot Rod Association National Championship in Super Stock automatic class. I drove the car to work as is was our only car.

 

 

 

 

When the 63's came out, I liked the lines very much so I sold the 60 to a friend in Wichita and ordered a new 63 4 dr HT with the Ventura trim, and 4 bbl 303 HP engine. I also ordered special gage package, transitor ignition and voltage regulator, and a 3.42 gear from the optional towing package.  I also ordered the HD Police/Ambulance automatic transmission. Of course, we had to run it a few times and installed a Pontiac # 6 cam which was standard in the 425A package. It ran good for what it was: 15.60/86.5 MPH.  I had several brothers in Wichita who were getting into racing so I visited there and went racing several times at the Wichita track, and brought home trophies.

 

 

However, by 1964 I had a family of 7 kids, so the next car had to be larger. I sold the 63 to my brother Ted in Wichita and ordered a 1965 Catalina four door three seat wagon with the 338 HP 389 Tri Power and a 3.23 gear. 

 

 

This car ran amazingly well at 15.34/88 in pure stock trim and about 4600#!  We shocked a lot of folks both at Kansas City and Wichita. It had excellent traction on any kind of track so it had an advantage to many of the "street stockers". I didn't race it much until the kids got a lot older. I kept it for 20 years, and drove it regularly during that time. I wore the original engine out after 12-15 years and one overhaul, so I installed my first 455. Once I figured out it needed heads with some compression, the old wagon began to run pretty well.  And after most of the kids grew up and left home, I took out two of the seats, and got it to run in the high 13's which was pretty good for the time (about 1983). I had repaired rust damage several times (salt on the KC streets) and had it painted once. In 1985, it was T-boned  in the side and that made it look a little like a banana because the frame had rusted pretty bad. But I got a good insurance settlement, and got the car drivable, both to work and to the track!

 

Meanwhile, as the kids grew up and become involved in lots of school activities, my wife Mary needed the 65 wagon for hauling  them. So I got in the market for another car. I bought a badly used 55 Pontiac in 1967 and did a few mods. I installed a 370 ci engine, and much lower gears, plus a Tri-Power off a junk 59 Pontiac. It ran pretty well but still drove a bit like a wagon with the king pins rather then ball joints in the front, and leaf springs in the rear. But I did surprise a lot of folks with it. So in 1969, I decided to buy a new smaller car for a work and fun car. I sold the 55 to my brother Floyd and he raced and drove it for another 2 years and about 17000 miles with no problems. I looked at the smaller engine Tempests and wasn't impressed. I ended up buying a new 1969 Dodge Dart Swinger 340. I ordered it with the stripe across the trunk deleted, and with stainless around the wheel cutouts. It was considerably lower cost then any of the Pontiacs, and quicker then any of the smaller engine ones. I drove it until 1980 and sold it to a nephew.

 

 

However, the Dart caused my son Tom to admire the MOPARs with the 340, so one of his first cars was a 69 Dart 340.  He later ended up with  a 69 Barracuda fastback which he still owns and it is in show condition as well as able to run in the 12's at the track.

 

 

During the late 1970's or early 80's, my son Robert found a 68 GTO at a local rental place. It had been painted school bus yellow, but it did run and seemed complete. They wanted $400 and would not budge. As it had AC, PS, and PB and ran, we bought it. He drove it some, but decided to repaint it. He began to take pieces off before I knew it, so we went ahead to redo it. He did some of the sanding, but I did welding of rusted sheet metal and final sanding. He sprayed some primer, and I finished and put on the color coat using a metallic medium gray lacquer (possibly a Corvette color but I am unsure of that). It came out very good and we got it together, tuned the engine, cleaned the interior, and it looked so good, he didn't want to drive it. So we sold it to one of his friends who promptly entered it into a World of Wheels Show in Kansas City. It won best paint in the class! And we sprayed it, with a Sears compressor and spray gun with lacquer! 

 

 

 

In about 1982, my same son Robert was working in Houston in the oil business. He saw a 67 GTO convertible advertised from Jefferson City, Missouri.  It sounded pretty good. The engine had been overhauled, new top, etc, etc. He wanted me to go over and buy it. I went but it was not quite as advertised, but would run and drive (barely). I called him but he still wanted it and had sent enough money, so I bought it. It made it home but by then realized we had been had. So I started working on it and in a year or so had it presentable and solid enough to turn over to him to drive.  Unfortunately, that was when the bottom dropped out of the oil business, and he needed the money back to live on. So I inherited a 67 GTO convertible. Over the next several years I worked on it and got a really nice paint job on. I began to show it and won several local shows and placed well in all of them. The first major one we entered was the POCI event in 1990 In Overland Park, Kansas. As I had my wagon there also I spent most of my time with it. Otherwise, I would probably have won the popular vote show rather then placing second, because in order to win a popular vote show, you have to show the voters things about the car and why they should vote for it! The guy that won had a nice car, and he spent all day with it, and pulled the admirers of my car away!

