guy with not a lot of cash, but a head full of hopes and dreams started out there with this '50 Pontiac. Tommy Spangler probably never won anything; he never even got close to the drag racing hall of fame, he was just a small-town guy hopping up an old car in the quest for speed. He was like a million other guys all over America.
A 1950 Pontiac Chieftain wouldn't have been many drag racers' first choice - despite the fast-sounding name, Pontiac's lazy flathead straight-eight came out in '32 and by the early Fifties was out-classed in terms of performance by the new overhead valve V8s from Oldsmobile and Buick. Based on the '49 Chevy design, the
Pontiac was infinitely more glamorous looking, with a toothed grill, smooth full-width hubcaps, fully instrumented dash and the trademark 'silver streaks' on the bonnet and boot and illuminating Indian's head.
However, with just 103bhp at 3800rpm, the glamorous-looking early fifties Pontiacs were >
safe, solid and quiet-running; effectively an old man's cars and a far cry from the performance image the brand developed during the Sixties. It wasn't until the conservative management were ousted in '56 to be replaced by Bunkie Knudsen and John DeLorean that the Pontiac we've come to know and love emerged.
In '72, against the best of the late Sixties muscle cars, a drop-top '50 Pontiac was about as suitable for drag racing as a golf cart. Still, by the early Seventies that Pontiac would have been a cheap car. Having had just one owner from new, a cheap car in decent condition, making it an ideal basis for a high-school hot rod. Whether Spangler was a bit of a Pontiac man, he just wanted to keep it in the family, or that's just what happened to show up at his salvage yard, we don't know, but replacing that boat anchor flathead eight was 400 cubic inches of 1967 V8 and its super-strong Turbo-Hydramatic 400.
Interestingly, the Pontiac V8, which lived from '55 to '81, was proposed in the late Forties and could have found its way into Pontiacs as early as 1950 had it not been for the heel-dragging of the men in drab suits at Pontiac and worries about competing too closely with Oldsmobile and its Rocket V8. GM were trialling 23 Pontiacs with this new V8 in by '53, so in a way Mick's car represents what might have been if Bunkie Knudsen had got his hands on the reins sooner.
The result of this engine swap would have been pretty effective. The muscle car drive train could have made up to 360bhp, depending on what car it had been poached from, which, in the relatively petite (compared with Sixties barges) '50 with a short ratio rear end, must
Seventies transplant of a 1967 400cu.in. V8 make this an early example of a 'resto-mod'
have made for at least 15
Seventies transplant of a 1967 400cu.in. V8 make this an early example of a 'resto-mod'
second quarters, probably less. Tommy Spangler certainly didn't mind that the fabric had rotted off the convertible top leaving just the steel frame - he was living the dream.
Having run the numbers for a few years, like so many old race cars, the Pontiac got put out to grass as life got in the way, and that's how it stayed, in a Texas scrapyard, until 2004. That is, until Sam Lovegrove, a Cornish guy who'd known the car from his friendship with Tommy, bought the car from the estate after Tommy died and shipped it back to the UK. Being more of an engineering kind of guy, and not too bothered about cosmetics, Sam left the junkyard patina and sun-crisped interior and concentrated on the mechanics, doing what was necessary to put the Pontiac back on the road after 40 years.
The 400 was rebuilt with an aluminium intake and new Edelbrock carb and the gearbox got a high-stall torque converter, while the brakes and suspension were overhauled. Actually Sam ended up owning the car twice - he sold it to a guy who mildly customised the interior and towed Airstream caravans behind it, then bought it back when the rear axle went - before putting it on eBay, where Mick Skilton set his heart on it. 'I'd been looking for an early Fifties convertible,' Mick tells me, 'I've had American cars since '86; all sorts of stuff and there are still a lot I'd like to own and drive - in fact I've bought a '57 Imperial and a '60 Buick just recently - but the big advantage of an early Fifties car is that they're a lot easier to fit down the side of my house!'
You may remember Mick's '59 Buick drop top we featured recently. It's a car that not only confirms Mick's motoring polygamy, but also his attention to detail and perfectionism that make his cars stand out from the crowd. As he puts it: 'Getting my cars to look right, making sure they look perfect and that every switch and every instrument works properly. Well, that's me that is. That's what I like to do.' Rather than break out the spanners straight away, Mick drove the Pontiac around for a few months to give it a mechanical shakedown. All was good; in fact, Mick says with a laugh: 'It's the fastest car I've ever driven.'
Back at his farmyard workshop the process of restoration began with a strip down and removing all the 40-year-old paint. Luckily, thanks to the Texan climate, the metalwork was all good, with no rust repairs needed. Less lucky was that, having fully dismantled the Pontiac, Mick got his notice to quit the unit he was working in. He didn't want to trailer the car around unfinished, so a leisurely rebuild suddenly turned into a 'Challenge Anneka' situation with just five months to finish the restoration. Despite labouring hard at work every day, Mick found himself down the workshop every night, sometimes until one in the morning. 'It nearly killed me!' he admits.
