Here is the full collection--almost....
Here is the full collection--almost. There are still a few more cars on either side in the wings of the building. As you can see, Milton's tastes are not limited to Pontiacs.
Sure, we've all dreamt about the rare and desirable Pontiacs that we would have purchased back when if only we had two nickels to rub together and 20/20 hindsight. Though some actually sought out those special models and scooped them up before the prices hit the stratosphere, the great majority is forced to remain dreaming as prices keep climbing.
If that's your story, then read this story. For the next six pages you can live vicariously through car collector Milton Robson. Having made his stake in the business world with his food distribution company and then through real estate, Milton has invested a substantial portion of the proceeds into fueling his passion for acquiring classic cars and musclecars. For over 29 years, he has been adding to or paring down his collection when the conditions are right.
Milton had the good fortune to purchase this Pontiac new. (You may have even seen it in High Performance Pontiac about 10 years ago.) He purposely bought a Trans Am not a Formula, and a convertible not a coupe, from Lee Motor Sales in Ohio for delivery to SLP for the conversion. A congratulatory letter from Ed Hamburger of SLP dated January 10, 1993, stated, "Your 'All American Street Fighter' Trans Am convertible was the only Trans Am Firehawk built and the only convertible Firehawk built." It was also the last, and numbered 27, and because it was a T/A, there is no "Formula Firehawk" graphic on the doors, like the other models.
The Hawk came standard with 1LE suspension, Firehawk 17x9.5 Ronal wheels, and 275/40-17 Firestone Firehawk tires. Drivetrain enhancements included a dual-snorkel air cleaner for the factory 350, a T-Ram intake, Tri-Y headers, performance stainless exhaust that retained the factory cats but featured dual outlet pipes on the driver's side, a lightweight flywheel and clutch assembly, ZF six-speed trans, a 3-inch diameter driveshaft, and a Dana rear with 3.54 gears. Inside, the console was custom for the Firehawk, and the map pocket on the dash featured a Firehawk callout and the car number. SLP also reinforced the chassis since this one is a convertible.
Of course, Milton didn't stop with the base package. His is just 1-of-3 with the 366ci 375-horse aluminum engine option and 1-of-11 with the Competition Package that includes Brembo F-40 front disc brakes, an aluminum hood, Recaro driver seat with a five-point Simpson harness, a rollbar, and a deleted rear seat.
If that weren't enough, he also ordered a matching passenger-side Recaro seat. Both seats are covered in factory leather, and the rollbar is trimmed in matching hides. When all was said and done, just over $39,000 was added to the price of this convertible T/A.
How did it all begin? "I've always loved old cars," Milton says. "I drove a '55 Chevy back in high school--I souped up the engine and put a four-speed in it. In 1962, I really wanted a new Pontiac, but of course I couldn't afford one at the time." Finally, in 1969 he purchased his first Pontiac--a brand-new Grand Prix. Having already been bitten by the collector bug, he restored a $600 Model A roadster two years before. Collecting and restoring early American iron continued up to 1983 when Milton began to amass musclecars. "Back then I was working 16 hours per day, and whenever I could set some money aside, I'd by another car. Of course, I was hoping each one would go up in value while I owned it," he says.
Milton has a penchant for convertibles that goes beyond the simple thrill of open-air cruising. "I was always a convertible lover, but I also appreciated the low production figures of that body style," he says. "Any desirable high-performance engine option with a four-speed is rarer still in a convertible as long as it was offered that way. The cost to restore a rare model has always been about the same as a run-of-the mill vehicle, so there's more value in doing the rare one."
Jim Kurzen, Pontiac field rep and drag racer, bought this SD Catalina new in 1962 from Edwards Motor Company in Canton, Ohio. One of 172 421 SD cars built in 1962, the original sticker price with destination charge included was $4,436.48. You can cry now. The 13U "DUO 4 BARREL 4 SP SYN" cost $1,342.85--that's sticker speak for the 405-horse, dual four-barrel Super Duty engine with the four-speed trans.
"Pontiac was out of aluminum parts when this car was being built, and Jim didn't want to wait," Milton says. "Pontiac later gave him the aluminum bumpers and hood to put on the car, but he turned down the aluminum fenders figuring he wouldn't put them on anyway. He later said, 'Who would have ever guessed what these parts would do in value?' And this was back in 1988 when I bought it."
According to Milton, the body paint is original except for the hood, and the interior is all original. The 421 SD engine has been detailed because Jim had painted the engine black back in his racing days. Only the 8-Lug wheels and blackwall tires have been added since.
'69 Firebird Ram Air IV Convertible
Why buy this Bird? It's 1 of 17! (12 four-speeds, 5 automatics) This special-order paint Windward Blue '69 Firebird 400 features the 345-horse Ram Air IV powerplant, a close-ratio four-speed trans, and a 3.90 HD Safe-T-Track rearend. Other notable options include Deluxe Parchment interior, 8-Track, power antenna, console, walnut shift knob, floor mats, luggage lamp, AM/FM radio, door edge guards, remote outside mirror, Rally wheels, hood tach, disc brakes, ride and handling package, underhood lamp, and left and right visor mirrors. Milton purchased this optioned-out rarity from a private collector in 1993 after a few years of on-and-off negotiations.
Many of Milton's vehicles have been featured in magazine articles, calendars, and on television, and have also been used to design toys. You may have even seen the man himself on TV as part of the Atlanta team on Barrett-Jackson's Car Search on Speed Channel.
Currently, the North Georgia-based Robson Ranch houses 69 various makes and models in an atmosphere-controlled, memorabilia-fortified building--about 14 of them are Pontiacs. Not all of the Ponchos are finished, however. Some are being restored now and others even serve driver duty.
