I have owned so many vehicles during my lifetime; I probably couldn’t recall them all. However, my favorite ride is still in my possession and that is the story I am going to tell you here and I have titled it a BUTTERCUP STORY.
I made myself a promise that when I retired I was going to acquire a 30’s American convertible with a rumble seat and do what ever might be necessary to make it worthy of local shows and just fun to drive and show off. I wasn’t more specific regarding make or year model because when the right vehicle came along, I’d know it. Several years before my retirement I was browsing through a current issue of Hemming’s Motor News and there it was. A 1937 Pontiac convertible coupe with a rumble seat. We had always had Pontiacs in the family when I was growing up and in fact I learned to drive on a 1938 Pontiac sedan. Other than one 1938 Convertible sedan owned by a fellow high school classmate, I had never seen another ’37 or ’38 Pontiac open car. This was 1988 and no one had computers so it was call the selling dealer in Colorado and have him mail me pictures and get as much information about the car as I could over the phone. The story that was told to me was that the consignee was a deep pocket collector who had to purchase a lot of ten vehicles to get the LaSalle convertible that he wanted. The lot had been owned by a Nebraska farmer who would not break up the ten vehicles and the Pontiac that I was interested in was one of the other nine cars. I asked him if he could furnish the name and telephone number of the former Nebraska owner, which he did. I thought that I would get reliable information from the former owner, as he no longer had any interest in the vehicle. The former owner was very helpful and informed me that the vehicle was a running and stopping complete car with solid floors, minimal rust, not great paint or upholstery or top but serviceable and that he had rebuilt the flat head six several years ago but it hadn’t been driven much since. I had never ever considered purchasing a vehicle that I had not inspected or driven before but this was going to be the exception. I called the dealer back and we did some haggling and he finally said that his last quote was his bottom line and I finally agreed if he would include shipping to California. He finally agreed and then it was hold my breath time.
A few days later I received a call from the trucker who said that he would be in my area the following morning and that he had a large rig and didn’t want to navigate residential streets so we agreed to meet in the parking lot of a sports arena in Oakland. The truck was a little early and I could see the Pontiac up on the second deck of an open carrier as I arrived with butterflies in my stomach. The trucker climbed up, got in the car, started her up and backed her down under her own power. It had been about 35 years since the family ’38 left the nest but the whine of the gears and the general feel of the car brought back many old memories. All in all the car had been fairly represented and I drove it on weekends for a few months before my tear down began. I mentioned to a few buddies that I remembered the old ’38 having a little more and was reminded that in the meantime I had had a few hot Ford and Mercury V8’s, which probably affected my memory.
As I said earlier this was considerably before my retirement so the project was relegated to some weekends and an occasional evening, as I was still a full time employee. The home that we owned at the time was a 1930’s vintage in the same neighborhood that my wife and I grew up in with a single car garage so my restoration work would be done in rather limited space. I joined the Pontiac Owners club, talked with many owners and did a fair amount of research regarding the number of remaining ’37 convertible coupes and after months of searching could only find five others. Since then one of the five others was totally destroyed in a barn fire and to the best of my knowledge there are only five total left of this body style. Both of my sons were teenagers at this time and were well aware of my disappointment in the lack of power with the 85hp flat head six-cylinder engine. Some of my planned uses for my fun/retirement car might have to be rethought. I rejected the idea of re powering the car mainly because if it’s rarity but as time went on I began to soften on the idea a little bit. My sons were needling me to do a conservative power swap with no exterior alterations. Considering how slow progress was mainly because of my full tome employment, I had a great deal of time to consider the final outcome. Three or four years later the vehicle was totally apart and I mean every nut and bolt. My neighbor would loan me his camper jacks and I would lift the body off of the frame, roll the chassis out in the driveway for cleaning and detailing the chassis. A good friend of mine owned a local body shop that would eventually paint the car called one day and asked me to drop by in the next few days. When I stopped by, he said come on in my office, which I did. He handed me a pink slip and a set of keys and said, “Here is your donor car”. The “donor car” was a 1978 Olds Cutlass wagon, which was his shop vehicle that was used for whatever was needed. It wasn’t much to look at but mechanically it was perfect. He explained that a friend from out of town was temporarily staying with another friend who lived in San Francisco and he loaned the Olds to his out of town friend so he would have wheels during his visit and when he went to renew the license the Olds had over $600 in parking fines that had to be paid before it could renewed. That did it. The Pontiac was going to have a heart transplant. The entire driveline from the Olds fit like a glove. I cut off the mounting brackets from the rear end and fabricated new brackets to fit the original parallel rear leaf springs, fabricated new transmission and motor brackets and one would think that the car was born that way. The original radiator was re-cored, a Fat Man Fabrication front frame engineered for the ’37 & ’38 Pontiac was installed, a Mustang II front suspension with T-Bird rack and pinion, front disc brakes finish the conversion. A Ron Francis 12 Volt wiring system with original gauges and dashboard clock converted to 12 volt. I went to great detail to make this conversion look like a factory job. The engine was painted in the original green, no billet or chrome. At a recent local car show, an admirer was looking into the engine compartment and exclaimed “I had no idea that Pontiac had a V8 in 1937”. My response was “this was one of the earliest prototypes”.
I am sure that many of you reading this story are very upset at my decision to make these alterations. It took several years for me to reach this decision but I would do it again if the situation ever again arose. Except for a 2″ lower stance front an rear, 15″ solid painted wheels with trim rings and aftermarket Pontiac hub caps there are no exterior modifications. I attend a once a year family picnic “The Gatsby” where cars through 1942 are allowed on the picnic grounds. The rules are very strict that no modified cars are allowed and buttercup has passed muster every year.
One final note, I wanted my ’37 to be a certain shade of yellow. I had quite a great deal of time before that decision had to be made. After many considerations, I choose a ’78 Cadillac color “Colonial Yellow”. And that is why my pride and joy is named “Buttercup”.