Longtime Pontiac fans will no doubt recall the Clarion, Pennsylvania-native and his ’60 Bonneville Safari pickup that he built and rebuilt three times from 1963 to 1995. His abilities won not only POCI awards but also some magazine articles and the admiration of the Pontiac community. Plus, he was one of the kindest and funniest people you would have ever met. If you ever made the trip to Clarion Auto Body, you have seen some amazing vehicles and his legendary collection of parts. Gib passed away in April 2007, but the cars he built stand as a testament to his craft.
When it comes to excellence in restoration and custom coachbuilding, the late Lawrence “Gib” Mahle was a legendary figure.
Our story starts back in 1990, when Marc Rinella purchased this Iris Mist ’65 Grand Prix from Gib. It was a factory two-tone car finished in Iris Mist and a white top with Plum interior. It was a base-engined machine, sporting the 325-horse, 389 four-barrel with a Turbo 400 automatic transmission and 8-Lug wheels. Its original owner was a local coal baron, who wisely had the car Ziebarted when new. As pretty as these B-bodies are, they are very susceptible to rust and anything you do to help prevent that is a good move.
The Pontiac was in very nice shape when Marc bought it, but he wasn’t wild about the two-tone. He decided to take the Grand Prix back to Clarion Auto Body to have the roof painted to match. Gib suggested he put a vinyl top on it, as he already had the trim. Marc declined, saying he wanted the entire car Iris Mist.
Though based on the same basic platform as the Catalina, the Grand Prix had a more formal
“What started out as a simple removal of the chrome trim separating the colors turned into a 2½-year frame-on restoration,” Marc recalled. Gib’s son Brad, carrying on with the family business, handled all of the work, which entailed removing the front clip, the driveline, and the interior. Additionally all glass and trim was removed, and all of the Ziebart rust-proofing was stripped from the frame, floorboards, and suspension.
Speaking of rust, one of the inherent weak spots on most ’60s-era GM cars is a leaking rear window, which leaves puddles of water in the trunk to eat through sheetmetal. Gib had a cure for this problem that was a stroke of genius. He would remove the backlight, solder windshield-washer nozzles into the window-frame well, and install hoses to drain the water into the rear wheelwells and onto the ground. As the story goes, Gib never told GM how he did it. Brad added this same cure to the Grand Prix.
With the drivetrain out, Brad rebuilt the transmission and rearend, and with only 57,000 miles on the odometer, he decided to replace the soft plugs, add new gaskets, and detail the engine before re-installing it. The original fuel and brake lines were replaced with stainless, as was the dual-exhaust system, which features stainless hangers and clamps, as well as custom stainless resonators.
Brad then repainted the Grand Prix in the original Iris Mist main body color. Only the doorjambs and the underside of the decklid have the original factory paint on them. The Grand Prix was then re-assembled using all of the original trim, with the exception of the tinted windshield, taillamps, rearend trim panel, 8-Lug trim rings, and center caps. These were all NOS pieces from Gib’s substantial inventory.
The restoration was completed in 1998 and Marc only put about 200 miles on it, preferring to preserve its pristine state along with the other cars in his collection. He kept it that way for about eight years.
Plum is not a common interior color, but this one has it. Grand Prixs and Bonnevilles shar
Joe’s Grand Prix has lived a very pampered life, having just 57,364 miles from new. It has
The walnut veneer was real wood in 1965, not vinyl, and was exclusive to the top-level Bon
Fast-forward to 2006. Marc’s friend Joe Santell had a bit of a problem. They have known each other for more than 50 years and both live in Greenville, Pennsylvania, right near Clarion. Joe had suffered a substantial shoulder injury that left him unable to drive a car without power steering. This meant that his prized ’54 Chevrolet was up for sale, leaving him without a hobby car.
“I hated to see that car leave the area, so I told him, ‘Let’s do an even-up trade—look in my garage and pick out a car with power steering.’ He replied, ‘You already know which one I am going to take.’ I said, ‘Yeah, the Iris Mist Grand Prix.’ I have a habit of never driving my cars after they are done. I guess I just like to look at them.”
With that, the ’54 Chevy and the Grand Prix each took up the other’s garage space. Joe’s intention with his newly acquired Pontiac was to add some of the things that Marc never got around to doing. He installed correct bias-ply tires from Coker, including the spare. He also tracked down and installed a correctly date-coded ’65 Tri-Power system, complete with an NOS center carburetor. “Those are impossible to find now,” Joe reports. He also added a set of chrome valve covers, which were available on the GTO 389s and the big-car 421s.
The next year, Joe with his ’65 Grand Prix and Marc with his ’67 Grand Prix set out for the Ames Performance Pontiac Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio. “We had a great time at the Nationals,” Joe said. “I was very happy when the ’65 took First in Class.”
At 70-years-old each, Joe and Marc had a great time with their Grand Prixs and became familiar faces at local cruise-ins and car shows. “The ’65 usually took First Place wherever it was shown,” he reports. “It turned out really nice.”
Marc tells HPP, “The GP has recently been sold to an equally enthusiastic private collector.”
Gib Mahle would be very proud of his son’s handywork.