Bob's current 56 is a convertible that he has been doing a frame off restoration. Click on the following pictures to see enlarged views..
Feb 2010, making progress, inner fenders installed.
July 9, 2010, returned from body shop. Lookin' GOOD!
Here is Bob's "56 Pontiac Story".
My first 1956 Pontiac was my 860 Series 2 Door Hardtop I bought while in a sophomore in college in 1968. This car was originally solid Nimbus Grey (Paint Code KK) with a Green and White interior, had no options other than the deluxe radio, and ran a two barrel carburetor. It was an "original California Car" having been assembled in the Van Nuys, California assembly plant and had been repainted a solid powder blue. I refinished the interior to all black, as was popular at that time and added American Mags on the front and reverse chrome wheels on the back of the car. My wife and I dated in this car which was lost due to an auto accident in 1969 just before enlisting in the Navy.
My second '56 Pontiac was a Star Chief 2 Door Hardtop. Sandalwood Tan and Sun Beige (code NP), that I purchased just before getting out of the Navy in 1972. I drove it all through the remainder of my college years. It had just 72,000 miles on it when I found it, was all original including the paint, and in immaculate condition with no dents or missing parts. I paid $250 for it from its original owner in Garden Grove, California. It was another true "California" car, having also been assembled in the Van Nuys plant. A plain-Jane, the only options on the car were power steering, deluxe radio, and illuminated hood ornament. It still had plastic seat covers over the original vinyl interior and had the owners manual in the glove box. I sold this car in late 1975 due to the "gas crunch" (gas had gone up the unbelievable price of $1.39 a gallon for high test!) and a failing engine that still ran smooth as silk, but smoked too much for freeway driv ing. I've kicked myself ever since.
My "third and fifth" '56 Pontiacs were the convertible that I'm now restoring. (I say 3rd and 5th because I found it before my brother bought it and then many years later I bought it from him). After the Navy, I was back in college in 1973 when I discovered the convertible parked in front of a gas station in Fullerton/Placentia area. My older brother was home on leave from Germany, and was delighted to see my nice original Star Chief hardtop and asked about any mid-fifties General Motors convertibles being available. When I told him about this sad looking Pontiac he got really excited. We drove over to the station in my hardtop, and with that car as "evidence" of what $250 could buy at the time (actually a year earlier) my brother was able to negotiate a purchase price of $75 for the sad looking '56 convertible. Though that seems really cheap today, remember in 1973 a '56 Pontiac, even though a convertible, was just another 18 year old junker car to many people.
This convertible in particular was pretty sad to see. Assembled in the Pontiac Michigan plant, it had really bad rust in the floors and rockers, had only tatters left of a "replacement" black top, the upholstery was badly stained and faded with blue shag carpet on the floors, the car was missing all its hub caps and had been brush painted in a solid robins egg blue, it was missing a headlight ring, and had many small dents and creases with hardly a single body panel not showing a small dent or two. On the positive side though, it had never taken any heavy collision damage, had just had new heads installed and was very complete other than the missing hub cabs and headlight ring.
Incredibly, the odometer was reading 64,943 (more about this later).
Although we had to buy and install a battery, pump up all four black wall tires and constantly re-fill the radiator, with some effort we managed to drive the car home. My brother put the car into storage and for the next nine years it simply sat.
My fourth '56 Pontiac was a Safari station wagon my wife nicknamed the "Pig Wagon" because of its filthy condition at time of purchase.
Assembled at the Kansas City, Kansas assembly plant, I found this car in Eagle Rock, California in 1976. Though we went up to see and test drive the car late one Sunday night, I didn't buy the car right away. The price was right, but I was still in college and my wife was pregnant with our second child. As a birthday surprise, my wife bought it and had it delivered to me in the City of Orange for the total purchase price of $375. The original paint colors were Sun Beige over Sandalwood Tan, but the car had been repainted solid white. It was a heavily optioned vehicle, with factory air conditioning, power antenna and wonder bar radio, power windows, power steering and brakes, and many many other nice options. Unfortunately, it was also a very worn-out vehicle with broken springs, a bad differential and 'U' joints, shot transmission, and was missing its interior door panels and power window setup. I had planned to restore this car, but the deeper I got into it, the more problems I found. The passenger rear quarter panel had been crudely replaced some time in the past and needed to be totally removed and replaced to fit properly. I looked for several years to find a quarter panel, but never found one. When I disassembled the front end to begin restoration and found severe stress cracks throughout the front spring perches and frame horns that was the final straw that lead me to decide to part out the car. This was more than I thought I could tackle at the time. Today, neither of those problems would have stopped me. The improved communication with parts vendors now possible with the internet, and having since learned that the frame from any 27 series chieftain or station wagon would have fit just fine on a Safari, these problems no longer are insurmountable! Live and learn. I parted out this car over the next 15 years, with the carcass finally hauled off to the wrecking yard in about 1989.
My 'fifth' 1956 Pontiac was the convertible (again). As I said before, when my brother returned to the states permanently in 1982, I was finally able to convince him to sell me the convertible though it cost me a bit more than the $75 he paid for it. I immediately got a new white top, had the seats reupholstered in white and put a new set of white wall tires on the car along with a set of the original wire wheel covers I'd found at the Pomona swap meet a few years before, all of which made a significant difference in the cars appearance. At that point she was actually pretty presentable and ran reasonably well. I later added an NOS white steering wheel, wonder bar radio and various upgraded trim pieces here and there while collecting up other NOS pieces for the future restoration phase. I had the transmission rebuilt and then drove it for a little over ten more years before the engine finally gave out in the mid 1990's. After that the car remained parked in my garage until I started the restoration three years ago.