 

 

 

I was able to retire in 1986 at the age of 53. My first and major retirement project was to  build another Pontiac with the insurance settlement and parts I had accumulated. The 65 wagon made its last trip on a trailer to a salvage yard.

 

 

I can tell you there were tears in my eyes when the "claw" lifted it off the trailer.  I had driven and raced it for 20 years and it hurt to see it end! 

 

One of my brothers was dealing in cars in the Dallas area and knew many of the salvage yard owners in the area. I asked him to watch for a decent 68-72 LeMans wagon as a replacement for my departed 65. I thought at the time I would need a wagon for normal hauling in my retirement. Not long after, he called and had found my present wagon in a yard. He sent photos of all its bad features so I could evaluate it. As he had a truck built to haul one car, he could buy the wagon and haul it to me in Kansas City, so we did it. 

 

 

I started the restoration as quickly as I retired in the spring of 1986 and had the car running in time to make a few races at KC that fall. It looked pretty bad, but with a salvage 455 with an 068 cam, Q Jet, and HO manifolds, it ran 13.69 the very first run. And we have never looked back. I did the body work and painted it during the winter/spring of 1986/87, and had it ready to race and show. And to this day, it has the original lacquer/clear coat paint job on it with the exception of the glass bumper. The bumper has two part epoxy paint and clear that was applied by my son Joe in about 1992.

 

 

My youngest son Joe built his own 67 LeMans race car in the early 80's and did very well with it. He was running low 11's/high 10's and those were pretty good times for a home built car.

 

 

 

Joe also acquired a 77 Can Am and after a few months, pulled the 400 engine and installed a 455. But he was careful to make adapters to fit all wiring and mechanicals so he could put it back to original. He adapted a 100 HP nitrous setup and did some serious street racing. It would run mid 12's, again pretty competitive numbers for the time. That Can Am was featured in a 1983 issue of High Performance Pontiac.  

 

 

Our first major event was the GTO Nationals in 1988 in Wichita, Kansas, and their drags at Ark City. We drove out to Wichita for the show and won second in Competition Modified. My son Joe won first in the same class. I understand they changed the rules for the next year and only GTO's were allowed in that class! I drove down to Ark City for the drags and shocked the folks with high 12's in very hot and humid weather. Then drove 250 miles home. The GTO folks were so impressed, they wrote a little article in their magazine "The Legend".

 

 

 

I raced regularly at the Kansas City strip and won a few money purses in the next several seasons. And was always looking for ways to go a bit quicker. Our next major show was the POCI Nationals in 1990 in Overland Park, Kansas.  Son Joe and I entered all four of our cars in the show and did well. My wagon won first in full modified, my 67 GTO convertible won second, Joe's 77 Can Am tied for first, but Joe's '67 LeMans race car did not place. (However, it was the only race car on the show field that had the courage to display time tickets) 

 

 

Joe raced and won regularly at various strips at and around Kansas City until he was laid off from his good paying job. He decided to drive an over the road truck which he did for about a year. This stopped his racing and he eventually sold the car as a roller. He also reinstalled the original 400 engine in the Cam Am and sold it for a good price to a fellow in Indiana. I kept the GTO until about 2004 and won lots of local shows and an occasional trophy at the track. But I didn't drive it much and when they sit, they deteriorate. I also needed the parking spot so I could install a garage door opener. So I sold it, also for a good price.

 

Over the years, I have done extensive testing of parts and adjustments on the wagon. Many of these were covered in High Performance Pontiac and Pontiac Enthusiast magazines. The wagon was also featured in Popular Hot Rodding, Car Craft, Super Stock Illustrated, and UnderCar Digest.

 

As a result of the publicity and success we had with the wagon, I was approached by CarTech Publishing Co in 2002 about writing a book on Pontiacs. We finally agreed to do it and the first copy was released in July, 2003. At my last report in Jan, 2010, they have sold 22,900 copies!

 

 

My wagon is still running excellent. However, I no longer drive it on the strip, but do drive it on the street and to the track. I had a stroke in 2005. There was not much physical damage but considerable nerve damage. And the medicine I have to take for that can be considerably mind altering. Accordingly, I chose to quit driving rather then risking my life and/or the competitor's in case of an emergency during the run. My good friend Kevin Kirk is an excellent driver and makes the wagon look good!

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWO4G-7pwr4

 

At age 77, I suspect my active time in the hobby is growing short, but I still enjoy it, and still try to help folks run a little quicker in their Pontiacs. 

 

I have left out a lot of details but over a period of 60+ years, we have done a lot of Pontiac work, attended a lot of Pontiac functions, presented many seminars, and fixed a lot of  Pontiacs for my family and friends. I hope you have enjoyed this  little summary of one guy's good luck in being able to pursue something I have enjoyed so much for so many years.

 

Jim Hand

 

 

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