Alexander Brothers’ customs featured this attractive cloisonne badge with the shop logo. T
While it is true that Pontiacs didn’t set the custom-car world on fire in quite the same way as the ’49-’51 Mercurys, there were still some extremely nice customs in the ’50s and ’60s that wore the Pontiac nameplate. Though Pontiacs were more at home racing on the streets and dragstrips at the time, their clean styling was seen by many as an excellent starting point for the custom-car treatment.
Such was the case of 18-year-old Mike Budnick, a Detroit-area teen who purchased a new ’60 Ventura as his first car and sent it to Alexander Brothers for customizing.
Though Larry and Mike Alexander were based in the Motor City, they were quickly making a name for themselves on a national level. With a long string of successful customs—including the Silver Sapphire, the ’32 Ford on the cover of the Beach Boys’ record Little Deuce Coupe—this Ventura was another one the brothers batted out of the park.
The original plan for the Golden Indian was a simple one. Budnick was prompted to clean up the looks of his Ventura from a friend who had the duo perform a similar procedure on his Pontiac. The process started out as a simple trim removal, but like plastic surgery on Hollywood starlets today, the work took on an addictive quality. As money would allow, Mike would return to Alexander Brothers for more and more work. After a year and a half, the Golden Indian re-emerged as a completely redesigned machine.
Modifications involved every piece of sheetmetal on the Ventura, save for the roof. Its front end was transformed into a truly captivating and original design, one that was radical, yet still integrated and functional. Far too often, the look is compromised with distractions that detract from the design’s integrity, or the modifications are exaggerated to the point of absurdity. Alexander Brothers’ expertise prevented any of that from happening.
Up front, the stock grille, headlamp bezels, and bumper were replaced with a new design, which used a quad-headlamps arrangement, but unlike the factory ’60 Pontiac, Alexander Brothers used a tunneled and balogna-cut bezel design that was formed using cardboard templates. The grille was fashioned out of chromed tubing—the lowest tube was larger than the rest. It was housed in a rolled pan that replaced the front bumper and extended into the front fenders, which were canted in to meet the pan.
All factory-supplied trim was removed from the nose, and the corners of the hood were cut and welded into the front fenders to match the contours of the new headlamps. The body sides were similarly cleaned up. Its wheelwells were radiused, and the door handles and Ventura fender callouts were removed. The door-bottom corners were cut and welded into the adjacent panels like the hood. A pair of radio antennas were tunnel-mounted into the driver door.
The tail section of the Golden Indian features a design theme similar to the front, featuring a custom rear grille, rolled rear pan, and custom half-moon taillamps. This rolled pan extends into the rear quarters and forms a scoop at the ends of the quarter, tying in the contour of the belt-line moulding and the rear-wheelwell accent. Overall, the look is surprisingly clean, yet very bold and unique. Painted in a candy Lime Gold, the bodywork glowed with a jewel-like brilliance.
The custom bucket seats were fabricated out of plywood and steel, and mounted on an alumin
The interior is space-age chic with custom bucket seats and a surfboard-inspired console,
The trunk area is upholstered to match the interior, using the same materials and pattern
Inside, the Ventura was also heavily customized. Though the dash was left essentially stock (save for a ’63 Pontiac steering wheel), the rest of the interior was removed and replaced with a four-bucket seat arrangement, and the fronts were installed on aluminum channel stock with locking swivels. It also featured a full-length console that resembled a surfboard.
New seats were custom-fabricated and covered in pearlescent white Naugahyde, as were the door panels and kick panels, which extended around to behind the rear pair of buckets. Like the rest of the car, its effect was very futuristic. The interior work was originally handled by Ray’s Kustom Trim.
The Pontiac was also lowered a full 8 inches, which was accomplished by C’ing the frame, which is cutting the frame kickups and welding in curved sections to bring the suspensions in tighter to the body. This procedure usually requires floorpan modification as well.