My sixth '56 Pontiac was another Sandalwood Tan and Sun Beige Safari.
Another original "California car", Safari #2 was also assembled in the Van Nuys plant. A semi-restored car with no rust whatsoever, but a bad transmission when I bought it, it cost me $6,500 "as-is" from a fellow Pontiac Club member in Covina, California. It was a very nicely equipped car, with lots of options and many many NOS parts, but it didn't have factory air or power windows like my first Safari. Due to the amateur restoration the car suffered from a number of "mistakes", including some serious paint adhesion issues, and it unfortunately had some hidden problems that I discovered later. Although I knew about the transmission, after I brought the car home I found several other mechanical problems and ended up having to rebuild both the engine and transmission, replace all brake drums and shoes and rebuild all four brake slave cylinders. I also replaced the 'U' joints, rebuilt the carburetor, repaired the fuel tank and replaced the sending unit. A few years later I had the seats re-upholstered adding matching seat belts, complete with retractors, while I was at it. After all that work, the car still had a leaning problem, and of course the unresolved paint-adhesion problem, but from 20 feet away looked absolutely awesome. In retrospect, I didn't really have that much in the car even with all the extra work, but I decided to sell it, just the same.
At that point in time, since I also owned and was garaging the convertible, funds, time and storage space were all a concern. A decision had to be made as to which of the two old Pontiacs would remain in my ownership. Real reason for selling Safari #2: Despite having a three car garage, since I had the two old cars and a new family sedan, my wife didn't have a garage stall to use for the truck she drove every day. Consequently, "something" (translation: "one of those old junk cars") had to go! A real rookie mistake there! Oh well, another of life's lesson learned the hard way!
Given the problems I'd faced following in someone else's restoration footsteps on Safari #2, I finally opted to keep the convertible and do the frame-off restoration myself. I knew the convertible was essentially untouched, and would certainly be worth more than the Safari when it was finished; and driving top down is an incomparable experience!
As I've disassembled the convertible, I've frequently found the parts taken off that car show remarkably little wear and are in superior condition to any of the spares I've collected over the years. This makes me think that the 64,000 miles that were on the odometer when my brother bought the car were actual original miles though I've never been able to document this! The car is being returned to its original colors of Grenada Gold and Nimbus Grey with a Metallic Green and White interior. I'm now about 75% complete with this restoration project and hope to have it finished within another year. Given my history with the two Safaris, I've taken the time to go entirely through all systems on the convertible, with every component that goes back onto the car being an NOS replacement, or a professionally repaired and/or refurbished item, inspected and carefully tested. I've even gone so far as to have all the original fasteners refinished to original specifications. An entirely new wiring harness has been fabricated by Y n Z Wiring in Redlands, California and has been installed; all bearings and seals replaced; all other miscellaneous mechanical systems totally refurbished; and all original hardware and fasteners with the correct "script/logo" heads retained to the extent feasible. All stainless on the car, including the interior trim pieces and ignition lock face, have been professionally straightened and polished.
When she's finished, she should be like a brand-new showroom condition 1956 Pontiac Convertible, if not better. When I had heads reworked, I had hardened valve seats installed so the car runs on unleaded fuel. To ensure long valve train life and reliability, the rocker arm studs were threaded and the heads tapped so the studs screw into the heads rather than relying on the factory press fit arrangement.
Despite the various upgrades, almost everyone but the most die-hard of experts will be hard pressed to find any deviation from factory original equipment. Not that there aren't any mind you....they'll simply be very hard to spot. Some are internal like the engine modifications, while others are done in a way to look totally original, yet take advantage of updated technologies. For example, the powder coated frame which was done in a matte finish to simulate the old grease paint used on the early GM frames, is far more durable and easy to keep clean than the original. The exhaust manifolds have heat resistant coatings rather than the old raw cast iron finish again for cleanliness and ease of maintenance, yet will be difficult to tell from original cast iron.
The entire body of the car has been dipped for rust removal, and all internal body surfaces and cavities have been treated for long term rust prevention. All sound dampening/deadening materials have been replaced, and all seams sealed for waterproofing and rust resistance.
The car is being further upgraded with a few factory options that although originally available, were not installed on this particular car when it rolled off the assembly line. These include: factory air conditioning, electric windshield wipers, windshield washer, underhood light, wonderbar radio, six way mechanical seat, tissue dispenser, door handle and door edge guards, handbrake warning light, purse holder, trunk trouble light, rear bumper wing guards, dual exhaust tips, and wire wheel covers.
But the convertible was actually a well equipped car to begin with, having the deluxe radio and power antenna, power steering, power brakes, illuminated hood ornament, dual exhaust, front Master Guard assembly, fender skirts, courtesy lamp package, ash tray and glove box lights, padded dash (had to forgo this option to add the air conditioning), deluxe wheel covers (although the car had no caps when we bought it, it presumably had deluxe covers since most Star Chief's came that way) and underseat heater.
Other possible optional items still being considered include the continental kit, power seat and power windows. These last three are not seen as essential to the enjoyment of this wonderful car, but might be nice to have (that is, once I have a garage in which a car equipped with a continental kit will fit!).
The ½ to 3/4 of a car that I referred to at the top of this treatise of course refers to all my "replacement" and "spare" parts. Which in total do literally reach the equivalent of at least half to three quarters of another car. Anyone need a drivers side Safari quarter panel?