'61 Ventura With A 421 SD
Milton picked up this Pontiac about two years ago. "I first saw the Ventura in a car book," he says. "I tracked it down, but it had been sold to a gentleman in Michigan. It took about a year, but I finally bought it."
Painted black with green interior, the '61 features a 421 SD engine, wide-ratio T10 four-speed trans, and a 4.10 Safe-T-Track rear. Of course, 421 SD engines weren't factory installed until 1962. There were, however, 421 SD engines offered to racers near the end of the '61 race season. Since he couldn't find one of these racers, Milton bought this car.
The car builder, Ed Giolma, reported the Ventura was purchased, with a stock drivetrain, out of California in the late '80s. Seeing it as a great candidate for a 421 SD transplant, Ed did a frame-off, the drivetrain upgrades, and color changes. Everything was built to SD specs, right down to the aluminum bumpers. The Ventura was completed in 1990. There has been some engine work done by an interim owner since, but what remains is a Pontiac that answers the question, "What if PMD was able to offer a 421 SD Ventura to the public in 1961?"
This '62 Grand Prix has been seen plenty of magazine coverage over the years--it was even in High Performance Pontiac. The Burgundy 1-of-16 421 SD Grand Prix was originally sold by Triangle Pontiac in Astoria, New York, a dealer that had ordered five of them, and was owned by Allan Gartzman from the late '80s to 2001. Allen found the car in a driveway near his (then) Illinois home. At the time, it had a 389, but did have the SD exhaust manifolds and notched frame. Noted Pontiac historian and current GM drag Racing Manager Fred Simmonds was able to verify it as one of the 16 SD Grand Prixs by checking through GM microfilm and matching the VIN to its manifest. Restoration specialist Scott Tiemann restored the GP in the early '90s. It now features a 405-horse, dual four-barrel 421 SD engine, a T10 four-speed trans, and a 4.30 Safe-T-Track rear.
"I had seen the Grand Prix before it was restored," Milton says. "Later, I saw it again after the restoration at an event and really liked it. When I found out the Pontiac was going to the Russo Steel auction at Pebble Beach in 2001, I decided to go. The car didn't reach its reserve and was a no-sale, but I stayed in touch with Allan, and later in the year we were able to strike a deal."
Responsibility for maintaining these 69 machines falls to Joe Steinmetz. You've already met Joe--he's toasting the tires on the Firehawk on the cover. He has stewarded the collection for the last four years and still builds some of his own projects in his spare time. A rewarding aspect of his career with the collection, aside from being able to maintain the cream-of-the-crop of highly desirable musclecars and classics is, "I get to drive them! Though that, too, has its downfall," he claims. "When I go home to my own '85 Mustang, it's nice, but not built to the level of the cars that I work with each day." Another fringe benefit for Joe is, "the great people I get to meet, like Chip Foose, actors, singers, football players, and other celebrities who are invited to see the collection. If that's not enough, YearOne is right down the road, so we show off some of Milton's cars at their monthly cruise-ins."
As you may have gathered by the title, this collection is not open to the public--it's accessible by invitation only. But Milton is a gracious host, and has shared his collection with many automobile clubs and other hobbyists.
High Performance Pontiac's invite was received at the GTOAA Convention in 2005, where the author met Joe. The result of that meeting was a trip down south a few months later. What follows is what we saw and learned during our tour of the collection. We will present some of Milton's Pontiacs in this issue, but there will be a big surprise in the next issue when three more of his most rare and valuable four-speed convertibles--a '69 Ram Air III Trans Am, a '69 Ram Air IV Judge, and a '70 Ram Air IV Judge--take center stage.
'69 Firebird 400 Convertible
Milton spotted this Pontiac on I-85 on his way into Atlanta about 16 years ago. Liking what he saw in the Antique Gold Bird, after following it for 30 miles he was able to wave the driver over. "He was coming to Atlanta to get an insurance appraisal on the car," Milton says. "I told him that if he was interested in selling it, he could stop by my office on the way home. He did, and the rest is history."
It turns out this Firebird was a show car that toured the Southeastern states, appearing at dealer shows when new. It features a rare leather interior [Much of it was out for resto during our shoot, so, sorry, no photo.--Ed.] and a host of options, and it even has a carpeted trunk.
John Sullivan, owner of Sullivan Motor Company in Anderson, South Carolina, decided he had to have the optioned-out F-body after its show duty. And we do mean optioned-out. Extra cost items consist of the 330-horse 400 engine, four-speed trans, AM/FM radio, 8-Track, Custom Sport steering wheel, tilt column, console, walnut shift knob, ride and handling package, power antenna, Rally wheels, hood tach, Rally gauges, remote deck lid release, variable ratio power steering, disc brakes, power top, fold-down rear seat, left and right visor mirrors, bright pedal trim, Deluxe seatbelts, head restraints, and tinted glass. The tally for all this opulence? Suggested retail was over $4,800 in 1969 money.
'57 Fuel-Injected Bonneville Convertible
"I was out in Reno at Hot August Nights in 2003 when I saw this '57 Bonneville convertible," Milton says. "I had no intention of buying a car out there, but it was such a good original, I had to take it home." Just 630 were built, all with the 347 V-8 featuring Rochester mechanical fuel injection, and this one features Kenya Ivory paint with Fountain Blue accents. Standard items for the Bonneville that were normally relegated to the option list on other models include power steer-ing, power brakes, power windows, dual exhaust, electric wipers, windshield washers, cushioned instrument panel, six-way adjustable seat, leather seat trim, 8.50x14 whitewall tires, deluxe wheel discs, and Strato-Flight Hydramatic transmission.
The Bonneville was one of the first truly collectable Pontiacs. It eclipsed the $100,000 mark in the late '80s back when restored Ram Air IV GTOs and Judges could still be had for less.