The Golden Indian was a big hit when it debuted at the ’63 Detroit Autorama. It was the cover car of the Nov. ’63 issue of Rod & Custom, as well as the Winter ’63 issue of Popular Customs. Mike Budnick eventually sold the Golden Indian. It passed through several owners, eventually ending up with a gentleman by the name of Herman Horak, who lived in Houston, Texas.
The Golden Indian Resurfaces
Lou is justifiably proud of his efforts—after years of obscurity and neglect, the Golden I
In 1988, the Golden Indian came out of the shadows when Mr. Horak ran an ad in Hemmings Motor News. Lou Calasibetta, owner of the Old Stillwater Garage, a legendary restoration and customizing shop in Stillwater, New Jersey, saw the post and decided he had to have the car.
Lou is a longtime fixture in the custom-car world, as well as POCI, and has built some amazing Pontiac customs over the years, including Bonnewood, a ’58 wagon; the ’63 Green Prix; and Surfari, a ’57 Transcontinental wagon, among others. He had long admired this particular custom and wondered for years what happened to it.
It was rusty, had some later “updates,” and was in need of a full restoration. It was painted white with gold-tone wheels and had a vinyl half-top. The rear grille was replaced with a piece of plywood covered in Naugahyde. It had certainly seen better days.
On the bright side, it was mostly complete and had an unbroken chain of ownership, so its authenticity was not in question—no replica or tribute here. Lou paid $8,000 for the long-lost custom. “When I first saw the car in the old Rod & Custom article, I thought, Wow, I would love to own that car. It made a big impression on me back then and it was the only one around—and it was a Pontiac.” He added: “[Horak] sent me some photos and I bought it sight unseen. I knew it was going to be a big project but I didn’t care. It was the real deal and a piece of history.”
Lou spent the next decade collecting parts and researching the car’s history—as well as working on other projects. “It took a while to contact the Alexander Brothers but after talking to them, I was really inspired,” Lou explained. “The goal was to have it ready for the 50th Annual Detroit Autorama.”
A rust-free ’60 Catalina was purchased for parts at the same time. It would donate its rocker panels, trunk floor, quarters, lower cowl, and hood. Also, much of the custom bodywork would have to be replicated, as it was too damaged to use. Together with his team—Dave Symond, Jimmy Harris, Steve Decker, Bob Scabet and Gary Benson—the Golden Indian slowly began to come back to life.
It took a while to contact the Alexander brothers, but after talking to them, I was really inspired
Meanwhile the mechanicals were also rebuilt. The original 389 Tri-Power was retained, and the machine work was performed by Star Crank in Port Jervis, New York, and reassembled by Lou and his team. It was kept stock except for a later 068 cam. POCI member Steve Peluso rebuilt the Hydramatic transmission and the rearend was rebuilt by Lou.
It would have been a nightmare to try and match the original Alexander Brothers’ Candy Lime Gold paint, but a sample of the color was found under a rear-window moulding, so Lou was able to have the body paint replicated in a House of Kolor basecoat/clearcoat system. Chrome reverse wheels with the correct spinners were put back on the car; the latter were found at a Hershey [Pennsylvania] Swap Meet.
With the body and powertrain coming together, attention turned to the interior. Lou had Jerry Ambrosi of Master Upholstery in Newton, New Jersey, build replicas of the front bucket seats using the remaining rears as templates. They were covered in the correct pearlescent-white upholstery, as were the door panels, rear kick panels, and trunk lining. Likewise, Jerry was able to dye the replacement carpeting in the correct Lime Gold to match the paint and replicate the original carpeting.
“As much as it was the restoration of a car, it was a restoration of their histories as well,” Lou said.
The Golden Indian was completed in 2002 and made its first post-restoration appearance at the 50th Annual Detroit Autorama, exactly 40 years after its debut there in 1962—with original owner Mike Budnick and the Alexander Brothers in attendance. The Golden Indian had come full circle.