All the removable panels were stripped off and painted (then used to blockade the dining room) while Mick detailed the engine. 'It was covered in some horrible dress-up kit with >
Mick Skilton: Perfectionist and car polygamist n
cheap chrome valve covers. I hate all that.' Far more tasteful is the genuine Pontiac blue paint on original pressed valve covers and the Cadillac 'batwing' air filter that replaced them.
The body went off to Mick's mate, Andy Trippas, of Auto Finesse (07974660953), who made an amazing job of prepping the body to take the unforgiving straight black paint. Mick was thinking of a different shade, but having decoded the VIN he discovered it was originally black with a red interior, so he decided to keep it that way. The interior went to joe Gillard at Unique Autotrimming (07881527770) who had the tricky task of figuring out how the original interior looked from photos, since the trim was either missing or customised. The result in Bentley St James' leather looks superb and according to a guy Mick met who owns a 1950 Pontiac too, is almost indistinguishable from factory. The boot too is fully trimmed and, since the big motor precludes the battery from the engine bay, Mick found a vintage cooler to house it in the boot, which to the unaware looks simply like a period accessory.
The hunt for the necessary parts went Stateside when the obligatory wide white cross-plies were bought at the legendary Hershey swap meet, Pennsylvania, and went home in a car Mick's friend bought there, while the new hood was crammed into a suitcase. Finally, with just hours left to go and saved by a fortuitous bank holiday, Mick met the deadline to be out of the ^ workshop. It had been a frantic weekend of refitting all the freshly rechromed trim, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. Nothing has been rushed, nothing overlooked. Look at the gear shifter on the column - despite being a TH400 instead of the original Hydra-Matic, the pointer indicates the correct gear and illuminates the correct lights. It's little things like this that people don't bother with, but it is the reason Mick continues to turn out nationally recognised cars.
In essence, what Mick's created is not just a restoration - a carbon copy of every other convertible Chieftain churned out by Pontiac in 1950 (lovely as they are) - he's turned the picture in Tommy Spangler's mind's eye into a reality, forty years on. Sometimes the most interesting parts of a car's history aren't confined to the year they were made, they're in its journey, and having spent the majority of its life with the 400cu.in. V8 motor under its hood, it'd be a crime to take this one all the way back to stock... ★
Mick Skilton: Perfectionist and car polygamist im^ir^j^ii^y ftemn^fffW^faliifcl n
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o nonsense. That's what Steve's Roadrunner says to yoik No big inch shiny wheels, no superfluous chrome trim, no drums at each wheel with no power assistance was what you got. Yet none of this mattered because most Roadrunners were destined for the drag strip. Mopar's main extravagance was in the name, they paid Warner Bros. SSOk to use the name and logo of the Roadrunner cartoon character and a further $10k was thrown at developing a horn that mimicked Roadrunner's 'meep-meep'. Quite a spend when Chrysler only estimated they'd sell 2000 in '68. They ended up shifting around 45,000.
Lighter than an E-body 'Cuda, the simple three-box Roadrunner with a 383 could post a 15 second quarter mile time, but for an extra $714 on top of the initial $2896 your Roadrunner could come with a 426 Heml and the potential for low 13-second drag times and a place in the muscle car hall of fame. The price of the Hemi put all but the keenest off, so the announcement of a 440 option and particularly the 440 six-pack for the '69 model year was welcomed as a chance to have near-Hemi performance at near-half the price. Whichever engine you picked, the Roadrunner was cheap, fast, tough and good-looking - all the ingredients needed for a hit in the late Sixties. In '69 the Roadrunner's sales doubled. >
lurid colour scheme; just pTaTfToTd appliance white, plain disc steels and economy-spec hubcaps. But hunkered down over fat tyres and throbbing to the ragged beat of a cammy 440, it makes all the statement it need:
No nonsense was what tflfl musctffxar market was crying out for by the late Sixties and Chrysler gave it exactly what it wanted in the Roadrunner. Muscle cars were becoming more_ expensive and came with fancy trim with the possibility of even fancier options. The Plymouth 6TX based on the premium Satellite fitted tfrarprofit? so Plymouth decided to redress the balance and offer a car for those who just wanted it cheap and fast.
Starting with the same B-bodv used by the CTX, Satellite and Belvedere^ Chrysler fitted a_ Super Commando 383 making- iiSbhp; a four-speed manual 'box anrfvery little else: Inside the Roadrunner was as bare ara taxltabrwith" plain vinyl benches, no power accessories, and in tfie
first year, '68, no carpc Stopping wasn't an a£l hurry if you just paid tl
:ivitv to be considered in a ne sticker price, either^
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